By Obinna Ezugwu

News of the escalating COVID-19 situation in Kano State has jolted many. As at Friday, May 1st, the state had massed as much as 219 cases of persons that had tested positive to the ravaging pandemic.

Emerging after reports of vast numbers of mystery deaths being recorded in different parts of the state, the situation had clearly boiled over to crisis point, which has now necessitated the direct intervention of the Federal Government, with President Muhammadu Buhari declaring a lockdown and curfew over the state. This is in addition to deploying personnel to help address the problem. As affirmed further by the Minister for Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, a 14-member multi-sectoral team was being deployed at the weekend by the Federal Ministry of Heath to help with reinforced training for local health personnel in the state.

Instructively, the COVID-19 crisis in Kano is coming on the heels of an earlier crisis relating to the determination of Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje to essentially cut to size the former Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II. Tagged the Sanusigate crisis, the governor’s action is said to have been triggered by a long-running tussle with the deposed emir on account of his discomfort over the closeness and affinity between Sanusi and his prime antagonist and erstwhile benefactor, former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso. Indeed things began to get to a head when a probe was launched into the running of the finances of the emirate, even as efforts were commenced to split the emirate into four distinct governing entities. They were to be further fuelled by Sanusi’s alleged support for the candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in the 2019 governorship polls in the state.

Ganduje’s political flip-flops
Following Ganduje’s narrow escape at the polls and eventual return to Government House, Kano, he literally commenced what observers saw as a ferocious attempt to get even with the emir and bring him down. This is what was to ultimately culminate in the deposition of the emir and his banishment to Nassarawa State.
But the hard-fighting Sanusi would not just go down that easily as he mobilized his friends and allies, including the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, to challenge Ganduje’s action in court. The outcome is that not only have the courts quashed the banishment order handed down to Sanusi, he has equally been allowed to relocate from Nassarawa to Lagos. Equally, another court has also reportedly declared the action of the state government in dismantling the millennium-old unified emirate structure and restructuring same into four new and distinct emirates as illegal.

Denial as politics

Back to the COVID-19 crisis, observers see the initial efforts by many in Northern Nigeria to deny the existence of the COVID-19 problem and side-step the challenge posed by the pandemic as being indeed a critical part of the challenge. According to them, while states like Ogun and Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja were already smarting from a gradual rise in the numbers of persons testing positive to the virus, the authorities in Kano, and indeed in large swathes of the North were largely carrying on as if all was well.
For example, the introduction of a new regime of social distancing as a helpful way of flattening the curve of infection amidst other containment measures were not being heavily promoted almost all across the North.

Indeed also, despite the glaring evidence of Governors Nasir |El-Rufai and Bala Mohammed already testing positive and being quarantined, Northern governors still went on to hold a well-publicised meeting, rising with a communiqué to the effect that it was impossible for them to take large-scale containment measures as say, the imposition of a lockdown.

While this position is indeed traceable to what observers see as an age-long attitude by leaders in the region to always seek to find ‘peculiar northern solutions to northern problems,’ the challenge this time is that the current pandemic is indeed a very grave one and clearly not a regular challenge that can be addressed under the skewed traditional lenses of the ‘Nigerian factor.’

Indeed, discerning analysts say that at the centre of the challenge facing Kano and the North at the moment is the negative contribution of the long run-down northern economy and the foisting of an essentially warped political construct and mindset that is built on an unhelpful ideological frame of ethnic exceptionalism, superiority and hegemony. Changing this they say would be the beginning of even ensuring a better and more even growth and development frame for the region, and one which would better and more deeply serve the deeper interests of the people of the region.

Ahmadu Bello: What would he have done?
According to the analysts, at the peak of the crisis is a historic mis-reading of the legacy of the first Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello. While they concede that Bello championed and promoted a framework to promote and project Northern interests countrywide, they note that the erstwhile Premier’s insistence on establishing educational and technocratic structures in the then region equally suggested that he was not overly oblivious to the need to ensure that solid talent and capacity was developed for the region. They therefore see the current situation where Northern politicians take an undue interest in cornering almost every position and resource in the country, even at the expense of the broader degradation of the underpinning systems in the north and the overall society as indeed not being a true reflection of the legacy and heritage of Ahmadu Bello for the North and the larger Nigerian nation. ‘Yes, Ahmadu Bello wanted a dominating North, but not a lazy and hapless North,’ one analyst remarked.

Kwankwanso’s reaction
Part of what analysts see as the excessively negative politics of Ganduje and his co-travellers in the North today is what has been witnessed as per the attempt by Kwankwanso to join in efforts to tackle the debilitating pandemic that is ravaging the state. A statement by Kwankwanso underscoring the need to properly appreciate the depth of the crisis and ensure that solutions are non-partisan and cross-political was given the cold shoulder. Another note that he was making available his own medical facility as an isolation centre for the treatment of patients was also reportedly rebuffed. Said an aide of Kwankwanso when Business Hallmark reached him on Friday: ‘it is really quite serious, we have really not seen anything like this before.

Another strand to the crisis has been the deportation of large numbers of almajiris or large bands of street children who had originally come to live with their koranic teachers-benefactors in the city to their ‘states of origin.’

With the numbers of people testing positive being on the rise, the reasoning is that many of these children who are indeed not only out of school in the classical western sense, but also out of residence, being that they largely live on and off the streets are particularly vulnerable at a time like this. Not having the space, funds and personnel to cater for them at this time, the Kano State Government has therefore chosen the next best approach of re-exporting the problem back to where it had come from in what is clearly a tragic twist of affairs.

Saving Kano, saving Nigeria

Analysts say that given the state of the crisis as has presently emerged in Kano, it is imperative that everything be done to avert a further expansion of the healthcare and social crisis in Nigeria’s second most populous state.
And they think that the answer lies in pushing Governor Ganduje to reduce his penchant for scorched earth politics in favour of a more accommodating approach that is open to greater and more cross-cutting united elite cooperation to tackle the present and extended problems.
Says the political commentator, Haruna Habib:
‘Frankly, I cannot see any other way out. With the Federal Government’s current intervention, President Buhari should also be persuaded to go further to outrightly encourage Governor Ganduje to reach out to all interests in the state to work together now so that Kano can indeed be saved. It will really be tragic for everyone if this is not done.’
But would they listen?