Fornication – God + Yari = CSM

Sometime last year I had cause to comment on this page on Zamfara State Governor Abdul-Aziz Yari Abubakar’s controversial claim that his frequent travels out of the state, which assumed epidemic proportions, were not a problem because he can govern his state from the cabin of an airplane.His latest gaffe in Abuja last Monday dwarfed that one in controversial import. With his state as the Ground Zero of this country’s worst outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis (CSM) in twenty yearsYari told reporters that the outbreak is God’s way of punishing Nigerians for their immoral conduct. 

Speaking soon after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, Yari said, “What we used to know as far as meningitis is concerned is the Type A virus which had been tackled through vaccinations by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, because people refused to stop their nefarious activities, God now decided to send Type C virus, which has no vaccine. People have turned away from God and He has promised that ‘if you do anyhow, you see anyhow.’ That is just the cause of this outbreak as far as I am concerned. There is no way fornication will be so rampant and God will not send a disease that cannot be cured.

To say that Yari’s statement caused consternation in the country and internationally would be an understatement, since it tended to throw out of gear the massive mobilisation of local and international resources now underway to tackle the epidemic. No wonder that two Federal Government officials hurried to dispute Yari’s assertion. They did so delicately, given the pseudo-religious bent of the governor’s claim. Nigeria Centre for Disease Control [NCDC] official Biodun Ogunniyi nimbly said, “NCDC is a scientific organization and what we need to do is look at the science and the facts. We are providing vaccine… Vaccines work and in this case vaccines are going to work again and Nigeria is working hard to get the appropriate doses of vaccine into the country.” Minister of State for Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire also said, delicately, that the CSM outbreak has nothing to do with the lifestyles of Nigerians. He said, “The Federal Government does not have views of that nature.‎ When things happen, yes, you can begin to look this way and that way for the cause of it. Nature played us an unfortunate stroke but that is not to say we committed sin or anything.”

At first Governor Yari tried to step back from his remark. His Special Adviser on Media and Public Enlightenment Ibrahim Magaji Dosara said Yari’s comment was twisted by some elements with a view to ridiculing him because of his rising political reputation.” Dosara said Yari merely asked Nigerians to move closer to God and plead for his mercy to avert further infectious diseases in the state and Nigeria since God has answers to challenges. “This is exactly what the governor said. But because some people are out there to ridicule him at the slightest opportunity and make a mountain out of a molehill with a view to tarnishing his rising reputation, the innocuous statement was misinterpreted and quoted out of context for reasons best known to the authors.

The problem with this good defence is that last Friday, Yari soundly repudiated it. Responding to comments made in Kaduna on Wednesday by Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II, Yari insisted that the CSM outbreak has spiritual undertones and that the disease is indeed God’s punishment. He said, “I stand by my words that if people do not change, God will not change for them. Therefore, I will answer the Emir perfectly and give him the Quran and Hadith content of where I belong to and where I have my fact. We are not shifting anything. We are saying that the best way to go is taking medication.”

Governor Yari then retreated to his state capital, Gusau, took control of a Friday mosque and delivered a long sermon, replete with quotations from the Qur’an and hadith, to buttress his stance that the CSM epidemic ravaging his state is indeed retribution from God. The government-controlled Zamfara Radio, I was told, followed up by bringing in a long line of local Malams to preach in support of the governor’s position and to tell the local populace that it was their evil deeds that caused the outbreak. If that is the official stance of Zamfara State’s government, health officials from all over the world must be wondering whether they need to rush in and help us out. 

All people of faith believe that God is the ultimate cause and the ultimate authority but to attribute specific episodes to Him is an attempt to excuse human causative agents and to repudiate human responsibility for rising up to find solutions to problems. Let us begin from the intrinsic illogic of Yari’s claim. If this epidemic is God’s direct punishment for fornication, then we expect it to be proportional to the rate of fornication in various states. The National Bureau of Statistics does not publish official figures on fornication but we can make guesstimates from circumstantial evidence. The rate of fornication in Zamfara State must be far lower than the rate in, say, Lagos State and FCT, so why are there more CSM cases in Zamfara? I made that guesstimate from my personal knowledge that fornication has a direct relationship with the availability of enabling facilities, namely cars, money, hotel rooms, guest houses and lately, telephones. When I was growing up in my hometown, which resembles Zamfara State in every material particular, most of the young men and women who attempted fornication ended up being caught because of paucity of facilities. There were no hotels or guest houses so they always hid in a gutter, behind a tree, in a dry stream bed, in a dark alley, in a shop or under bushes in a farm. 

Even today there are preciously few hotels in Zamfara, as I found out last month when I was driving back from Sokoto and urgently needed a toilet. In contrast, Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Ibadan, Benin, Enugu, Jos and Port Harcourt have hundreds of hotels each. Most certainly that means more fornication, so we expected the CSM scourge to sweep through them first. But before it even gets to them, if a modern disaster were directly proportional to God’s wrath for sin, we expect cities such as Las Vegas to get the Sodom and Gomorrah treatment much earlier than Zamfara State. TheAlmighty God is fair and also precise; why did this wrath go to children, who could not possibly be fornicators?

Sometimes you think that leadership quality in this part of the world has changed from what it was 80 years ago. When a major CSM outbreak occurred in Katsina in the 1930s, the British Resident told Emir Muhammadu Dikko that it was partly due to the congested nature of the old city. Dikko did not say it was God’s wrath. Instead, he abandoned his palace in the old city, migrated to the outskirts and built a new one, and thousands of citizens followed his example and opened up Katsina city. Sarkin Gwandu Shehu did the same thing in 1943 when the Senior Resident, Bryan Sherwood-Smith, attributed that year’s CSM epidemic in Birnin Kebbi to congestion. That was how he built the Nasarawa palace.Governor Abdul-Aziz Yari should copy the fine example of those old emirs by creating new residential layouts in Gusau, Mafara, Gummi, Anka, Kauran Namoda, Bakura, and Tsafe.That is better than passing the buck to God. 

This was first published in Daily Trust