Politicising Health Matters, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

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Last week, I addressed the issue of how we glorify ethnic champions who must have caused deaths and misery to the detriment of building a nation through collective aspiration, as the underlining factor that fractures our country down the line. It was a reaction to the choice of Gani Adams as Aare Onakakanfo, the generalissimo, grand-commander and defender of the Yoruba race (are we not all supposed to be one race?), and in the process touched on ethnic politics threatening to tear the nation apart. The endorsements Gani Adams have been receiving from his kith and kin are proofs that he might have elevated the core values of the Yoruba people at some point.

Fast-forward to the recent rejection of the military’s intervention in the provision of auxiliary health care and you understand the divisions and mutual suspicion taking over our psyche. I thought the complaints were confined to the South-East, understandably because of their altercation with the military in an exercise code-named Operation Python Dance, over the activities of IPOB. This followed allegations/rumours that the inoculation of children would reduce their population and their voting power, among other assumptions. Not until I came face-to-face with such ignorance and mutual distrust in Abuja, where the true essence of our Nigerianess should reside, did I realise the destructive trend and what we have become in the hate-race against one another.

At the National Hospital, while in front of some medical personnel in their laboratory, one of them received a phone call from her neighbour who must have told her about the presence of military men on a medical mission in their neighbourhood. The woman instructed that they should be stopped from attending to anybody in the area. When she was done with her conversation, she reiterated her stand that their presence smacked of danger and an ulterior agenda.

I interjected at this point and asked her and her colleagues, who toed the same line and were in agreement with her, on what the military or by extension the government stands to gain from killing fellow Nigerians and reducing the population through a mere health intervention. Is it logical? Is it even possible? All my explanations fell on the deaf ears of these women. How did we come to this unfortunate pass, where we no longer trust the only unifying force in the country, besides football—the military? Have the authorities overplayed the military politics? Is the government of President Buhari culpable in sparking hate only for it to turn around to allude to hate speech when the opposition is involved? These rhetorical questions are trite because there is no logic to our reasoning anymore; what we have are only appeals to base sentiments in our reaction to issues lately.

The military’s health outreach intervention is part of their corporate social responsibility, which preceded this government. The health programme did not include any form of immunisation; least of all monkey pox’s, which has no vaccination anyway. Despite this, emotions still ran high. Words spread about government’s assumed intention, necessitating the withdrawal of children from schools. I had attributed the knee-jerk reactions to ignorance and manipulation by the elite in the South-East, but when those medical personnel refered to earlier also betrayed their profession by insisting that the government would set out to decimate a section of the country, then its quite clear that we are in serious trouble in Nigeria.

…Nigerians don’t trust government, but with this government, the trust deficit is a pervasive reality. As 2019 draws near, everything has become politics and politics has become everything. But whatever happens, leaders have a duty not to abdicate their responsibility, not to sacrifice the real issues that matter to the people on the altar of their political ambitions or group interests.

When we politicise issues of health, we should worry about the consequences. Following the tragic Pfizer Trovan trial on children afflicted with meningitis in Kano in 1996, and the boycott of immunisation by three states in the North—Kaduna, Kano and Zamfara that followed, the immunisation campaign became mired in religious and political controversies. The religious and political advocates at the time prevailed on parents not to allow immunisation because the vaccines could be contaminated with anti-fertility, HIV and cancerous agents. When Dr. Ahmed Datti, a Kano based physician, Muslim cleric and head of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria added his weighty voice and said polio vaccines were “corrupted and tainted by evil doers from America and their Western allies…we believe that modern-day Hitlers have deliberately adulterated the oral polio vaccines with anti-fertility drugs”, it was clear that we were done in as a country.

Has anybody ever bothered to ask what became of the unvaccinated children of that era? The politicisation of that issue took Nigeria backwards by at least 10 years in achieving the WHO target of kicking polio out of Africa. Unfortunately, this same mind-set is playing out currently and if it is not handled with utmost caution, its consequences might be worse than the polio vaccine boycott. What would have made a section of the country, including Abuja, reject or misconstrue an innocent overture, if not that dirty politics has become part of us?

Perhaps the rather lame, belated and uncoordinated response of the military, health authorities and information managers of the government did very little to douse the suspicion. For instance, it took nearly one week before the minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole acknowledged that there was vaccination going on in some parts of Nigeria, namely in Borno, Kogi and Kwara, whereas the Centre for Disease Control had denied knowledge of inoculation in any part of the country earlier.

Generally, Nigerians don’t trust government, but with this government, the trust deficit is a pervasive reality. As 2019 draws near, everything has become politics and politics has become everything. But whatever happens, leaders have a duty not to abdicate their responsibility, not to sacrifice the real issues that matter to the people on the altar of their political ambitions or group interests. 2019 will come and go, but Nigeria and Nigerians will remain.

foraminifera

zainabsule@yahoo.com, www.zainabokino.blogspot.com

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