Nigeria’s presidential task force on COVID-19 has denied issuing any statement apologising to the public over the flouting of social distancing measures witnessed during the burial of the former chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari.
The statement, which has been reported by some media platforms, is said to have been signed by the secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha.
The public had been riled when they saw pictures and videos of top government officials flouting the rules on social distancing and hygiene put in place to stem the coronavirus scourge ravaging the country.
Mr Mustapha, who doubles as the chairman of the task force, has been responsible for the coordination of the activities of the team in the testing and management of coronavirus cases in Nigeria.
But the director of press at the office of the SGF, Willie Bassey, told PREMIUM TIMES the statement is fake.
According to Mr Bassey, “it was a calculated attempt to ridicule the office and the person of the SGF.” He urged Nigerians to disregard the report.
“The statement is fake, and an attempt to ridicule the SGF. Kindly disregard,” Mr Bassey said.
PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported that the former chief of staff, who died on Friday in Lagos and had his remains flown to Abuja on Saturday morning, was buried according to Islamic rights at the military cemetery in Gudu.
As his body was being moved to the cemetery, a crowd of relatives, supporters and well-wishers thronged the burial ground to pay their last respects.
Mr Mustapha was amongst those sighted at the burial Saturday morning. Several senior government officials and politicians were also seen in the crowd.
However, only those who lowered the body wore personal protective equipment at the burial, despite reports from across the world of people contracting the virus at burial ceremonies.
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The National Centre for Disease Control had warned that improper burial of a coronavirus victim could lead to infections. In its guidelines, the NCDC warned that should a burial be held, “the number of attendees should be limited.”
The disease control office, which does not regularly comment on individual cases, also specifically warned Saturday morning that attendance should be limited at Mr Kyari’s burial.
“Even at this time, as we mourn loved ones lost to COVID-19, including the recently deceased, President’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, we need to refrain from attending mass gatherings to prevent the further spread of #COVID19,” the NCDC said.
However, the NCDC’s warning seemed to have been disregarded by the attendees, including government officials and the chairman of the task force.
As part of immediate consequences, some presidential aides who work directly at the presidential villa, and also journalists, who were observed to have been part of the burial ceremony, were asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. They were denied access into the villa by the security operatives.
Nigerians demand apology
Reacting to the development, many Nigerians had criticised the government for the non-adherence to the physical distancing rule now applied globally.
Some demanded that an pfficial apology be issued to the popular thespian, Funke Akindele-Bello, who was recently tried and sentenced by a Lagos State magistrate court, along with her husband, AbdulRasheed Bello, also known as JJC Skillz.
Mrs Akindele-Bello and her husband were convicted for hosting a birthday party in their Amen Estate home during the Ccronavirus lockdown.
The court sentenced the couple to 14-day community service after they pleaded guilty to a one-count charge of violation of social distancing order preferred against them by Lagos State government.
On Monday afternoon, the statement credited to the task force, surfaced across major social media platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook pages.
The statement, which was titled; “We Acknowledge Mistakes Made during Burial of Late CoS – PTF,” noted that the apology was in response to the concerns raised by Nigerians “over the non-adherence to the physical distancing measures and mass gathering restrictions at the Gudu Cemetery.”
It reads in part; “The nonobservance of physical distancing and the flouting of mass gathering restrictions at the cemetery were due to the failure of crowd control measures.
“We acknowledge that mistakes were made, we have learnt from these mistakes and would ensure that future events are adequately regulated in accordance with the Presidential Task Force and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols.”
The statement, however, added that the body of the late chief of staff, was prepared for burial in line with the NCDC interim guidelines for the safe management of a deceased person with COVID-19 infection.
The false statement added; “As a matter of fact, the body of anyone who dies from COVID-19 infection will not be released for burial without following these guidelines.
“Consequently, the body of the late Chief of Staff was thoroughly decontaminated, put in a body bag and then a sealed coffin in Lagos before being flown to Abuja. On arrival in Abuja, all safety measures required to protect those handling the body were strictly adhered to, from the plane to the burial ground. At no time was the body openly exposed to the environment.”