Nigerian govt blocks Amaechi, from meeting Bill Gates; politicizes polio eradication campaign



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The
political standoff between Governor
Rotimi Amaechi
and President Goodluck Jonathan has assumed a dangerous
dimension with the federal government now deliberately sabotaging the effective
partnership between the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, and

the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate polio from the country.

Bill
Gates has through his Foundation been involved in several interventions for the
eradication of polio in Nigeria.
On
February 1, 2009, Nigeria’s 36 governors met with the American billionaire
businessman to seek his assistance at a time Nigeria and India accounted for 90
percent of polio cases globally.
A
Memorandum of Understanding was later signed between the Gates Foundation and
the Governors’ Forum, with both parties having now consistently worked together
in the past four years, with polio cases dropping drastically nationwide.


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But
Linjust.com can authoritatively report
today that the Federal Government, as a way of getting at Governor Amaechi, has
activated a series of moves aimed at destroying the partnership between the NGF
and the Gates Foundation, which has no doubt provided the most effective
offensive against polio in Nigeria.
In
what is clearly an abuse of power, the presidency has instructed the Federal
Ministry of Health to fence off Mr. Amaechi and officials of the Governors’
Forum from a ceremony in Abuja on Monday where Bill Gates and Nigerian
officials will present awards to governors of states which won the 2012
Immunisation Leadership Challenge instituted by the NGF and sponsored by the
Gates Foundation.
The
NGF initiated and coordinated the immunization awards in 2011, with support by
the Gates Foundation to reward states which  committed more time and
resources to stopping the transmission of polio virus and strengthening
immunization services.
The
first edition of the awards saw Ondo, Cross River, Kogi, Anambra, Borno,
Zamfara and Niger states coming first to seventh place respectively.  Each
of the states is to be celebrated at the event and awarded a $500,000 grant for
health related project.
But
the leadership of the NGF, which initiated and facilitated the entire award
process, has now been blocked from attending, in what a presidency source said
was a ploy to further ostracize Mr. Amaechi and cut off Mr. Gates and his
foundation from further interacting with the NGF.
Rather
than the NGF secretariat and the National Primary Health Care Development
Agency, NPHCDA,  coordinating the event, the presidency has taken
control  and has, apart from the seven winning states, invited the
governors of Yobe, Taraba, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kano and Plateau to
the programme.
Effectively
blocked from attending are Mr. Amaechi, who ordinarily should be there in his
capacity as chair of the NGF, and under whose leadership the programme was
initiated and executed; Asishana Okauru, the NGF’s director general, who
facilitated the programme but who should even have been invited in his capacity
as a member of the Presidential Task Force on Polio; and Zikirullahi Giwa, the
NGF Focal Person on Polio who interfaces between the NGF, the Gates Foundation
and the NPHCDA on the immunization challenge awards.
To
avoid a situation where Mr. Amaechi and other NGF officials might gatecrash
into the programme, a presidency source said, the event has been moved from
Transcorp Hilton to the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa while the deputy
chief of staff in the presidency is personally sending out letters to invitees.
Vice
President Namadi Sambo is slated to preside over the programme.
The
NGF director general, Asishana Okauru, confirmed in a telephone interview that
neither he nor Governor Amaechi had been invited to the event. He however
abruptly terminated the call, saying he was hurrying out of his home for an
appointment. He did not answer subsequent calls.
Presidential
spokesperson, Reuben Abati, could not be reached to comment for this story. He
did not answer calls made to his mobile telephone. He replied a text message,
saying he was in church.
But
the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Ado
Mohammad, whose agency serves as a secretariat for the Presidential Task Force
on Polio and is partnering the presidency in organizing the event, simply said,
“Leave me out of this. I don’t know about this politics you are talking about.
As far as I’m concerned, health has no politics. All I know is that we are
working with the governors.”
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It
is unclear why Mr. Gates and his Foundation appear comfortable with attending a
ceremony where their key partner has been fenced off for what is believed to be
political reasons.
It
is also not clear why Mr. Gates and his foundation have failed to advice the
Nigerian government on the need not to bring politics into polio eradication
campaigns.
Contacted,
Michael Galway, the Gates Foundation’s Senior Programme Officer on Vaccine
Delivery, who is Mr. Gates’ key contact person on Nigeria, declined comments.
He directed all enquiries at James Whittington, a spokesperson for the
Foundation.
Mr.
Whittington is yet to respond to an enquiry emailed to him by PREMIUM TIMES. On
a follow-up telephone call, he said he would do so as soon as he was able.
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