WHO Reports Polio Setback

At the same time that some countries are complaining that the polio vaccine is dangerous, the World Health Organization announced in January that new cases of polio had been discovered in two African countries where WHO had previously labeled the disease as eradicated.

Polio cases were discovered in both Benin and Cameroon in early January, apparently having spread from Nigeria. Nigeria still experiences about 300 cases of polio annually and Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria have led a local fight against the polio vaccine saying it contains hormones that are used to sterilize girls.


West Africa Polio Cases a Setback for WHO’s Eradication Plan. UN Wire, January 12, 2004.

UN says polio is spreading to countries where it had been eradicated. Press Release, United Nations, January 9, 2004.

Fears of Polio Vaccine Grip Nigeria

The World Health Organization’s goal of eradicating polio worldwide by 2005 ran into a major obstacle in October 2003 when three Nigerian states suspended polio vaccination over fears that the vaccine could cause AIDS, cancer and infertility.

The largely-Muslim northern states of Kaduna, Kano and Zamfra ordered a stop to a WHO-sponsored vaccination program. Reuters quoted Dr. Datti Ahmed, president of Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Sharia Law, as saying,

A lot of documents have come into our possession indicating there are grave doubts and concerns about the safety of the oral polio vaccine being used in Nigeria. We therefore called on the authorities to suspend the immunization program and investigate these fears.

WHO representatives dismissed such objections saying the polio vaccine was safe.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is one of only 7 countries where the disease is still prevalent and many children there are not vaccinated. Authorities worry that the disease could expand from Nigeria into surrounding countries. According to WHO representative Dr. David Heymann,

In some parts of Nigeria, only 13 percent of children have been vaccinated, largely because of the fears about it that have been disseminated. Nigeria is now exporting the disease. It has already cost Nigeria’s five neighbors $13 million to launch their own campaigns against it and that could go up to $20 million if it is confirmed that Chad has cases.

The government set up a group to test the polio virus, but that group dealt another setback to the polio eradication in January when it issued results claiming it found high levels of estrogen in the polio vaccine which would render those who received the vaccine infertile.

Both the WHO and the Nigerian state dismissed these claims, but WHO’s efforts to vaccinate children in Nigeria appears to have been severely set back which bodes ill both for the children there who are unnecessarily exposed to the risk of contracting polio as well as neighboring states and the rest of the world that would like to see polio eradicated.


Health experts losing battle to promote polio vaccine in Nigeria. AFP, Friday January 9, 2004.

Nigeria orders polio vaccine tests. Associated Press, October 29, 2003.

Nigeria debates polio campaign. Anna Borzello, The BBC, December 22, 2003.

Nigeria Starts to Take On Fuel Shortages

A couple years ago I wrote about Nigeria’s chronic gasoline shortages — ironic for a country that is one of the world’s leading exporters of oil.

This year the Nigerian government began to address the fuel shortages by moving slowly to eliminating one of the factors responsible for it — subsidies on gasoline that make it profitable to buy gasoline and sell it to neighboring countries or on the black market rather than actually use it for fuel.

After winning re-election, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo raised the price of gasoline by 50 percent. According to the BBC, this immediately brought on a general strike and Obasanjo had to back of the price increase a bit, but in the end the price of gasoline still was up 30 percent.

According to the BBC, the gasoline subsidy cost the Nigerian government about $2 billion a year, so every change helps the government’s budget as well as restoring some much-needed sanity to gasoline prices in Nigeria.


Nigeria tackles fuel subsidies. Mark Ashurst, BBC, July 18, 2003.

Nigeria to Crack Down on 419 Scammers?

Africa Online reports that Nigeria is creating a special government commission to crack down on 419 scammers.

Of course you have to remember that Nigeria is one of the largest oil exporting countries in the world, but it’s government has not been able to solve the country’s long-running gasoline shortages. So don’t expect to see much of a decline in 419 scam spam e-mails.


NIGERIA TO TACKLE INTERNET FRAUD CRIMES. Africa Online, November 28, 2003.

Nigerian Court Overturns Stoning Adultery Sentence

In September, 31-year-old Amina Lawal saw a Nigerian court overturn her sentence to be stoned to death for adultery.

Lawal became an international cause celebre in 2002 after she was convicted of adultery by an Islamic Sharia court in the northern Nigeria state of Lagos and sentenced to death by stoning.

But the 4-1 decision by the appeals court to overturn the death by stoning verdict was based largely on procedural issues rather than any recognition on the part of the Islamic court that stoning to death people for adultery might not be an appropriate punishment.

Lawal’s acquittal was based on the appeals court’s findings that the proper number of witnesses did not testify against Lawal and that she became pregnant within two years after divorcing her husband rather than five as the law requires for the pregnancy itself to be used as prima facie evidence of adultery.

That last bit, by the way, is apparently due to a bizarre misunderstanding of human biology embedded in Islamic sharia law. According to The Vanguard (Lagos),

According to the lead defence lawyer, Aliyu Musa Yawuri, under some interpretations of sharia, babies can remain in gestation in a mother’s womb for five years, opening the possibility that her ex-husband could have fathered the child.

Lagos Gov. Bola Tinubu proclaimed that the decision was a victory for the Islamic system of justice,

This is a victory for the sharia legal system. This is a victory for justice. This judgment has made the crucial point that the sharia is a well-developed legal system that places emphasis on objectivity, respect for evidence, serious regard for the truth and a holistic perspective that combines morality and legality.

And apparently a complete ignorance of reproductive biology. That’s an awfully thin thread to hang justice upon.


Nigerian court overturns stoning sentence in adultery case. Voice of America News, September 26, 2003.

South Africa welcomes the acquittal of Nigeria’s Amina Lawal. ChannelAfrica.Org, September 26, 2003.

Appeal Court Quashes Death Verdict On Amina Lawal. Vanguard (Lagos, Nigeria), September 26, 2003.

Nigerian Woman Avoids Stoning Death. Associated Press, September 25, 2003.

Nigerian Man Avoids Death By Stoning for Rape

A man who plead guilty to committing rape in Nigeria recently had his death by stoning set aside after his lawyers plead insanity.

Salimu Mohammed Baranda admitted that he committed the rape of a nine year old girl and apparently refused to defend himself against the charges. According to the BBC, though, family members convinced him to appeal the death sentence and his lawyers claimed that he was insane at the time he committed the crime.

An Islamic court of appeal in Nigeria overturned the conviction and ordered the man committed to an asylum for evaluation.

The BBC story on the overturning of the sentence noted that human rights groups had not exactly jumped all over Salimu’s sentence,

Salimu’s case was a particularly important one for those opposed to such strict Islamic punishments on moral grounds.

In all other cases of stoning punishments being handed down by the Sharia court it has been for those, almost all of them women, who had committed the consensual act of adultery.

Defending a rapist — and worse, one that had admitted his crime — was not something most human rights groups have gone out of their way to do.

But it is the system of justice that is being used here that is the problem. Stoning someone to death for rape is just as barbaric as stoning someone to death for having consensual sex. Both outcomes are the product of a corrupted vision of justice.


Nigeria stoning verdict quashed. Dan Isaacs, August 19, 2003.

Nigeria stoning verdict quashed. United Press International, August 19, 2003.