“Where dey COVID-19?” asks the taxi driver. He’s in his mid-twenties and speaks in pidgin English. “All that one na wetin politicians wan carry chop our money.” He continued, tapping the back of his steering wheel with the inside of his palms. As he takes me to my hotel, it’s a good introduction to what many people in Kogi believe.
“Malaria wey Mosquito dey give us every day, if we take Ibuprofen dey well, na him these people come change to another thing. COVID-19 no dey Nigeria, my brother. Politicians just wan use the opportunity chop our money.” Suggesting that the virus is a ploy by politicians to embezzle funds.
When I asked him if Yahaya Bello, the Governor of Kogi State is among the politicians using COVID-19 “to chop our money”, he said, “E be say na the only good thing wey him don do for us for this state. Why you think say them no want make him be president? Na because of them no say him know wetin dem dey do, that’s why them dey block im way”, an obvious reference to the Governor’s recent campaigns to Nigeria’s top government post.
As we drove through the Lokoja-Ankpa road in the state capital there was not a single soul on sight putting on a facemask, confirming that many in the state share the same belief as my driver.
The PSC and the new COVID-19 guidelines
Due to the recent increase of COVID-19 infections in Nigeria, the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 had released a set of guidelines mandating states to enforce the use of nose masks and to limit public gatherings in enclosed spaces to no more than 50 persons.
Dr Mukhtar Muhamad, Head of Technical Secretariat of the PSC said: “The Presidency is worried by reports of non-compliance with the just signed executive order that makes mask-wearing and observation of social distancing in the public mandatory, appealing to Nigerians to give their maximum cooperation for the success of the policy.”
Yahaya Bello: A bad example
“Are you more intelligent than Governor Bello?” was the answer I got from Alifeli, who simply identified himself as a member of the Lokoja Council of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). “The Governor has spoken and we are following. There is no COVID-19 in Kogi, why should we wear a mask?”
Adah, a food vendor on Choko-Choko Street who also spoke in pidgin English said “the virus no fit survive African weather. E dey worry oyibo people because their weather cold. I get mask for house but na when I want enter bank I dey use am”.
While the WHO had in its Mythbusters series since debunked the claim that the weather has an impact on the spread or otherwise of the virus, the havoc that the virus has caused in humid countries like India and South Africa is proof that the claim is false.
Since the first index case of COVID-19 in Nigeria, Governor Yahaya Bello has consistently made false statements promoting COVID disinformation, a stand he insists “he won’t change.”
At the start of the pandemic in Nigeria, officials from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), who were on a fact-finding mission to the state were warned by the Governor not to step foot Into Kogi. He accused them of trying to introduce the virus to the state. Bello threatened to have the visitors arrested and quarantined if they dared step foot in the state.
A look at pictures posted to the Governor’s Facebook page shows a disregard for social distance and a constant flaunting of the rules on nose mask-wearing. Within the last month, the Governor has posted pictures about seven times and it is only on his visit to President Muhammad Buhari that he is seen with a nose mask.
The numbers don’t add up
The Governor had in an interview on Channels TV claimed that the state had carried out massive covid-19 testing and that there has been no Coronavirus case in the state.
According to him: “After one month of intensive testing by their (NCDC) workers and officials, not one single person tested positive.
“NCDC, the ministry of health went to institutions, streets, market places, villages and cities, and not one single individual tested positive”.
Bellio further claimed that students of the state-owned Prince Michael Audu University and other tertiary institutions in the state who were returning for the session were all tested.
“We have the NYSC camp here. We have been conducting tests for corp members. Each stream carries about 700 corps members and we have conducted tests with no positive case”, Bello said.
But the data show otherwise. Numbers from the NCDC show that as of when the Governor made that speech only four hundred and fifty-one samples had been collected from the state. This is less than the numbers the Governor claimed were in the NYSC camp. The data further showed that five samples turned out positive and the state had two deaths from the virus.
We are treated as an outcast
Samuel, a student of Prince Michael Audu University said it seems there is a conspiracy of quietness around COVID-19 in the state. He added that there are a lot of people that have bought into the misinformation around the virus and made that those that believe that the virus exists look stupid.
“Go anywhere people are having a conversation about COVID, and a majority will say there is no COVID. It doesn’t matter how educated they are.
“I cannot categorically say whether their thinking is influenced by the body language of the Governor, but he has not helped matters either. They use him to shut people up a lot, and those of us who believe that covid-19 is real is seen as an outcast”, He said.
“I don’t personally know anyone who has died from the virus, but I know the damage the virus has caused globally, and Kogi is not exempted from it because the Governor is in denial”, He said.
Ms Iganya James, the Programme Manager, Center for Good Health and Justice, CGHJ, said one cannot separate some of the false claims of the Governor to how people in the state choose to respond to the virus.
“He is a leader and people understandably follow him. So when he makes claims about the vaccine or acts in a way that suggests people shouldn’t wear a nose mask, you will expect people to take him seriously, even if his claims are false and cannot be backed by science”, She said.
Wear Face Mask, Observe Social Distance – NCDC
Contrary to the belief of my driver, Alifeli and Ms Adah, data from the NCDC show that not only is COVID active in Nigeria and Kogi State but there has also been one hundred and sixty-seven thousand, seventy-eight confirmed cases and counting, with one thousand, four hundred and ninety-two active cases and two thousand one hundred and seventeen deaths.
In its published ‘Advisory on use of nose mask’, the NCDC said it “advises the use of face masks as an additional layer of physical distancing to help block the spread” of the virus.
Name changed to protect him
This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s African Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Center for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and Africa Uncensored.