Kano COVID-19 deaths: Rendered people Homeless and creates widespread Anxiety
In northern Nigeria, a series of “mysterious” deaths in April — during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic — sparked a flurry of confusion and denial by government officials.
As social media narratives began to piece together possible reasons for the spike in deaths, dis-and misinformation were driven by ethnoreligious tensions in the predominantly Muslim northern region.
To complicate matters, a series of forced relocations of boarding school children from Kano, northwest Nigeria, back to their home villages sparked concern about possible exportation of the coronavirus to other parts of the country.
In this complex, layered context, it has been difficult to gain a full understanding of the reasons behind the mass deaths in Kano State.
Almajirai children: Forced relocation leads to possible virus transmission
In Nigeria, children known as Almajirai (“religious migrants”), are sent to Islamic boarding schools in the predominantly Muslim northern region of the country. These children are usually from very poor homes and cannot afford formal education.
Almajirai children in this region often beg from house to house in groups, “scrambling over a small plate of food” or “singing the yar bakara [‘begging songs’],” asserts journalist Farida Adamu.
In the middle of the pandemic, this vulnerable group of children was relocated from Kano State to their home states and in the process, some allegedly exported COVID-19 to other states in the region.
On May 2, The Cable, an online newspaper, reported that 6 out of 38 Almajirai who were forcibly relocated from Kano by the state government to Bauchi State, had tested positive for COVID-19.
In Kaduna State, 65 out of 169 relocated children tested positive for the coronavirus. In Jigawa State, 91 out of 168 relocated children were infected and in Gombe State reported eight out of 48 deported boys tested positive, reports the BBC.
Almajirai constitute a significant portion of Nigeria’s 13.2 million out-of-school children according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). With an average school attendance rate of 53 percent in northern Nigeria, this means that more than half of these children do not attend school.
Eight years ago, President Goodluck Jonathan spent 15 billion naira (about $39 million US dollars) to build Almajirai schools across northern Nigeria, with the aim to integrate these children into the formal education system. The schools are now in ruins — the plan was rejected by influential northern leaders, including the Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje.
The region also experienced other forms of community-based transmission that resulted in “mysterious deaths.” On May 6, Sahara Reporters, an online news portal, reported that over 155 people died in Yobe State in northeastern Nigeria. A day earlier, Premium Times reported a spike in community transmission in Jigawa State resulting in “strange” deaths.
In these cases, the fatalities displayed symptoms similar to COVID-19. Cemeteries reportedly overflowed with corpses — which set these communities on edge.
The mass deaths in Kano State fueled long-standing ethnic and religious tensions between northern and southern regions that were on full display in heated conversations on Twitter.
When two prominent figures died — Sheikh Goni Modu and Emir of Rano — confusion and disinformation ensued along ethnoreligious and regional lines.
Both figures were buried on May 3, 2020, but videos began to circulate online that spread disinformation about the circumstances of these burials.
The Emir of Rano, Tafida Abubakar ll, died on May 2, as reported by Daily Trust, a Nigerian newspaper. The Emir was one of the four newly constituted kingdoms in Kano.