We must find their killers or else…

Gunmen-1Almost two years after gunmen in a tricycle opened fire on 9 female health workers on routine immunization in Kano metropolis, their killers have not been found and prosecuted. The Friday, February 9attacks left two women dead at FilinKashuhealth centre and seven at HayenHotoro. No doubt the incidents and the failure of the police to bring the killers to justice were a major setback in Nigeria’s renewed campaign against polio.

Nobody or organization claimed responsibility for the murders then. However, not long before the young women’s killing, gunmen believed to be elements in the violent Boko Haram sect had attacked the convoy of the historical city’s late emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero. And a day before then, a man had gone on radio to denounce the immunization exercise aimed at saving vulnerable to affliction by the wild polio virus. The Kano State Government countered, saying the man was wrong. But in a society very distrusting of government, its statement went largely ignored.

Reacting to the Friday killings, the state’s then Commissioner of Health, Dr.AbubakarLabaran, said it was “sad” that gunmen targeted the female health workers. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in a statement, described the killings as “cruel murders”. On his own part, Speaker, House of Representatives, AlhajiAminuTambuwal, said the killings were “barbaric and inhuman” and “meant to instil fear in residents with a view to stopping the immunisation exercise.” A presidential spokesman said President Goodluck Jonathan had extended “commiserations” to families of the victims and vowed to ensure “total eradication of polio from Nigeria” in spite of the current setback.

We welcome the prompt condemnation in official quarters of this handiwork of the forces of evil. The young women killed in Kano were the heroines of the effort at eradicating polio in the North which has made Nigeria one of only three countries in the world where polio has remained endemic. They were the “foot soldiers” in a must-winwar to save the lives of endangered children in this part of the country.

There are many reasons why the killers of those women and their sponsors must be brought to book quickly. If they are not, unarmed women who today drive the frontline war against polio and other child killer diseases including smallpox will be driven off the streets and health centres will shut down, not only in Kano but the entire North. Now if this is the case, we shall no sooner be back to 2003. That was the year that some Kano clerics mounted a sustained campaign aimed at portraying the polio vaccine as a birth control drug. The impact was that resistance to immunization increased and polio which was all but eradicated in Nigeria bounced back with a vengeance.

That year’s reversal of the gains of the campaign forced a change in strategy by the government and its foreign donors. They resolved to make use of local traditional rulers and community leaders, ignored before, to drive the programme. Now the prevalence rate in the North is dropping again, but old enemies are resurfacing. The attacks in Kano polio were just their first salvoes. More are likely to come. This is why the perpetrators must be fetched out fast and made to face the music.

It does not help that the most polio endemic areas of the North are those also caught up in the Boko Haram insurgency. To sustain the polio campaign, health workers in the forefront must be protected by the state. Clearly, that was not the case with the 9 women killed in Kano. Reports say that soldiers from the Joint Task Force (JTF) stationed in the city arrived on the scenes only after the killers had fled. This blunder must not repeat itself.

 

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