Borno State Report:
Muslims in Borno State trooped out en masse on Sunday May 24, 2020 to mark this year’s Eid-el-Fitr in large gatherings, despite the directive of the Presidential Task Force prohibiting massive gatherings, to prevent further spread of coronavirus in Nigeria. The coalition of Civil Society Organisations under the umbrella platform, CSO Situation Room, monitored prayer grounds in the State and observed that most people at the prayer grounds stood in close proximity with each other, and wore no face masks.It was also observed that majority of muslims flouted the directive of the National Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, recently issued by its Deputy Secretary General, Prof. Salisu Shehu, in a statement to the effect that, Muslims who did not want to observe Sallah prayers at home, should perform Eid at the area mosques to avoid unmanageable crowds. Many muslim faithful shunned the area mosques and converged in large numbers at the prayer grounds.
After prayers, some residents were seen in an infectious, celebratory mood along the streets of Borno, which was a sharp contrast to the mood observed in the State in the past few months of combating the coronavirus pandemic. The CSO Situation Room members noted the relaxed and convivial atmosphere fostered by the Sallah celebration in most parts of Borno State. Many people who wore no face masks, were seen in groups, chatting happily and exchanging pleasantries with their friends and loved ones. Some of them were also seen sneezing and coughing intermittently and no form of social distancing was observed. Most amusement parks and entertainment centres remained shut, though, in compliance with the government’s partial lockdown order. Several youths and children who could not gain entrance into the popular Maiduguri Zoo, were seen loitering around the entrance gate to the Zoo, apparently wishing they could be allowed to have a blissful experience at the Zoo to commemorate the Sallah celebration, as it used to be in times past.
However, the very low-key festivities witnessed across the State this year, drew the angst of many inhabitants who expressed their frustration with the State Government for the restrictions they were made to endure because of the coronavirus disease which they described as a scam. Many who spoke to members of the CSO Situation Room, accused the federal and state governments of deceiving Nigerians about the existence of the disease in the country, for ulterior motives. Even when they were reminded by the Civil Society members, that some popular indigenes of the State have reportedly lost their lives to complications resulting from the coronavirus infection, they still maintained their stance and insisted that the disease was a hoax in Nigeria, fabricated by government officials. But their insistence on believing a false narrative, did not reverse the increasing number of medically-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the State. Borno now has a total of 255 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease, as of May 25, 2020, which is an exponential increase from the 80 cases it had as of May 4, 2020, notwithstanding the low testing capacity of the State, for the numbers may have been much higher if more contact tracing and testing were being done.
The CSO Situation Room therefore urges the BornoState Government to pay a lot more attention to public sensitisation and take its public enlightenment campaigns across the State, much more seriously and as a matter of urgency. The people of Borno should not be left to wallow in a state of denial, but rather be made to ‘own the fight’ against the pandemic in order for the State to be rid of it, no matter how long it may take to achieve that. The government needs to forge a new roadmap in its engagements with religious and community leaders that will outline strategic goals to be met in the course of public information dissemination about COVID-19, with a view to ensuring the reorientation of the people and their commitment in the quest to terminate the scourge. More face masks and hand sanitisers should be freely distributed to the masses, in all the Local Government Areas of the State. Though maintaining social distance poses a challenge to many living in the densely-populated State, the government must strive for a balance and demonstrate its willpower to forestall the violation of the public safety rules and guidelines. The government has an obligation to do everything possible within the ambit of the law, to protect the lives and ensure the wellbeing of Borno people, especially at times like this.