…Political elite bodies released to families …Others buried by NCDC ignominiously
Before the death of Late Abba Kyari, former chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Government announced that bodies of victims of Covid-19 would not be released to the family of the deceased rather it would become government property.
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, said bodies of persons who die while undergoing treatment for the COVID-19 pandemic will not be released for burial.
The minister, who spoke in Abuja at a forum organised by the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday April 3, 2020 said the Ministry of Health would ‘handle’ the bodies ‘because they are contagious.’
“Coronavirus is very dangerous and contagious; there is no medicine for it yet; and it is not just capable of killing, but can also overwhelm the healthcare system, and can also destroy the economy. Nigerians should not forget that these are not the types of corpses that can be claimed for burial because it must be handled by the ministry of health,” Mohammed said.
Contrary to this claim, the government has been stammering on the protocols especially when it concerns the political elite just like the late Kyari’s burial.
Before the burial, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, said the burial would be in “strict observation” of the protocol put in place for the burial of coronavirus victims by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Health Ministry.
At late Kyari’s burial, hundreds of people gathered in Abuja to receive the remains and pay last respect during the “private” burial. Footage and pictures obtained from the burial showed that social distancing rule was defied while more than 20 people were at the “social gathering”.
After that episode, many ordinary Nigerians said to have died from Covid-19 have continued to be buried unsung without any dignity accorded them. Neither were their bodies seen nor burial arrangements announced.
On the other hand, some politicians that have died after Kyari were given elaborate burial even without strict observance of the protocol.
This was why pundits argue that it appears that government determines what level of protocol to apply depending on the individual’s affinity with the powers that be.
For instance, some burials in the north showed no regard for the NCDC protocol. The remains of the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi were surrounded by many people who had no masks on their faces. This double standard in enforcing the protocol has created doubts in the minds of many Nigerians on the seriousness of the NCDC in fighting the pandemic.
According to video obtained from the burial ceremony, the body of the late Ajimobi, a former governor of Oyo State, was released to his family and he was buried at his Ibadan home after dying from coronavirus complications.
The video shows the coffin containing Ajimobi’s body being carried from a bus at his Oluyole estate home in Ibadan.
Body released to family
can recall that on 18 April 2020, the NCDC made public its interim guidelines for the safe management of COVID-19 corpse. The guideline discourages family members of the deceased from touching the COVID-19 infected corpse. Although, relatives of the deceased are allowed viewing, friends and relatives were charged to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene.
Also, NCDC stated that a minimum number of people should be involved in preparations while others may observe without touching the body at a minimum distance of 2 metres.
“Family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burial, in accordance with customs and tradition. They should not touch or kiss the body and should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water following the viewing; physical distancing measures should be strictly applied at least 2 meters between people.
Most importantly, the NCDC emphasised that apart from the health officials mandated to conduct the burial, relatives, friends, religious leaders and other mourners present should wear PPEs including gloves, impermeable disposable gown or disposable gown with impermeable apron, medical mask, and eye protection.
The guideline advised a less human population at the burial site to avoid the spread of the disease even as it added that adults older than 60 years should not directly interact with the body.
During Kyari and Ajumobi’s burial, the social distancing guideline was disregarded based on photographs and video evidence, and the number of people who attended the burial rite was more than the NCDC recommendations.
Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said that the movement of Kyari’s body from Lagos to Abuja for burial was in contravention of an earlier position by government, which stated that bodies of Coronavirus victims will be cremated and not released to their families for burial.
Odinkalu said in his twitter handle @ChidiOdinkalu, “First, @FMICNigeria told us that bodies of victims of #Coronavirus can’t be claimed, until @NGRPresident claimed its own. “We were told we should not gather more than 10 but @NGRPresident gathers more for #LiveTV.
In his reaction to the massive crowd at Ajimobi’s burial last Sunday, Reno Omokri, an activist, took to his twitter handle and wrote: “I watched Ajimobi’s burial and I was shocked! Do we value human lives in Nigeria? Such a massive crowd massed together, with sharing of food and other items. Where was @NCDCgov? So why was @officialnairam1and @funkeakindele charged to court?”
He further tweeted: “I watch this video of food and other items being shared during the funeral of the late Ajimobi. Is this crowd safe? Is this not a risk factor for the spread of #COVID19? Did the @NCDCgov monitor? Aren’t there protocols to be observed at such burials?”
Replying to Omokri’s observation, one Michael Amatonjie @smithswear, said: “I was asking the same question. It seems the Covid-19 guideline is only a cobweb that can only catch flies, butterflies, and possibly cockroaches, not for animals.”
Alagbaosor Bernard Jr. @abernardjnr , Said: “It’s one thing we need to become as a nation, seeing everyone as same with the eyes of the Law. It’s a pity.”
Osarumwense Edema @osaxberry also said: It’s because the federal government have failed to deal with the major problem in Nigeria (Hunger). If there was no food in the funeral, majority of people won’t be there.”
Meanwhile, Melissa Nolan, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of South Carolina, explained how viral transmission could happen during a funeral.
“Hypothetically, if you have someone who is very sick, and they are shedding (the virus) and they walk up to the casket, and they cough, those virus particles will stay in the air around that environment for about an hour,” she said.
Continuing, she said: “If someone came into that environment, within six feet, they could become infected.”
Nolan noted that individuals who aren’t showing symptoms do present less risk of infection, but urged caution regardless.