Three months ago, very few Nigerians knew of the existence of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Even fewer had heard of its director general, Dr. Chikwe Iheakweazu.
But today, the entire country anticipates, maybe even lives in dread of every tweet coming out of the agency updating Nigerians on the numbers of new infections and deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
And for Iheakweazu, his name and face has been a constant presence on television, newspapers and on social media.
In spite of the many inadequacies of the government’s response to the outbreak of the pandemic, he could be praised for putting his agency at the heart of the response using his communication skills in getting Nigerians to take the outbreak seriously.
But then, he tweeted on Sunday that the country was in desperate need of test kits.
After months of deflecting, Iheakweazu has shown the world that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has been doing very little planning and only reacts on a day to day basis.
There is no doubt that the government is financially constrained.
Oil prices have plummeted, the economy has been shut down and the ability to finance the budget is in question.
Still, the government is there to solve problems.
And an outbreak of a pandemic is indeed a crisis like no other.
The response to the outbreak is about saving lives and protecting the most vulnerable population, which includes the president of the country from the Coronavirus.
Today, no one can go one metre near Aso Rock if your distant cousin is known to have been in contact with a COVID-19 patient.
After months of deflecting, Iheakweazu has shown the world that the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has been doing very little planning and only reacts on a day to day basis
And the thing with COVID-19 is that it helps knowing early enough whether you are infected.
The US President, Donald Trump. who is also in the vulnerable age group gets tested for the virus every single week.
The same probably goes for everyone around him.
Just to test everyone around President Muhammadu Buhari and his cabinet on a weekly basis, NCDC would all of the 10,000 test kits it has so far used on the whole country.
So in that sense, the NCDC DG deserves no praise for his plea to the public even if he is indirectly acting as a whistleblower exposing his inability to pay for test kits.
It is possible that it is responsibility he wants to deflect away from his agency and place the blame on the presidential task force and the coordinator of the government’s response.
His plea is still probably the most damning thing that has come out from any government official since the first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in Nigeria back in February.
Two whole months have passed since then. And for those two months since, the agency has tested only 10,000 in spite of the general outcry from the public that smaller countries with less at stake were testing so many more people.
Iheakweazu’s response has been that Nigeria is not in a numbers game with Ghana or South Africa.
It was an indirect way of saying there was no immediate need to test more Nigeria for COVID-19, only to now come out and tweet that the NCDC was in desperate need of test kits.
He is basically begging for donations.
It would probably easier to understand his previous lack of concern for the number of conducted test and the plea showing a lack of preparedness, a failure to plan ahead if the NCDC DG had told Nigerians the one million test kits they ordered several weeks ago got lost at sea.
His request to the public is a month too late for those unexplained deaths in Kano in the last one week and two months too late for the many that will be turned away from hospitals tomorrow because they can’t get tested even though they are showing symptoms for COVID-19.
Only a handful of patients, seven to be exact, had confirmed cases of the coronavirus when Dr. Li Wenliang of Wuhan Central Hospital first raised the alarm, warning other doctors to protect themselves on December 30, 2019.
Instead acting to investigate the infections, Chinese authorities accused him of making false statements.
Three days earlier, a doctor from Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine had apparently told health authorities of the disease caused by a new coronavirus.
Since then, the first case of the virus has now been traced to November 17, 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province in China and five new cases reported each day by December 15.
Doctors in Wuhan city were generally aware of the new coronavirus outbreak but were ordered not to divulge information to the public.
That has effectively been the story of China’s response to the outbreak.
Oil prices have plummeted, the economy has been shut down and the ability to finance the budget is in question
And that was exactly what made the virus spread around the world.
Three million people are now infected across the globe with 207,000 deaths.
It wasn’t until January 23 that Wuhan was placed on a lockdown lasting 76 days until April 8, 2020.
At a point, people couldn’t even leave their apartments.
The number of deaths in the city, which has roughly the same population with Kano State, has been put at 4,633 by Chinese authorities with just over 82,000 infections.
The government there has been accused of downplaying the true effects of the virus, suggesting the actual number of deaths and infections are much higher.
In comparison to what is happening in Europe and the United States of America, it is not hard to believe that China grossly under reported the number of deaths and infections.
At least four countries in Europe have reported more than 20,000 deaths each.
In the US, that figure is over 55,000 and the number of infections is getting close to one million.
It took German scientists a few days, just after the first confirmed cases of a SARS-like virus came out of China, to develop test kits capable of diagnosing the coronavirus disease now named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation.
The German company behind the test kits, TIB Molbiol did this by January 9, and has been manufacturing 1.5 million test kits each week since February, mostly for countries that lack capacity to develop their own.
For that reason, Germany was probably the most prepared for the outbreak, yet it has reported 6,000 deaths and 160,000 cases.
The deaths are roughly 25 more than those in China and the infections, twice more.
China has battled the virus much than everyone else.
Its attempts to bury the truth about the outbreak has also cost 207,000 lives around the world.
Dozens, maybe hundreds of unexplained deaths are being reported in Kano.
In many of the deaths, the symptoms experienced by the deceased before dying are consistent with those of COVID-19.
The age group of those dying are consistent with those that are most vulnerable to the virus.
Testimonies from those working in cemeteries suggest more burials are taking place daily than is usual.
Yet, the response of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s government has been denials and attempts to bury the truth.
He is choosing to go down the same path Chinese authorities took in the early days of the outbreak and endangering the whole world.
Already, there is unimaginable pressure on the state’s biggest hospital, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.
Every suspicious case is being referred there. Yet, the hospital has been neglected in the most dire of times by the state government.
Top state health officials are themselves in self-isolation, with some testing positive for the virus.
The response of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s government has been denials and attempts to bury the truth
Families of the dead are blaming the hospital for being unable to save lives.
And like what happened in China, the doctors cannot speak out, while more and more residents get infected.
There have been massive concerns about the growing rate of infections in Lagos and that the state government and NCDC aren’t doing enough to contain the spread.
Now Ganduje makes Babajide Sanwo-Olu look like a magician.
The failure of the government in Kano has shown that the response in Lagos State has been extremely well coordinated considering the circumstances.
However, the success in Lagos, the strict stay-at-home order in Kaduna may not really matter in the end.
As long as the infections and deaths are growing at an alarming rate in Kano, no state will be safe or succeed in containing the outbreak for a long time to come.
Calls have been made to the president to declare a state of emergency in Kano and place it on total lockdown, Wuhan style.
Of course Kano is not Wuhan and Nigeria is not China.
The government has to start planning on how to feed millions of people, transporting several tonnes of food and delivering them to each local government and even ward by ward.
As is the tradition in Kano, there is no better time to encourage people to feed the poor and look out for their neighbours than the month of Ramadan.
The government needs do the same.
It is either that or Nigerians get use to people dying in large numbers, some of them family and friends.
The absence of testing in Kano over the last one month brought it to this stage.
Now, its denials that people are dying of COVID-19 in the state and what to do about it that could rapidly undo the gains of the one month lockdown endured in Abuja, Lagos and other states of the federation.