14 February 2013

Nigeria: Plotting With Polio

It was really distressing to read about the gun attacks on polio immunization workers in Kano considering the fact that they were preparing to set out on the humanitarian mission of saving infants from the dreaded life of paralysis. Condolences have since been sent to the bereaved families amid serious concern that the attacks may once again scuttle the polio immunization campaign in Nigeria, just when it is regaining its momentum after the protracted acrimonious controversy of 2004 halted it for several months in the worst hit northern states.

This writer was Secretary of the FGN-JNI Joint Committee charged in March 2004 with verification of the safety and efficacy of the Oral Polio Vaccine against the background of widespread suspicion that the immunization campaign had a hidden agenda of rendering children impotent in adult life as part of the Euro-American conspiracy to curb the population of Muslims in particular and the developing world in general. The committee brought together Muslim clerics, traditional rulers and medical practitioners with specialization in the intricate science of hormones in the human body. It took several weeks of cross-checking the veracity of the allegation that the vaccine was laced with impotency contaminants, including taking samples to South Africa, Indonesia and India for testing.

Weighed against the debilitating and irreversible impact of polio on its victims and the proven efficacy of the vaccine in conferring immunity, it was reasonable to endorse the polio immunization rather than the controversial allegations against it which were unconvincing and this was the committee's stand. Still, it is regrettable that such a laudable humanitarian health initiative got so enmeshed in the long-standing cloak-and-dagger dealings of the West with the developing world in general and Muslim populations in particular, that the remarkable gains of the decades old war against polio were substantially reversed. But with that experience the Euro-American vested interests in world affairs should have drawn the right lessons and avoid lending more credence to the seemingly far-fetched belief that something as innocuous as polio immunization could be converted to an espionage or genocide apparatus of the West against Muslims. Even then, it cannot be denied that the US in particular has too often demonstrated its zeal for not just dominating the UN system but indeed using UN agencies to advance its imperialist agenda.

Well, from all indications, the leopard's sinister spots remain as scary as ever because the latest attacks on people involved with the polio immunization in Nigeria actually began last year in Pakistan shortly after it was revealed that the polio immunization exercise in that country was instrumental to the tracking down of Osama bin Laden. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said on CBS'S 60 Minutes programme that the CIA had recruited a Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi to assist the United States in tracking down al-Qaeda's chief Osama bin Laden, by setting up a fake polio vaccination campaign in 2011 to get DNA samples and verify bin Laden's presence in a compound in Abbottabad, north of the capital Islamabad where he was eventually traced and murdered by US Navy gunmen.

In fact even the faked polio vaccination was a wicked ruse that instead injected the hapless Pakistani children with a single Hepatitis B vaccine dose instead of the standard three, rendering the vaccination useless and leaving the children effectively unprotected. Needless to say but since that shocking revelation the polio immunization campaign has been virtually grounded in Pakistan where several immunization workers have been gunned down and is suffering widespread rejection and coordinated attacks in other parts of the world as we have just witnessed here.

If the issue of contaminants in the polio vaccine was not convincingly corroborated, what iota of doubt is there to refute this episode of ill-motivated and deliberate manipulation and abuse of the polio immunization confessed to by the US Defence Secretary? And would this not strengthen the suspicion and distrust of the 2004 episode which we are still battling to remedy? Even as a revenge mission, the US has proved no less "terrorist" in its choice of victims than Al-Qaeda which, incredibly, it supports in Syria and attacks in Mali! And what are we to make of the slavish mentality evident in the response of our leaders to the Kano attacks which feigned ignorance of these sinister circumstances and adopted the WHO and UNICEF see-no-evil stance? The authorities ought to know that one of the fall-outs of globalization is that people are much more aware of happenings around the world such as the details of the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Babatunde wrote from Kaduna.

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