Covid-19: The Bread, the Cake, and the Shroud – An Open Letter to Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the Governor of Kano State

May 8, 2020
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Introduction

Your Excellency, permit me to commiserate with you over the Covid-19 incident currently ravaging our dear Kano State. The geometric rise in the number of cases is certainly worrying for every good citizen of our premier state. At first, I was acutely hesitant to pick a pen to express my opinions over the current situation in Kano given the deluge of faulty assumptions, doubts, ignorance, expectations and high level politicization that  create a metallic corona around the pandemic. Nevertheless, I swiftly shifted gears and mustered courage to add what I believe is a knowledge-driven perspective and also to fulfil my academic calling. Perhaps, in this way, I may contribute towards silver lining the effects of the pandemic that silently and briskly peels off Kano’s envied fabric of elegance. I fully understand that, the best way to fight this pandemic is through chorus in the voices and actions of the citizens, the government, the opposition, academics, traditional rulers, the civil society groups and les fonctionnaires  – the public servants –  as the French would say.

It is obvious that, the government and its hierarchical power and management structures cannot win the battle alone. In order to effectively fight the Covid-19, a non-hierarchical, apolitical, innovative, interdisciplinary, and holistic approach is earnestly needed in Kano. Traditionally, government in Kano and everywhere in Nigeria enjoy swimming in the waters of DAD – decide, announce, and defend model of decision-making. Hence, everything the Government does is correct and unchallengeable unless when the enlighten seek legal redress. Contrastingly, in  fantastic democracies, governments win people and processes through ADD – announce, discuss and decide model of decision-making.  In my view, not in Kano or Nigeria alone, the Covid-19 has opened the Pandora Box on how governments make wrong decisions in the times of VUCA – vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. The situation also  exposes the nudity of  our poorly planned and managed towns and cities. Cities are now more social than physical and Covid-19 has proved that in many economies. At least, I have visited cities in all continents to understand this notion.

We need unity at this time more than ever before. But, who is the shepherd of the unity to lead us win the battle against the dreaded Covid-19? I remember a Ghanaian adage which says: An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep. When Ibn Makhtoum, the father of modern Dubai met with some strategists, they told him this story: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. The lion knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. Al-Makhtoum answered that he wanted to be both a lion and a gazelle. We are gazelles, the coronavirus is the lion. Any procrastination from our side means the coronavirus will make us its meal. In this open letter, I  aim at spotlighting the areas where the Kano State Government has remarkably done well; the areas where it does below expectation; and also to offer some game-changing recommendations that may help us flatten the infection curve faster and faster.

Historically speaking, the last time governments in Kano and Nigeria were seriously proactive in the seasons of diseases outbreak was during the colonial period. At that time, the British colonial government had to racialize and segregate urban spaces between Africans and whites for fear of epidemics. In Kano, around 1930s, the planning ordinances provided for creating a buffer zone of 440 yards between African settlements and the so-called GRAs. This form of crude social distancing is today being re-created digitally in South Korea and Singapore among others in tracking suspected Covid-19 patients.

Ganduje’s Covid-19 Accolades

Your Excellency, I am personally impressed by some of the actions that the Kano State Government has taken a couple of weeks ago when you closed its borders. The way you superintended the closure is highly commendable. Breaches by citizens is borne out of lack of patriotism and self-discipline. Secondly, I raise my hat for you for initiating the evacuation of  the abandoned children – the so called almajiris – to their states of origin. Many compatriots frowned at this action saying it negates the freedom of movement of Nigerian citizens. What such individuals do not know is that, this is the case of abandoned underage children. I hardly see anything wrong in this back to the sender response. Without this action, only God knows the amount of infections these children will inflict on us through  our streets and households. If there is still many of them, I  would say who (among the citizens) has reported to authorities. The fact that you impose lockdown on Kano before the Federal Government is also commendable. Importantly, without your red eyes, markets and masjids will devastatingly flaunt the orders at the detriment of all. Again, your request for Federal financial aid has been greeted by mocking by many on the social media. But what is good for goose is also good gander. If the Federal Government has allocated funds from the national cake to other states then why discriminate against Kano? It is even encouraging to dare the Federal Government for abandoning Kano. Again, your threat to confiscate inflated consumables from business owners during this emergency is very encouraging. A few days ago the Attorney General of Tennessee State in the United States did that to two brothers who hoarded 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizers which they forfeited to escape prosecution. 

Criticisms, Observations, and Recommendations

Your Excellency, in spite of all of the above, I have misgivings on your decision for the partial loosening of the lockdown on Mondays and Thursdays. I say, “it is too soon” echoing Donald Trump as he counselled one of the Republican Governors who eased the lockdown in his state. Lockdown people will complain, no lockdown people will complain. Lockdown is an exceptional lifesaving venture and hence a bitter pill that all must swallow. As I will explain later, the decision of your Government is unripe and in many respects irrational and antithesis of the best practices in combating the pandemic.

In the course of this lockdown I was compelled to move out on grounds of health challenges, I crisscrossed many parts of Gwale, Kano Municipal and Tarauni LGAs. I witnessed some level of  maturity and understanding being exhibited by the security agents on duty. I also observed active presence of low level informal businesses: mai kayan miya, mai nama, mai shago, fruit sellers and importantly water vendors. Bigger businesses from filling stations and pharmacies are all exempted from the curfew. Thus, there are many unblocked goods and services most needed by the urban poor. The significance of the improved power supply cannot be discounted in this context. However, I am by no  means ignoring the fact that some citizens are roundly poor and can only eke-out a living when they are out. Truly, the worst affected is dan maula whose forefathers the British spy Heinrich Bath spotted in Kano city in the late 1800s doing nothing but moving from one tree  shade to another looking for free meal. So why the selective rage from the social media? This is not normal time. We all suffer from it in many ways. We are losing many people that are trunks of our society, neighbourhoods, and households. It is claimed that the preliminary reports of the Federal Government team investigating the waves of mysterious deaths in Kano linked the deaths to the gory hands of the blood thirsty Covid 19. This is Kano. In every neighbourhoods there are good Samaritans who help the poorest and relations. Lockdown is for sunna; sunna is for lockdown. Didn’t Prophet Muhammad (SAW) urge Muslims to be patient and isolate during pandemics? Do we compromise anybody’s suffering to increase shrouds for our people? Corona bubble burst is an inevitability in an unguided eased lockdown.

My next criticism on loosening the lockdown is its crudity and blindness to realities of potential violation of the basics principles of social distancing. Before easing  the lockdown, the State Government needs to experiment with many scenarios of breach and compliance. For instance, the Saudi Government is currently conducting  trials of social distancing models in Masjidil Haram. The Sudais-led Presidency General of the Holy Mosques is probably experimenting on how best they can handle the  crowd when the Masjid is eventually unlocked. Fighting Covid-19 is achievable only when innovation and knowledge-based decision-making is embraced by governments. Anything less is tantamount to creating spikes of infections.

Your Excellency, the Kano State Government is playing Marie-Antoinette, the queen of France during the French Revolution  who is notorious for saying, “let them eat cake” to the protesting French peasants that lacked bread. By asking talakawa to go to malls and supermarkets, KNSG is asking the poor to eat the cake at the time the bread is out of their reach. More so, the distribution of the population and the location of the supermarkets is disproportionate. This further brings to fore the failure of urban planning in Kano and manifestations of that into social inequality. 

At the moment, the wisest thing to do is to borrow a model of European open street markets where for instance, trucks and mini trucks in their hundreds can be strategically located  at major urban hubs and nodes where market people from Sabon Gari, Dawanau, Rimi, Yan Kaba and others can sell grains, vegetables, and other essentials from 6 am to 10 am under strict social distancing guidelines. Indeed, this can be promoting a shared economy system where our transporters and traders can jointly benefit.

Your Excellency, on the eve of Ramadan  when the lockdown was first eased, local radios reported  that two babies passed away at one of the markets in the  municipality out of heat stroke and massive crowd that betrayed social distancing during rush purchases. I am  not convinced that effective social distancing was observed on Monday, 4th of May that can sufficiently protect the most vulnerable citizens. I expected that KNSG will ban nursing mothers, children and the aged from visiting any crowd pulling locations. In other words, the administration lacks any strategy on protecting  the most vulnerable. Spain, Turkey, and Sweden have made breakthroughs in targeting the restriction of the movement of some population groups in combatting the pandemic.

Your Excellency, one of the major minuses in your administration’s fight against Covid-19 is its inability to democratise and disaggregate infection locations data through appropriate real time mapping.   It is imperative for the Government to disseminate and map locations of infections released by the NCCD not only for decision support but also for supporting the public to know where to avoid infections. Geo-locational mapping is critical to fighting this pandemic in India for instance.

Your Excellency, but fact is that our healthcare personnel at the frontline are scared and highly vulnerable to the current situation. Therefore, I strongly recommend that your administration incentivizes them for their sacrifices. This can be in the form of promoting to next level of promotion all our healthcare workers directly involved in this fight. This is necessary and not unusual with responsible governments around the world. This gesture should also be extended to the staff of federal health personnel in Kano in some possible ways. As I write this, over one hundred private jets owned by celebrities and tycoons have been released for conveying doctors and  nurses in France. The cabin crew give them first class treatment as a sign of appreciation of their sacrifice. Similarly, I witnessed Friday sermons in Mecca and Medina holy shrines where the Imams pray profusely for rijaal-assihha (health personnel) and rijaal al-amn (security forces) helping the Saudis at this critical time.

Your Excellency, I would like to recommend that you sanction any business outlet in Kano and especially the financial institutions and other businesses that have barricaded and protected their staff but are indifferent at how their customers use their premises. Banks in particular have duty and resources to provide sanitizers (some of them do) and strictly impose social distancing and use of masks at their premises.

Your Excellency, I implore that KNSG should vigorously embark on mass production and acquisition of face masks for free delivery to the public. In particular, I find it very disturbing to observe that most of the security agents deployed on our roads don’t use face masks.

Your Excellency, I also urge you to deploy your land powers to open new graveyards and expand the existing ones in the metropolis to cope with (potential) increasing deaths. Many graveyards have been encroached upon and at this time, KNSG can acquire more land to cope with the increasing burial of the shrouded bodies. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, Your Excellency, my verdict is that Kano under your leadership is ill-prepared and less prepared in systematically combatting this pandemic. Kano is lucky that our brother, Aliko Dangote, the richest African has set up 600-bed capacity isolation centre as well as 400 samples testing centre to support the State. Bayero University Kano has also set up a reference lab for testing Covid-19. All these interventions have taken loads off your back.  Your administration prioritizes arm chair committees and excessive red-tapism against the best global practices.  But there is hope amidst lockdown fatigue. Prayers, innovation, and knowledge based approaches are promising when embraced maximally.  I  believe for the recommendations that I have made herein you can implement most of them within 24 hours. I  am sure the State House of Assembly can help you pass any law within 12 hours of putting your request.

Thank you

Signed:

Aliyu Barau, PhD

(Associate Professor/Chartered Town Planner)

06.05.2020/Ramadan, 13, 1441

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