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On Tuesday, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 warned against travelling to Kogi State after classifying it as ‘high-risk.’
Mukhtar Muhammad, national incident manager of the PTF, who made the announcement, said Kogi was not testing.
“We have states where data is not coming forth. If you don’t test, your data will not be analysed, and if your data is not analysed, we won’t know the level of the pandemic in your state,” he said.
“Notable among the states that have not been reporting adequately are Yobe, Jigawa, Zamfara and Kebbi and, of course, Kogi that has not been reporting at all.”
Muhammad also mentioned that states that were not testing were at much higher risk than states currently known as ‘high burden states.’ He indicated that such states without tests had no testing facilities and isolation centres.
However, the state government rejected the high-risk tag given to it by the PTF. Kingsley Fanwo, commissioner for information and communication in the state, said that the PTF and NCDC’s intention was to drive away investors from the state.
“Despite their unreliable figures, Kogi emerged as the preferred investment destination of Nigeria in the last quarter of 2020. They felt embarrassed, and the best way to hit back is to create a picture of health crisis in the state.”
According to him, Kogi was the first state to procure face masks in thousands and distributed them to all the councils and the first to set up a team to combat the spread of the virus.
“We set up isolation centres with state-of-the-art equipment. We have done sensitisation more than any other state. So, if we don’t believe that Covid-19 exists, we won’t be doing all we are doing to ensure it doesn’t ravage our state.
“What we said and are still saying is that Covid-19 is not worth all the marketing going on just for a few to make billions; that we do not have to suffer innocent Nigerians while a few smile to the banks,” the commissioner said.
What the data is saying
Analysing COVID-19 data of states bordering Kogi shows that the state has conducted the lowest number of tests when compared with neighbours. It also has the lowest number of infections in the country.
Kogi, a state of almost 3.5 million people, has tested a meagre 3,142 samples (about 0.089 percent of the population), the national situational report published January 22 by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed.
The bordering states with their total tests are FCT- 186,497; Enugu- 16,392; Edo- 27,879; Ondo-17,570; and Kwara- 16,240.
Other states are Niger- 14,403; Ekiti- 12,453; Benue- 12,389; Nasarawa- 16,681, and Anambra- 17,724.
The PTF, in October 2020, lamented how about 26 states, including Kogi, were yet to achieve the target of testing one percent of their populations. It also said only Lagos and the FCT had so far achieved this target.
As of 03 February, a total of 32,880 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in the 10 states bordering Kogi. Only five cases have been recorded by the North-Central state since the first index case was reported in Nigeria on February 27, 2020. Even as the second wave of the pandemic bites, Kogi is yet to record another case since it reported its last case in June 2020.
Of the 10 bordering states, FCT, which is about 212 kilometers away, has recorded 17,243 confirmed cases. Others are Edo- 3,862; Ondo-2,339; Kwara- 2,003; Nasarawa- 1,871; Enugu- 1,829; Anambra- 1,053; Niger- 789; Benue- 848, and Ekiti- 587.
While states are solely in charge of their coronavirus management and response, the NCDC supports and receives daily infection information.
However, these figures’ reliability has raised concerns due to several loopholes and challenges, including state officials not turning in enough test samples.
Health experts believe the virus must have infected more people than reported due to limited testing and low contact tracing mechanism. They say the situation can also mask the severity of localised outbreaks in slums and crowded cities with large clusters of people.
Yahaya Bello’s fictitious claims
Yahaya Bello, Kogi State governor, has, on numerous occasions, rejected the existence of the virus and was seen lately discouraging a crowd of supporters from taking COVID-19 vaccines.
He had told the cheering crowd, without evidence, that vaccines introduced to combat the virus was intended to kill people.
“…They want to use the (COVID-19) vaccines to introduce the disease that will kill you and us. God forbid!” he said.
“These vaccines are being produced in less than one year of COVID-19. There is no vaccine yet for HIV, malaria, cancer and for several diseases that are killing us… We should draw our minds back to what happened in Kano during the polio vaccines that crippled and killed our children. We have learned our lessons.
“If they say they are taking the vaccines in the public, allow them take their vaccines. Don’t say I said you should not take it, but if you want to take it, open your eyes before you take the vaccines.”
He had also, in his new year broadcast, said his administration would not respond to the second wave of COVID-19 with ‘mass hysteria.’
Yahaya Bello is a danger to the health security of the country- Professor Tomori
Professor Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and chairman of Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, said Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi State, was a danger to the country’s health security. Tomori said this in an exclusive interview with The ICIR.
He pointed out that the governor was uncaring because he did not care about his people, did not care about their good health, did not care about their welfare, and was a danger not only to the people of Kogi but also to the entire country.
“We waited too late to do that. It is right for the PTF to have declared the state a high-risk state. The day he started denying the existence of the disease is when the state should have been declared that, but it is never late than never,” he said.
Tomori, chairman, Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, classifies the governor as one of the country’s most dangerous people.
“If the governor says there are no cases of COVID-19 in his state, has he forgotten that some cases that were recorded in the FCT originated from his state?”
“Some Youth Corps members that were deployed to the state tested positive, but he denied it. Why is he so afraid of testing?” he asked
Tomori explained that disease was not a static thing as people would always move, go out, come in, and infect others. “Is it that people in Kogi state are so good at wearing their masks?” he asked. He said the governor often gave a false impression that Kogi had just five cases almost one year after the country recorded its first case.
The Redeemers University’s pioneer vice-chancellor also blamed the federal government for not ensuring that states accounted for the COVID-19 fund that was disbursed to them all. He said, “I recall that each state got 1 billion naira, so what has Kogi State done with the money if there are no COVID cases in the state?” he asked.
In its response, the state government had accused the PTF and NCDC of scaring away investors from the state, Tomori, in his response, asked if it was only Kogi that needed investors in its state.
“What has investors got to do with the health of the people? We are talking about the life of your people, and you are talking about business. The economy can be revived later. If there is no life, there is no livelihood,” Tomori said.
Tomori was unhappy that Nigeria would often make little investment in health because of its inability to yield immediate revenue, but stressed that any health disaster often destroyed all the economy built over the years.
He said he was glad that the Governors’ Forum dissociated itself from Yahaya Bello’s comment and that the PTF had taken the right decision now. “Everyone from every angle should condemn this governor for what he is doing,” he noted.
The NCDC was contacted for reactions on the state government’s response to the declaration. China Cindy, a clinical epidemiologist at the NCDC, did not respond to questions posed to her, saying she was not authorised to speak to the press.
“I am a public servant, and we have a protocol. You need to get permission for an interview to be granted,” she told the reporter on the phone.
She gave the reporter contact details of Chukwuemeka Oguanuo, who is in charge of external communications and media at the NCDC, but calls placed to his line did not connect and a message sent to him did not get a response.