By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Five days before Justice Nasir Ajanah, the late Chief Judge of Kogi state passed on, I had a chat with someone who hinted to his (Ajanah) state of health when our discussion veered into COVID-19 and security on Lokoja-Okene road. The man told me he knew of two highly-placed Kogi people, convalescing in Gwagwalada isolation centre, having been taken out of the precincts of Lokoja because discussions about the global pandemic is in hushed voices in the state, and any news of ailments associated with COVID-19 otherwise known as coronavirus is suppressed.
My host did not disclose who the ailing big men were, neither did I prod further. It turned out that one of the patients is the Chief Judge of the state. By now, it is public knowledge that the late legal luminary died of COVID-19 in an isolation centre in the FCT and buried accordingly.
Why was he not hospitalised in Lokoja, the state capital where he lived? First, there is no functional isolation centre in the state, and no patient in the make-shift tents that were passed off as some. According to the state government, two exist in Lokoja: at FAREC and the Diagnostic Centre near the Specialist Hospital and a purported private hospital donated for that purpose in Ankpa.
So if these isolation centres are functional, why are there no patients in them? Why are influential people sneaking to Abuja for treatment and others left to their own devices? How, if any, was coronoavirus protocols observed in the course of transporting patients to Abuja without NCDC’s professional assistance?
The whole truth, according to a source in Lokoja is, there are no standard testing centres and equipment for that purpose anywhere in Kogi state. Therefore, no one is at any of the so-called isolation centres, because the government abdicated its duties of leading the fight from the front, and was playing the ostrich.
Conversely, since top government officials had vehemently denied the existence of the disease in the state, it is diplomatic and safer for it to remain.
Now, after many months of denial, tough talks, trivialising and reveling in ignorance even by the people’s action, here we are with the loss of a known victim to coronovirus. Therefore it is imperative to ask, what went wrong and what does the state have to say now?
Recall that the state government officials had a running battle with the NCDC, first by ordering a 14-day quarantine of their (NCDC) staff when they visited on a fact-finding mission; they were barred from conducting tests even as the state insisted they had conducted over one hundred tests. If the state did conduct tests, what were the outcomes?
Second and in another drama, the state had contested the inclusion of two cases from Kogi state and rained invectives on NCDC for “manufacturing” them.Yet, strange deaths have continued to occur. About two weeks ago, the governor’s PA died of what the state called septic shock, yet information available is to the contrary. Another prominent politician from the central part of the state was recently discharged from an isolation centre, but the people would rather associate it with fever than call it by its name. Imagine the number of unsuspecting victims endangered by ignorance, lack of information or even fear of speaking out.
For weeks now, people in Olamaboro and Okene have reported unusual spikes in the number of deaths all associated with what the people referred to as ‘malaria’.
As a terminus, gateway and central to nine other states, the only sensible thing was for the state to have put the people on their guard, conduct tests, and create awareness around the disease, and cooperate with NCDC to carry out their activities in this respect.
Whereas other states committed (still do) billions of Naira and had sleepless nights to contain the spread of the pandemic, Kogi government sat pretty, fed the people with lies, fake news and false hope, while under the illusion that all was well. Now, we know better, as Justice Ajanah had to pay the supreme price for the folly of the exaggerated immunity of government officials and politicisation of the pandemic.
Justice Ajanah was one of the finest; a gentleman and a leading light among a few technocrats from Kogi Central. He was affable and professional to the core, he would sorely be missed at the bench in the state and beyond.
Death is inevitable for all mortals, and as Muslims we believe in the doctrine that everyone has his appointed time, but it is disheartening that, the leadership of the state failed to do the needful at the appropriate time. The leadership was grandstanding, instead of taking the battle against coronavirus as a matter of responsibility; responsibility to provide enablers and responsibility to guide and protect the people. It is unfortunate that Ajanah was failed by the government he was a key figure in, as the arrowhead of the judiciary.
Coronavirus, or any epidemic for that matter is not about braggadocio, ego-tripping or strong-arm tactics; it is a disease of no mean proportion and no respecter of status, wealth or station in life. Many, including the British Prime Minister had a taste of it. It kills and it subdues whether you accept its reality or not, but it is equally not a death sentence if necessary precautions are adhered to and treatment started in earnest.
Succumbing to its fangs is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. Our laissez-faire attitude can only lead us deeper into the abyss of coronavirus deaths, and so we should act right. Those who stigmatise do so out of of ignorance, but government has a duty to disabuse that. Now that coronavirus is an established and undeniable reality in Kogi state, contact tracing should begin earnestly. Governor Hahaha Bello should eat the humble pie, apologise to NCDC and invite them back to do their professional job in the state.