Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang
Rivers State citizens are expressing serious concerns over the sequential deaths of top government functionaries in the state in recent times, especially those manning key financial seats.
Within a spate of two weeks, the state has lost key officials in the Ministry of Finance. First, it was the acting State Accountant General, Mr Francis Amaewhule who died from coronavirus related issues and while the dust over his death was yet to settle, news came that a director in charge of the Treasury had died following a brief illness. It was even rumoured that five officials in the establishment had contracted Coronavirus resulting in the temporary closure of Block C section of the state secretariat. The state head of service, Rufus Godwin later issued a release debunking that news.
Apprehension became high when as this was going on, news broke that acting executive director, finance and administration of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC had died in the early hours of Thursday, May 28,2020. That news sent shock waves down the spine of many as some said he died from poisoning while the office said it was waiting for an autopsy commissioned in agreement with the family to ascertain the true cause of the death.
Cause of Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang’s death became a subject of conjecture as the NDDC which is facing a national probe over its activities, “in line with fears of the current time”, quickly shut down its office for two weeks with instructions to staff to self-isolate.
The move triggered rumours of a possible COVID-19 death or attempt to block the forensic probe. But image maker of the intervention agency, Charles Obi Odili in a release dated May 29, described the rumours as mischievous.
“The NDDC is miffed by spurious and uncharitable coloration being championed by mischief makers on the occasion of the death of Chief Ibanga Bassey Etang”.
He said the commission would issue a comprehensive fact-based statement in due course in consonance with the bereaved family, stressing that, “until the autopsy report is released from the commission’s stables, every story on this matter flies in the face of truth”.
Odili restated the commission’s commitment to deliver on its core mandate to the good people of the Niger Delta region and would not be deterred by slander or provocative insinuations. The public is still talking about that death.
“Are you following how our top men are dying in office? What is happening? It’s frightening”, a retired female director from one of the media establishments in the state asked this publication.
“If it is Coronavirus, then there is trouble in the land. We are frightened by the number of big deaths around the same time. If it is not the virus, then something serious is going on in our financial quarters,” a contractor in the state, Mr. Johne Akpan commented.
The top functionaries’ death rumour took a wild turn over the weekend when an online media reported that the remains of the late chairman of Asari-Toru Local government Area, Hon Odiari Princewill, who died from COVID-19 related complications at the upsurge of an underlying illness and was carefully buried at the Port Harcourt Cemetery by the Rivers State COVID-19 personnel, had been exhumed by gun trotting men for a possible more befitting burial.
Although the report claimed eyewitness accounts said they men shot sporadically to scare security men at the cemetery then went to the grave, dug up the body and took it away through Bille water jetty, verification by the police, government officials and some media team debunked that news.
The grave was discovered intact and the Information and Communication commissioner, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim upbraided mischief makers to keep off.
Mr Ogom Ken while commenting on the development, said a positive outcome of the incidents is that those who had doubts over the virus are now frightened enough to obey rules as “We are seeing that the virus is here right inside the state. The Asari Toru chairman, unfortunately was one of the few going around sensitizing their people. If it could touch him, it can touch anybody, so it is best we obey the NCDC and our governor to stay safe.”
The last has not been heard on the late NDDC executive director Finance and Administration. Akwa Ibom State, his home state is getting set to ask questions as its citizens have been agitated by the circumstances surrounding the death, pointing to possible foul play.
The state governor Emmanuel Udom said Friday May 31, that NDDC has a lot of explanations to make on the death of the state’s only representative in that office. He spoke at the inauguration of a 300-bed isolation center in Uruan.
He said when the coronavirus test result comes out, he would be asking questions on the death of Chief Ibanga Etang, who until he joined the APC, was one of his special advisers.
“I know am not supposed to say this but I am the governor of the state and every life of my citizens is important to me….when the result comes out, we will ask questions certainly. How did they immediately come up with the information (on COVID-19) when the result of the test was not yet out? Why did they grant interviews everywhere saying it was COVID-19?”
However, a release from the NDDC director of public affairs dated June 2, announced that the late executive director tested positive to COVID-19.
“The family has authorized the commission to announce that the lateexecutive director tested positive to COVID-19,” the release stated.
Odili said the “Rivers State Ministry of Health has written to the NDDC to also confirm the cause of death resulting from complications attributable to COVID-19” and has, therefore, directed the commission to order all management staff to go into self-isolation for a period of 14 days”.
The ministry also sought the cooperation of the organization in tracing staff and contractors who have had close contact with the deceased.
Odili added the family wants the death of their head should not be politicised.
“During the meeting with the family, they expressed fervent desire that the death of the executive director should not be politicized, wishing to be left alone to mourn with dignity. This is also the position of the commission.”