The state governor, Yahaya Bello, claims that a widespread testing campaign is being carried out in the state and no one has been infected, despite strong evidence of acute coronavirus testing in Kogi. Reaffirming his contentious assertions that there is no coronavirus infection in the state, Mr Bello said in an interview broadcast on Channels TV on Sunday, “We say we don’t have COVID-19 in Kogi and actually we don’t have COVID-19 as a matter of fact.” The governor has repeatedly criticized Nigeria’s coronavirus response policy, a situation that pitted him against federal officials and health professors. “But in the phone-in interview, Mr. Bello, whose government had at least once scuttled efforts to coordinate COVID-19 testing by the country’s infectious disease agency, NCDC, made state claims of a “huge testing regime.
“We later allowed them to step in and test people after the earlier misunderstanding we had with the federal health officials and the NCDC,” he said.
Not a single person tested positive after one month of extensive testing by their staff and officials. The NCDC, Ministry of Health and the management committee for my state incident went around. They went to institutions, market places, motor parks, highways, villages, cities and towns, and not a single positive person was reported. We conduct assessments on both indigenous and non-indigenous, indidebes, when students are resuming schools, and there has never been a single positive test. We’ve got the NYSC Kogi camp and we’ve got three to four batches. The NCDC, NYSC officials and the military checked all the CORP members with our incident management team. Each stream consists of around 700 to 750 individuals and no one tested positive. The ‘misunderstanding’ referenced by Mr Bello occurred earlier in the year, around May, and since then, his claims of mass testing are at best dubious.
According to the most recent NCDC general fact-sheet on COVID-19 responses by states, the Governor’s statements are inaccurate.
By December 11, Kogi, a state of nearly 3.5 million people, had only screened 425 samples, the national situation report released by the NCDC on December 12 revealed.
While states are solely responsible for their management and response to the coronavirus, the NCDC supports and receives daily infection information from them, which is then published on its microsite by the agency. The general fact sheet, published weekly, contains information on states with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases reported, recoveries, fatalities, samples tested and active cases.
Ultimately, this serves as the indicator in which the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria is assessed, just as it is in the fight against contagion in all nations. However, due to many loopholes and obstacles, the reliability of these statistics has raised doubts, including that state officials are not sending in enough test samples. Kogi spent almost 200 days without a single coronavirus infection or death, a scenario due to acute under-testing by the NCDC and health experts.
Many health experts have linked it to inadequate testing as to whether there is any possible explanation why the state has not registered a single case in about 120 days.
“Our goal in every state in Nigeria is to test at least 1% of the population of the state. This is the only way we can reliably state whether or not the epidemic has been managed,’ said Chikwe Ihekweazu, the NCDC chief, as no new cases and deaths occurred in late October for 120 days.
In the most recent national situation report released on 26 October, only 268 samples have been checked so far by Kogi State. “We need to do more testing to understand the real situation in Kogi State and across the country,” he said. Contacted on Monday afternoon to talk about the governor’s ‘one-month mega testing program’ statements, Mr. Ihekweazu said he would later answer our questions. At the time of this article, he has yet to do so.
In Sunday’s Channel’s TV programme, Mr Bello also questioned the need for Nigeria to procure COVID-19 vaccines.
He backed his argument with an analogy of varying temperatures between Nigeria and other climes, saying that “what is applicable over there may not work in Nigeria”.
“In winter countries in Europe and America use heaters in their cars and houses but here we use air conditioners. I am saying this against the backdrop of the fact that we saw a lot of antics of merchandise of these foreign products. We cannot be doing ‘copy and paste’. We should not apply same solution with them.
“We don’t need to participate in this marketing of COVID-19 vaccine. We should channel the money we want use to buy the vaccines to other things. The Presidential Task Force (PTF) should give the right advice to the president.” He said about N50 billion that might be used to purchase the vaccines should be invested in building about 54 well equipped health centres across the country at the cost of N10 billion each. The governor said “it is better to invest in tackling more deadly diseases that are killing people everyday, not COVID-19 that has 99.9 per cent recovery rate.” The recovery rate from the disease is quite remarkably high. According to the NCDC records. More than 71, 000 of the over 84, 000 infected persons across Nigeria have recovered. That, however, does not mean the disease is not deadly. In the last nine days prior to Monday, 42 people died from COVID-19 in Nigeria, taking the total fatalities to 1,254. Mr Bello seems to have followed the path of Dino Melaye, a former Nigerian senator who had also expressed doubts in the vaccines despite the approved ones going through various scientific and approval processes including by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In a viral video which was shared on social media platforms including Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram about two weeks ago, the former senator advised Nigerians and Africans “not to accept the use of any vaccine for now,” adding that they could cause fatalities.
There is no scientific evidence yet that the vaccine has caused any deaths. Both Messrs Bello and Melaye did not provide any evidence to back their claims.
This is not the first time the Kogi governor would be making controversial assertions about COVID-19. The governor had in one instance described the deadly disease as a hoax.
“Ninety per cent of the noise about COVID-19 is for political, economic, financial [or] material gain. The other 10 per cent [relates to] ordinary flu, like the common colds Nigerians generally suffer,” Mr Bello had said in a video posted on his Facebook page on March 25, which went viral. During the channels TV programme, he said he has “taken a position and I don’t think am shifting from it. Ever.”
The COVID-19 situation in Nigeria’s North-central state of Kogi has been enmeshed in controversies, accusations and counter-accusations between governments and health authorities even before the index case was recorded. At the time, the state’s COVID-19-free status raised a lot of concern especially because the state sits in-between states with rising numbers of infections. Federal officials and health authorities believe the state officials are discouraging tests for people with symptoms of COVID-19. On May 8, health minister Osagie Ehanire, admitted that efforts to support Kogi’s response to the pandemic failed after a delegation including NCDC officials “had to flee the state for fear of being quarantined by the Kogi State government.”
“We tried to send a team of the Ministry of Health and the NCDC into Kogi but there were some differences there to processes,” the minister had said. When the index case was reported in Kogi on May 27, state officials said they will not accept any test result “conducted outside the state”, a position described as ‘unfortunate and condemnable’ by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA). Health experts believe the situation in Kogi does not just raise serious concerns but has also made it more difficult to have a synchronised national strategy.
According to Trust MacHarry, a security and health data analyst with SBM intelligence, it also sets a bad example for other states that may prefer irresponsibility at the cost of their people’s lives.
In the early days of the first wave, Kogi’s recourse to the “no test, no case” strategy may have felt good for his government, but it is not really a strategy. It amounts to ostrich playing. The silver lining is that Kogi was spared the same fate, unlike other states that declared the danger of ‘strange diseases’.
“Above all, despite several investigations that have disproved the government’s claim, it does not seem as if the state government is interested in fighting the spread of the virus,” Mr. MacHarry said.
He said that if the next wave is to be contained, there is a need to tackle this issue head on.