The governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, on Sunday confirmed that at least 150 persons have died from both unknown and natural causes in Katagum local government area of the state, in the past weeks.
He, however, said except for a confirmed case, the deaths were not caused by COVID-19, a deadly respiratory ailment which has claimed thousands of lives globally.
Mr Mohammed gave this information amidst disturbing rumours that scores of persons have been dying from COVID-19 related diseases in parts of Bauchi, which share a common boundary with Kano and Jigawa States.
A former federal lawmaker, Ibrahim Baba, startled many Nigerians when he wrote ‘save our soul’ letter to President Muhammadu Buhari alleging that about 300 persons have been buried in a part of Bauchi State after dying of COVID-19 related complications.
A copy of the letter, which was addressed to the president through the office of the Secretary to the government of the Federation, circulated on the social media last week.
The letter, dated May 8, 2020/was titled “massive COVID-19 outbreak in Azare: request for urgent action!” was signed by the federal lawmaker, Mr Baba.
In the letter, the former House of Representatives member informed the president of 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.”
Mr Baba highlighted that “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.”
He said the situation in Azare went on unreported because the media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic concentrated on “state capitals and other more prominent cities.”
He appealed to the presidency to direct the NCDC to urgently reach out to Azare town with all the necessary facilities and palliatives to assist the communities there, adding that the situation in Azare was “a matter of life and death.”
Similarly, another concerned citizen of Bauchi State, Musa Azare, had also, in a separate SOS message circulated in social media, called the attention of Mr Mohammed to the situation in Azare citing higher casualty figures.
In his open letter to the state governor, Mr Azare said “Information reaching me from Azare says that as of yesterday (Thursday) there were 301 fresh graves in the Azare cemetery, dug in the last 14 days.”
“I have verified this information from multiple sources.”
He also raised “serious concern” about the manner “people escort their dead ones to the cemetery; “no observance of any counter-measure against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Charging the government of Bauchi “to intensify awareness campaign” on the reality of the new coronavirus, Mr Azare blamed the massive death in Azare and its environs on “deliberate ignorance and reckless skepticism.
“In fact, it is part of the reasons why we’re witnessing more and more deaths.”
‘Not so many deaths’
Reacting to the two letters on Saturday, the deputy governor of Bauchi state, Baba Tela, who is also chairman of the state’s COVID-19 Committee told a journalist at a press conference that the rumours were unfounded.
“We got a lot of reports. Somebody will say five people died today and another will say 300 people died today, but these are just reports. I was there myself to interview the people who helped in burying the dead in the graveyard and yes; there have been a number of deaths but this is kind of seasonal, it comes with or without pandemic when it is very hot or cold,” he said.
The deputy governor also said while he was in Azare, he had a “one on one discussion” with the local undertakers who confirmed to him that “they only buried an average of six corpses per day” in the past one week.
Hours after the deputy governor had faulted the claims that hundreds have died from COVID-19 complications in Azare, the NCDC announced that 44 persons tested positive for the new coronavirus in Bauchi. This was followed by another 22 the next day.
Of the total 66 new confirmed cases, 42 of them turned out to be from Azare town and its environs, a development that may have corroborated the claims that there has been a prevalence of COVID-19 in Azare.
Barely 24 hours after the deputy governor had briefed the media on the situation in Azare, and other communities bordering Kano State, Mr Mohammed called for yet another press briefing.
At the briefing, Mr Mohammed declared a 10-day 24 hour curfew in Katagum, Giade, and Zaki local government areas.
The governor said the total shutdown of the areas was due to the large scale outbreak of COVID-19.
He also denied the claims that about 300 persons have been buried in 14 days in Azare and environs. He, however, did not deny that people have been dying in numbers in Azare.
“In about a month now, we have had cases of people dying in Azare of strange diseases. Some from childbirth, some high blood pressure and other normal causes of deaths but certainly not COVID-19.”
Mr Mohammed said about 150 persons have been buried as a result of strange illnesses and other natural causes.
“Out of these 150 death cases, only one was confirmed to be from COVID-19,” he said.