By Shareef Ahmed Mohammed, Esq.
It cannot be gainsaid that the North, more than any other part of the country stands out as a more likely part to be more devastated by the rampaging COVID–19 pandemic majorly on account of the deeper involvement of its people in menial or odd jobs particularly scavenging. They are popularly known/called BABAN – BOLA. They carry out this scavenging and or such other menial jobs throughout the country which odd job see them picking all manners of things from the waste bins and even refuse dumps round the country in the most bizarre manner without any form of protection.
At the wake of the gradual lockdown of the country arising from the spread of COVID–19, there has been a massive migration of these young men from the southern high risk zone to their respective low risk or in some cases, zero risk states in the North without any attention being given to their return by way of isolating and testing them upon their return journey, raising genuine fears of the likely spread of the pandemic at both community and urban levels in Northern Nigeria.
Worst still, owing to the near zero awareness campaigns in the North, victims are seriously being victimized and are not willing to come out for voluntary testing and all that and in consequence, are currently on rampage silently spreading the virus like wild fire at all levels.
Excellency Sir, a simple example is the case of one of such returnees from the South to the up north who reportedly joined a crowded vehicle with an advance stage of the coronavirus and on reaching Kaduna and realizing that the man was a carrier of the dreaded Coronavirus, the people in the vehicle, decided to dump him along the kaduna express way. Some good Samaritans took him to a nearby Public Health Centre where he started vomiting blood. He was subsequently confirmed to be Covid – 19 positive.
The problem here is how can the people he traveled with in that crowded vehicle be located or even the people he had contacts with from where he lived or better still, the good Samaritans that took him to the hospital in Kaduna.
Report has it that a good number of these scavengers have relocated to Abuja and joined some of their Abuja based colleagues or have proceeded to their respective home state capitals and villages.
These scavengers have no accommodation beyond dumping sites where they have their tents becoming more and more exposed to contacting the virus because refuse from all over including from hospitals are dumped there in the absence of isolated dumps for dumping refuse from the convid-19 isolated centres.
Recently, Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation was reported to have raised the alarm from a different dimension that Northern Nigeria remains the highest risk region for the spread of the virus due to its weak primary health care system and because north is the poorest region of Nigeria with the weakest overall health infrastructure and facilities and highest child and maternal mortality rate.
As if this is not enough, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently predicted that over 300,000 people from the Northern part of this country are likely to be consumed by the Covid – 19 pandemic. This projected figure may be lower or higher but either way, it calls for great concern. Besides the problem of very weak primary health care system in the North as observed by the WHO, the ongoing migration of these scavengers and other menial workers from the high risk southern region to the up North including Abuja importing the virus and spreading same like wild fire, calls for urgent attention.
Theresident scavengers who operate in major cities in the North and their scavenging counterparts returning home from the South resides in tents within dump sites.
In fact, in the FCT for instance, they live also on top of rocks or hills round the territory with generators and even do organize parties with their numerous girlfriends surrounded always by multiple wild dogs for protection and guard against any likely police surprise attack/arrest.
POSSIBLE WAYS OUT
1. Urgent attention of the 19 Northern Governors particularly the Northwestern Governors from where more than 90 percent of these scavengers come from must be drawn to this impending danger to come up with a marshal plan on how to reach out to these young men for test and treatment.
2. The plan should include the utilization of traditional rulers from top to the last level. They certainly will know their subjects that have returned home recently and are capable of convincing them to come out for test. In doing so, the test exercise should be concentrated at the various local Government levels by way of grouping local governments and fixing the test centres at the local council central to the areas.
3. At the individual state capitals, attention should be extended to the scavengers and their places of abode and possibly proscribed the entire activities of the scavengers on ground of national health emergency. In doing so, relevant skill acquisition centres be established or expanded in all the states to train these youths in different skills.
4. By the same token, the use of empty bottles to sell local drinks including kununzaki, zobo, red oil, etc and/or anything edible must be proscribed forthwith nationwide.
5. In the case of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, urgent step should be taken to outlaw scavenging in the city while the test exercise be extended to this group in their identified hide outs and tents on top of Abuja hills. FCT authorities should reintroduce the satellite waste evacuation management using youths who organize themselves with modern vehicles to conduct this exercise.
6. Other states in the country as well should as matter of urgency also outlaw activities of scavengers and use of discarded water bottles in selling anything edible.
*Barr. Mohammed, Journalist and Lawyer lives in Abuja.