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Posts Tagged ‘Boko Haram’

counter-terrorism cooperation and combatting illicit trafficking symposium

Posted by African Press International on November 30, 2013

YAOUNDE, Cameroon, November 29, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/– Combating terrorism and illicit trafficking were the focus of an international audience who gathered recently in Cameroon.

The U.S. Africa Center for Stratetic Studies (ACSS) co-hosted a symposium on regional counter-terrorism cooperation and the fight against illicit trafficking in Yaoundé on Wednesday, November 20, 2013, in partnership with the ACSS Community Chapter in Cameroon and the U.S. Embassy.

The event took place at the Yaoundé International War College (Ecole supérieure internationale de guerre de Yaoundé [ESIG]). The more than 100 participants included Africa Center community members from the Cameroon Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the University of Yaoundé.

Also in the attendance was a diverse international group of 42 ESIG students representing nearly 20 nationalities, including the United States, who are currently in the midst of a 10-month study program at ESIG. Another group of 12 students from the National School of Security Forces (Ecole nationale de forces de sécurité [ENFS]) attended as well.

Presentations focused on defining and improving regional cooperation in countering terrorism and the threats associated with illicit trafficking.

In his opening remarks, ESIG Commandant Major General Esaïe Ngambou expressed his satisfaction with the selection of topics. “The Africa Center chose two challenging issues that are at the heart of our current preoccupations: regional cooperation against terrorism and illicit trafficking.” He also mentioned that this year’s annual ESIG colloquium will focus on border security, making the symposium a fitting beginning to the colloquium’s preparations.

Colonel Gabriel Metogo Atangana, the ACSS Chapter President, explained the pertinence of the topics discussed, at a time when Cameroon faces the challenges of Boko Haram’s spillover in the northern part of the country.

“ACSS has maintained for nearly 10 years now a close cooperation with the armed forces and law enforcement forces of Cameroon,” he said. “The choice of today’s topics is explained by the magnitude and damaging effects, as well as the consequences in the communities which are affected by these threats,” he noted.

Mr. John Harney, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) Project Manager at the J5 Counter-narcotics and Law Enforcement Division, provided an overview of illicit trafficking and laid out how AFRICOM deals with the issue. He also pointed out interagency efforts to harmonize the U.S. government effort in building West African capacities to combat transnational organized crime, particularly narcotic trafficking.

“It takes a network to defeat a network,” Mr. Harney noted, highlighting the importance of international cooperation in defeating international illicit trafficking networks.

The consensus following the symposium was that Cameroonians’ challenges are global challenges. As a result, it will take an all-inclusive effort—for the U.S. and African partners—to deter and defeat transnational threats and provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development. Participants also agreed that deeper regional cooperation and international cooperation are keys to success.

 

SOURCE

U.S Africa Command

 

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School destruction in the wake of Boko Haram attack

Posted by African Press International on October 6, 2013

School destruction in the wake of Boko Haram attack

KANO, 4 October 2013 (IRIN) – Thousands of students and teachers across northern Nigeria have been forced to abandon their schools due to increasingly brazen attacks by radical Islamist group Boko Haram (BH), officials say.

In the latest school attack, on 29 September, BH gunmen on four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorbikes stormed student dormitories at a college of agriculture in the town of Gujba, in the northern Yobe State, opening fire on sleeping students and killing 40, according to police and government officials.

“They just opened fire indiscriminately on students in their hostels. They all wore army uniforms and were heavily armed. One of them stood by the door, shooting at students who made for the door to escape,” Musa Bade, who works at the college, told IRIN.

Officials are unable to give the exact number of students forced out of school by the attacks, due to lack of access to remote parts of Yobe and Borno states where BH insurgents are active.

However, Abdullahi Bego, Yobe governor’s spokesman, told IRIN that BH has destroyed 209 schools in Yobe. In Borno, governor Kashim Shettima said in August that the Islamist rebels had destroyed 825 classrooms. A Bono education official told IRIN in May that some 15,000 were out of school in that state alone.

In a 4 October report, Amnesty International said that at least 70 teachers and more than 100 school children and students have been killed or wounded.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home. We know of a case where a teacher was killed at home before his children,” said Makmid Kamara, Amnesty International’s researcher for Nigeria.

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school because they fear that their children may not return home,” Kamara told IRIN. “If these attacks continue, they will further cripple the education system in that part of the country.”

Rising toll

BH began attacking schools in February 2012, when its gunmen burned down three schools in Maiduguri town using home-made bombs. Abul Qaqa, the group’s spokesman at the time, claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for the indiscriminate arrests of students in Islamic schools by government forces.

Initially, the gunmen carried out attacks on schools at night or in the early morning hours before classes so as to not “kill innocent pupils,” according to Qaqa.

But the strategy changed this year. In March, BH killed four teachers and gravely injured three students in three separate attacks on schools in Maiduguri.

On 6 July, the Islamists opened fire and threw explosives into dormitories in a boarding secondary school in Mamudo Village in Yobe, killing 41 students and a teacher. In a 16 June attack on another boarding school, also in Yobe, BH gunmen shot dead seven students and two teachers, according to Lt Lazarus Eli, the state’s military spokesman.

BH also carried out attacks on schools in Kano City, including arson in at least three schools and the targeted shooting of teachers in two others. But the Kano attacks stopped following a heavy security crackdown that drove the rebels from the city, according to security sources.

Security measures

Bego said the Yobe government would not be intimidated into closing schools following the Gujba student killings, as it did following the July slaughter in Mamudo.

“These terrorists want to intimidate us into closing schools and stopping children from attending school. We will not be intimidated, and Yobe State will not be defined by criminals, insurgents or terrorists,” the governor’s spokesman said.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home.”

The government deployed soldiers to all boarding schools in the state to guard against BH attacks.

But Musa Idrissa, a school teacher in Damaturu, told IRIN the troop deployment to schools could not effectively counter the BH attacks or its emotional and psychological effects on students.

“The presence of soldiers in schools only heightens fear among teachers and students because it is a constant reminder of the danger they are in, which affects them psychologically and emotionally and negatively affects teaching and learning. No effective learning takes place in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety,” Idrissa said.

Idrissa noted that BH gunmen dress in military uniforms, which makes it difficult distinguish them from troops. “How can the students differentiate between BH and soldiers in the event of an attack on their school?” he asked.

“We are fighting an unconventional war and an unconventional enemy, which shifts form and strategy and is very mobile. We need public support in reporting any suspicious movement in the community to effectively tackle the terrorists,” Eli said.

Why attacks on schools?

In a video message on 12 August 2013, BH leader Abubakar Shekau said he backed the Mamudo school attack, but fell short of claiming responsibility.

“We did say we were going to burn down schools offering Western education because they are not Islamic schools. They are schools primarily established to wage war on Islam. We fight teachers who teach Western education. We will kill them before their students, and we will tell the students to henceforth go and study the Koran. This is what we do. We will continue carrying out such school attacks till we breathe our last breath,” he said.

However, military authorities say that BH resorted to attacking schools as soft targets following military operations launched in May of this year that they say have weakened the group. The school attacks are also an attempt to scare off youth vigilante groups fighting the Islamists, particularly in Borno State, which BH considers its stronghold and birthplace, says the military.

New military strategy

President Goodluck Jonathan said in 1 October national broadcast that the government would employ new strategies against BH following the deadly school attacks, but did not divulge details. Nigerian troops responded to the latest school raid with aerial bombardments and a ground offensive against a BH camp near Gujba where the gunmen retreated to, military spokesman Eli told IRIN.

The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in northeastern Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on 14 May and heavily deployed troops to neutralize BH and dislodge them from areas they had taken over, especially in northern Borno on the border with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

The strategy has failed to stop the attacks, which have become more frequent and deadlier despite the shut-down of telephone signals to prevent BH from coordinating attacks.

“Although there is increase in troop movement and military hardware deployment in the northeast, people were yet to see the kind of action on the ground that effectively nips criminal and terrorists activities in the bud,” Bego said in a 29 September statement.

Amnesty International’s Kamara called on the Islamists to unconditionally halt school attacks and urged the government to provide better protection for schools. “Attacking schools and killing teachers and pupils is a crime against humanity. The government of Nigeria has a responsibility to protect the right to life and to education.”

aa/ob/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Nigeria: Boko Haram – like the Al Shabaab target innocent people

Posted by African Press International on October 5, 2013

School destruction in the wake of Boko Haram attack

KANO, 4 October 2013 (IRIN) – Thousands of students and teachers across northern Nigeria have been forced to abandon their schools due to increasingly brazen attacks by radical Islamist group Boko Haram (BH), officials say.

In the latest school attack, on 29 September, BH gunmen on four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorbikes stormed student dormitories at a college of agriculture in the town of Gujba, in the northern Yobe State, opening fire on sleeping students and killing 40, according to police and government officials.

“They just opened fire indiscriminately on students in their hostels. They all wore army uniforms and were heavily armed. One of them stood by the door, shooting at students who made for the door to escape,” Musa Bade, who works at the college, told IRIN.

Officials are unable to give the exact number of students forced out of school by the attacks, due to lack of access to remote parts of Yobe and Borno states where BH insurgents are active.

However, Abdullahi Bego, Yobe governor’s spokesman, told IRIN that BH has destroyed 209 schools in Yobe. In Borno, governor Kashim Shettima said in August that the Islamist rebels had destroyed 825 classrooms. A Bono education official told IRIN in May that some 15,000 were out of school in that state alone.

In a 4 October report, Amnesty International said that at least 70 teachers and more than 100 school children and students have been killed or wounded.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home. We know of a case where a teacher was killed at home before his children,” said Makmid Kamara, Amnesty International’s researcher for Nigeria.

“Parents are afraid to send their children to school because they fear that their children may not return home,” Kamara told IRIN. “If these attacks continue, they will further cripple the education system in that part of the country.”

Rising toll

BH began attacking schools in February 2012, when its gunmen burned down three schools in Maiduguri town using home-made bombs. Abul Qaqa, the group’s spokesman at the time, claimed responsibility, saying it was in retaliation for the indiscriminate arrests of students in Islamic schools by government forces.

Initially, the gunmen carried out attacks on schools at night or in the early morning hours before classes so as to not “kill innocent pupils,” according to Qaqa.

But the strategy changed this year. In March, BH killed four teachers and gravely injured three students in three separate attacks on schools in Maiduguri.

On 6 July, the Islamists opened fire and threw explosives into dormitories in a boarding secondary school in Mamudo Village in Yobe, killing 41 students and a teacher. In a 16 June attack on another boarding school, also in Yobe, BH gunmen shot dead seven students and two teachers, according to Lt Lazarus Eli, the state’s military spokesman.

BH also carried out attacks on schools in Kano City, including arson in at least three schools and the targeted shooting of teachers in two others. But the Kano attacks stopped following a heavy security crackdown that drove the rebels from the city, according to security sources.

Security measures

Bego said the Yobe government would not be intimidated into closing schools following the Gujba student killings, as it did following the July slaughter in Mamudo.

“These terrorists want to intimidate us into closing schools and stopping children from attending school. We will not be intimidated, and Yobe State will not be defined by criminals, insurgents or terrorists,” the governor’s spokesman said.

“The attacks have generally crippled the education system in northeastern Nigeria. There is a lot of fear among students, teachers and parents. Teachers are not only targeted in schools, but also at home.”

The government deployed soldiers to all boarding schools in the state to guard against BH attacks.

But Musa Idrissa, a school teacher in Damaturu, told IRIN the troop deployment to schools could not effectively counter the BH attacks or its emotional and psychological effects on students.

“The presence of soldiers in schools only heightens fear among teachers and students because it is a constant reminder of the danger they are in, which affects them psychologically and emotionally and negatively affects teaching and learning. No effective learning takes place in an atmosphere of fear and anxiety,” Idrissa said.

Idrissa noted that BH gunmen dress in military uniforms, which makes it difficult distinguish them from troops. “How can the students differentiate between BH and soldiers in the event of an attack on their school?” he asked.

“We are fighting an unconventional war and an unconventional enemy, which shifts form and strategy and is very mobile. We need public support in reporting any suspicious movement in the community to effectively tackle the terrorists,” Eli said.

Why attacks on schools?

In a video message on 12 August 2013, BH leader Abubakar Shekau said he backed the Mamudo school attack, but fell short of claiming responsibility.

“We did say we were going to burn down schools offering Western education because they are not Islamic schools. They are schools primarily established to wage war on Islam. We fight teachers who teach Western education. We will kill them before their students, and we will tell the students to henceforth go and study the Koran. This is what we do. We will continue carrying out such school attacks till we breathe our last breath,” he said.

However, military authorities say that BH resorted to attacking schools as soft targets following military operations launched in May of this year that they say have weakened the group. The school attacks are also an attempt to scare off youth vigilante groups fighting the Islamists, particularly in Borno State, which BH considers its stronghold and birthplace, says the military.

New military strategy

President Goodluck Jonathan said in 1 October national broadcast that the government would employ new strategies against BH following the deadly school attacks, but did not divulge details. Nigerian troops responded to the latest school raid with aerial bombardments and a ground offensive against a BH camp near Gujba where the gunmen retreated to, military spokesman Eli told IRIN.

The Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in northeastern Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states on 14 May and heavily deployed troops to neutralize BH and dislodge them from areas they had taken over, especially in northern Borno on the border with Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

The strategy has failed to stop the attacks, which have become more frequent and deadlier despite the shut-down of telephone signals to prevent BH from coordinating attacks.

“Although there is increase in troop movement and military hardware deployment in the northeast, people were yet to see the kind of action on the ground that effectively nips criminal and terrorists activities in the bud,” Bego said in a 29 September statement.

Amnesty International’s Kamara called on the Islamists to unconditionally halt school attacks and urged the government to provide better protection for schools. “Attacking schools and killing teachers and pupils is a crime against humanity. The government of Nigeria has a responsibility to protect the right to life and to education.”

aa/ob/rz

source http://www.irinnews.org

end

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Understanding the causes of violent extremism

Posted by African Press International on May 18, 2013

DAKAR,  – Academics and government, military and civil society representatives gathered for a conference in the Senegalese capital this week to assess the interplay between development and violent extremism in West Africa, with some participants suggesting that underdevelopment, marginalization and weak governance create a breeding ground for militancy.

While local factors in West African and Sahel countries have contributed to extremist violence, the rise of global jihad in the wake of the US-led “war on terror” since 9/11 has also played a part in spreading radical militancy in the region.”In the Sahel, there is a combination of bad governance, poverty, insecurity as well as several internal and external factors [that contribute to extremist violence],” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, head of the Centre for Security Strategy in the Sahel and the Sahara, at the opening of the 6-10 May Dakar conference.

“The Sahel has provided an ideal ground for extremist violence to take root and spread beyond national borders,” he said.

The region has a history of instability. Since the first post-independence coup in West Africa that toppled Togo’s founding president in 1963, it has seen a string of coups, some of which have sparked civil wars.

West Africa is also one of the world’s most impoverished regions despite its natural resources. Seven West African countries occupy the bottom 10 places in the UN Human Development Index.

Poor political and resource governance have often led to explosions of violence by disgruntled segments of society, and a number of studies have linked bad governance to insecurity in West Africa.

For example, Mali’s Tuareg have been fighting perceived marginalization by the central government and demanded an autonomous homeland in the country’s north. Following the March 2012 coup in the capital Bamako, the Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad seized towns from government troops in the north, but was soon driven out by militant Islamist groups.

Nigeria‘s increasingly violent Boko Haram militia, which wants an Islamic state, should be seen as a reaction the government’s entrenched corruption, abusive security forces, strife between the disaffected Muslim north and Christian south, and widening regional economic disparity, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Some observers stress the local aspect. Militant Islam in Africa, while linked to broader ideological currents, is mainly driven by the local context, with Islamist groups emerging, evolving and reacting to immediate local concerns, University of Florida’s Terje Ostebo, argued in a November 2012 paper published by the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS).

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism.”

“The Malian government’s failure to consistently invest [in] and maintain a strong state presence in the north. created an enabling environment for the expansion of Islamic militancy and the escalation of violence in this region,” said Ostebo, an assistant professor at the university’s Centre for African Studies (ACSS) and the Department of Religion.

Marginalization

“Poverty and underdevelopment and a sense of marginalization and exclusion that comes from lack of governance, particularly at the local level, are seen as drivers associated with violent extremism,” Benjamin Nickels, an assistant professor with the ACSS, told IRIN.

“Supporting development is a long-term approach to undermining drivers associated with violent extremism,” he added.

“You do have a number of underlying factors that make certain regions particularly vulnerable to violent extremism and extremist ideologies, and then you have a number of factors that trigger violence. Amongst these factors there is an underlying economic dimension that often gets missed,” said Raymond Gilpin, the ACSS academic dean.

Poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic deprivation partly explain the rise of Islamist movements – violent and non-violent – argued Ostebo.

“There are other factors of extremist violence. However, it is easier for militant groups to recruit unemployed youth who see no future for themselves, than those who are in employment. The more young people are able to be employed the less chances there are that they can be recruited by militant groups,” said Gilles Yabi of the International Crisis Group.

“Development is part of the measures against extremist violence. But we are already in a situation [in West Africa] where underdevelopment is so deep that reversing it is very difficult,” he told IRIN.

Ould-Abdallah cited other factors such as West Africa’s wide geographical area, weak public institutions and people’s and governments’ loyalty to tribe and clan rather than the nation state as also contributing to crime and extremist violence in the region.

In a bid to end insurgencies, Nigeria and Mali have attempted negotiated settlements, but they have also resorted to the use of force, which is limited in resolving the fundamental causes of rebellion. Repression by governments or external forces can cause Islamist militants to fight for their very existence and at the same time deepen perceptions of state illegitimacy, Ostebo warned.

Spillover

The French-led intervention in Mali has dislodged the Islamist rebels from their strongholds, but triggered fears that the fleeing militants could destabilize countries in the region from where they hail, target foreign nationals in neighbouring countries and even win the sympathy of other extremist militia.

The January attack on an Algerian gas plant is believed to have been in retaliation for the French military drive in Mali. Nigerian troops heading for Mali as part of an African intervention force came under attack by Boko Haram-linked militants in January.

On 7 May, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posted a video message calling for attacks on all French interests across the world for its intervention in Mali.

Nigeria has teamed up with its neighbours to form a multi-national force to counter Boko Haram.

“The priority for Sahel right now is to help resolve the Mali crisis. After Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, West Africa does not need another protracted crisis,” said Ould-Abdallah.

ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Displaced still homeless after clashe, Nigeria

Posted by African Press International on May 8, 2013

A man stands outside of his destroyed home in Baga

BAGA,NIGERIA, – Thousands of residents of Baga in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria, remain displaced for fear of further clashes breaking out between radical Islamist group Boko Haram and troops from the Nigeria-Niger-Chad Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). A reported 187 people died in the clashes on 16 and 17 April.

An estimated 2,275 homes were destroyed in fires, and a further 125 severely damaged, according to satellite images released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 1 May statement.

“Our major worry now is finding where to stay and rebuild our homes before rain sets in. Many of us are now squatting with relations and friends here in Baga and in neighbouring towns and villages,” Ibrahim Buba told IRIN in the courtyard of his gutted four-bedroom mud house in the Pampon Gaja-Gaja neigbourhood.

Heavy fighting broke out in Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, between MNJTF and Boko Haram (BH) on 16 April, causing fire to break out and sweep through the neighbourhoods of Pampon Gaja-Gaja, Fulatari and Budumari. The Nigerian Red Cross estimated 187 people died in the fire and fighting, but the military dispute these figures, insisting only 37 people, including 30 Islamists, six civilians and a soldier, were killed.

Many residents accused soldiers of burning their homes, while military forces disputed the accusations, blaming BH.

The area is a BH stronghold and military officials have accused Borno State residents of harbouring BH members. According to HRW, BH has killed numerous Borno State residents, creating a climate of fear in the area.

“I lost my all that I worked for in life including my house, two cars, two motorcycles, and a grinding machine which is my major source of income,” said 62-year-old Adamu Ciroma. “What preoccupies me is how to rebuild my house to shelter my family of 18.”

Maina Maaji Lawan, a Borno State senator, told IRIN there is not enough emergency shelter to house all the displaced. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has set up temporary shelter for just over 600 of the displaced, according to a recent statement.

Borno State governor Kashim Shettima has ordered that the destroyed houses be rebuilt, according to spokesperson Isa Umar Gusau.

Many still in hiding

Most Baga residents rely on fishing and farming for their income. “We don’t even have seeds to plant because the seeds we saved have been gobbled by fire,” local smallholder Ba’ana Sharif told IRIN, as he stood in the midst of his burnt granary. The rainy season begins in May and extends into September in Nigeria’s semi-arid northeastern region.

NEMA and the Red Cross arrived in Baga eight days after the fire because they had to wait for security clearance from the military which claimed the area was too dangerous for aid workers to enter, according to Nigerian Red Cross national coordinator Umar Mairiga.

Many residents are still in the bush having fled their burning homes: They fear a resumption of violence between BH and the military, residents and aid officials said.

“Many people are still in hiding. Part of our work there is to build confidence. We need to show people that what we have now in Baga is assistance, not any more attacks,” said NEMA spokesman Manzo Ezekiel.

Resident Abdullahi Gumel told IRIN on 30 April that he found two residents in the bush suffering from burns and thirst. They both died within 24 hours.

Brig-Gen Austin Edokpayi, head of MNJTF, blamed the mass exodus of residents on “warnings from BH Islamists to leave the town, as the terrorists were planning reprisals against the military for the casualties they suffered at the hands of the multi-national troops.”

HRW called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to probe the events in Baga as part of a preliminary investigation the court launched in 2010 on the situation in Nigeria. The ICC has indicated that crimes committed by BH may constitute crimes against humanity.
On 23 April, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a full-scale investigation into the events in Baga.

aa/aj/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Roots of polio vaccine suspicion

Posted by African Press International on April 11, 2013

KANO,  – For years, polio vaccination has faced strong resistance within conservative Islamic communities in northern Nigeria, largely due to a deep distrust of the West , persistent rumours that the vaccine is harmful, and the house-to-house approach taken by immunization campaigners, which many saw as intrusive. 

Over recent years, polio campaigners have changed their methods to try to win over reluctant community members and religious leaders – to mixed effect. In February of this year, 10 polio vaccinators were killed in the northern city of Kano by anti-western Boko Haram militants, the latest setback to efforts to eradicate the virus from Nigeria.The country is one of only three where polio is still endemic. In 2012, Nigeria recorded 122 cases – over half of the global total that year.

IRIN spoke to residents, imams and health workers in Kano State to discuss the roots of ongoing vaccine suspicion.

Geo-politics

Sheikh Nasir Muhammed Nasir, imam of Fagge Juma’at Mosque, the largest in Kano, is an advocate of polio immunization.

“There is nothing wrong with the polio vaccine. The major reason why people reject it is the deep-seated suspicion they harbour against the West, particularly the United States due to its foreign policies in the Muslim world, especially the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

“The US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan – which caused deaths and destruction – is seen by many Muslims here as a war on their brethren. They wonder how the same countries responsible for this colossal carnage can now turn and save lives elsewhere. To them, it doesn’t make any sense that you offer to save my children from a crippling disease yet are killing my brothers,” said Nasir.

Mamman Nababa, a father of three in Kano, said: “I can’t understand how the West will spend millions of dollars in providing medication against polio for our children while they systematically killed 500,000 Muslim children in Iraq by imposing an embargo that denied them access to basic medicines.

“They are doing the same in Iran, where they imposed sanctions that make drugs scarce. It doesn’t make sense to kill my brother’s child by denying him life-saving drugs and then expect me to believe that you want to save my child from polio for free.”

“It doesn’t make sense to kill my brother’s child by denying him life-saving drugs and then expect me to believe that you want to save my child from polio for free.”

Residents also expressed scepticism of the focus on polio, saying other diseases should be given priority.

“How could I be so naive as to allow my children to be given polio drops by people who go door-to-door giving the vaccine free while the government has failed to provide medication for the most urgent diseases affecting us, such as malaria and typhoid?” said one Kano resident.

Infertility

For years there has been suspicion that the polio vaccine is laced with infertility hormones as part of a US-led plot to reduce the Muslim population. The Kano State government suspended polio immunization between September 2003 and November 2004 following the spread of such rumours by some Muslim clerics. The suspension led to an unprecedented number of infections and transmission of the virus to 17 countries that had been polio-free.

Kano resident Zulaihatu Mahmud says most people understand polio is caused by a virus, but even so, she and others fear the vaccine could be harmful: “Nobody wants their child to be crippled by polio, and nobody wants her child to be sterile, either.”

In 2003, to address these concerns, the Kano State government and federal government set up committees of doctors and clerics to test the polio vaccine. Following trials in Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia, they declared the vaccine safe.

However, they also confirmed the presence of traces of two sex hormones – oestrogen and progesterone – that are used in contraceptive medicine, which reinforced the sterility rumours in some communities.

Sadiq Wali, a professor of medicine who was involved in the committee, explained that the vaccine is developed in a culture made of monkey kidney, which contains the two hormones. Since hormones are highly water-soluble, traces are bound to be found in the vaccine, but they are too minute to have a contraceptive impact, he said. The amounts are so infinitesimal that special equipment is needed to detect them.

Lingering anti-colonial sentiment

Much of the longstanding distrust of Western influence among northern Nigerians is linked to the British colonial occupation and its dealings with the Islamic caliphates that had ruled the north, explained Aminu Ahmed Tudun-Wada, head of the Kano State Polio Victims Trust Association.

“Almost a century after the introduction of Western education, there are still parents who don’t enrol their children in school because they believe it is a ploy to convert them to Christianity, and the suspicion has its roots in the British conquest. It is the same sentiment playing out with the polio vaccine,” he said.

The Pfizer Meningitis Trial
In 1996, US pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer conducted a trial of the meningitis drug Trovan (trovafloxacin) on 200 children at the state-run Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in Kano. At the time, a triple epidemic of meningitis, measles and cholera in the city had killed around 12,000 people. One hundred children were put on Trovan and 100 on the antibiotic ceftiaxone. Eleven children participating in the trial died, and others suffered paralysis, brain damage and slurred speech. Pfizer claimed it was meningitis that had made the affected children sick. The families alleged the clinical trial was improperly conducted and lacked parental consent.In 2003, Kano State filed a US$2.75 billion law suit against Pfizer, which ended in an out-of-court settlement in 2005. Several of the children involved have also been compensated. For anti-polio campaigners, the case gives “practical evidence that there is harm in the polio vaccine, just like Trovan, with which they convinced parents,” said Abdullahi Musa, a Kano-based paediatrician.

“The Pfizer drug trial was a real setback against not only polio vaccination but to other child health interventions in the north, because it destroyed public confidence and made the anti-polio campaign readily believable,” said polio vaccinator Abdulhamid Barau.

Several people in the north referred to the introduction of cigarettes to Nigeria by the British 50 years ago. Kano tobacconist Habu Iro and several residents told IRIN that in the 1950s, when people bought cigarettes, they would find money in the packet. The amount included was gradually reduced as people became addicted.

“We now know what [the] cigarette does to human health. The white man will never give anything for free. It is the same thing with [the] polio vaccine. They are hiding something,” 73-year-old Kano resident Dije Umar said.

Changing approaches

Early polio campaigners’ approaches were also seen as too insistent, combining radio advertisements, community workshops and teams of health workers going door to door, according to a polio expert with an international agency who asked to remain anonymous.

But because most inoculations take place in health clinics or hospitals, many families did not trust health workers arriving at their doorsteps.

One polio expert, who wished to remain anonymous, called initial campaigns “aggressive”. “They… sent a wrong signal to parents. We didn’t take account of the social dynamics then,” he said, referring to the need for more efforts to get communities on board.

Before 2005, polio campaigners partnered only with political and health authorities. They later learned to work closely with community and religious leaders. Most northern states have since formed polio immunization task forces with village and religious leaders as members.

The results were largely positive, with greater community acceptance and an improved understanding of polio and the vaccine, said an anonymous polio expert, who said uptake of the vaccine had increased since 2005.

But in February of this year – following the killing of the 10 polio vaccinators in Kano – the approach changed once again. The campaign is now limited to health clinics and hospitals as part of routine immunizations, and it is entirely government-led.

Many doctors fear this approach will threaten eradication efforts. To eliminate polio, vaccinators must reach at least 90 percent of children, giving each four doses over a 6-12 month period, according to the World Health Organization.

“The halt in house-to-house immunization is a serious threat to eradication… A large chunk of children will have no access to the vaccine and will be at risk of infection,” Adamu Isa, a paediatric nurse at Nassarawa Specialist Hospital in Kano, told IRIN.

The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), which oversees polio immunization in Nigeria, plans to hold a national workshop in Abuja for Muslim clerics and traditional leaders to clear up all misconceptions about the vaccine.

“It will be frank, honest and no-questions-barred discussions where we will clear any misgiving they have about the polio vaccine with concrete proofs and evidences, because once we secure their support, we secure the confidence of the public in accepting the vaccine,” NPHCDA’s director-general, Ado Mohammed, told IRIN.

aa/aj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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