Kogi and the COVID Task Force

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If I had chanced upon the document without the benefit of its heading and the identity of the issuing authority, I would have sworn that it came straight out of the National Publicity Bureau of the PDP.   It seems to have been forged in the combative, sledge-hammer tradition of political pamphleteering that is the hallmark of the former largest political party in Africa.

Like almost everything else in Nigeria, the Civil Service is no longer what it used to be.  But I thought you could still look up to that institution as an exemplar of bureaucratic good manners in style if not in substance, and of linguistic restraint even when matters that lie at the very core of national existence are at issue.

Not anymore, I fear, going by the Kogi State Government’s widely distributed advertorial which appeared in major newspapers several weeks ago, and signed by the Secretary to the State Government.

Its very title, “Kogi State Government’s Response to the Reckless Comments credited to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID in Respect to Kogi State” gives the game away on the threshold.  No fancy footwork, no fake modesty or courtesy, no pretence that the scene is being set for a parliamentary discourse.  From there, the language gets only more unseemly, more scurrilous even.

The PTF, whose National Incident Manager the advertorial dismissed contemptuously as “one Dr Mukhtar Mohammed”, had reported on February 1 that Kogi stood atop the high-risk states for COVID because it was not testing for the virus, because it had built no isolation facilities and because it does not even  acknowledge it that the virus exists.  Therefore, said the PTF, give Kogi a wide berth.

Its report, it is necessary to state, was based largely on the evasiveness, dilatoriness and outright dissembling of the Kogi State Government on all matters COVID.

The PTF report, rejoins the advertorial is “callous” and based on “fabrication,” and qualifies that body for “immediate dismemberment.”  Kogi had done everything expected of it, only for the PTF to cast aspersions on it.  Kogi had never denied the existence of COVID.  What it had “resisted and vehemently opposed” was “the early ascription of fictitious cases to Kogi,” suggestive of an agenda to chalk up bogus casualties in the state “by all means possible.”

Far from being indifferent to the fact of COVID, Kogi had taken immediate measures to sensitize residents to the scourge and was one of the earliest states to order a lockdown; it had also set up a 29-member “Squadron” to ensure prevention or containment not just COVID but Lassa fever as well.

According to the advertorial, the Kogi State Government also purchased Rapid Test Kits and conducted “thousands” of tests and provided “testing services” to persons recommended by health professionals.

More concretely, said the advertorial, the Kogi built “fully equipped isolation centres” in “strategic locations” – not just anywhere in the state, please note — ready for use, not forgetting a molecular lab for COVID testing and treatment at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja.

But rather than ask to see those facilities, the PTF was more interested in “unilaterally manipulating the entire process to suit its sinister purposes.”

Kogi’s strategy, explained the advertorial, was based on an “admixture of science, common sense, medicine and governance,” and constituted a call on government at all levels to prevent citizens from being “plunged into extreme poverty”  and the economy from being damaged by “implementation of imported strategies.”

And whereas Kogi developed COVID protocols suited to its “uniqueness and peculiarities,” the PTF adopted “foreign protocols” that “backfired.”

In any case, said the advertorial, why the “mad rush” to squander one billion Naira to procure vaccines when COVID could be treated with zinc, Vitamins A and D, hydroxychloroquine and non-pharmacological measure?

Besides, it was not as if COVID posed a clear and present danger to the national population. It posed no threat whatsoever to people aged 45 and under.  For persons aged 60 and above with no co-morbidities, the threat was “close to zero.”  And, based on the PTF’s own claim, 96 per cent of COVID patients survived.  So, why the panic?

The funds budgeted for COVID could have been spent more profitably on preventive health care.  But then, there would be no “quick cash” for the boys.

And so on and so forth.

After a cursory reading of the advertorial, anyone unfamiliar with Kogi’s record of obfuscation on COVID might judge the state the wronged party, victim of bullying by the malicious agency of the Federal Government

But a contextual reading would suggest otherwise.

The advertorial was silent, fatally silent, on some key issues.

Why would the PTF set out to fabricate COVID data on Kogi alone among the 36 states of the country and the Abuja Federal Capital Territory?  Is it not on record that Bello ordered the deportation of  PTF officials on an inspection visit, claiming that they had come to plant the virus in his domain?

The advertorial claimed that thousands of COVID tests were conducted.  Since it harped again and again on matters of transparency, it may well be asked:  Where were the tests conducted, when, by whom, and with what results?  The Rapid Test Kits allegedly used for the tests:  Who supplied them, when, through what process, and at what cost?  Where is the surplus stored?

The Kogi State Government, the advertorial said, purchased and distributed face masks to residents of the State “free of charge.” Not one among some 20 Kogi residents I interviewed for this piece, recalls being given a face mask.  In any case, when was the exercise conducted? How were the face masks acquired, and at what cost?  By what mechanism were they distributed?

And where precisely in the state are Bello’s “fully equipped isolation centres” located?  What is their operational record?  Why were PTF officials not taken to the facilities?

There is no mention in the advertorial of the premier medical institution in Kogi — the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja – the omission was not accidental.  The Centre was raided in broad daylight and vandalised by hoodlums on a mission to obliterate records of COVID treatments administered there, for the sole purpose of sustaining the official fiction that the disease does not exist in Kogi.

It is instructive that no arrests and no prosecutions followed this wanton destruction of federal property. And yet Bello continues to parade himself as a law-and-order governor whose record in ensuring security is unequalled in the annals of the state.

If, as claimed, Kogi’s vaccine storage facility in Lokoja was destroyed during the #EndSARS protests, why has another one not been built?  How have the vaunted “intensive care facilities” been functioning without it?

While the controversy raged, the public has been permitted to hear only from Governor Bello,  and occasionally his Commissioner for Information.  The Commissioner for Health has been missing in action. So have Kogi’s top medical officials.

Where are they? Where are the accomplished professionals who can speak with the authority of expertise and with the credibility that can inspire public trust and confidence?  They should be the public face of the war on COVID.  Can it be that they have been sworn to a code of silence?

Though a medical scientist in the broadest sense of the term, the official who signed the advertorial did so not in that capacity, but by virtue of holding the office of Secretary to the State Government.

In sum:  the advertorial is not a credible response to the PTF’s charges and the facts on the ground in Kogi.  It is at bottom an excellent instance of repeating the offence instead of refuting the charge.

Yahaya Bello must understand that COVID cannot be wished away with tawdry stunts, nor contained by treading the ruinous path of the execrable former guy, Donald Trump.

– Olatunji Dare | The Nation

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