2 March 2013

Nigeria: Polio - Another Case-Study in Intimidation


By now it is common knowledge that the three young journalists involved in airing a programme connected to the polio immunisation in Kano have all resigned their appointments. This was just before the radio station itself, Wazobia FM, had its licence withdrawn by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, over what was termed as unethical conduct. In over two decades of being a journalist I am yet to know when airing a simple reporter's diary, an unfavourable incident which happened in the course of a day's work, goes against professional ethics.

But beyond scape-goating the journalists, we are yet to hear of any progress made in connection with this multiple homicide. Because, believe it or not, the radio journalists are merely scapegoats. The real issue Nigerian authorities should be concerned about is fishing out the killers of ten young immunisation workers but ,amazingly, silencing the journalists and churning out more unemployed youths into the labour market (by closing a whole radio station) seem to be their particular priority.

What we can't help wondering is why this level of intimidation is deployed instead of the small matter of allowing media regulatory authorities to decide whether the programme aired amounted to instigation to murder or not. In any case, two weeks ago, I had argued on this page that the perpetrators of that killing could not be ordinary parents who were worried about the effect of the vaccine on their children, they had to be the expert hit-men currently plaguing the ancient city with their drive-by shooting expertise.

However because the motive behind this high-profile intimidation is to cow down anyone who harbours any anti polio vaccine views, the authorities came down hard on the so-called instigators. When the controversy surrounding the presence of contaminants in polio vaccines broke, lots of views had been aired over a period of time. The best among them, in my estimation, came from my former colleague, who as a freelance journalist worked with me in the Weekly Trust in Kaduna. Odoh Diego Okenyodo was a pharmacy student at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria then. Currently a big man in all respects, Diego, contributed his well-argued and thoroughly informative article, as a pharmacist, in the Daily Trust of January 31st 2007. I hereby reproduce it below, hoping it will shed light on why some people are apprehensive about the vaccine and what Nigerian authorities should do, beyond intimidating the questioners.

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