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Terrorism and slain health workers – Punch

By The Citizen
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The failure of the Federal Government to decisively tackle the Boko Haram terrorist group is taking a heavy toll on the country. Not only are hundreds of lives lost and the economy of the North-East region in tatters, schooling and health care delivery are being handicapped. The recent murder of nine health workers threatens global efforts to eradicate polio and underscores the enormity of the national crisis the government's indecisiveness has fostered. But the war against preventable childhood diseases must not falter in the face of the vicious assault by terrorists.

The killing of the nine immunisation workers in Kano was particularly heinous. Outraged Nigerians and rights groups across the world have already condemned such a cowardly attack on defenceless people. The consequences are dire indeed.  Reports said that Boko Haram militants riding in tricycles, in two separate attacks, targeted the female polio vaccinators, gunning them down while on duty. The killing is consistent with the pattern of targeted killings against vaccinators by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and, lately, in northern Mali, from where al Qaeda terrorists were recently dislodged from its key cities. According to the perverse and patently irrational writ of the Islamists, immunisation is a 'ploy' by Western interests to sterilise women and reduce the population of Muslims worldwide. Despite irrefutable proof of the falsehood of this warped theory, Islamist terrorists in terror-ravaged states continue to kill vaccinators, just as they target women rights and pro-girl child education activists worldwide.

The killings may cause a setback to polio eradication as, globally, Nigeria is just one of only three countries where polio is still endemic, the other two being Pakistan and Afghanistan. There were 121 cases of polio reported here in 2012, while there were 58 cases in Pakistan and 37 in Afghanistan. Earlier, terrorists stormed the living quarters of some expatriates working with the Potiskum General Hospital, Yobe State, and slaughtered three North Korean doctors; while two had their throats slit, one was beheaded. In December, a French engineer was kidnapped when gunmen raided the site of a wind power project in Rimi town, 25 kilometres from Katsina.

Terrorism is particularly bad for health care delivery in the northern states where Boko Haram has killed more than 2,000 persons since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch estimates. The northern states must link up with the Federal Government to tackle this menace. At least, 10 northern states, with 209 local government areas, recorded new polio cases in 2012. In Yobe State, for instance, inadequate health care delivery facilities are exacerbated by an acute shortage of skilled personnel - doctors, pharmacists, radiologists - prompting the state government to recruit this cadre from North Korea and elsewhere. The deliberate targeting of these expatriates will keep them away and worsen the plight of the North-West and North-East zones that already have the worst poverty and health care statistics among the nation's six geopolitical zones.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others declares Nigeria to be 'one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild polio virus in the world. It is the only country with ongoing transmission of all three serotypes.' It added that Northern Nigeria was the main source of polio infections in West Africa.  The government should therefore treat attacks on health workers as the 'double tragedy' that the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children Education Fund call them.

We should drop our tepid attitude and the refusal of northern state governments and their elite to treat terrorism as the cancer that it is and mobilise all resources to confront it. Boko Haram has, time and time again, boasted of its strong links to al Qaeda, el Shabaab of Somalia and the most virulent terror group today, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrib. Interventionist French forces recently found training camps in Mali, where hundreds of Boko Haram gunmen were being trained. Yet, the federal authorities oppose the group being labelled a Foreign Terrorist Group by the United States State Department to pave the way for full deployment of the US resources against the murderous group.

With the economy of the North down by over 60 per cent, according to the northern states' chapters of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, poverty averaging 71 per cent in the North and illiteracy over 70 per cent and rising, it is time to act more decisively. The spread of polio and other communicable diseases has to be contained by providing extraordinary security for health workers. The immunisation programme should not flag, but should be stepped up with local governments and traditional institutions fully involved in the sensitisation of the populace.

States should do more to raise awareness and encourage the local people to cooperate with the security agencies to fish out and flush out terrorists and their sympathisers hiding among them.

Terrorism has become a global problem and our government should align strongly with other countries and emulate Western nations and others like Algeria and Saudi Arabia who have a zero tolerance policy towards terrorism.