BAUCHI State residents are alleging massive deaths from a ‘strange ailment’ in Azare, headquarters of Katagum Local Government Area of the state.
About 301 people are feared dead in the last two weeks in the area, according to residents.
Some suspect the strange ailment to be COVID-19
The State Government on Saturday alleged exaggeration of the matter.
Deputy Governor Baba Tela told reporters that the situation in the Azare was being blown out of proportion by those who don’t reside in the state.
A former member of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ibrahim Baba, in a May 8, 2020 letter to President Muhammadu Buhari spoke of a “massive outbreak of coronavirus” in Azare.
He said the town recorded over 100 COVID-19 deaths in one week alone, sparking panic among residents.
He said: “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 in the last one week, and this has thrown the entire area into great mourning, panic and confusion,” he wrote.
“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 toward states capital 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 situations.
“Consequently therefore, I wish to appeal to your Excellency to direct the National Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC) 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.”
He also appealed to the president to allow a facility the Central Bank of Nigeria built at a Federal Medical Centre in the town to be used for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
“And to help in this expected effort, may I draw your attention to the fact that at the Ophthalmology 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 commissioned and put to use up till now,” he said.
“This facility can be repurposed to a COVID-19 test and treatment center provided the right equipment are added, including ventilators.
“As a matter of life death, I have the utmost trust in your sense of patriotism and commitment to the well-being of Nigerians that you will assist the beleaguered people of Azare town and environs to overcome this harrowing situation. And while I look forward to your kind response, please, accept the assurance of my high esteem and loyalty.”
In a similar letter to Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, the Deputy Public Relations Officer (P.R.O) of the State Asset and Recovery Committee, Musa Azare claimed that 301 fresh graves were dug at the Azare cemetery in the “last 14 days.”
Azare who posted the letter on his Facebook wall said: ‘’ Dear Kauran Bauchi,
“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. There is need to intensify awareness campaign.
‘’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!”
An Azare resident, Muhammad Muktar, however told The Nation the 310 said to have died were “aged” people.
Another resident, Salisu Azare said: “of course, what you heard is true. The figure may be even be more than that and most of them are within the range of 60 years and above.
“But no one would tell you what killed them. I think only scientific examinations could prove the ailment that killed them. But we are really scared.”
Retired Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory and a native of Azare, Justice Muhammad Dahiru Saleh, died on Thursday at the age of 83.
When contacted his son, Ahmed Saleh , told our Correspondent through a text message that his father actually died of partial stroke and not coronavirus as alleged on social media.
He said: “His sugar level rose, which led to partial stroke. That was the cause and not Coronavirus as alleged.”
Azare death toll exaggerated; it has nothing to do with COVID-19, says government
Reacting to the speculations yesterday, Deputy Governor Baba Tela, who doubles as Chairman of the Taskforce Response Committee on Lassa Fever and Coronavirus said the situation in the Azare was an exaggeration.
He said no more than six persons died per day in Azare in the last one week and their deaths had nothing to do with COVID-19.
He said: “we have received so many reports but I personally interviewed undertakers who assist in burying corpses in the area and yes there have been a number of deaths but it’s seasonal which comes with high temperature.
‘’As you see we are in the hot season now. This situation is similar to that of Kano State where people with underlying medical issues, most especially the elderly ones die. And you know Azare shares proximity with Kano State but am very sure the deaths are exaggerated.”
‘’I have come across different write-ups on social media on the incident but the situation is not so as presented; the writers of this letter are from Bauchi but they are not in the state at the moment.’’
“I don’t know the exact number of casualties, but what I have gathered is that about six persons die every day for a period of seven days.”
He said the ailment responsible for the deaths was yet to be ascertained while that state government was liaising with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF ) to retrain health workers in Azare on how to handle the situation.
Sen. Baba Tela said government would not hesitate to impose a total lockdown in the affected LGA if the figure of fatalities continued to rise.
The Deputy Governor also confirmed that about seven medical health personnel -five doctors and two nurses -tested positive for coronavirus in Azare.
The Executive Chairman of the Bauchi State Primary Health Care Development Agency (BASPHCDA), Dr. Rilwan Mohammed also debunked the alleged high death rate in Azare.
“Where are the three hundred?” he asked The Nation.
He said: “we know many are dying in the area but we are yet to link it with COVID-19.We are yet to get back their sample which has been taken to the testing centre in Jos, the Plateau state capital.
‘’Besides, we don’t have mass graves dug like the ones in Kano and Jigawa States.
“It’s not true that there are massive deaths in Azare. These are just rumours. I know there are deaths here and there but the figure people are giving is exaggerated.”
Yobe probes rising cases of mysterious deaths
Similar mysterious deaths have also been reported in Yobe State which Health Commissioner Muhammed Gana said government is currently investigating.
Gana, who is also the Vice-Chairman, Committee on COVID-19 Prevention and Control, spoke in Damaturu, the state capital, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the state was not only battling with Coronavirus but other diseases, especially in the hot season when meningitis and measles strike.
He said the mortality rate could not be easily attributed to Coronavirus pandemic.
He, however, said the state had already commenced investigation to ascertain the actual cause of the deaths, including carrying out autopsies to establish the cause(s) of deaths.
He said: “You cannot conclude to say that when somebody died, the person died as a result of the epidemic. No, you have to establish the real cause of the death and the related items.
“This is why we have always taken our time to investigate the causes before we reveal our findings.”
The commissioner said that as soon as the report of the investigations was out, they would use those results to prevent further mortalities.