By Akanimo Sampson
Is the Benue State Government, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) controlled state under the watch of Governor Samuel Ortom, blackmailing President Muhammadu Buhari with the controversial COVID-19 index case in the state?
A chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), Eze Chukwuemeka Eze, who is also a former National Publicity Secretary of the defunct New Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP), one of the coalition political groups that formed the APC, tends to be seeing the matter so.
Eze is calling on President Buhari to intervene on the continued detention and dehumanisation Mrs. Suzan Lawani Okpe, the alleged index case of the COVID-19 in Benue.
Governor Ortom had claimed that the suspected carrier, a returnee from the United Kingdom, on arrival in Makurdi, the state capital, checked herself into a private hospital, where she was allegedly being treated until she was confirmed to have tested positive to the disease.
The governor claimed that he mentioned her name so that people who may have come in contact with her, could either self-isolate or report themselves to the state’s COVID-19 Action Committee for proper medical attention. Though he did not give any further information about the identity of the case, he merely appealed to the people not to stigmatise the case or her family members since the fate could happen to anybody.
But, immediately the news of the alleged index case broke, many people besieged the social media, especially Facebook in a seeming frantic search for the profile of the said Susan Okpe. In a matter of minutes, all the Susan Okpes reportedly became instant suspects as different people kept posting different pictures of anyone who bears the same name as the index case. For those who know better, the name, Susan OKpe, is a common name in Benue.
Sadly, naming the index case without providing the exact particular of the case sparked off a debate among different schools of opinions. While some contended that Governor Ortom ought not to have mentioned the name of the case in the first place, others insisted that he was right to have done so as that will enable all her possible contacts to isolate themselves from their immediate loved ones.
Those against the disclosure are of the view that it has defeated the intended purpose as the members of the public have already started stigmatising everyone that bears the name Susan Okpe. And that against the background, it will be difficult for her supposed contacts to announce themselves in public or to come out for any test.
However, in April, Matthew, a brother to one of the numerous Susan Okpes who spoke with Daily Sun by telephone from the United Kingdom, lamented that his sister, whose picture was flaunted on the social media as the Benue index case, was with him in the UK and had no coronavirus. He reportedly expressed sadness over the fact that his family was maligned:
“The fake news has brought untold embarrassment and pain to us. I live here in the UK with my sister, Susan, in a two-bedroom apartment. She’s here with me as I speak to you and has never travelled to anywhere in a long time. She’s not in Nigeria, Abuja or Makurdi. So we wonder why anyone would place her picture on social media as the index coronavirus case in Benue.
“My sister does not have coronavirus. In fact, she’s so devastated by the news right now and could hardly speak. I don’t know where this news is coming from, but all I want to say is that my sister does not have coronavirus and she’s not in Nigeria, talk less of Makurdi as we speak,’’ Daily Sun quoted him as saying.
Speaking to the same newspaper through video call from the UK, Susan was in tears as she insisted she was not the Benue index case and had not returned to Benue for years.
Yet, another picture that was trending as the purported index case was a student of sociology at the Benue State University (BSU). She also bears the name Susan Okpe. But she never had any travel history outside Nigeria. Investigation also showed that she has not travelled outside Makurdi in the recent times.
Some of her friends attested that they saw her a few hours before the news, adding that she was never on admission in any hospital in the state and could not have been the person referred to as case by the governor.
The controversy aside, there is an index case in Benue by the name Susan Lawani Okpe. She flew into the country from the UK to attend a burial of a relative in the state. She reportedly arrived on a Sunday and was admitted into a private hospital on Monday. She was in the facility on Saturday, when the governor made the result of her test public.
In the meantime, the APC chief in Port Harcourt, Rivers State is expressing disappointment over the manner the PDP administration in Benue went about the handling of the situation, describing it as contrary to every global rules governing the health profession and professionals which is anchored on confidentiality.
In a video, Mrs.Laweni narrated the circumstances that led to her detention in a health facility in Benue and later Abuja as well as the inhumane and agonising treatment she is receiving from health officials attached to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC).
From the viral clip, Mrs. Laweni laments thus: “Good afternoon fellow Nigerians. My name is Susan Idoku Okpeni Laweni, coming to you live from my forceful detention centre (43 days in forceful detention).
“Yes I am the lady that was accused of first COVID-19 index case in Benue by the Benue State Government. My story is that I came from England on the 22nd of March for my Mum’s burial and that was it. I was jet-lagged like everybody has asked: what took you to the hospital? I was jet-lagged, went to the hospital to have myself checked.
“The doctor said they were going to check me which they did. Said that I had little bit of temperature and I said I had no temperature because I was only having jet lag. My body was paining me because I had travelled for almost 24-25hrs in the past two days. Well, he said your temperature is a bit high, I am going to keep you here and check you and I said no problem, I am a law-abiding citizen. Yes keep me.
“He kept me in the hospital overnight, administered analgesics, the pain was gone. Ready to go home the following day, he told me that he was going to do the standard procedure which was to do swap by the state government. By the way, the hospital is Grace Scottish hospital in Markurdi. I said okay, I am okay with that, called some two men who did the swap on my left nose and on my throat. Asked when I was going to get the result, he said in 24hrs. 24hrs passed, I didn’t get the result.
“The next day which was 27th March, the doctor came to me in the evening to tell me that I was Covid-19 positive from the result that they did, from the swap that they took. I asked where is the result? He said he doesn’t have the result that he was only told and am asking; if I have COVID-19, why don’t I get a result of it?
“Well he went away and my friend who was also a doctor came to tell me that Governor Ortom was already doing a press conference with my name. A doctor just came to tell me and a press conference was already going on with my name as the first index case in Benue. Went down to ask the doctor what all this was about, all I was told was that they were helping me to fight with the state government.
“On what basis, what has happened? I don’t know, where is the result? I don’t have any. That was it. I told them that if this was a drama or Nigerian Nollywood movie, I wasn’t going to be part of it. I went back upstairs to get my bag to leave the hospital because I was thinking this was getting out of hand now and this time I was okay, nothing was wrong with me. I didn’t have a headache, I only had body pain and I knew it was because of the journey I did or the journey I made.
“Before going upstairs, and coming down, the hospital had been called off by armed men, ambulance and the deputy governor and his team came and removed me to an isolation centre because that was a community hospital and I knew well, whether it was staged or it wasn’t staged, Nigerians will judge for themselves. I was taken to Isolation centre, dehumanised, traumatised, because already my name was in the press and gone all over. I have been videotaped, recorded and sent on the internet already. I stayed at the Isolation centre for 10days and then moved to Abuja.
“Nigerians, I am crying out because I know there are people who do not have a voice to speak for themselves. I know people who have been dehumanised, traumatized, and stigmatized like the Benue State Governor has done to me. He has stigmatised me with COVID-19 already that I do not have. I am brought to Abuja here, what else would have been done, inquiries would have been made. I wasn’t given the result until after 15days in Abuja. Precisely, 8th of April, they gave me the report which I can publish for Nigerians to see.
“On that report, it stated that I came into this country, on the 28th of Feb. On the 28th of February, I was still in England. It also stated in that report that I presented myself to the hospital to the hospital with fever and stooling on the 16th of March which wasn’t true. On the 16th of March, I was in England, I came into Nigeria on the 22nd of March.
“I went to the hospital on the 24th of March. So in the report, there was nothing today that, the report was my report. Based on that, the Nigerian centre for disease control, still using that report and the name on it and before I forget to say, the birthday, the date that was put in that report said 58 and 62 and I am not 58 and I am not 62, I am 50+ not near that age. So I was still wandering whose report was that.
“But it’s still that report that the NCDC is still working on and still holding me here. Even if I have COVID-19 was it not right for the state government or Ortom himself and his team, the commissioners and people concerned in Benue state to counsel me and speak to me, instead of taking my name to the press? Is that the standard for the World Health Organisation (WHO)? Is that what WHO said should be done to patients with COVID-19? Why is that of Nigerians different? Permit me to say now that even if anybody has Covid19 in Nigeria, they will not come out because of stigmatisation. They would be so afraid of their life like I am afraid of my life.
“43 days and I am still forcefully detained. They would be afraid for their lives because nobody will come out and then the work of the NCDC will not have any effect because people are scared to be stigmatised, like I have been done to. Fellow Nigerians what is the rationale behind what is happening to me. NCDC has done three tests on me since I am in this forceful detention centre. They did a test on the 10th, they did one on the 15th, they did one on the 17th, as I speak to you, I do not have the result of one test that he been conducted here. And I am still been harrassed to do another test.
“Nigerians, if you were to be in my position will you do another test without result? If they want me to do a test and would want to force medication down my throat, which I have not taken in the past 43days I have not taken any medication, I have not had any symptoms till now and they want me to take medication and still continue with the test, that is what everybody is saying. This woman is stubborn, this woman is rude, this woman has said that they don’t know what to do. No, Nigerians I am crying out for the sake of my other fellow Nigerians who might find themselves in this situation. Why would I not be given the test that was done? If I have to see another doctor if I have to go back to my base, what do I present to them? I don’t have a result for the three tests that were done and every day they call in Psychiatrist doctors to come and talk to me and think I am insane.
“Please amplify my voice. The Benue state government must apologise to me and also apologize to Nigerians for stigmatising me and also making it impossible for NCDC to their work properly because nobody is going to come out to say they have COVID-19 if they have it. For the fear of stigmatisation.’’
Making his deductions from the moving testimony of Mrs. Laweni, Eze, a staunch political associate of Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, says there exists a potpourri of issues that require urgent government investigation to douse the tension already created among citizens by the “unguarded manner the PDP led state government went about the situation.’’
According to the tongue-blasting APC stalwart, “her case is just an implementation of a wicked and devious plot to smear the good image of Nigeria by the PDP agents through the PDP government in Benue. Such a scenario is capable of diminishing public confidence on the reality of the virus and bringing the efforts of the Federal Government at tackling its spread to naught.
“The extent of maltreatment suffered by this woman who does not show symptom of any ailment, let alone being a carrier of the deadly COVID-19 is an exhibition of ineptitude and crass maladministration by the Benue state government and therefore calls for a public apology as demanded.
“Contrary to claims by the state government, the woman merely had a jet lag, having spent over 24 hours on in air en route Nigeria from England for her mother’s burial. She was then accused of suffering from the deadly Coronavirus by the state government with a falsified report which does not in any way tally with her documents.
“The action of the state government is dishonest, an unnecessary desperation to have a COVID-19 case, probably with the inordinate intention of attracting sympathy, financial donations and largesse from Federal Government, corporate organisations and spirited individuals.
“I am pleading with Mr. President not only to investigate this case with the amount of seriousness it deserves but also save the woman from further unnecessary hardship and dehumanising treatment by authorising her immediate release by agents that want to tarnish the image of our great nation.’’
Commending the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 chaired by Boss Mustapha, for the commitment it has so far exhibited to secure the lives of Nigerians from the deadly virus, Eze also appealed to the committee and the Ministry of Health to collaborate with Nigerians who have developed possible cure and ready to join forces with Abuja to help in the fight against the deadly virus.
“I am convinced that with the necessary support and encouragement, Nigerians are capable of surpassing whatever scientists in Madagascar may have developed to tackle and contain the spread of this virus in their country. Looking down on our scientists and traditional Herbalists is not the best way to develop a nation like ours,’’ he says.