Some residents of Bauchi State have raised the alarm over strange deaths in Azare, the headquarters of Katagum Local Government Area of the state.
According to reports, about 301 people are feared dead in the last two weeks in the area, fuelling suspicions that it might have been as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The State Government has however dismissed such fears, saying the reported deaths were exaggerated.
According to the Deputy Governor of the state, Baba Tela, while speaking at a press conference, the situation in 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, had on May 8, 2020 sounded the alarm in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, alleging a “massive outbreak of coronavirus” in Azare.
According to him, the town recorded over 100 COVID-19 deaths in one week alone, sparking panic among residents.
Baba wrote: “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.”
Continuing, the former lawmaker 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.
“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”, he said in the letter.
Also, the Deputy Public Relations Officer of the Bauchi State Asset Recovery Committee, Musa Azare, in a similar letter to Governor Bala Mohammed, 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!”
The state Deputy Governor, who is also the Chairman of the Taskforce Response Committee on Lassa Fever and Coronavirus in the state, while reacting to the reports during a press briefing at the Government House, Bauchi, 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.”
The deputy governor further revealed that the ailment responsible for the deaths was yet to be ascertained while the 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.
He however revealed that the state government would not hesitate to impose a total lockdown in the affected LGA if the figure of fatalities continued to rise.
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