Opinion: Kogi as Nigeria’s Health Metaphor

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The scenarios

1) A public health disaster in Kogi state this past week claimed scores of lives. My own Yagba land was seriously affected. The illness even seemed to zoom in on Hausa-Fulani settlers and I thanked God quietly that such a strange outbreak happened in Yagba land where, as I have written before, we are largely unaffected by the usual suspects that Nigerians mobilize to hate and kill each other. In more volatile parts of the country, a scenario in which a disease “mysteriously” targets almost only one ethnic group in a multi-ethnic setting would have eventuated in dangerous and invidious mythmaking, leading to hate and killing. There would have been a consensus that it is not ordinary eyes. Some other ethnic or religious group would have been responsible.


2) As in all things Nigeriana, it took a while to get the facts. Practically every newspaper reported a different set of facts with screaming headlines. As usual, none sent a single reporter to Kogi. Also, it took a while for the government to get her official messaging right. Of course, every Kogi indigene on social media also had “authoritative facts”. Between the media, the state government, and the citizen reporter, we had a lively rainbow of chaotic facts: it is lassa fever; no, it is ebola; no, it is malaria. Fifty people died; no, thirty died; no, forty died.


The good news

1) The initial chaotic messaging from the state government notwithstanding, I noticed that their response, led by the commissioner of health, was swift and comprehensive. The commissioner and his people have been very hands-on and totally dedicated to the issue. They remind me of how Lagos health officials handled the ebola matter very impressively; they remind me of how these kinds of public health situations are handled in 21st-century civilization. I have been pinching myself to make sure that I am not dreaming, to confirm that these are actually Kogi officials, Nigerian officials, reacting to and handling a public health crisis.


2) Maybe there is hope for the country after all. Kogi health officials, led by the commissioner, moved swiftly into the affected areas, collected samples for analysis, moved people to hospitals, etc. There was also a coordinated effort to keep the public informed and to counter all the ignorant misinformation flying around. Once Petra and all the other government spokespersons overcame the initial hiccups, I noticed serious coordination in their messaging and also synchrony between them and the spokespersons of the health ministry. The response to the health crisis and the messaging have been quite impressive. However, this was all before the Kogi officials all got distracted by all the Baba Oyoyo going on in Abuja, forgot about their own health crisis at home, and joined the Abuja euphoria over a foreign medical safari.


3) Governor Yahaya Bello is also reported to have directed that all affected persons be treated free in hospitals in Egbe and Lokoja, etc. Because of the 17th-century poverty I noticed on my recent trip home, I say good for those impoverished citizens who do not have to bear an additional financial burden in a non-salary atmosphere. However, I will return to this matter presently.


Caveat: This acknowledgment of the work of the state medical apparatus, especially the health commissioner and his team, and the information apparatus, Petra and co, is not an open sesame to thanks, praise, adulation, worship, glorification and all the other routine things Nigerians do to turn public officials to tin gods for doing even the most minimal that they are supposed to do. As you all know, Petra is my pikin and protege. If you come here to praise, worship, commend, or thank her, I will unfriend and block you. The Kogi officials were doing their jobs in my period of quiet observation. That is what they should be doing. You are only welcome here if you noticed or observed where or what they could have done better. Worshipers and praise singers should find driving directions to the Walls of the concerned Kogi officials.


Similarly, I do not want to hear bata drumming in praise of Governor Bello for picking up the medical bills of the affected citizens. That is the preferred ad hoc method of Nigerian officials, routinely practiced to buy the hearts and souls of impoverished citizens who are then so thankful for ad hoc crumbs that they forget their right to much better forms of whatever is being dished out to them on an ad hoc basis. One Senator will buy notebooks and biro, one Minister will pay JAMB, WAEC and NECO registration fees, one Governor will pay medical bills, another Governor will provide amala and abula – and that is how they foist an underdeveloped psychology of ad hoc citizenship on our people. Because of poverty, you revel in the immediacy of the moment. You don’t have to pay this particular medical bill. Then you forget that His Excellency actually owes you 21st-century medical facilities and 21st-century ways and means of access to them – health insurance. Also, I understand that Governor Bello was recently in Dubai and Germany for eye treatment. That news is yet to be confirmed or denied by his media team. I am waiting.


The Bad News

1) According to Premium Times, it turned out that what killed 62 people in Kogi state last week was gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis? We call it stomach flu in layman’s language here. It is one of those illnesses that have moved into the zone of “how to treat it at home”. There are many things you don’t have to clog the medical system for here. They produce flyers and literature on what to do at home – with the advice to go to your doctor if it persists or gets worse. This is what became an epidemic and killed 62 Kogi citizens last week. I need to say this again: we are still massively dying of gastroenteritis in August 2017. And that is when we are not dying of meningitis.


2) Tragic, bitter, brutal irony: 62 Kogi citizens died of gastroenteritis in the whirl of the dramatic events that heralded President Buhari’s return to Nigeria.


When the rejoicers are done with their rejoicing, whenever the fumes of carnivalesque clear from their rejoicing eyes, I am gonna need them to find their thinking caps and geles from wherever they dumped them and see if they can connect the dots here…


Gastroenteritis: no citizen of Okoloke in Yagba country made it to London or Germany. Only the lucky got to die in ECWA hospital in Egbe.


Meningitis in Zamfara? Well, they are luckier in Zamfara than Kogi. They don’t need to aspire to go to London for treatment. They just need to stop fornicating.

– Professor Pius Adesanmi

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