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COVID-19: Controversy, doubts trail ‘detention’ of Benue’s index case

THE news of Susan Idoko-Okpe, an indigene of Benue State based in the United Kingdom (UK) but currently on quarantine gained public attention in Nigeria via a video footage circulated on social media in late March.

Idoko-Okpe, who reportedly arrived Nigeria on 22nd March,  alleged in a video that she was wrongfully detained by the state government after the state governor, Samuel Ortom, announced her as the state’s first Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), index case.

Idoko-Okpe, a younger sister of Dr.Felix Lawani had visited the country for the burial arrangement of her late mother, Princess Omokwutu Lawani. The burial date was fixed for 3rd and 4th April.

But on 24th March, two days after her return, she visited Grace Cottage Hospital in Makurdi, the state capital of Benue to treat herself of extreme tiredness, body pains, and Malaria.

According to her, the medical doctor who attended to her said she had a high temperature and prescribed analgesic.

She complained of pains due to the long flights, which reportedly took about 25 hours before she arrived Nigeria.

“I was only jetlagged,” says Idoko-Okpe.

However, as she set out to return home the next day she was stopped by the doctor, who  directed her to undergo a compulsory COVID-19 test,  and she obliged.

The test was later conducted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

On 27th March, the test result showed she is positive. Two health officials had earlier done a swoop on her left nose and the other on her throat, but the result was purportedly made known to her verbally without any documentary evidence, she said.

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“I asked when I was going to get the result, he said in the next 24 hours. 24 hours passed, I did not get the result.

“The next day which was 27th March, the doctor said I was COVID-19 positive from the swoop they took. I asked where was the result, he said he does not have it, that he was only told.”

But since she completed her initial malaria treatment on 25th March, Idoko had been held up in the Isolation Centre, and her information published.

Idoko-Okpe said publishing false information about her is stigmatising.

Her case was not totally negative – Mamora

Friday 9th May, makes it 43 days since she has been quarantined.

But her case further became an issue of major interest when the viral video was aired on national television on 14th April, when Olorunnibe Mamora, the Minister of State for Health reacted to the allegations.

Mamora explained the case was being handled by the Benue State Ministry of Health officials, where she was said to have tested positive.

Idoko-Okpe was reportedly isolated while treatment commenced through various tests to determine the right ‘viral load’ that could help her immune system overpower the COVID-19 disease.

“The information available to me is that at a point in time, the patient viral load became low but not totally negative,” Mamora said.

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He explained that before a patient could be declared free, there must be two successive tests where the suspected case would have to be confirmed negative twice in 48 hours interval.

But reacting to her allegations such as the flawed processes, wrong naming, denied access to previous test results, error in her age among others, Mamora assured these would be investigated by the NCDC.

It is, however, unclear if those allegations have been probed.

The embattled woman, in fact, lamented in a new video that the authorities  continue to detain her forcefully.

 

Idoko-Okpe moved from Makurdi to Abuja

On 2nd April, Idoko-Okpe was transferred to the National Hospital, Abuja from Makurdi after her initial tests in Makurdi. While at the National Hospital, she demanded the test result previously conducted in Benue. Her request was granted on 8th April but she noticed several errors such as the age, name, arrival date among others.

For instance, 62 years was entered for her while she claimed to be 56.

Two days after, 10th of April, she said another test was carried out in Abuja, but the test result; she noted was hidden from her as of the time of filing this report.

“A doctor just came and said madam, you have tested positive,” she said, adding that from her isolation at the Benue, even when she got to Abuja, she was yet to receive any drug from the health officials.

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This was as of 15th April, when she granted another live interview on ChannelsTV. Idoko-Okpe had repeatedly wondered why the tests would be conducted without given the results. As a result, she resolved not to either use their drugs or subject herself to further tests.

Her refusal to take medication and continued positive test status, no doubt led to her continued stay  at the isolation centre. The authorities maintained that she cannot be released back to the public, to check further spread. But her continued quarantine is not new if positive. For instance, Mohammed Atiku-Abubakar, son of Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President was kept under quarantine for over a month, until he tested negative and discharged 40 days after.

Over time, it has been a normal protocol for the NCDC to retain confirmed cases until they turn out negative or declared dead. Those who turn out negative are often discharged after proper clearance.

As of date, the NCDC, for example, has discharged 745 cases from 4,151 confirmed cases with 128 deaths, even as the number of confirmed cases rises.

“I am just inside my room. If I peep outside to ask for anything, they will say madam go inside,” Idoko-Okpe, however, added saying the officials barred her from going out. “Every day, they send in psychiatric doctors to talk to me. They think I am insane.”

She feels well but we are planning a third test – Minister

On 15th April, Osagie Ehanire, the Minister of Health, at the daily brieing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 affirmed that the Benue state indigene had been subjected to two tests and the results turned out positive.

The Minister, who justified the compulsory quarantine of the confirmed case said, COVID-19 infected persons might not develop symptoms, show mild symptoms, or very serious symptoms.

According to him, not developing any symptom does not translate to a person being free of the virus.

“But in the meantime, she feels very well, we are planning a third test, ” Ehanire had stated.

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“This is a case where people feel they are very well and wonder why you are keeping them in isolation, so we tried to engage this individual through her family and her pastor. The bottom line is she is positive but doubts the result and says it is fake.”

Threatened legal action for claimed undue ‘detention’  

Precisely on 25th April, Ebun Adegoruwa, a Human Rights Lawyer petitioned Ehanire on the continued custody of Idoko-Okpe.

Idoko-Okpe had threatened a court action through her lawyer to secure her freedom. She accused the authorities of holding her without her will, alleged dehumanisation, maltreatment, and violation of her natural rights.

The lawyer, in the letter, furnished details of her concerns. These include her date of arrival from the airport, her wrong name Ms. Susan Okpe, rather Susan Idoko-Okpe and true age contained in her international passport but reflected wrongly in the NCDC database.

“The subject of the said letter is said to be one ‘… Ms. Susan Okpe, a 62-year-old Nigerian-British citizen …’ A.M Abdullahi, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health wrote in a letter on 2nd April, to the Chief Medical Director, Benue State University.

But Adegoruwa insisted that his client’s bio-data on her international passport and her reference card at the Grace Cottage Hospital, has the name Susan Idoko-Okpe and she is 56 years old.

“In this same test result, it is stated that the ‘Date of onset of Fever’ is ’16/03/2020′, by which date our Client was still in the UK, having only arrived Nigeria on 22nd March, 2020,” Adegoruwa stated in the petition.

Meanwhile on 2nd April, the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, in a letter signed by Dr. Patrick Echekwuebe, the Head of Infectious Disease Unit wrote to the Infectious Disease Unit of the University of Abuja. The same letter was said to have recognised Idoko-Okpe as ‘Okpe Susan’. Her age was also written as 62 years.

However, an assessment of the petition to the minister by Adegoruwa and the latest viral video shared by Idoko-Okpe further proved that the victim’s narrations were similar. For instance, in the report, it stated that Idoko-Okpe came into the country on the 28th of February but on that same date, she claimed to still be in the UK.

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“On the 28th of February, I was still in England. It also stated in that report that I presented myself to the hospital with fever and stooling on the 16th March which was not true.

On the 16th of March, I was still in England. I came into Nigeria on the 22nd March and went to the hospital on 24th March. So, in the report, there was nothing to say that report was my own,” she said in the new footage shared on WhatsApp.

This conflicting information has, however, raised questions on the credibility of the result and other information collected by the state officials, upon which Idoko-Okpe was tagged Benue’s index case.

As a result, the lawyer is seeking ways to exonerate the case and ensure her release.

‘It’s been 43 days of forced isolation’

For 43 days, Idoko-Okpe claimed she was held against her will and illegally detained since she was moved to Abuja.

She said the 3rd test the health minister promised she would undergo to undergo to certify her status was already done.

Idoko-Okpe said tests were done on the 10th, 15th, and 17th of April respectively by the NCDC, but no single result of the tests was yet presented to her.

Yet, the centre was planning to have another test conducted on her, she said.

“Nigerians, if you are the one in my position, will you do another test without a result? She queried.

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“If they want me to do a test and force medication down my throat which I have not taken since the past 43 days. I have no symptoms till now and they want me to take medication and take the test…”

She further questioned why she should be denied the results of the previous tests, wondering what result  she would present to another doctor when she returns to the UK. 

“what do I present to them? I don’t have the 3 test results that were done.”

“Every day, they send in psychiatric doctors to talk to me. They think I am insane. Nigerians please I am crying out, amplify my voice,” she pleaded.

My sister was treated for malaria, tested positive but ready to submit to new test  – Dr. Lawani

Dr. Felix Lawani, 62-year-old elder brother of Susan during a phone interview with The ICIR, though criticised the state government for announcing her sister’s name as Benue’s index case, as against the acceptable standard, much of his narration was not different from Susan’s.

Lawani, a Forensic Pathologist of 40 years standing said her sister was treated for malaria and her temperature dropped but it was agreed she undergo compulsory COVID-19 test since she recently returned from the UK.

He was careful not to violate the principles of their ethical practice yet ready to set the record straight. Lawani, however, said the errors identified by his sister could be typographical, due to possible work pressure from the officials managing the COVID-19 crisis. People are prone to error, he noted.

Moreover, he acknowledged that the test on Susan at the Benue private hospital was sent to Abuja NCDC.

He noted that while the doctor was waiting to get the test result, it was already announced by the state government.

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“…the hospital has not received the test result yet but the Benue state governor, his cabinet and the state COVID-19 team held press conference mentioning her name that she was positive…that was the issue,” Lawani said.

Based on clarifications from Lawani, her sister’s test was conducted with that of a 21 year-old-girl from which Idoko-Okpe tested positive.

He said the doctor later received a call disclosing that NCDC sent the result via an email to the hospital and copied the state COVID-19 team. From there, the state team allegedly shared with the governor which became subject of the media conference.

But reacting to her continued quarantine, Lawani explained that the Minister’s intervention in the matter led to her sister’s transfer to Abuja.

He, however, revealed that idoko-Okpe has agreed to grant the test from which her new status would be determined while the authorities promised to also give her the previous test results.

NCDC claims ignorance 

In the course of this report, The ICIR contacted Emeka  Ugoanea, the NCDC Spokesperson to seek clarifications on some of the allegations and verify Idoko-Okpe’s true status, he expressed shock at the new video, and said he was unaware until then.

However, he promised to get back but he never did as of the time of writing this report.

Idoko-Okpe, who criticised the officials for treating her with the assumption of being mentally sick cried for help. She also demanded an apology from the Benue state government for the stigma.

“The Benue government must apologise to the Benue people, me and to Nigerians for stigmatising me…”

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But reacting to the above claim, Ortom accused her of politicising the incident and attempting to paint him in a bad light.

In a statement issued by the state government, Ortom justified his action on the index case. He stated that the decision to announce Idoko-Okpe’s name was for public interest, even though it’s a violation of  NCDC, World Health Organisation.

“As for the patient of Benue State, she has agreed to be tested, and also as far as I am informed, she gave conditions for being tested and added that she must be given all her results which is okay. No problem,” Ehanire stressed agreeing with Lawani’s statement to The ICIR.

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