A simple operation as to whether a person is infected by Coronavirus or not has taken a different turn in Nigeria’s Benue State where theories upon theories are being churned out by different actors as to whether Mrs Susan Okpeh is or is not positive. Mrs Okpeh, a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United Kingdom was dramatically announced last Saturday as the first person to test positive of COVID-19 in the state.
But she is saying that although she submitted herself for checking, she got no results before the governor became a broadcaster on her COVID-19 status and she was being kept in a way that could lead to her death, not of COVID-19 but from the conditions she is being kept. Where the state governor got the results from is one of the questions being asked since no city in Benue State is among the six testing centres in Nigeria where there is plan to build six more. Above all, NCDC has remained quiet so far except if it spoke a few hours ago unknown to this medium.
COVID-19 is not inherently fatal or embarrassing in any way. Not even HIV/AIDS infection is embarrassing except for those who can’t relate to it beyond something they trace exclusively to sexual malfeasance. So, why could Mrs Susan not be cool about it? This is where the puzzle lies and the source of what might become a dent for Governor Samuel Ortom, otherwise known as the “defender of the Benue Valley” since his popular legal framework against ‘Open Grazing’ as a check on the intrusive violence of herdsmen and ‘herdsmen’, especially if Mrs Okpeh’s turns out not to be positive after all.
Is it possible the governor might have over-speculated by not factoring in Mrs Okpeh’s personal geopolitics? It is understood she is the mother of two who are middle class actors in the British system. This is in addition to her being a professional as well as a Pentecostal activist. There is no way a person of such class, social, professional, educational and geographical location will be casual about being up to date on her health details, including COVID-19 infection. Interestingly, she is protesting loudly and revealing that she did her tests before leaving the UK.
Again, someone such as Mrs Okpeh who has been living in London and is used to the privacy and consent regimes across Europe will certainly be horrified by what she must have, rightly or wrongly, seen as medical thuggery in the Benue State Government’s approach to her COVID-19 status. Until COVID-19, it is unthinkable that anyone in Europe could be restricted or subjected to medical screening without all the rules of consent. These are not the sort of things that matter in our clime.
It is interesting that the authorities at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, (BSUTH) are alleging non-cooperation on her part. That must be their own interpretation of her resistance to what, for her, must be invasion of privacy and enforced treatment. Of course, so much of rights are on suspension across the world in the wake of COVID.
In the end, it is looking like the government might have made a fatal mistake in announcing her status. Even if she is infected, it would not have started manifesting by the time she arrived Nigeria for someone who checked her details before leaving London. The government’s action might have been borne out by an over-reaction. Caged in the middle of nowhere as it were in the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Mrs Okpeh might also have felt so lonely and threatened as to resort to shouting plenty, ala Fela.
Meanwhile, the Benue spaces of the everyday is already filled with claims of the governor being driven into announcing with fanfare that Okpeh is a carrier so that he would get some N10b being given to hardworking states on the pandemic. Such stories are neither dismissible nor out rightly believable. The inference is that as someone coming from outside the country, particularly a COVID-19 hit country as the UK, the lady was the governor most likely subject to hold up quickly in showing that his gubernatorial machine is up and working.
There can be no stopping the flurry of theories and until the authority with the final word on her infection status speaks, the world would keep hearing more and more. If she turns out positive from a credible test, she would lose face as people would not have the luxury of fact checking the breach of protocols she appears to be sensitive to. If, however, she turns out to be negative in status, then the governor’s action will attract more interpretations and theorizing.
The long and short of it is that it is a waiting game. How long? Relax! A face saving move might be on.