Fear in Bauchi as disease allegedly kills over 300 in Azare

Paul Orude, Bauchi

There is fear spreading among residents of Bauchi State following unconfirmed reports of hundreds of deaths in Azare, in the Katagum local government area of the State, as a result of coronavirus related illnesses.

A former member of the House of Representatives representing Katagum Federal Constituency, Ibrahim Baba, set the ball rolling in an open letter to President Muhammad Buhari, dated May 8th, which was shared on social media, wherein he called for urgent Federal Government Intervention, claiming that a strange disease has claimed over a hundred lives.

The former federal representative claimed that the mass deaths occurred within the last week in Azare, headquarters of Katagum local government area, due to coronavirus related complications.

Baba wrote that the situation has thrown the entire area into great mourning, panic and confusion, expressing great worry that the proximity of Azare to Bauchi, Kano and some major cities of Jigawa State, make the town’s large population susceptible to the virus due to the already existing large cases of the disease in those areas.

Baba, who served in the House of Representatives between 2015 and 2019, and was reelected in 2019 but was removed by the Election Petition Tribunal, stated in his open letter:

“Your Excellency, Sir, I write to draw your kind attention to the massive outbreak of coronavirus in Azare town and environs in Bauchi State, which has already resulted in over 100 fatalities in the last one week, and this has thrown the entire area into great mourning, panic and confusion.

“The centrality and proximity of Azare to Bauchi, Kano and some major cities of Jigawa State make the town’s large population susceptible to the virus due to the already existing large cases of the disease in those areas.

“And because media coverage is always largely skewed towards states capitals and other more prominent cities, the ongoing horrific situation in Azare has not gotten the attention it deserves, and that’s why I want to use this privilege to appeal to you for urgent action to arrest the unpalatable situation.”

He called on the president to direct the National Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to urgently assist with necessary facilities and palliatives.

He informed the president that an ophthalmology unit and laboratory which was built and equipped by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at the Azare Federal Medical Centre in 2013 has not been commissioned and put to use.

“This facility can be repurposed to a COVID-19 test and treatment centre provided the right equipment are added, including ventilators,” he wrote.

In a related development, an open letter to Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State by Musa Azare, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the Bauchi State Assembly in the 2019 election for Azare/Madangala constituency, claimed that, as at Thursday, there were over 301 fresh graves at the Azare cemetery.

Azare expressed concern at the way corpses are accompanied for burials, suggesting a disregard for the State government’s directives on social distancing and other protocols.

“Information reaching me from Azare says that as at yesterday there were 301 fresh graves in the Azare cemetery dug in the last 14 days. I have verified this information from multiple sources.

“Equally of serious concern is the way people escort their dead ones to the cemetery. No observance of any counter-measure against the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Azare said that there is the need to intensify public awareness campaigns among the people, charging them to be more responsible in the face of the pandemic.

“And to our people, you better wake up, and accept the reality of what the whole world is going through. This deliberate ignorance and reckless skepticism will not do anyone any good. In fact, it is part of the reasons why we’re witnessing more and more deaths. And truly, it amounts to we killing ourselves,” he stated.

In his reaction, Governor Mohammed on Sunday debunked the reports of massive deaths in Azare within the last seven days.

In a release signed and issued by his Special Assistant on New Media, Lawan Mauzu Bauchi, Governor Mohammed vehemently rejected such incidents of ongoing mass deaths in Azare as reported in some sections of the media and on social media.

“Based on our finding in the town, only 30 people have so far died in the last one week, and their deaths were not in any way related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said, describing the report as fake, baseless and misleading, generated by mischief-makers.

“Currently, Bauchi State’s response to COVID-19 is one of the best in the northern part of the country in the areas of effective surveillance, contact tracing, efficient and professional case management, good risk communication and community engagement as well as proper coordination at the emergency operation centre.

“Unfortunately, some mischief-makers from Abuja, who are not in touch with their people, are trying to undermine the efforts of the State government and our hardworking frontline healthcare workers.

“Bauchi State government will in collaboration with the World Health Organization, Bauchi Head Office, train health workers covering Bauchi North Senatorial District as [part of] new measures to scale up the fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in the State.

“The Deputy Governor who is also the State Chairman Task Force on COVID-19 holds a meeting in an efforts to strengthen the capacity of staff of the Federal Medical Centre Azare, especially doctors, nurses and other essential personnel needed in the fight against the disease, considering the number of cases coming the area.

“The training will be headed by the Commissioner of Health, Dr Aliyu M Maigoro, and the Executive Chairman State Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Rilwanu Muhammad, while WHO Office Bauchi headed by Dr Adamu Ibrahim Ningi is expected to give technical expertise.

“In addition, a mini Emergency Operation Centre is to be set up so as to fast track prompt decisions for all emergencies and immediate solution.

“Other issues discussed at the meeting include consumables and drugs supplies, data management and documentation, method of feeding the patients at the FMC Azare, the efficacy of Case Management and how to respond to emergency, Risk Communication strategies,” the governor’s statement read.

Earlier on Saturday evening, Bauchi State Deputy Governor Baba Tela had denied reports of mass deaths in the State, saying, “it is a seasonal thing in the area, especially during the hot season, when people with underlying illnesses get complications which always lead to their deaths,” the deputy governor stressing that the deaths are in no way related to COVID-19 pandemic.

Tela, however, explained that what was happening in Azare is a spillover from Kano, considering the proximity of the northern part of the state to Kano and Jigawa States where mysterious deaths are occurring.

He assured that medical experts are working round the clock to ascertain the disease and its causes.

While giving an update on the COVID-19 pandemic situation, he declared that “so far in Azare only one person died of COVID-19 pandemic while receiving treatment at the FMC Azare.”

He added that, “as at Saturday, 9th May, only 26 patients are in admission at the FMC, Azare having tested positive to COVID-19 and are receiving treatment while a few others have been quarantined awaiting the results of their sample test.”

Tela gave the assurance that the State government is doing everything possible to reduce the number of infections, adding that facilities FMC Azare will be expanded to ensure that the contagion is curtailed.

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