Amina Zakari and the Logic of Rejectionism 

I did not pay mind to the vicious campaign attending the appointment of Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission by President Muhammad Buhari, having, from its earliest stir, perceived it as typical partisan mischief championed by those who blame the President for even slight changes in the weather since May 29. As some of us waited for that episode of our political drama to end, only half-reading the memos of the campaigners, which identified the appointee as a relation of the President and one whose expired tenure was only extended as an act of nepotism, the inspiration for that streak of rejectionism was like neon signs in our dark political sphere.

Zakari is a victim of what I’ve always pointed to as the reason the heart of Nigeria fails: dysfunctional institutions. She’s not only a victim of a mindset, but also a product of a society that doesn’t recognise procedures in of favour the orders of “Oga at the Top” (who have registered their interests as the actual codes and conducts of public service and even the life outside). We’ve built a sociopolitical space in which certain individuals are more powerful than institutions established to resist the imposition of personal preferences. All rebels against such interference have found nooses tightened around their necks. 

The attempt to attribute Zakari’s appointment to her relationship with Buhari, being witnessed, is a proof of this institutional dysfunction. It’s a perception allowed to germinate because of our ignorance of the procedures of an institution. Consequently, there is the tunnel-visioned return that a professional citizen in public service can only be judged based on “connections”. Competence? Qualifications? These partisans of jingo clearly cannot imagine these as criteria.

The acting INEC boss, even IF she’s a beneficiary of connections, membership of a network or clique, definitely didn’t get to where she is on the kind heart of Buhari. She was first engaged by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as a Special Assistant and then by former President Goodluck Jonathan as a Commissioner at INEC. These happened at the time these former heads of the country were in tough political wars with the Buhari now being referred to as her benefactor. If anything, with commonsense applied in our political inferences, Buhari ought to have actually marked her as an enemy, having been a part of two administrations that frustrated his political ambition and will.

Even though Zakari has denied being a relation of Buhari in an interview, she’s not the first victim of an alleged relationship with Buhari. In the period running up to the March 28 presidential election, Alhaji Sani Musa, a board member of Act Technologies, a company tasked with supplying the Commission with Permanent Voters Card, was arrested by the Department of State Security for, as the news revealed, expressing support for the presidential aspiration of Muhammadu Buhari on his social media platforms. That arrest could’ve been employed as a cheap escapism by the PDP if the elections weren’t just fairly won by Buhari, with its candidate conceding defeat even before the official declaration of results. Similarly, the argument that Zakari could have the system compromised was unbelievably mundane, but then again mundaneity has always found a legion of zealous supporters in Nigeria.

If, also, we subscribe to this logic that an appointee at an institution with constitutionally prescribed independence, panders to the interest of his appointer, why didn’t Professor Attahiru Jega play by the book of his own appointer? One word: integrity. So, if Amina is seen as possessing this virtue to resist the impositions of her phantom “uncle” or “in-law”, why are we losing our mind over her appointment?

Hers could only be intelligently dismissed as disastrous if the traducers had shown us an evidence of her incompetence or a task which she had failed to carry out as a public servant, and how they thought she was the least qualified to head the Commission. She was, from the information available, one of the two most senior Commissioners at INEC, and the probability of her selection was the same as that of the other Commissioner. Knowing the psyche of this nation, even if Buhari had chosen a Yoruba, the appointee would’ve still been ridiculed as a cousin of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In fact, even the appointment of an Ijaw as INEC boss now would, discerning their propensity for mischief and pedestrian logic, still be ridiculed as a ploy by the APC to manipulate the Bayelsa elections.

What we must assert is the need to revamp our critical public institutions and emphasize their autonomy as stated in the constitution. This way, we may forestall a repeat of the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi saga, which typifies the systemic dysfunctions of, and interference with, autonomous public institutions by ambitious politicians. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

 @gimbakakanda on Twitter

Ado J. G. Muhammad: Man of the Moment

Dr Ado

On July 24, Nigeria found a reason to celebrate. It was a welcome break from the usual stream of negative reports over which the country has been portrayed as incapable of achieving a globally commendable cause. It was a triumph over the forces of superstitious, cultural and communal resistance to the foreign medical interventions designed to eradicate polio in Nigeria. The immunization campaigns, which have received overwhelming international support being part of the Global Polio Eradication Initiatives, marked that date as our dear country’s 365th day without a reported polio case.

The man at the centre of this achievement is the Executive Director and CEO of National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Ado JG Muhammad, whose office has become the ammunition against the medical challenges of the common man. His office is one of the few that the Jonathan administration held out correctly as successes, in an otherwise failed Presidency.

Writing in Leadership newspaper to mark the first year anniversary of a polio-free Nigeria, the NPHCDA boss took us down memory lane. “Global efforts to eradicate the paralytic polio virus dates back to 1988, when the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate the polio virus worldwide by year 2000 and launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).” He added, “At this time, over 1000 children were paralyzed daily worldwide, with 350,000 children affected in 1988 alone.”

Although the campaign to eradicate polio in Nigeria began in 1979, it was the military government of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida that established Primary Healthcare Centres nationwide in 1986 to make access to polio vaccines easy in rural areas. In his op-ed, Dr. Muhammad recognised the 1996 “Kick Polio Out of Africa Campaign” as the formal launch of Nigeria’s polio eradication campaign.

The first obstacle to fighting polio was the perception of it particularly in the states of northern Nigeria, where spiritual accidents are seen as its cause. In Hausa, Polio is called “Shan Inna”, attributing the cause of the disease to “Inna”, a female jinn in the region’s ethno-religious cosmology. “Sha” means “absorbs” or “paralyses”, and thus polio means paralysis caused by Inna—a principal spirit in the Bori cult system. How to convince our medically illiterate and superstitious people, that polio is indeed a clinically preventable disease, was an uphill task some of us have witnessed first-hand.

In the year the World Health Assembly passed its resolution, northern Nigeria, of which geo-polity Dr. Muhammad is a conscious member, was the hub of myth and ignorance fashioned against any foreign medical intervention—especially this one designed to disprove the existence of the dreaded Inna. Also, the presumably atheist West wasn’t expected to believe in the spiritual realm, reinforcing the aversion to even self-interest and logic. Immunization campaigns were thus avoided as being the West’s conspiracy to transmit new diseases to unsuspecting Muslims. Added to this, from “indigenous laboratories” with no known location, came reports that the vaccines carried sterilising agents and HIV virus. Needless to say, these “scientific reports” were cheerily quoted by religious and community leaders in order to institutionalise a massive paranoia on the subject of vaccines.

This fear of “the West” in northern Nigeria further reinforced by the medical effort to stem the outbreak of Cerebrospinal Meningitis (CSM), in 1996, in Kano. This clinical trial was conducted by Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that would become a defendant in a litigation initiated by parents of the victims of that disastrous drug test. Eleven children, to whom the drugs were administered, died, and about two hundred others were left physically disabled. That experiment of Trovan (Trovafloxacin Mesylate), which couldn’t have happened if those in charge of our health system were not corrupt, became a reference and further evidence of the West’s sinister obsession with the population of the North.

A year earlier, in Zaria, the Rotary International’s vaccination project was discontinued. Parents of the children to be vaccinated refused to bring out their children because, in the previous exercise, boils developed on the injection site, that their children experienced hearing loss. In a March 6, 2004, interview with Weekly Trust, Dr. Haruna Kaita, then the Dean of Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Ahmadu Bello University, recalled an incident that occurred at Mayo Belwa in the former Gongola State during the CSM outbreak. He claimed that immunization resulted into “a massive outbreak unprecedented in the history of the country there, and it was mostly those who were given the vaccines that were affected in that outbreak.”

Dr. Kaita granted this interview while serving as a scientist against immunization for Jama’atu Nasril Islam [JNI], the umbrella group of the Muslim community. He stood to be advocating the interests of Muslims. In June 2003, JNI had declared that polio vaccines contained contaminants, and these, according to Dr. Kaita, “have direct effect on human reproductive system.” The President of the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, Dr. Datti Ahmed, would go on to ask the Federal Government to suspend the immunization exercise. This period was remembered by the NPHCDA boss as one in which Nigeria “suffered a near fatal setback… This resulted in upsurge of polio cases. This upsurge continued to year 2006 with 1122 children paralyzed before the cases started to decline in 2007 with 285 cases. However, 2008 witnessed another upsurge in cases to 798, before it started a steep decline in 2009 to 388 cases, 21 cases in 2010 and 62 cases in 2011.”

Sadly, even the educated and enlightened, who ought to mitigate apprehensions over claims that the vaccines truly contained antifertility agents, joined the band of conspiracy theorists in manufacturing stories of the West’s commitment to halting humanity’s growth. A friend of mine once employed Malthusian theory to highlight what he considered to be “the general perception of exponential population by western institutions” and submitted that the vaccines must indeed cause sterility and engineered diseases that would raise our mortality rate.

Heading an agency established to guide preventive immunization into the heart of a people both scarred by, and scared of, Western medical intervention is to exist in the matrices of these communal and cultural sentiments, of the fear and ignorance promoted by the conspiracy theorists. The anti-immunization sentiments weren’t just expressed through boycotts and neighbour-to-neighbour anti-sensitization and sermons of compliant religious and community leaders, it met a fatal resistance in one of the unsolved cases of gun attacks in the Kano State—the killing of nine polio workers in February, 2013. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, more healthcare workers and volunteers have actually been killed trying to prevent the spread of polio than the number of people who have died from the disease itself. The disease merely cripples, ignorance about it can kill and has.

Dr. Muhammad assumed duties at NPHCDA in 2011, appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan, and it’s commendable that in four years, Nigeria has left the league of Polio-endemic countries. But we still have two more years to be certified polio free, so that we are no longer ranked alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan. With President Buhari’s declaration to have the country certified polio-free by 2017, while noting the remnant distrust and security challenges that frustrate such an accomplishment in terrorism-afflicted regions, the world is already eager to record this new epoch in Nigerian public health history.

This essay is a garland to Dr. Ado JG Muhammad and the development partners who made this happen.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter