The Nigerian government has drawn citizens’ backlash for failing to follow through on its plan to quietly bury Abba Kyari, the late chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Kyari passed on Friday night in Lagos and his remains were flown to Abuja on Saturday morning. Following a brief prayer at his official residence in Abuja’s Maitama neighbourhood, his body was transported to the military cemetery in Gudu where it was interned at about 11:20 a.m.
As Mr Kyari’s body was being moved to the cemetery, a crowd of relatives, supporters and well-wishers thronged to the burial ground to pay their last respects to the senior administration official.
A long line of vehicles stretched out along the expressway near the cemetery where Mr Kyari’s body was interred, despite government’s initial announcement that the burial would be conducted in private to show compliance with the guidelines against the spread of COVID-19.
Boss Mustapha, the cabinet secretary and head of the presidential task force on coronavirus, was amongst those sighted at the burial Saturday morning. Several senior government officials and politicians were also seen in the crowd.
Mr Kyari contracted the virus on March 23 shortly after returning from Germany on a national assignment where he had sought to actualise a deal on improving Nigeria’s power infrastructure.
He initially said in a statement March 29 that his condition was improving and had been transferred to a private hospital in Lagos for additional treatment, but his death was suddenly announced by the presidency shortly after midnight Saturday.
Only those who lowered the body wore personal protective equipment at the burial, despite reports from across the world of people contracting the virus at burial ceremonies.
The National Centre for Disease Control had warned that improper burial of a coronavirus victim could lead to infections. In its guidelines, the NCDC warned that should a burial be held, “the number of attendees should be limited.”
The disease control office, which does not regularly comment on individual cases, also specifically warned Saturday morning that attendance should be limited at Mr Kyari’s burial.
“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,” the NCDC said.
Nigerians on social media have also condemned the government’s failure to limit crowds at the burial, saying it was a missed opportunity to educate the public about the essence of social distancing.
This is especially as citizens continue to attend churches and mosques in defiance of shelter-in-place measures imposed by state and federal authorities to keep stop large and frequent gatherings.
Nigeria has confirmed about 500 cases of coronavirus with 17 deaths as of Friday night. Experts recommended that the country would have limited casualties if social distancing and other safe practices are stridently observed to avoid overwhelming the country’s weak health infrastructure.