Daily Trust (Abuja)

16 February 2013

Nigeria: Polio Workers' Deaths Still Haunting Parents

Kano/Jos — The killing of 11 polio workers by gunmen in Kano last week Friday has thrown many families in deep shock and grief. Weekly Trust visited houses of deceased families to find out how life has been a week after the murder of their loved ones.

When Malama Harira bidded farewell to her two sons on February 8, 2013, what was on her mind was the relishing joy she derives from the humanitarian services they were offering children - the vulnerable class of the society. Ibrahim Mohammed, 24, and Sadi Mohammed, 22, had joined the campaign to eradicate the polio virus which has wreaked a lot of havoc in their state, Kano.

Last year, Kano accounted for 17 cases of polio infections out of 121 recorded nationwide. With a promise by the state government to eradicate the scourge by 2013 ending, routine vaccination exercise was stepped up.

The two siblings, Ibrahim and Sadi, were among the team of vaccinators on a 4-day immunization campaign to save children from the dreaded disease.

After completing the day, their team - like other teams across the state - went back for a mopping up exercise on that fateful Friday to capture vulnerable children that were missed during previous rounds. And they were also to receive their allowances for the job.

Six of them - three males and three females - had assembled in a local Shargalle clinic in Filin Cashew at Unguwa Uku, preparing for their last outing, when the unexpected happened.

From her house, located just a distance away, Malama Harira heard loud sound of sporadic gunshots. "A little boy ran into the house and informed me that Shargalle clinic has been attacked," she recalled.

Knowing that her sons were there, a numbing cold overtook her as she feared the worst.

"I picked my veil and rushed to the clinic knowing that my two children were there. On reaching the scene, I met Sadi in pool of blood with a deep bullet opening on his chest," she related in a shaky voice.

"There was also Ibrahim's body drenched in blood. I hugged them both crying and calling their names, until some people persuaded me to go home and assured me that they will take them to hospital," the mother narrated.

Gunmen had arrived at the area in motorized tricycles, stormed the building and opened fire on the group, killing two women and a man -apparently her son. The assailants had also made an unsuccessful attempt to burn the bodies of their victims by locking them up in the building before lighting it.

About 5kilometres elsewhere at Hotoron Haye, another group of polio workers were attacked by gunmen in tricycles. Seven women were killed in the second attack, with gunshot wounds to their heads and neck.

The casualty in the two assaults was so massive, resulting in a sad corollary where many parents who had sent their children out in the morning to stop polio from afflicting other children, were few hours later rendered childless.

"Sadi's corpse was brought to me about an hour later, while Ibrahim gave up the ghost after spending two days at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH)," Harira, said with grief.

Part of what will ever remain engraved in her mind as a memento for her two deceased sons, was the last moment she had with them before they left for the polio campaign.

"I was having my breakfast when they came in to inform me that they were going to the Primary Health clinic to receive their feeding allowance for the previous day's work, which was not given to them.

They both picked some of the kosai (Bean cake) that I was eating and bid me farewell. I didn't know that was going to be the last time I will see them alive," she said.

The mother said she would live the rest of her life remembering that 'black day.'

"But as a Muslim, I know it was their time to die, so what remain is for me to continue praying that their gentle souls may rest in peace."

Sadi left behind a pregnant wife and a 3-year-old daughter. But all efforts to speak to his widowed wife failed, as she was still grieving the loss of her husband.

One of the mothers of the nine female health workers slain by the attackers, Maman Jamila, could not hold back tears as she narrated to Weekly Trust how her daughter, Jamila Yusuf, was killed in the Friday attack.

Maman Jamila said when she heard gunshots; it never occurred to her that it was a deadly attack on the clinic her daughter went to that morning. Sounds of gunfire and explosions are commonplaces in parts of Kano, especially at Unguwa Uku where they live.

"I was preparing to go to the market to open my shop when I heard the gunshots. It never crossed my mind that my daughter will be affected, but for some reasons I felt weak unable to go out. That was how I decided not to go to the shop," she recalled.

She was, however, subsequently persuaded by her son to have a change of mind.

"I was on my way to the market when a friend of my late daughter called me on phone to enquire her (Jamila's) whereabouts and I told her that she went for the polio assignment. That was when she informed me about an attack on the clinic by gunmen.

"I instantly called my daughter's phone but it did not go through. It was later that somebody called to inform me that Jamila was among those shot in the clinic and she was on admission at AKTH," Maman Jamila narrated.

She said on reaching the hospital, she met victims of the attack covered in blood and started crying profusely, knowing that her daughter could be death.

"When people saw my condition they consoled me and told me that she was alive and was in the theatre room. I was asked to go home and prepare food for her so that she can eat when is out of the theatre.

"But when I reached home I could not cook because of the people trooping into the house to sympathize with us. I was receiving sympathizers, when my daughter's corpse was suddenly brought to the house," the woman recalled.

She told Weekly Trust that her 24-year-old daughter was disciplined, dedicated and hard working, adding that she enrolled in the immunization programme to get money for transporting herself to Kano State School of Nursing where she was studying.

Alhaji Salisu Dakata also lost a daughter in the attack. He told our correspondent that his daughter, Hauwa'u Salisu, has been involved in polio vaccination programme for long.

"I was at a filling station around 9am when Naja'atu, 17, (also a victim who survived the attack) called me and said they were attacked and that her younger sister Hauwa was already dead," he said.

Salisu added that when he got to the scene of the incident, he was able to identify the corpse of his 15-year-old daughter, Hauwa among the dead.

According to the bereaved father, the deceased and her sister Naja'atu have been participating in the polio vaccination exercise for a long time without experiencing any problem.

Ramlat Idris a 23-year old year one student of English and Arabic Studies at the Kano College of Arts and Science and Remedial studies (CAS) was among the deceased.

The widow, who left behind a 3-year-old daughter, was described by friends and relatives as calm, easy going and an introvert. Relatives told Weekly Trust that she spent the last night of her life reading the Qur'an and observing late night prayer.

Her younger sister, Saudat Idris, who also participated in the immunization exercise, narrated her last encounter with the deceased.

"We left home here in Gama quarters on Sunday and went to stay in our elder sister's house in Hotoro because it is closer to the area where we will conduct the 4-day polio campaign.

"She didn't sleep throughout the night as she spent the night reciting the Qur'an till the dawn prayer (Subh) after which she swept the house and helped me packed our bags. But after packing, she instructed me to proceed that she will meet me at home because she had someone's money and that she wanted to return it at the clinic," she said.

She said it was after Jumu'at prayers that their supervisor called her phone and informed her that there was an attack at the clinic and that her sister was among victims.

"Her corpse was brought to the house late in the evening and she was buried according to Islamic rites," Saudat said.

Malam Idris Ahmed, the father of Ramlat Idris, said he was not in the country when the tragedy happened. According to the 64-year-old business man, he was in Cotonou, Benin Republic when he was told about the attack.

According to Malam Idris, he took the incident as an act of God and prayed Allah to forgive his daughter.

A pregnant woman, Rabi Abubakar, was another victim of the attack. Unlike other deceased persons, the late Rabi was not a polio worker. According to her neighbours she was in the hospital for her ante-natal when the gunmen stormed the hospital and killed her along with the workers.

The 25-year-old left behind her husband, and four children.

Weekly Trust investigations revealed that all the victims of the gunmen attack were youths in their early or mid twenties. It was also learnt that they enrolled in the immunization campaign to either compliment their parents' income or to have some money in their pocket.

Health workers no longer wear uniforms

Weekly Trust also gathered that since the incident, health workers in Kano have stopped wearing uniforms when going to work. It was observed that nurses, midwives and other health officials either hide their uniforms in their bags or cover them with long gowns, for fear of being attacked.

"I stopped displaying my uniform on the very day 10 health workers were killed," said a nurse working with a public hospital.

"Many of my colleagues also do the same to avoid being targeted."

We can't be intimidated

Meanwhile, some relations of the victims have vowed not to be deterred by the attack.

Sani Usman, father of 21-year-old Naja'atu Usman who was injured in the attack, said his sister would be encouraged to continue with the 'noble' duty as soon as she recovers.

In Jos, one of those who took part in the last round of anti-polio vaccination in Plateau State and may be back for the next round of the exercise, Suimanga Sanka, told Weekly Trust: "What happened in Kano was an accident, as far as I am concerned. So, I have nothing to fear."

Sumanga's colleague, Faith Azi, who described herself as a regular feature in polio vaccination exercises across Plateau State, said, "People will die when they will die. Also, if you undertake to do something, anything at all, you should be prepared to take risks. And the fact of polio vaccinators being killed in Kano does not raise the risk for polio vaccinators, especially those not in Kano. Kano has always had problem with polio vaccination, they once did not even want to touch the polio vaccine. So, if vaccinators should nurse fear of being killed, it should be those in Kano, certainly not those of us in Plateau State."

List of the deceased:

Hauwa Salisu

Hauwa Abdul'aziz

Sadi Muhammad

Ramlat Idris

Binta Salisu

Hadiza Ibrahim

Ramatu Wada

Jamila Yusuf

Rabi Abubakar

Ibrahim Muhammad

The injured:

Naja'atu Usman

Khadija Muhammad

Naja'atu Salisu

Zahara'u Ayuba

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