There was controversy on Saturday over an alleged huge deaths of about 110 persons in Azare town, headquarters of Katagum Local Government Area of Bauchi State, within the past two weeks.
The drama began when a former member of the House of Representatives, Ibrahim Mohammed Baba, raised the alarm in a letter to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), informing him of the death of over 100 persons in the town in the last one week.
The letter was obtained by Sunday PUNCH on Saturday.
Baba, who confirmed to one of our correspondents that he wrote the letter, claimed that the deaths were due to the outbreak of coronavirus in the town. The outbreak, he said, resulted in over 100 fatalities, “throwing the entire area into great mourning, panic and confusion.”
The former lawmaker served between 2015 and 2019, reelected in 2019 but removed by the Elections Petitions Tribunal. He also said about 286 persons were allegedly buried at the Azare cemetery in the last two weeks, adding that anyone in doubt should visit the cemetery to verify his claim.
He said, “If you go to the graveyard, they have a register there and you would see it yourself. In the last two weeks, they registered more than 286 bodies at the Azare graveyard. The normal death rate in the town was about one to two per day, so you have to raise the alarm when you are burying 200 to 300 persons in two weeks and over 100 per week. Our people are dying, do we have to keep quiet?
“We are not blaming anybody; this is a pandemic, we are just asking the government to take further action. The Federal Medical Centre there is doing well; they have over 20 people in isolation there. It’s a case of community transmission like the one in Kano.
“Go to the Federal Medical Centre isolation centre and ask them how many people they have there within two weeks. When Justice Dahiru Saleh died, the record was around 236. If you go to the Azare cemetery, the register is there. What we are trying to do is to inform the government to do the needful. We are asking for a testing centre and other measures the government can deploy to give palliatives to people.”
In the letter titled, ‘Massive COVID-19 outbreak in Azare: Request for urgent action’, Baba, who once represented Katagum Federal Constituency, requested the President to intervene urgently.
The letter partly read, “The centrality and proximity of Azare to Bauchi, Kano and some major cities of Jigawa State makes 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 got the attention it deserves, and that is why I want to use this privilege to appeal to you for urgent action to arrest the unpalatable situation.
“Consequently therefore, I wish to appeal to Your Excellency to direct the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to urgently reach out to Azare town with all the necessary facilities and palliatives to assist the communities there.
“And to help in this expected effort, may I draw your attention to the fact that an Opthalmology unit and laboratory have already been built and equipped by the Central Bank of Nigeria at the Azare Federal Medical Centre since 2013 but have not been inaugurated and put to use till now.”
Meanwhile, the total number of cases in the state rose to 161 following the addition of the 44 new cases detected on Saturday.
Overall, there were 239 new cases in the country on Saturday, pushing the total cases to 4,151. Number of deaths increased to 128 while 745 persons have so far been discharged.
Katagum district head confirms 110 deaths
But, when contacted, a member of the Katagum Emirate Council and District Head of Katagum, Usman Mahmood Abdullahi, told Sunday PUNCH in a telephone interview that there had only been 110 deaths and no evidence to link the deaths to COVID-19.
He said, “We have one major burial ground in Azare and the information available to me is that from the time we started our fasting (April 24) till date, we have buried 110 persons. When I asked the graveyard managers, they told me the average death is between 10 to 12 in a day, even without this COVID-19. So, from the look of things, we didn’t even meet the average because if you look at it, we only have 110 deaths within 15 days. And the number is falling.
“Secondly, I’m in touch with the FMC where the isolation centre is. I don’t know how he got his information. We have a register at the graveyard and anybody can go and check. The information I gave you is from the available register.”
Asked if the deaths could be due to COVID-19, he said, “No, because I’m not a medical doctor. About four to five of them who died recently were over 85. So, it’s a normal death.”
Deaths may be over 300, say indigenes
However, in a different but related twist to the controversy, a Peoples Democratic Party candidate from Azare/Madangala constituency for the House of Assembly election in the last general elections, Musa Azare, in an open letter to Governor Bala Mohammed claimed that as of Thursday, there were over 301 fresh graves dug at the Azare cemetery in the last 14 days.
He said what was more worrisome was the way people accompanied the corpses for burial, pointing out that it was in violation of government’s directives and protocols.
He added, “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.”
Azare said that there was the need to intensify awareness among the people, advising the indigenes to be more cautious in the face of the pandemic.
He said, “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 scepticism will not do anyone any good. In fact, it is part of the reasons why we are witnessing more and more deaths. And truly, it amounts to us killing ourselves.”
In a related revelation, an indigene of Azare and Secretary of the Muhammad Dankauwa Horse Riders Association in the town, Mr Umar Farouq, said over 300 people had died in the community.
He said it was sad that no tests were being carried out to determine the cause of the deaths.
He said, “Most of the people who have died were aged 60 and above. Since April 24 when Fatima Adamu, the mother of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, died in Azare, we have been seeing more deaths.
“About 300 persons have died in Azare now. No autopsy has been carried out to determine what killed them and we have been living as if nothing is going on.
“We are scared because most people living in Azare are like a family. We need a COVID-19 testing centre to determine what’s going on.”
Another indigene, a teacher who lives at Azare, Mr Inuwa Umar, also told one of our correspondents on the telephone that in the past two weeks, over 300 persons had died in the community.
“In the past few days, almost every day when I open the social media or go to the mosque, there have been announcements of people who died from illness. Both the prominent and ordinary residents have died,” he said.
Umar said he was afraid that Azare might be experiencing the deaths due to its proximity to Kano, saying over 30 buses usually left Azare for Kano every day.
Kano is an epicentre of the COVID-19 in the North-West, with 576 cases as of Saturday. The state also recently experienced a series of what residents tagged ‘mysterious deaths,’ which were later found out to be COVID-19 related.
Umar said, “I think the situation might be as a result of what is happening in Kano. We have strong economic ties with Kano. Over 30 buses go to Kano from our town daily, which means that anything that happens to Kano people might easily happen to us.
“Even during the lockdown, you would be surprised to see the number of people travelling to Kano for business. Our people know the routes to get to Kano.
“The people dying are mostly aged 60 and above. The deaths are rampant, I’m telling you. There is a central cemetery here at Azare where they are burying the deceased. It’s so bad here that even yesterday (Friday), our former House of Representatives member wrote a letter to the President that we need his attention. We don’t know what’s happening and we are really scared.”
‘Magnitude of deaths unprecedented, causing panic’
Also, the Damajen Katakum (District Head), Bashar Kabir, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the magnitude of deaths had caused panic in Azare, with many linking them to COVID-19.
Kabir stated, “There were series of deaths but nobody can confirm they were (caused by) coronavirus. Only the medical workers can confirm that. But I know there were a series of death over the past two weeks and the magnitude has been unprecedented; it’s high this time around. That is why people are linking it to coronavirus.
“There is panic. People that used to go there (Azare) cannot go because of the fear of the unknown. There are people that go there regularly, but now they cannot go because of that.
“What I heard was that a former member of the House of Representatives wrote to the President, through the SGF (Secretary of the Government of the Federation) asking them to intervene. And I learnt that the deputy governor was there with the state team to assess the situation, but I don’t know the outcome,” he added.
He also said that though efforts were ongoing to sensitise the villagers to the need to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19, most of the residents doubted the existence of the virus.
“What the former member of the House of Representatives did was the right thing. He wrote the Federal Government, through the SGF, asking them to please send a team,” he added.