Beyond Numbers: Profiling Nigerians who died from COVID-19 (1)

Late Abba Kyari
Late Abba Kyari

About 24 days after Nigeria’s index case of coronavirus, an Italian national, was confirmed on February 28, the West African country recorded its first fatality from the virus.

The victim, a former Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Suleiman Achimugu, died on March 23 after showing symptoms of the virus following his return to the country from the United Kingdom, his family said.

The death which was reported widely on local media sparked fears resulting in panic buying of cleaning products and eventually the lockdown of Abuja and Lagos a week later on March 30 for 14 days initially.

Since then, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has recorded more than 28,000 infections resulting in over 600 deaths.

Asides health workers and ordinary Nigerians, the virus has left in its wake prominent casualties who could hardly get the burial rites they would have been accorded in normal times.

But many Nigerians have continued to gloat that COVID-19 death victims – aside from the few public figures – have remained largely unannounced beyond the daily statistics on the NCDC dashboard.

They described the government’s inability to put a face on those who succumbed to the contagion as a lack of transparency.

Beyond Numbers

However, it is more than just numbers on the NCDC dashboard for the families of the deceased. For them, life, as it were, will never be the same. The crude reality has been a mix of tears and unforgettable memories of their lost ones.

PREMIUM TIMES understands that putting faces to those who died of COVID-19 would raise the consciousness of everyone that the daily cases and fatalities are more than mere statistics.

This, we believe may help clear the disbelief about COVID-19, a rare strain of the coronavirus which has infected over 11 million globally causing over 500, 000 deaths.

In this series, PREMIUM TIMES will be profiling, as many as possible, Nigerians who died from coronavirus complications.

Culled from news reports, obituaries, the social media, friends and families of the deceased, this first part brings the profile of five prominent Nigerians who died after contracting the virus.

1. Suleiman Achimugu

Suleiman Achimugu is a former Managing Director of PPMC, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) subsidiary in charge of petroleum products marketing and distribution.

Mr Achimugu’s family said he died on March 23 after showing symptoms of the virus following his return to the country from the United Kingdom.

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He is Nigeria’s first fatality.

The NCDC said the victim had underlying medical conditions – multiple myeloma and diabetes – and was undergoing chemotherapy before returning to Nigeria.

According to the World Health Organisation, patients with diabetes may be at extra risk for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) mortality.

In a phone interview with Channels TV, Abubakar Achimugu, a family member of the deceased, said Mr Achimugu was on self-isolation for two weeks after his return, following the advisory by the WHO.

“When he got back on March 10, his temperature was okay that he could still take extra precaution by self-isolation for 14 days. That was exactly what he did,” he said

“But after a week in isolation, he started experiencing unusual symptoms similar to those publicised on COVID-19,” he added.

The late Achimugu was said to have informed the NCDC personally of his conditions after which he was immediately taken to the COVID-19 centre in Abuja where he tested positive.

“He was experiencing symptoms that were alien to him. After the tests, a day after, the results were made available which came out positive, which was on Saturday.

“Then they arranged that he be evacuated to the COVID-19 centre in Abuja,” his brother said.

Mr Achimugu was buried according to Islamic rites on Sunday, six days after he tested positive to the virus.

2. Abba Kyari

On April 17, Nigerian president’s powerful Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari , succumbed to coronavirus at 69, becoming the most popular COVID-19 fatality in West Africa as of then.

His burial the following day at the military cemetery in Gudu in Abuja drew immediate backlash from Nigerians because senior government officials who attended the event did not adhere to health advisories and safety protocols against COVID-19.

Mr Kyari amassed more power than any previous chief of staff in Nigeria. Many who wish to deal with Mr Buhari had to go through Mr Kyari, including Nigeria’s top politicians and business owners.

“He acted forcefully as a crucial gatekeeper to the presidency,” President Muhammadu Buhari said of one of his closest allies, calling him a “loyal friend” in a tribute.

About a week before he tested positive for the virus, he was in Germany meeting with energy officials at Siemens on a deal to restore Nigeria’s electricity grid.

He was transferred from the capital Abuja to Lagos for medical care where he was confirmed dead.

Mr. Buhari, who was re-elected last year in his tribute to late Kyari, described the 67-year-old as a “true Nigerian patriot… My loyal friend and compatriot for the last 42 years”. The two had met when Mr Kyari was in his 20s.

“There are those who said of him that he must be secretive – because he did not have a high public profile. But Abba was the opposite: he simply had no need, nor did he seek, the cheap gratification of the crowd; for him, there was nothing to be found in popular adulation.”

Mr Kyari rarely responded to criticisms in public.

The late official was survived by his wife, Kulu Kyari, and four children.

3. Abiola Ajimobi

Abiola Ajimobi, a two-term governor in Nigeria’s southwestern Oyo State died from underlying health conditions after contracting coronavirus.

He passed away in Lagos at the age of 70 on June 25. His death had been dispelled by the family a week before when his situation reportedly worsened and reports were rife that he had died.

His spokesperson, Bolaji Tunji, initially debunked the rumours which came at a period when Mr Ajimobi was asked to take up the position of acting chairman of the embattled All Progressives Congress (APC). His appointment was marred with controversies which eventually ended in the dissolution of the APC National Working Committee.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Makinde inaugurates another isolation centre in Ibadan

Those familiar with how the former Oyo State governor contracted COVID-19 which triggered his underlying health conditions, claimed it started with a journey he never knew would be his last,

After he was named the APC Deputy National Chairman amid the controversy that followed, a call came that he had to make a very important journey to Abuja, where a meeting had been slated.

A prominent chieftain of the party from his part of the country would later volunteer his private jet for the emergency trip, since the regular commercial flights were no longer for the asking as a result of the lockdown.

Although unconfirmed reports had it that he might have been infected on that flight, it is still unclear how the septuagenarian contracted the contagion.

“I still can’t wrap my head around what happened. He was so healthy, he was neat, he took all the necessary precautions even while he sat with us in our open office he was always with his face mask, we always observe social distancing”, Bolaji Tunji, the late Ajimobi’s aide, penned in a tribute for his late boss revealing how the politician made a journey of no-return from Ibadan to Abuja.

“We were always quick to give him hands sanitiser any time he touched something…

“We had three spots where you had to wash hands before entering the premises. One at each of the main entrance gates and another by the entrance to our office. We observed all due protocols. So what happened? How did it happen? None of us was sick. So where did this come from? I am still trying to find answers,” he wrote.

Mr Ajimobi was born on December 16, 1949, in Oyo State, South-west Nigeria.

He served as senator before his election as Oyo governor in 2011. In 2015, he became the first Oyo State governor to win re-election.

He was married to Florence. They have five children.

4. Wahab Adegbenro

The Ondo State commissioner of health, Wahab Adegbenro, died from COVID-19 complications on July 2 at the state’s infectious disease hospital.

He died two days after handing the positive test result of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to him. Many who spoke about the late Adegbenro said he was one of the most hard-working cabinet members of the state government.

Before venturing into politics, he ran his hospital in the state where he provided inexpensive healthcare, sometimes free, to many residents, thus earning a good reputation.

His popularity reflected in how hundreds of Ondo residents thronged his burial, a day after his death.

His principal, Mr Akeredolu, in a video said the state lost “a dependable ally with fatherly mayhem. It is my fervent believe that he would be remembered for his official endeavour.”

5. Bayo Osinowo

Before his death, Mr Osinowo was a senator representing Lagos East Senatorial District. He passed away on June 15 at the age of 64.

His death came at a time when he urged the public to be mindful of the deadly virus.

In a condolence message signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos Governor, Gboyega Akosile, the governor said he was saddened by the death of the Lagos senator, but assured that the government will find a lasting solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While eulogising Mr Osinowo’s legacy, Mr Sanwo-Olu urged Nigerians to use his death as a reminder that the battle against the ravaging coronavirus pandemic is far from being won.



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