According to a recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, continued polio transmission in 7 of Nigeria’s northern states has led to the re-introduction of the virus in at least 12 African countries previously declared polio free, repeatedly dashing hope that global targets for eradication – first in 2000, then in 2005 – could be met. Multiple factors hamper polio eradication efforts in the north but the most potent one are the escalating terrorists’ attacks that has created an atmosphere of pervasive fear and insecurity. These attacks have scared health workers away from the troubled areas and therefore undermined local accessibility to the polio vaccine. But some health workers still risked their lives to save our children from polio virus. That is a heroic thing to do. Tragically, they have now become the targets of the cannibalistic terrorists.
A few days ago, the national and international media was awash with the devastating news of the gruesome murder of nine health workers who were carrying out polio vaccination in Kano State by yet-to-be-identified criminals. It may be recalled that a similar thing occurred in Pakistan in December 2012. Expectedly, the killings have attracted spontaneous outrage and global condemnations. In his reaction, the Minister of State for Health, Dr Muhammad Pate said, “We are invariably left dumbfounded by this dastardly act of cowardice that has not spared the very people who have paid the ultimate price because of their commitment to humanity and the love of their profession. These nine health workers and those injured are our heroes in the fight against maternal and child mortality in the country”. HAPPYNigeria, a youth-led health advocacy group also condemned the killings and called for the immortalization of the slain health workers.
As at the time of writing this piece (48 hours after the killing), Nigerians were yet to know the identities of their heroes. It kept me wondering whether those slain heroes would end up as mere numeric figures in our heads. Don’t they deserve more than press statements? Don’t Nigerians and the international community deserve to know their names, lifetime’s stories and contributions towards polio eradication – a cause they’ve laid their life for? Why is the mainstream media not telling us more about these heroes? Why is the social media relatively quiet? Has any top government official visited the families of the deceased or the injured? Will government go beyond describing them as heroes and treat them as such?
Within the last couple of months, Professor Hyacinth Mbibu, a surgeon and head of the Department of Surgery of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was shot dead; 27-year old Dr Irawo Ademolekun was shot dead on the street of Lagos in broad day light; and one Dr Chinonye Nwishi was assassinated in Imo State (just last week). While writing this article, the new of the killing of 3 foreign medical doctors in Potiskum, Yobe State broke. Many health workers have fallen victims to kidnapping and senseless killings and the occurrence appears to be increasing. These folks are dying in the course of saving others – that’s heroic, but they are going uncelebrated. Same goes with policemen, soldiers and other security personnel who lose their lives almost every week while trying to secure the rest of us. They go uncelebrated and their families abandoned to languish in pains and hardship. That’s not fair.
I think as a people, Nigerians should develop a culture of focusing more on the positive than the negative. Understandably, negative news sells better but we should not fail to acknowledge and celebrate the heroic acts of many compatriots who lose their lives in active service o the nation. In such situations one expects the government to disclose the identities of people – rich or poor, literate or not, nationals or foreigners – who get injured or killed while in active national or humanitarian services. These people include but not limited to the security personnel, health workers, fire fighters, corps members and public servants. The media should tell us more about the lives and times of these heroes. We need to know the people they left behind. The Nigerian people should also recognize and celebrate these heroes. This is the least that can be done to encourage people to take such risks in national interest.
Kano and many other part of the Nigeria have very low number of health workers serving the population, these targeted killings portends grave danger to an already beleaguered health system. More effective action is needed. Government needs to more to protect lives and properties. We as a people must not continue to leave our heroes die unsung; they die for us and deserve to be celebrated. We should celebrate everyone, dead or alive who engages in selfless service to humanity. May God bless the souls of our departed heroes and strengthen their families. God bless Nigeria.
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First published on my column on The Newsnest on February 10, 2013