A war of words erupted on social media on Saturday over what some Nigerians saw as disregard for social distancing by government officials at the burial of Mallam Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Some also accused government of going back on its decision to dispose of the corpses of Coronavirus patients.
The former Chief of Staff died from Coronavirus complications in Lagos on Friday and was buried yesterday at the military cemetery, Gudu, Abuja.
Many Nigerians took to Twitter and Facebook to castigate government for allowing its officials to openly disregard the social distancing rule and that there should be no gathering of more than 20 people in any part of the country.
Kyari’s body was flown from Lagos to Abuja early yesterday and then driven in a convoy to his official residence in Abuja’s Maitama neighbourhood before interment at the cemetery.
The crowd at the cemetery was well more than 20.
Onyedika Anambra @governmentson wrote, “Abba Kyari’s burial is ongoing, no social distancing and this contravenes the policy of NCDC that corpse or everyone who died of COVID-19 virus belongs to the government and will be buried without family members present. The law is only for the poor.”
Morris Monye Factor @morrismonye said, “According to NCDC guidelines, bodies cannot be released to families. All Covid-19 funerals have been discreet and handled by NCDC with no family or friends present so that their lives aren’t endangered.”
A video recording of one of the pall bearers pulling off his personal protective dress moment after the burial also went viral.
Readers feared the man could easily spread Covid-19.
But a quick response came from Bashir Ahmad, a presidential aide.
Writing on Twitter, he said: “I was there, I can confirm that all the PPEs including the face marks were burnt even before people started leaving the cemetery. NCDC staff collected all our used masks and replaced them with new ones, then disinfected the environment.”
Another respondent said: “A lot of lies are being peddled about the burial of Abba Kyari. First, the Janazah prayer was held at the Defence Guest House Maitama and he was later buried at the Gudu cemetery.
“Now, some are saying his family buried him. Nothing can be farther from the truth as can be seen from some of these pictures here.
“NCDC buried him except you are saying the guys wearing PPE who put him in the grave are his sons, brothers or sons-in-law.
“What’s wrong was the lack of social distancing at the guest house and at the cemetery. It would have been impossible to maintain such because Muslims rank in rows while praying and while prayer for the dead is done standing they still maintained shoulders and feet touching which was wrong if you consider social distancing but impossible except that prayer would not hold. “Secondly, considering the personality involved it would have been also impossible to keep the crowd away here from the cemetery here in Abuja.”
Shortly before the burial yesterday the NCDC reiterated on its Twitter handle that Nigerians should refrain from attending mass gatherings.
It said: “Even at this time, as we mourn loved ones lost to Covid-19, including the recently deceased, President’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, we need to refrain from attending mass gatherings to prevent the further spread of #Covid19 Let us #StaySafe & protect each other.”
Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed had, during a recent interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said corpses of Coronavirus patients would not be released to their families.
He stressed that such corpses could only be handled by the ministry of health because they were contagious.
Also reacting to the video last night, the acting secretary Health and Human Services, FCTA, Dr. Mohammed Kawu said : “The said Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) left over by the individual has been properly evacuated and the entire cemetery has been decontaminated.
“In addition, all the individuals including the man in question that participated in the burial and were not properly kitted have been identified and are being isolated.”
Kawu said there was no cause for alarm about the incident.