While, Across Kano in Nigeria, thousands of grieving residents are grappling with the consequences of both the spread of the Coronavirus and the deadly fragility of the state’s health services, This Ramadan is clearly different from previous ones. Muslims can’t go to the mosques and they can’t break their fast with friends.
Kano, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria with an estimated population of some 13 million, was placed on lockdown by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 27 following the “unexplained deaths” of 640 people within two weeks. It came as local reports quoted gravediggers at cemeteries in the city as saying that they were burying a bigger-than-usual number of bodies in recent weeks, prompting concerns among residents.
The state government denied claims the deaths were related to the coronavirus pandemic, while the federal government deployed a fact-finding team to Kano to investigate the “rapid increase in mortality” as authorities enforced the lockdown. Musa Abubakar used to dig two or three graves a day at the main cemetery in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. Then overnight it became 40.
“I have never witnessed mass deaths like this,” the 75-year-old said, his white kaftan muddied from his work at the Abbatuwa cemetery, where he has dug graves for 60 years. “From the first day of Ramadan to date, over 300 people have been buried”, Theguardian reported. Abubakar’s colleagues began burying on top of graves to make more room. Four fellow diggers, all over 50, have died in the past three weeks. Abubakar suspects they were killed by Covid-19. “The government has promised to provide gloves and face masks to us but we are yet to receive it,” he said. “We just depend on God.”
Religious obligations at home
Residents largely restricted to their homes, with mosques shut and the festival marking end of Ramadan likely cancelled. Alhassan’s decision to carry out the religious obligations at home is in line with strict measures put in place on Kano state to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This Ramadan is clearly different from previous ones. We can’t go to the mosques again, we can’t break our fast with friends, hand gifts out to the needy. We are locked inside our houses, almost like prisoners, but we have to comply with the government directives,” Alhassan , a 47-year-old told Al Jazeera.
“We pray for Allah’s (SWT) intervention because this coronavirus [pandemic] has to end soon so that we can live our normal life and move about freely,” he said on Monday. Ramadan is a period when Muslims are encouraged to support the less privileged with donations and charity work – but this year this is a tough task.
“People use this opportunity to distribute alms but now they are scared,” said Rabiu Bashir, a 23-year-old banker in Kano. “No communal relationships and exchanges like before,” he told Al Jazeera. “The lockdown has made everything gloomy.” Still, the two-day easing of restrictions has opened a window for people to rally support for those in need, according to Bawa. “Gifts and contributions are being collected on the days when the lockdown is lifted,” he said.