As the total figure of COVID-19 casualties in Nigeria boards a bike heading towards 30,000, health officials in the country are still having a serious challenge convincing many Nigerians that the pandemic is not just dancing to the sweet melody of the proverbial ‘surugede’ song at people’s doorsteps but is poised to steal, kill and destroy. The pandemic is now a serious and scary threat to Nigerians. So when a governor in the country continues to make himself a giant, the size of the Biblical Goliath, trying to see COVID as having same size as the Biblical David, that is very dangerous because only a Biblical ‘stone’ will expose the hidden facts and embarrass the state when it must have been too late.
This seems to be happening presently in Cross River state where the governor, Prof. Ben Ayade’s claims of no coronavirus positive cases in his state is beginning to take a hilarious but disturbing turn. Though Ayade and his Kogi state counterpart, Yahaya Bello have been on the same page for a long time, claiming no COVID-19 cases in their states, Ayade’s case is more disturbing coming from a Professor of Virology with a Ph.D in Environmental Microbiology, whose state is flanked by states and enclaves where the coronavirus is very high in spirit, as if it is still celebrating with Liverpool fans for winning the English Premier League title after 30 years.
Cross River state shares boundaries with Benue State, to the North. Ebonyi State and Abia States to the west, Akwa-Ibom state to the south, and on the eastern side there is a province called Sud-Ouest Province claimed by both Ambazonia and Cameroon. Just go and checkout the story of COVID-19 in these places flanking Cross River state and conclude for yourself whether governor Ayade is being sincere about the status of the pandemic in his state or he is dancing to the sweet melodies of Surugede. The state also shares boundary with the Atlantic Ocean, and you know what this means in term of influx of people through water transpiration. Let’s quickly note that an Igbo proverb says “a child who is dancing to the sweet melodies of Surugede does not know it is the song of the spirits.” Not a good option at all in this pandemic.
Ayade is expected to be at the forefront of the sincerity side of the battle, not the seeming political or ego-centric side which many Nigerian elites have used to make ordinary citizens think the coronavirus situation in Nigeria is a sham. To think he has stuck to this position for a long time is most shocking. Recent events have started exposing the true picture of the pandemic in Cross River state and the governor might eventually not have any more defence for his unbelievable stance against the presence of the pandemic in his state especially when officials of Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) have insisted that no state in Nigeria is coronavirus free. Here are some of the incidents that are currently constituting a formidable Biblical ‘stone’ that might aim for the forehead of Ayade’s Goliath image and lead to monumental disaster if he does not quickly change his position on the pandemic and face the fight truly and squarely.
The list of those forming a positive ‘gang up’ against the COVID-19 pandemic in Cross River state is endless, leaving Ayade and his men on the other side. The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTC), Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN), Efik Leadership Foundation, Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), including Bala Mohammed, Bauchi State Governor, have all made revealing statements indicative of the fact that there are coronavirus positive cases in Cross River State. Recall that the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, once said that 15 persons who returned to his state from Cross River tested positive for coronavirus. The Director General of NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, categorically stated that there was no state in Nigeria that was coronavirus free. The lawmaker representing the Obudu State constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly, Godwin Akwaji, recently died of fever and other COVID-19 symptoms at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital Isolation centre. The cases and evidences are endless, yet Ayade’s team insists no coronavirus positive case is in the state.
Well, the battle is now between two professors and the innocent public continues to watch as the pandemic which is not even interested in the fight, goes on to ravage the society. Here’s what is currently happening. The University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTC) is not keeping quiet over governor Ayade’s claim of coronavirus-free status for the state. The Chief Medical Director, UCTH, Prof Ikpeme Ikpeme had, on Thursday, June 25, in a circular, said a test result came back COVID-19 positive in Calabar, following a recent antibody Rapid Diagnostic Test on a patient, though the patient has recovered and was discharged. According to Ikpeme, “With recent developments, it does appear that the state may not be free of COVID-19 as generally believed. A recent rapid test carried out on a patient came out positive. However, the patient had recovered and was discharged from our isolation centre last week.
“Management, therefore, urges staff and patients to protect themselves as maximally as possible. This is however without prejudice that health caregivers must make themselves available at all times to provide adequate treatment to patients without fear. Management, on the other hand, will do everything possible to ensure staff and patients are adequately protected in line with NCDC guidelines.”
Ikpeme’s position has received support from diverse concerned groups and professionals in the state who believe Ayade is wrong. The state NMA, in a press statement by its Chairman and Secretary, Dr. Agam E. Ayuk and Dr. Ezoke Epoke, raised concerns on increasing malaria cases in Calabar saying, “the increasing report of flu-like symptoms, respiratory symptoms and loss of smell/taste in hospitals and metropolis was an indication of potential community transmission of an undetected disease fitting COVID-19 epidemiologic pattern.”
Also, the Cross River State Branch of AMLSN, has raised alarm over the use of RDT kits for testing, saying the disparity between number of samples collected and actual test performed raises more questions than answers. In late May this year, the NMA had called for action, saying it suspected that there had been a rise in COVID-19 related deaths in the state.
Again, governor Ayade’s team showed up to defend their stance. The State Commissioner for Health and Chairman, Taskforce Committee on COVID-19, Dr Betta Edu, in a reaction, said there was no positive COVID-19 case in the state. “It is important to state that an index COVID-19 case can only be confirmed with Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and not the antibody Rapid Diagnostic Test kits, which the NCDC had said has very low sensitivity and should not be used for COVID-19 diagnosis, as it may produce false positive cases.” But the governor himself had also condemned the PCR test method saying it was unreliable and not to be used for diagnostic purposes. So which ‘professional’ advice should be believed here?
An independent group, Efik Leadership Foundation, comprising health authorities and federal officials who believe the government in Cross Rivers is discouraging tests for people with symptoms of COVID-19 have requested President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in their state as they are also disputing the state’s free status. In the letter to Buhari, the group said, “There is enough anecdotal evidence to support the belief that cases of the COVID-19 disease exist in the (Cross River) State.” The group said the Cross River government has been “rejecting” COVID-19 testing in the state.
Note that NCDC officials once came to Cross River state and allegedly carried out tests after which they said the state was indeed free of coronavirus positive cases. Shortly after the NCDC officials left, Bauchi state governor made contrary comment pointing to the COVID-19 positive returnees from Cross River. The NCDC, in what looked like a U-turn, came out with a statement that no state was coronavirus free. Then came the battle of Professors – Prof. Ayade, the state governor and Prof. Ikpeme, The Chief Medical Director of UCTH, where Ikpeme is insisting there are coronavirus positive cases in the state. But Ayade’s team is not relenting at all, even with pressure from professional bodies such as the NMA and Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN).
As the battle rages on, the grass continues to suffer as usual. Residents of Cross River state my come out worse hit at the end of this controversy if Ayade ends up being very wrong as unfolding events are gradually indicating. The governor still has time to own up to the reality on ground and begin a fresh but almost belated battle to save Cross River state from the ravaging effect of COVID-19 pandemic almost everywhere in Nigeria. Even the spirits now know the truth about the nightmarish nature of evolving coronavirus incidents in Nigeria and their Surugede song has suddenly gone silent. Ayade needs to stop dancing too.
(Chinenye Nwabueze is a Contributing Editor with National Newsbreak newspaper, one of the leading city newspapers in Imo State)