Nigeria on Edge
|Heather Murdock||February 9th 2013|
Police say nine female health workers were shot and killed in northern Nigeria Friday as they were giving out polio vaccines. At least one person was reported injured in the attack. No one has claimed responsibility and police say they have no suspects, but analysts say it was consistent with others by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
Police say the women workers were giving out polio vaccines at two community health centers in the city of Kano when men on three-wheeled motorcycles opened fire. Salisu Ibrahim Fagge is a journalist in Kano, a city that was hit by Boko Haram’s largest single attack to date in January 2012 when nearly 200 people were killed in coordinated bombings.
He says the shootings Friday also appeared to be coordinated, both happening around 9 o'clock Friday morning. The crime scenes are now surrounded by security, he says, and while people are shocked, the rest of the city is open for business. Aid workers say attacks on health clinics could cripple Nigeria's ability to fight polio.
Last fall, John Campbell, a former American ambassador to Nigeria, said ideology and insecurity is already contributing to the rise of polio in Northern Nigeria, with some fundamentalists saying the vaccine can produce infertility or cause HIV.
“When the local residents hear the vaccine is coming, they start handing particularly their male babies out over the back fence so they’re not there when the polio workers arrive," said Campbell. He also said Boko Haram attacks can keep aid workers out of the areas hardest hit by polio.
Nigeria had 121 recorded polio cases last year, more than the rest of the world combined. Pakistan and Afghanistan were the second hardest hit countries, while six cases were reported in Niger and Chad. In Pakistan, gunmen killed seven polio workers early this year and, last year, the Pakistani Taliban blocked vaccinations for over 150,000 children in protest of U.S. drone strikes.
While you don’t hear the expression much any more, Boko Haram used to be known as the “Nigerian Taliban." The group is fighting to impose strict Islamic law across northern Nigeria, and is blamed for more than 1,500 deaths across the region since launching an uprising against the government in 2009.
Heather Murdock writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.