Kano 'strange deaths': Rising toll worries Nigerians as many VIPs drop dead

While Nigeria and the rest of the world are battling to contain the spread of COVID-19, Kano State in Northwest Nigeria is battling a mysterious ailment that appears to be more deadly than coronavirus.

The State Government has imposed a total lockdown on the state since ThursdayApril 16 as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, but the state presently as 74 confirmed cases.

In the past two weeks, there has been palpable fear in the most populated northern city as hundreds of residents have dropped dead mysteriously due to a yet-to-be-known ailment. Series of conflicting reports have been circulating on social media over the actual figure of casualties. Some residents claimed about 600 people have died and condemned the state government for not taking the issue serious.

Daily Trust, however, reports last Tuesday that over 150 people died in the state between Friday April 17 and Saturday April 18, and the deceased have been buried in three cemeteries within Kano metropolis.

Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, had initially dismissed the report as fake news and said only one death from COVID-19 had been confirmed in the state.

"That information two days ago is not correct because we undertook an investigation and the initial report that I received from one grave where some people reported 70 deaths, we found out there were only 13 deaths," Ganduje said last Wednesday on Channels TV's Politics Today.

"We will soon get a complete report but I assure you that information is not correct. Looking at previous burials, there is nothing to show that there is an unusual frequency of deaths in Kano State. But there is a lot of fake news going around. We have already started arresting some people who are peddling such rumours. Only one death so far has been recorded from coronavirus infection."

While there were suggestions on social media linking the deaths to COVID-19, the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu, said a government team was collating "verbal autopsies" to determine whether the deaths were linked to the pandemic.

"We don't have a true baseline when it comes to the number of deaths. It's something we need to investigate quite closely," he said during a briefing with the World Health Organization.

Attendants and undertakers at the three cemeteries who reportedly witnessed unusual surge in burials described the case as unprecedented, urging the government to as a matter of urgency investigate to ascertain the real cause.

"This is worrisome, we are becoming overwhelmed by what we are seeing here these days because to me, the way people are dying is not ordinary," Bashir Mohammed, one of the undertakers at the Dandolo Cemetery in Goron Dutse, Dala Local Government Area of Kano State, told Daily Trust.

Some angry residents took to Twitter last week tweeting with the hashtag #GandujeFailedKano to criticise the state governor for not investigating the deaths before discarding the reports as fake news.

An Abuja/Kano based journalist, Mubarak Umar, on Saturday tweeted a list of 13 "prominent persons" who he said died in the state on Saturday.

Among those listed were – a former deputy vice chancellor of Bayero University Kano (BUK), a former chairman of the state universal basic education board, Adamu Isyaku Dal, and former Editor of Triumph Newspaper, Musa Tijjani.

His viral tweet was confirmed by many Kano residents who took to the comment section to share their stories.

A Twitter user @UmarMadaki wrote: "It's not COVID-19 I lost an elder brother yesterday and today a grandma, none of them has even a headache or something that shows a sign of the virus. Something is happening in Kano and only God knows. Although my brother died of diabetes and the granny is above 90 years."

Another user wrote: "The thing is just heartbreaking. Dr. Musa Gwarzo that we lost today is an uncle of mine. The scary thing is that the death rate is so high and what scares even the most is that most of the death cases are as a result of same symptoms shown before death."

Funmi Adewole with the handle @phunmyadewole tweeted: "I am in kano and 1person died in my street yesterday, and another today, my neighbour strolled out and came back with news of death, something is happening in Kano that we don't know of….please put us in your prayers."

Popular Twitter user Gimba Kakanda tweeted: "The Facebook pages of my friends from Kano have become obituary boards, and there's no way to defend that it's normal. The mortality rate in Kano seems to have surged, and even though it's not been linked to any disease yet, it's important to determine the causes of these deaths."

The State government finally acknowledged the deaths on Sunday night and was quick to say the deaths are not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic but claimed hypertension and malaria have been responsible.

A statement by Kano State Commissioner for Information, Muhammad Garba, said "although investigation into the cause of the deaths is still ongoing, preliminary report from the state Ministry of Health indicated that the deaths are not connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Reports from the State Ministry of Health has shown that most of the deaths were caused by complications arising from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis and acute malaria."


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