As Lalong, citizens bicker over Covid-19 stigmatisation…

Plateau state being one of those with rising numbers of COVID-19 index is now faced with claims and counter claims of alleged hate speech and stigmatisation. MUHAMMAD TANKO SHITTU reports on those claims.

The burden of good leadership entails responsiveness to issues bothering on the socio-political, religious as well cultural well-being of the governed. It is therefore rational for a good leadership to show consideration in its dealing most importantly on issues that could lead to stigmatisation of its citizens.

This quality seems to be the case of sone communities especially within Jos-South and Jos-North local government areas of Plateau state.

Unfortunately, when the state witnessed its index case of the disease, the vivid result of a victim was leaked and it went viral, a development that generated lots of reactions and condemnation. That singular act was seen by many as gross violation of ethics of the medical profession.

Although the state government said it has investigated how the result got leaked, it further, said the officer in charge has been redeployed. Even at that, the actions resulted in a threat of litigation by members of  Dogon K’arfe community, where the index case was discovered. Since then, the community is perceived from the perspective of suspicion.

As if that was not enough, recent happenings from same state government officials potent great dangers to some communities within the same local government.

Government’s initial comment

In a tweet by Mr Daser David, the director-general of Plateau State Information and Communications Technology (ICT), he stated that people should avoid areas like Masallachin Juma’a street, Rikkos and Duala communities.” This tweet did not go down well with groups and individuals within the communities.

Reaction from groups

According to separate statements by some of the groups, more worrisome was the manner at which Governor Simon Lalong, responded to questions on the spreading pandemic.

A statement by the Jos Renessance Group (JRG) duly signed by its chairman, Lawal Ishaq, earlier on demanded the sanction of Mr Daser David for allegedly sharing a message capable of derailing the state and federal government’s fight against the spread of the disease.

Mr Ishaq further said when he personally accosted the said DG, he claimed that he merely shared the post to stimulate a debate. “What an irresponsible excuse from someone who should be one of the mouth pieces of the ever- caring and responsible Plateau state government under the able leadership of Simon Bako Lalong who has been working tirelessly to protect citizens of the state from the scorge of the deadly Corona Virus irrespective of any biases.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the three communities listed are primarily inhabited by Muslims and the statement is a veiled instigation to other citizens to start viewing Muslims with contempt, apprehension and disgust as carriers of Corona Virus,” he said.

He further added that, “This is unacceptable and also a major setback in the state government’s effort at stopping the spread of the virus in the state.”

The group said they begin to wonder if Mr David was behind the leaked results of the first index case in the state from Dogon Karfe, stressing further that as leaders in Jos, they knew how they have been suffering to make their people come to terms and accept to be freely tested, counselled, saying the few positive patients are isolated for the protection of all.

The group expressed fears that if patient’s status is no longer confidential, but become a subject of  stigmatisation, they would no longer cooperate.

They urged Lalong to take steps to discipline the DG in order to serve as deterrent to others. They said the  commissioner for health should debunk the statement and reassure citizens of the full confidentiality of their status.

Another group too

Also, the Jos Massalacin Jummu’ah Street Youth Vanguard (JMSYV) in a press release signed by its public relations officer, Abdul-Majid Lawan, said it was shocked by the tweets by Mr David alleging that their area was dangerous.

It said, “No case of COVID19 pandemic was ever recorded in Masallacin Jummuah Street up till the night of 25th of May 2020. JMSYV is concerned about the set out guidelines by the (NCDC) for authorities in tackling community transmission of COVID19 virus without subjecting communities to elements of stimatisation.”

While appealing to the state Ministry of Information and Communications for a retraction of the statement, the group said residents of Masallacin Jummuah shall continue to cooperate with the government in its efforts to fight the spread of COVID19 not only in the street but in the state at large.

Lalong took side with aides

While the two groups and some individuals that faulted the statements of Mr David, were awaiting the actions of Governor Lalong and a possible retraction, the governor released yet another shocker in which he took side with his subordinates by repeating similar allegations against the three communities.
He was making the statement when he featured in a live radio programme in Jos, a development which seems to many as an attempt to promote hate speech and stigmatisation against members of those communities.

More counter reactions

However, the assertions further attracted criticsms at which a group of Jos Concerned Youth Association (JCYA) in a  release by its coordinator, Comrade Muhammad Salisu,  expressed regrets over the discoveries of new cases of Coronavirus in the  state, with particular concern about Jos North local government area, despite sensitisation aimed at reducing the spread.

The statement said, “While we and other community leaders, youths associations are doing all it takes using all resources at our disposals, without recourse to government supports, we are surprised that the government is turning to promote stigmatisation against us and our communities,” the said.

The group said they are concerned because it is glaring from all indications that organs of the state government are bent on  promoting stigmatisation against the people. “We remember vividly how the result of an index case was deliberately and intentionally leaked, posted on the social media to the knowledge of all simpy because it was percieved that the person is from our community.”

The group frowned at the action of DG-ICT, specifying three areas that are highly Muslims dominated, calling on people to avoid such places.
“The worst of it was Governor Simon Lalong’s, corroboration of his appointees’ claims when he was fielding questions on a live radio programme last Tuesday.
“Governor Lalong and his appointees are very much aware of the fact that for the past seven weeks, no Jumma’at congressional prayers were held in compliance with the state government directives of not having more than 50 persons in a congregation. As law abiding citizens, authority of mosques equally decided not to hold Jumma’at prayers knowing that it cannot control crowd beyond the stipulated 50 persons.

“Therefore, did the spread  got its roots from Massallacin Juma’a Street which is more of business occupied shops than residential? if not, does the government and its officials have ulterior motives against our people?” they queried.

The group said with Governor Lalong’s, statements of stigmatisation, they may equally assume  that the earlier unethical, unprofessional leaked results of an index case and the stigmatisation statements made by his appointees might be directives from him which they consider as insensitive, if perharps is actually from him.

They said if really the indices by NCDC and Plateau government are correct in Jos North local government, then what role is the government playing in an effort to be more  proactive and aggressive?

“What proactive measures, such as community testing, community isolation centres and other immediate measures that could aid in halting the spread is the government taking? None to our knowledge, but only making statements of stigmatisation and hate speeches,” they alleged.

They said It is on their notice that the Dangote Foundation is providing 100 bed capacity isolation centre and that the state government has decided to site it at Shendam LGA whose cases are almost zero, based on government statistics; therefore why not site it in Jos North where is needed most?

“We therefore call on his Excellency to show examplary leadership by ensuring that no community is stigmatised as this would make his appointees to have some decorum in what they say against other communities since the state belongs to all of us,” they appealed.

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