Yahaya Bello seesaws on COVID-19 status

To Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, COVID-19, the virus which has brought a pandemic upon the world and goaded the Nigerian government into tagging along with governments of the western world in initiating a nationwide lockdown despite being far less prepared, is a triviality, a political game, and a fear tactic orchestrated to shorten the lifestyle of people. It is also a disease imported and forcefully propagated on the people for no just cause. The exact meaning or method of shortening people’s lifestyles is the sole intellectual property of the impassioned state governor.

His position, which he felt compelled to reiterate at the burial prayers for the late Chief Judge of the State High Court, Justice Nasir Ajanah, who died of suspected COVID-19 complications, tempts many unwitting people to believe he is privy to information concerning a poorly-disguised plot and scheme to debilitate Kogi with the coronavirus. From all indications, the governor is not. In fact, he oscillates between vehemently denying the existence of the virus within the borders of the state he swore to govern without allowing his personal interest influence his official conduct or decisions, and partnering with the United States Centre for Disease Control to set up a reference molecular laboratory for COVID-19 tests.

After turning deaf ears to the distressed pleas of health workers, and harrying officials of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) out of the state, the recent spate of mysterious deaths in the state, including that of Justice Ajanah and Justice Atadoga, who presided over the Customary Court Appeal, shook him strongly enough to accede to the establishment of a laboratory for testing suspected Covid-19 cases. But, he has since reversed his position.

“Let us stop this game,” he said petulantly, “Nigerians are suffering. Instead of the lockdown with its attendant negative effects on the people, why can’t we turn it to employment opportunities, providing clothes for face masks to be imported to those countries who have the disease? COVID-19 is not a new disease in our climate, we have our own way of treating it; that is what we should be exploiting rather than subjecting our people to hardship, hunger, and starvation through the lockdown.”

Not sure he had said enough to abate the suspicions of his listeners, he went on, “The late Chief Judge, Justice Nasir Ajanah, had been managing his health since 2016. We know his medical history; he was my brother. We know we have been managing him since 2016, but this time, he was completely isolated; no one was allowed to even speak to him until he passed away. We cannot afford to be playing games with the lives of Nigerians. This must stop.” Justice Ajanah, his brother? Might it be the same justice whom he did his worst to defrock?

The Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Lokoja had, until Wednesday, been the only health facility brave enough to express apprehension of the disaster the government was openly and unrestrainedly courting. A planned media briefing by health workers at the federal institution never happened because armed vandals invaded and pillaged the health facility, destroyed some equipment, and made away with other materials unchecked.

It is not clear whether Governor Bello is aware that a telling number of his aides have died recently in mysterious circumstances. He, however, needs to commit himself more responsibly to his oath as a state governor. He has a chance to prove his critics wrong by dealing with the spread of the virus effectively. It is in turbulent times that heroes emerge, but it is also in turbulent times that villains are identified. His management of the pandemic has left much to be desired and he has exposed those in the state to a level of danger he cannot fully fathom.

While the governor seesaws between admitting and denying the presence of the virus in the state, the federal government also needs to rouse itself to the portents of the attack on the FMC. It is beyond a slap on the image of the health workers there. It transcends impotent security for the lives and equipment of the workers; it is a buffet of insolence served to both the state and federal governments. And if they are to turn down the ignoble meal, they must act; each in its capacity, to attend to the lawless wind wafting through Kogi.

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