Secret burials in Bonny as ‘mysterious’ deaths spread panic in Rivers

…Various groups begin investigations

Every day in the past two weeks, secret burials take place in Bonny Island in Rivers State. Deaths are also being hushed on the island as most leaders and the local council authorities fear a lockdown from Governor Nyesom Wike if all the truth about mystery deaths is told.

Hospitals look normal but doctors now have over 1000 percent surge in home calls by families refusing to take their sick persons to hospitals. They rather invite doctors at home to treat their loved ones. This is the life in Bonny Island today; panic and fears plus apprehension over unknown cause of deaths.

Sources in Bonny told BDSUNDAY on Friday, May 29, 2020, that the deaths have continued unabated but that only the deaths of very important personalities are being mentioned. Little fellows are dying daily and are being secretly buried, a youth official told our correspondent.

It was gathered that the victims have been adults, mostly bread winners, not children. This has added anger and anguish to the sad tale. A doctor was said to have confided in his friends that whereas he saw an average of five emergency cases per day in the past, he now sees over 50 emergencies per day, but at homes. Death toll is rising.

Doctors said most patients have same symptoms: Malaria, fever, loss of smell, loss of taste. Some recover, many die.

The Bonny local council health team including the Environment Health desk intervened early in the crisis and confirmed that Coronvirus may not be the cause. The team also reported that those given careful treatment recovered but self-medication arising from fears of COVID-19 led to more deaths. The report called for more investigations on the quality of air on the island.

The Rivers State government says it has also intervened. The Commissioner for Health who was in Bonny early in the week to inspect the COVID-19 facilities set up by the NLNG also visited other health facilities on the invitation of doctors on the Island to inspect other places.

Governor Nyesom Wike said government had begun the investigation of the mysterious deaths after about 11 persons were confirmed dead of same symptoms. Wike said this Wednesday that his administration was investigating cases suspected to be linked to coronavirus.

Speaking in a broadcast, Wike said he had ordered an investigation into the sudden deaths, adding that medical personnel led by the Commissioner for Health had visited Bonny Island and collected samples from suspected cases.

He noted that the state would launch an immediate intervention after the results of the samples collected were out.

The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had earlier in the week said it had also intervened by obtaining samples for tests. Later, the Centre said none of the deaths so far had to do with Coronavirus. This seems to douse fears on one side but heightened it on the other. There is bigger fear about what the cause of death should be: malaria, typhoid, loss of taste, loss of smell.

There is huge caution against de-marketing Bonny Island that is a gas centre of global sensitivity. The authorities and the chiefs are said to be greatly concerned about this, but the youths are breaking free to cry out.

By noon of Friday, May 29, 2020, the Bonny Development Forum (BDF) held a meeting to examine the situation and according to Gift Hart, the group called for independent inquiry into the cause of deaths.

He said by their experience over the years, something must be fishy, insisting that the symptoms were gas-related. “There is need for proper professional tests because this did not start today. Fishes have been dying, aquatic lives have died, now, humans are dying,” Hart said.

He further said that most residents and indigenes heard of gas leaks on the island and called for investigations. “We want tests’, he stated.

Another Bonny man and public relations officer (PRO) at the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (PHCCIMA), Anderson Hart, told BDSUNDAY that silence on the part of the authorities was causing speculations and assumptions.

He mentioned the deaths of vibrant personalities such as Fubara Banigo and Pallen Banigo as very traumatic. One of them is a popular choirmaster and the family cannot be consoled. “These are top breadwinners and vibrant citizens”.

He went on: “The NCDC says it is not COVID-19, the state government says it’s not the virus, so what is killing our people?” he strongly believes there is toxic industrial hazard in Bonny.

“There is heavy business interest in Bonny and they do not want people to talk, they fear de-marketing the island, but we can no longer keep quiet. The big people wear masks but what about the ordinary people? Let there be answers, else, assumptions will take over,” he added.

A Bonny-based publisher, Godswill Jumbo, said many are afraid of getting to hospitals. “There is a surge in outpatient numbers. The bigger fear is the unknown cause of deaths instead of COVID-19.”

Many have pointed to the global glut in gas and crude oil that resulted in busting storage around the world. Many fear that the failure to convey gas out of the island may have resulted in a surge back and eventual leakage in one of the trains.

The NLNG however, seems to react. A statement issued on Wednesday said: “Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) has disclosed that there was an operational trip at its six-train plant on Bonny Island on 14th May 2020, which resulted to the temporary loss of power at the plant.”

According to the company, there was no injury or damage to asset. The company added that power was restored within two hours of the outage by its engineers following laid down protocols and strict adherence to the safety goal of zero harm to people, zero damage to assets, no spills and no process safety incidents.

The statement signed by Eyono Fatayi-Williams, the general manager, External Relations, went on: “NLNG also stated that relevant authorities and stakeholders were duly informed as part of protocol for managing such operational trips. The company reiterated that as a good corporate citizen, it remains committed to its vision of “…helping to build a better Nigeria”.

More deliberations are going on in Bonny but across the larger Rivers State, deaths due to COVID-19 have also hyped fears. The death of a director in the Ministry of Finance, the one of a local council boss and that of an executive director in the NDDC have also caused panic in the oil-rich state.

Yet, rumours of more deaths have emerged Friday morning, increasing the panic.

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