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Controversy trails bird flu outbreak in Kebbi

Since the declaration of the avian influenza outbreak in Kebbi State over a month ago, controversy between poultry farmers and the state government over the genuineness of the epidemic has remained a source of concern to many residents, Daily Trust on Sunday can report.

On January 29, 2024, the Kebbi State Government announced the outbreak of the famous bird killer disease following a mysterious death of some local chickens and peacocks at a backyard farm in the state metropolis.

Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that Kebbi State had on January 29, 2022 witnessed a similar outbreak at a border town of Dole-Kaina, which was more devastating than the recent epidemic. This year, the first case was reported to a public veterinary clinic by a resident who claimed to have lost 14 peacocks and about 50 local chickens.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that when the first case was reported, the Kebbi State Ministry of Animal Health, Husbandry and Fishery mobilised doctors to the affected house for investigation. The team discovered that the incident occurred in the backyard, where about 50 local chickens were mixed with 14 peacocks.

Further findings revealed that the chickens died first before the peacocks also started dying. The experts, therefore, took the remaining peacocks that were alive to the veterinary clinic for further investigation.

The rampant death of chicken and peacocks informed government’s decision to take samples of the species to Vom in Jos, Plateau State, for further investigation.

The result turned out to be avian influenza; hence, the government mobilised a team of medical experts tagged as One-Health, which comprise personnel from ministries of health, environment, animal health, husbandry and fishery and representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO), to the scene for further action.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the house involved was disinfected and a surveillance mechanism covering 10 ratios from the Birnin-Kebbi metropolis was mounted, with a view to preventing the disease from escalating. The state government also introduced a trace-back mechanism through routine checkups to prevent human infection.

However, some poultry farmers who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday faulted government’s claim, saying that over a month after the announcement of the outbreak, the government has neither proved the source of the disease, nor did it convince the public to believe that the disease is under control.

A poultry farmer in Kalgo Local Government who preferred anonymity, suspected a foul play, as according to him, although they were not medical experts to ascertain the genuineness of the outbreak, at least, for being in the poultry farming for 36 years, he had enough experience to detect diseases on birds.

He said, “We woke up one day to hear the announcement of the outbreak over the radio. Our association also failed to give us detailed information about the sources and places affected by the disease. We are in a dilemma, even though the government has kept on telling us not to panic.

“Again, we learnt that the farm that was fumigated belongs to a top government official, and you know that in this kind of situation, anything can happen. The real farmers might have ended up not getting anything if something came from the federal government. So, we are still waiting for explanations from the government about the outbreak.”

Another farmer, Isyaku Muhammad, alleged that the state government was hiding something, as according to him, he had consulted many of his colleagues but no single farm was found to be infected by the disease in the state.

Muhammad said, “Based on my investigation, no single farm in the whole of Birnin Kebbi is infected by this bird killer disease, but the government kept on nagging on the outbreak. Even the farm that was fumigated about a month ago, we have not heard details about its condition; whether some chickens were killed in the farm or not.  Even on the day the fumigation was carried out, we learnt that not  a single chicken was killed in the farm.”

Ibrahim Bello, another poultry farmer, also said the way and manner the government was propagating the outbreak was questionable, lamenting that, “The state witnessed bird flu pandemic in 2022 but it wasn’t handled the way it is being handled this time. The then government was very open to poultry farmers as it updated them on any development. But this time around, the government is shielding some information about the outbreak, basically because of politics. Some of the people involved did not want to spoil their political career.

“I am suspecting that the government is hiding information because some top government officials are directly involved in this issue. After all, why does the government refuse to reveal the source of this disease? The government officials involved should come out and clear the air.”

However, the chairman of Nasril Agro Allied Farms Amanawa, Alhaji Faruk Shehu, said immediately he heard about the outbreak of the disease, he invited experts, who advised him to fumigate the farm. He added, “I bought the chemicals and did the needful. I have over 16,000 pieces of chicken in the farm, and as God would have it, I did not record any casualty in my farm so far.”

Reacting to the poultry farmers’ claims, the permanent secretary, Kebbi State Ministry of Animal Health, Husbandry and Fishery, Dr Ahmad Umar Ambursa, said that contrary to the farmers’ claims, Avian Influenza could be found anywhere.

Ambursa explained that the Kebbi State Government was not hiding anything regarding the outbreak, insisting that “the bird flu outbreak in Kebbi State is real and the government is doing its best to control the epidemic.

“There is nothing political about this issue. After all, not a single dime has been given to anybody since the beginning of the incident. There is nothing to lie about in this matter. Again, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture broke the news of the outbreak, not the Kebbi State Government.

“Even on March 4, we received a team of experts from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture who came to the state for fact-finding. We thanked God that the situation is under control. Our medical experts are still at alert in case of any eventuality.”

Also, the Deputy Director of Veterinary Services, Kebbi State Ministry of Animal Health, Husbandry and Fishery, Dr Aliyu Muhammad, confirmed to Daily Trust on Sunday that additional specimens had been taken to a laboratory in Vom for testing.

Muhammad said, “We have taken additional samples from three live-bird markets in Kalgo, Makera and Birnin Kebbi. We equally collected samples from some backyard farms within the metropolis and Argungu Local Government. We have shipped the samples to Vom for testing.”

He said it was regretted that though the government was on top of the situation, transmission of the disease is still taking place at backyards, lamenting that many of the backyard farmers in the state were not observing the bio-security measures; hence, the transmission of the birds-killer disease from one backyard to another.

“This is the major challenge we are facing, and unless the farmers desist from this habit, the disease will spread to other places. The government has not yet traced the source of the disease; therefore, farmers should desist from transferring birds from one backyard to another and ensure fumigation of their backyards or farms to protect their birds against any infection.

He said, “Our local farmers should intensify bio-security. They should avoid sharing their implements with other farmers. They should also stop allowing visitors into their farms or backyards, unless it is necessary. These are the easiest ways of transmitting the disease.”

He appealed to poultry farmers in the state not to panic, as according to him, the government has taken necessary preventive measures against the spread of the disease.

The Poultry Association of Nigeria, Kebbi State chapter, in a statement signed by its secretary, Alhaji Shehu Adamu, called on its members to set up bio-security measures in their farms, with a view to curtailing the spread of the disease in the state.

Part of the statement reads, “We charge poultry farmers to always be conscious of their birds. All hands should be on deck to mitigate the unfortunate incident. The association would do everything within its power to prevent the spread of the disease. The association will be updating its members with any development on this.”

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