A high-profile funeral highlights a double standard in Nigeria under lockdown

Chief of Staff Abba Kyari's funeral was attended by many people, which violated official guidelines on COVID-19 burials. Screenshot via TVC News Nigeria on YouTube.

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Abba Kyari, chief of staff to Nigeria's president, died on April 17, 2020, from COVID-19 in Lagos, Nigeria. Kyari, 68, was buried the next day in Abuja, in accordance with Islamic rites. The funeral was televised throughout the nation.

He tested positive for the coronavirus on March 24, following a trip to Germany and Egypt, BBC reports.

Kyari's high-profile burial in the midst of COVID-19 highlights a double standard when it comes to state guidelines on best practices to mitigate the spread of the deadly disease.

The Nigerian government issued stay-at-home orders in three key states, Lagos, Abuja and Ogun, that began on March 30, 2020, for 14-days, which was later extended on April 13 for an additional two weeks.

Above the law?

Kyari’s burial did not observe the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s (NCDC) safety procedures for the burial of a COVID-19 patient:

In the event a ceremony is held, the number of attendees should be limited. The ceremony should be held in a well-ventilated structure, attendees should be advised on social distancing throughout the event, ensuring practice of hand and respiratory hygiene.

The hundreds of mourners, family members and top government officials, who attended the prayers for the deceased at Nigeria’s Defence House guesthouse far exceeded the limited number stipulated by the NCDC.

There was evidently no social distancing, as people mingled freely. The ceremony went on despite NCDC’s advice that funerals “should be postponed, as much as possible, until the end of the pandemic.”

The government on April 20, apologized for the “violation of the principles and protocols” of the NCDC during Kyari’s burial.

But the political elites are not the only group that flaunts the law at will.

On April 5, Nigerian actress Funke Akindele held a house party to celebrate the birthday of her husband and songwriter, Abdulrasheed Bello (Skillz or JJC Skillz) — also a violation of the lockdown laws.

Akindele was at the forefront of public awareness on COVID-19 measures, including the importance of social distancing to slow the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Apparently, Akindele didn’t live by that mantra for the party.

Akindele later apologized for hosting the party.

A Lagos court on April 7, sentenced the actress and her husband to 14 days community service and a fine of 100,000 naira ($260 United States dollars).

Same law, different standards?

Akindele and Bello were prosecuted with lightning speed, a deterrent to all who may break the COVID-19 regulations.

It was rather surprising, by Nigerian standards, for one to be in court barely 48 hours after an offence had been committed.

But the actress’ plight was nothing compared to that of Abuja cab driver Emmanuel Imhoudu who was arrested in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital for flouting the stay at home order.

In the video, Imhoudu stripped naked in protest to his arrest saying:

I dey provoke. I get children. I get wife. Na money I dey find, money to chop. No money. You tell us to stay for us. Nothing. No food.

I am angry. I have children. I have a wife. I’m looking for money to feed. No money and you tell us to stay at home. Nothing. No food.

Imhoudu was sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of 10,000 naira ($28 USD) by an Abuja court on April  16, reports Premium Times, an online newspaper.

Throwing a party during a lockdown is wrong. Flouting the regulations for a funeral during this pandemic is also equally wrong. Akindele apologized for breaching the pandemic regulations and the Nigerian government has also apologized for flouting the COVID-19 funeral rules. Driving a taxi to fend off hunger during a pandemic is also wrong.

But none of these infractions is more “wrong” than the other. The only difference is that when Nigerian politicians in power break the law, there are hardly any consequences.

There seem to be two types of laws: one that the political class breaks with impunity and another that punishes the unprivileged.

Little wonder, Nigerians are demanding an apology for Akindele and Imhoudu, because political officials also broke the law and are yet to be prosecuted.

There should not be different standards for the application of the law for Nigerian citizens.

The basic principle of a democratic society is that all citizens are equal before the law, irrespective of class and social status. But it seems that Nigerian political elites are not only above the law — they are the law.

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