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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

But PREMIUM TIMES 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.

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.

Bill Gate at a meeting with Jonathan

Bill Gates has through his Foundation been involved in several interventions for the eradication of polio in Nigeria.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Vice President Namadi Sambo is slated to preside over 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.

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.

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.

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