Victims: How Kuje prison inmate defrauded us millions of naira
When, on June 30, 2017, Mr Dalhatu Yahaya, a 43-year old, walked into Elizade Motors Nigeria Limited in Abuja, explaining that he came to collect quotation for three Toyota vehicles, everyone around was on ground was happy that fortune was smiling on the company as regards sales that day.
Mr Ige Olaleye, one of the members of staff of Elizade Motors who attended to Yahaya, said the man requested for quotation concerning a Toyota Hilux Pick-up, a Toyota Prado as well as a Toyota Land Cruiser, all amounting to a princely N38.9million. Unknown to 48-year-old Olaleye, Yahaya, allegedly working with Ifeanyi Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prisons in Abuja, was out to defraud Elizade Motors with fake bank alerts being their weapon.
According to Olaleye, the recovery of the cars by his company would have come to nothing if not for the interventions of operatives attached to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Special Intelligence Response Team (IRT) headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Abba Kyari. “The main guy, Ezenwa, is in Kuje Prison, Yahaya is his collaborator.
In fact, it was Yahaya that came to defraud our company, he’s the person the syndicate uses to defraud people. As at the time this crime was committed, I was Acting Branch manager, all my statements are with the IRT operatives. Yahaya came on that fateful day, saying that his boss asked him to come and obtain quotation for the procurement of different cars,” Olaleye said.
According to him, when he demanded to know who Yahaya’s boss is, the latter quickly put a call through to someone, clearing the cloud of suspicion and making Olaleye hand over the quotation and the company’s account number to him.
“Yahaya’s boss introduced himself as Dr. Sam Attah. He claimed to be in Lagos as at that time and said we should give his boy, Yahaya, quotation of cars, which we gladly did.
We didn’t hear anything until some weeks later. He sent me a text; we were communicating through phone. I still have his number. One day, he called me twice; he said that he had paid thirty nine million, eight hundred thousand into the account number I gave to him. I asked him to forward me a cheque on how the payment was made, which I forwarded to our accounts department and our accountants confirmed that the money was already in our company’s account.
When Yahaya came to pick the cars, only one vehicle, which is the Hilux, was available. “I asked them to come back for the remaining vehicles.
As a matter of fact, I reluctantly released that Hilux Jeep, since the receipt had been issued to my department by the account department. We had no reason to hold on and we were not aware of their fraudulent intentions. When it was time to issue the invoice, we asked him the name that should be there, he said Eniola Oladapo Hannah.
That is the name of the lady whose bank account they use to commit fraud. The payment was split into four parts of N9, 950,000 each amounting to N38, 9m, which is the total amount for the three vehicles. On July 13, Dr Sam Attah (Ezenwa) credited our Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) with another N38.9m, asking that we should double the number of the previous vehicles.
“It was because of the alert, that the available Toyota Hilux, worth N17.5m was released to Yahaya on behalf of Dr Sam Attah on July 13, 2017. I pleaded with them to give me till the next day to provide the remaining vehicles.
After a while, our accounts officer called that all payment from Eniola Oladapo Hannah had been reversed. All efforts to reach Yahaya and Dr Sam Attah proved abortive. I even rushed to check the address, No. 92. T.Y Danjuma Street, Asokoro Abuja given to us by Dr Attah. When we got there, the address was fake, the street ends at No. 56.”
The company lodged a complaint with Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission(ICPC), IRT, Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Not long after, Eniola Oladapo Hannah was traced to Owo in Ondo State, she’s a mother of two kids. She probably got information that security agents on her trail and absconded. Eniola’s mother was arrested, detained for three days and then allowed to go. “The account officer that the fraudsters were using, was later arrested.
The account officer is with First Bank of Nigeria and our own account officer, GTB was also invited by EFCC. God was on our side. We didn’t stop praying on the matter and fortunately for me, one of the prayer points was for God to cause confusion in the midst of the fraudsters. Police traced the number Ezenwa used to call me to Kuje area.
The police used their GPS, but really couldn’t get the exact location of the caller. The trackers took us to Kuje Market, Winners Chapel Church, Deeper Life Church but nothing panned out. Most of the people arrested were interrogated and later allowed to go. We didn’t know he was in Kuje Prison.
Nobody bargained that he was calling and pulling strings from inside Kuje Prison. Along the line, this same Attah started calling me; I had already saved his name as Dr Sam. He asked me how many cars were moved from my office, I said two Hilux vehicles.
He said No! No! No! It was like a miracle when he gave me all the information on how to get Yahaya. He kept calling me back every three minutes.” Olaleye would later discover that Ezenwa was miffed because Yahaya, rather than sell and bring the money for them to share, disappeared with the cars. Angry and vengeful, Ezenwa called Olaleye and directed him to the location where he would get Yahaya, urging him to report to the police. “It was then I knew that God answers prayers.
There was confusion in their camp already. I went to EFCC to inform them, but they couldn’t believe it that a criminal actually called to give me information about other criminals’ whereabouts. Eventually, as God would have it, I put a call across to Mr Abba Kyari. He gave me a phone number of his team and the men immediately moved into action and arrested Yahaya. He’s the same guy that came to pick the cars. When police called me, I immediately identified him.
That was how God saved us. It was during interrogation that Yahaya confessed that he sold the car to someone in Kaduna State, their prime location for selling of stolen cars,” Olaleye noted. IRT operatives, the following morning, travelled to Kaduna State and arrested the man that bought the car from Yahaya.
They also saw where the car was parked. “I appreciate Abba Kyari and his men for a good job,” Olaleye said with joy. So powerful is Ezenwa that in June last year, he allegedly connived with some prison warders and sneaked out of his cell. He allegedly went to a store to buy an automatic wheelchair, using a fake bank alert.
Mr Ani Okwudili, a 44-yar-old, reportedly told police: “On June 15, one Igwe and four prison officers, which the Igwe used as his body guards, came to my shop, situated opposite National Hospital Abuja requesting to purchase an electric wheelchair, BP apparatus, humidifier and 1 Q142 Omron, which amounted to the sum of N924,000. Igwe was complaining that he didn’t have money right then.
After much persuasion, he demanded for our account number and phone number to enable him pay the money. On June 20, Igwe called with phone number 09068148786, to tell me that his boy had paid the money for the items into my GTB account. He said that his boy made a mistake and paid the sum of N1, 050,000.
He said that I should pay back the excess of N121, 000 into an Access Bank account, with account name Alhaji Galuba Shaidu and account number 0032392135. I confirmed from my account officer that N1, 050,000 clearing First Bank cheque with account name Eniola Oladapo Hannah with account number 2031617202 was lodged into my account from Akurem, Ondo State.
After that verification, I paid N70, 000 into the Access Bank account given to me by Igwe. He told me that he was sending his boy, with phone number 08022729641 to come and pick up the wheelchair and other items, including the remaining cash of N50, 000 of which he did. I released everything to the man that came from Igwe. I even called Igwe, who confirmed that he has received the items. Later, my account officer called me, saying that the lodged cheque from Igwe is a DUD cheque. He scanned and sent the cheque to me.”
A frustrated Okwudili is of the view that police are delaying the case of Ezenwa. He wants him to be charged to court and prosecuted accordingly, rather than remaining in prison custody. “He should be prosecuted first and then, his victims would tell their stories to the media. He should be prosecuted and judgment passed on him. The most important thing right now is to get judgment against him. Many people have information about him but once judgment is passed on him, people will open up. Moreover, police have all the information about him. Whatever information you need is with police.
They cannot lie to you. Our statement is with the police and we cannot retract our statements. Several security agencies are involved in this matter.” Ezenwa would have got away with the alleged crime against Okwudili but for a Close Circuit Television (CCTV), which captured him posing as a rich man, with the prison warders as his guards. Having allegedly left prison accompanied by prison warders to perpetrate the fraud, police now believe that warders are part of Ezenwa’s fraud syndicate.
Speaking on the fraud perpetrated at Elizade Motors, Yahaya said he knew Ezenwa and a judge who is a friend of his were running a syndicate and was determined to get a piece of the action. He asked that a percentage should be given to him after the car had been sold, but Ezenwa and the judge allegedly refused. This made Yahaya to disappear with the car. He ran to Kano State and sold it for N9m. He used N1.9m to buy another car and used N7m to run his political campaign.
A vindictive Ezenwa, upon realising that Yahaya, a father of five children and husband to two wives, had played a fast one on him, he called Elizade Motors and spilled the beans. Already in prison, Ezenwa knew he had nothing to lose.
Yahaya, who describes himself as a holder of a Diploma in Sharia and Civil Law which he bagged at the Legal Islamic School in Yola, Adamawa State, used to work at a Sharia Court in Gombe State as a driver. He resigned in 2013 to contest election as a local government chairman.
Upon failing win the election, he relocated to Abuja in 2017 and went into property business. “In July 2017, Isah Imam Jega, an ex-convict from Kuje Prison, who is a judge, called me to go and pick up some cars. I was arrested by the police.
It was a man who I then only knew as Igwe that initiated me into fraud. I met Igwe in Kuje Prison when I went to visit one of my friends, the judge. The judge was an inmate in Kuje Maximum Prison, just like Igwe. It was after I was arrested that I learned that Igwe’s real name is Chief Ifeanyi Ezenwa. “The first job I did for him was at the Orthopeadic store, where I collected two wheelchairs, blood pressure machines and N50, 000 for him.
After I collected the money, the judge instructed me to take the money to High Court and pay for his bail. It was after the payment, that the judge was released from prison,” he said. Yahaya said that he was given nothing from the automatic wheelchairs deal because at that point, he was not aware that the items were not paid for.
According to him, “I would have collected my share” if he had known. Speaking further, Yahaya said: “Later, my judge friend called me and told me that those items where bought with fake bank alerts. After the judge was bailed, he called and told me that Ezenwa wanted me to do a job for him.
He asked me to go to Elizade Motor Company; he made me to speak with them. At the end, he told them that he wanted to buy five vehicles. I don’t know how he did it, but after a while, Geja called me again that the company was ready for me. He said I should go and pick two of the vehicles. When I got there, they gave me just one vehicle; a Toyota Hilux. I called my judge friend and told him that I would not deliver the vehicle to Ezenwa if he didn’t give me 30 per cent of the value of the vehicle.
“They turned down the deal, which made me to take the vehicle to Kano State, where I sold it for N9m. I bought a car of N1.9 million, and spent the rest of the money on my people. I contested for election.” Another victim of circumstance in the ongoing scam of Ezenwa and his cronies is Alhaji Umar Muhammad who spoke about Ezenwa and Yahaya. A 42-year old, Muhammad is into the business of buying and selling cars and has a car stand at Mai Tambari Motors in Kano State.
“Dalhatu Yahaya was introduced to me by two of my trusted business associates, Shehu and Matawale. They called me on phone that one of their friends, Dalhatu’s boss wanted to sell his Toyota Hilux for N9m, but I told them that I didn’t have money. I told them once I make some sales, I would buy the car.
In July 2017, I was making transaction at GTB in Kano State, when Shehu and Matawale called me that they were coming, so that I could take a look at the Hilux,” he began. When he sighted the car, he decided to buy it, especially since the documents and keys were intact. “I was in Saudia Arabia for Hajj, when I got a call saying that there was a problem and that police had come to collect the car.”
Nobody knows for sure when Ezenwa took to the life of crime like duck to water but he first came under the radar of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Special Intelligence Response Team operatives (IRT) in 2017. It was exactly March, 2017 that the IRT Unit received a case of criminal conspiracy and Advanced Fee Fraud with Mr Lawson Nwachukwu of Apo Mechanic village, Lagos State Line, Abuja as the complainant against Ezenwa.
When detectives eventually commenced investigations, they stumbled on many mind-blowing discoveries, which left them speechless. For long, tracking and locating Ezenwa was like hunting for a ghost.
It took months to trace Ezenwa to Kuje Maximum Prisons as he was allegedly running his operations and carrying out his fraudulent activities right from inside the prison. It was in that prison that Ezenwa, also known as His Royal Majesty, Engineer Jedidiah Ezenwa Attah, allegedly duped several people, using fake bank alerts Determined to ensure more victims didn’t fall into his trap, police authorities went public with his activities and methods of operations. Irked, Ezenwa hired a lawyer, threatening to sue four media houses that covered the story for a sum of N1billion each if the story was not retracted. While his lawyer was waiting and hoping for the retraction, Ezenwa again, allegedly committed another crime.
When the media was alerted by police, Ezenwa hired another lawyer, this time a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) who is also asking for a retraction of the story as well as apology for his client. In a letter, the lawyer, J K Gadzama, wrote: “Our client, though in custody for about six years now, for reason his lawyers are working relentlessly to unravel, has not been adjudged by any court as criminal.” Ezenwa, who was said to have become a guest at Kuje Prison after he allegedly defrauded someone and later jumped bail following his arrest, appears to be having a ball in the prison.
What with prison warders allegedly allowing him leave prison accompanied by warders anytime while they pose as his guards! Little surprise his alleged criminal activities couldn’t be stopped by incarceration.
Lawson Nwachukwu said a man came to his shop to purchase some spare parts for Mercedes Benz G Wagon Jeep worth N1, 950,000 on March 21, 2017.
After confirming the availability of the spare parts, the man called someone he claimed is his boss who then asked Nwachukwu to send his account details so that he would transfer the money for the spare parts to him. Eager to do business, Nwachukwu immediately sent his Diamond Bank account number and received an alert of N1, 800,000 from a First Bank Account few minutes later. He released the spare parts but a day later, the transaction was reversed and Nwachukwu immediately informed the man about the development through the phone.
The man bid him not to worry, that such happened due to the need to credit the complete N1, 950,000. It was to be the last time they would talk and Nwachukwu never got the money for his spare parts.
Nwachukwu said he quickly reported the matter to the police when he noticed that the same man was negotiating with another spare parts dealer around and investigations would later uncover the man sending the fake bank alerts as Ezenwa, an inmate in Kuje Prison. Kyari, who, together with his teams of detectives, had been tracking and attempting to unearth all the alleged nefarious activities of Ezenwa, said: “IRT operatives went to prison and confirmed that he is there.
The operatives have gone to court for a warrant to move him out from prison, in order to interrogate him. Nobody knows how he generates fake bank alerts, but we shall find out. We need to know if some bankers are working with him. Ezenwa has masterminded many frauds, leading to the financial ruins of many Nigerians.”
A police source said: “The customers would receive a bank alert, indicating that the accounts had truly been credited. However, when the customers go to the bank to confirm, the money wouldn’t be there.” The police source continued: “These fraudsters carry out these fraudulent activities mostly on Friday evenings.
They know banks don’t work on Saturdays and Sundays. There would have been interval of two days before a customer goes to check his bank balance. By the time the discovery is made, the customer had already handed the goods over to them.”
On Ezenwa, the police further revealed: “The leader of the gang is in prison and uses a smart phone. The phone is connected to the internet and browses through online retail sites like OLX, JIJI and Jumia, where he connects with people who want to sell their valuables, especially cars. He communicates with them via WhatsApp.
“When he is buying vehicles, which are usually very expensive ones, he would ensure that he deals directly with the real owners. He would send members of his syndicate to verify the condition of the car. When he is sure of what he wants, he would swindle the dealer, using fake bank alerts. His members would disappear with the car.”
According to the police, Ezenwa has different fraud cases pending in different courts. Some of these he is not even aware of yet, involve his accomplices. These accomplices were alleged to have fingered Ezenwa in other fraud cases are said to cut across different states in Nigeria.
The case that caused his remand in Kuje Prison is one being handled by another unit of the police, not the IRT which is eagerly waiting for him to be through with pending cases before they re-arrest and re-arraign him for the cases they have been investigating him for. Until IRT operatives recently smashed the syndicate, his wife didn’t know he was in prison. When police stormed his home in Abuja to impound some stolen cars, the woman told them that there must have been a mistake somewhere.
So confident was the woman that she told the IRT men her husband was in Italy, from where he sends money to her often calls her with an international number. The police explained: “One of his brothers, Emma, is the person that used to go and pick whatever Ezenwa had bought via internet.
He also used to assist Ezenwa to check out what items to buy. Emma will go to him in prison to tell him about the items and Ezenwa would generate the bank alerts. “This time around, they went and bought car spare parts worth N1.6m. They used the fake alert to dupe the dealer.
Again, Ezenwa sent a mechanic to buy another set of spare parts and the IRT team was alerted while the mechanic was arrested. “The mechanic took IRT team to Ezenwa’s house where some cars were recovered. He used to send money to his wife from prison; his sister and brothers knew he was in prison, but his wife didn’t. We got his pictures from his wife and took them to police station. Some policemen who saw his pictures screamed, saying he is a well-known fraudster currently in prison.”
Unveiling Ezenwa along with his location
The discovery and smashing of Ezenwa’s syndicate started after IRT got wind of his criminal activities, following series of petitions. The IRT team was instructed by the Inspector General of Police, Mr Abubakar Idris, to go after Ezenwa and put an end to his alleged criminal activities. Investigations led operatives of IRT to Ezenwa’s house in Abuja, where a G Wagon, Hummer Jeep, Honda Odyssey and a Honda End of Discussion (Honda Accord 2005) were discovered.
A victim, Mohammed Salanke Dahiru, a car dealer in Abuja, said Ezenwa swindled him of a Mercedes G Wagon. Salanke said: “On the day he defrauded me, he made away with my vehicle. It was worth N7million. He sent a man to my car stand; the man priced the car and took copious pictures which were sent to Ezenwa. My sales boy, Obinna, was the person that handled the transaction.
When they agreed to our price, they took my account number. They insisted on transferring the money to my Diamond Bank account number. I gave it to them. An hour later, I received an alert. I called them to come and collect the car.
“This was on a Friday; on Monday, when I went to the bank to check my account, I discovered the money was not there. On that fateful Friday that I received the alert, it had my previous balance in it. The total money was balanced. I wondered how he was able to get access to my account.
This incident happened in November 2016. I have been looking for the car since then. Earlier in the year, members of his syndicate also attempted to defraud another person and were arrested.” Speaking further with our correspondent, Salanke said that he was shocked that a former commissioner of police, now a practicing lawyer, is taking up the case of Ezenwa. According to the police, Ezenwa wouldn’t have been able to continue in his fraudulent activities, right from prison; if not that prison warders were aiding him.
How criminals generate fake bank alerts
Following an increase in the number of cases of Nigerians being duped through fake bank alerts, Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) in the country are stepping up measures to check the activities of fraudsters who engage in this act, findings by Saturday Telegraph revealed. A top bank official who did not want to be named said the industry had been recording a steady increase in the number of cases of bank customers losing their hard-earned money through the supply of goods to fraudsters who tricked such customers by sending a fake credit alert to their mobile phones.
According to the bank official, as a way of checking the practice, DMBs have finalised plans to change the format of their alerts in such a way that these alerts will contain security features that will be impossible for fraudsters to copy.
The official explained that the current format of bank alerts could be easily customized by fraudsters do this using bulk SMS. “It is very easy these days for anyone who wants to send a fake bank alert to do this by closely studying the format that a particular bank sends its alerts. Once the fraudsters is familiar with the format, he can just do it by using Google to search how to go about sending bank alerts to a victim’s phone.
So what we always advise our customers to do is to contact their account officers for confirmation if they receive any credit alert from someone they are not familiar with,” the banker said.
Offering further insight into how criminals generate fake bank alerts, an official of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission noted that there are different cases of cybercrimes.
According to him, using fake bank alerts to defraud unsuspecting Nigerians was not really a new scam. He disclosed that it has been in existence for long. He explained that criminals, who are involved in such crimes are, “usually smart, intelligent, tolerant and patient. They take time to carry out research on prospective targets and software, in order to know how it works. They take time to study their prey.”
He also said that these criminals have various ways of carrying out these cybercrimes or generating fake bank alerts. While revealing that some of these criminals can access software on the internet, which helped them in the scam, he said that some of these cyber thieves work with insiders in targeted companies and banks. He further said: “Some of them work with sophisticated hackers. These hackers can hack into a bank system and know the existing balance in a customer’s account.
Before, such cybercrimes could be carried out by just a single person, but not anymore. Today, they are many. Cybercrime has become sophisticated. Some send such bank alerts without outstanding balance; such criminals have limitations.
There are those that can send an existing outstanding balance, even though such money is not in the account. Those are the sophisticated ones.” He noted that such criminals do not work on random targets. These criminals would need to know and have access to the original amount in the bank account, before they can be able to generate a fake bank alert that would show corresponding outstanding balance. “Maybe they hacked into a victim’s email. They can start directing the victim’s messages.
They can start receiving the victim’s email messages. Once they direct the emails, they start monitoring the victim’s account. They don’t work alone. It’s difficult to work alone. They engage other people in such scams in other to avoid being caught,” he added.
He explained that for someone not to fall victim, the person needs to first realize and understand that such scams exists. “These criminals can hack into banks and manipulate the system to state or do what they want. It’s all about having the right software. We have different kinds of hackers. They are named by colours. We have white, black, green, red hackers. These hackers have the ability and capability of hacking into a computer system. The white hackers are the good ones.
They are often invited by banks and corporate organisations to attempt to hack into their computer system, so that they can know the loopholes and cover such loopholes. We also have the black hackers, they are the bad ones. They can break into a computer system and cause financial havoc. There’s another set of hackers called the script kiddies; they can’t design programmes, but they buy programmes to use and are taught via internet.”
On Ezenwa, he said that the inmate probably has access to servers of companies that he defrauded. He revealed that if such companies had exchanged emails with Ezenwa or any of his partners in crime, it would be possible to hack into their system. “These cybercriminals have international connections. It’s an international organized crime. There’s no sophisticated criminal that doesn’t have international connections,” he said.
Police brutality!: I was bundled into car boot, asked to pay N1m or face robbery charge –Victim
Human rights violations by security agencies have become common place in recent times in Nigeria, with shocking accounts by victims. According to this report by JULIANA FRANCIS, some of the victims recount how they were arbitrarily arrested, tortured and unlawfully detained…
Despite wiping her teary eyes many times, the tears continued to flow, making the efforts futile as Mrs Ann Opara tried to be strong while narrating her ordeal. Opara, a 36-year-old housewife resident at the Igando area of Lagos State, is one of several people the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN) and the South-West zone of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) are working with to unravel the extent of human rights violations visited upon Nigerians. The organisations are synergising on this with the Observatory on Monitoring of Human Rights Observance by Security and Justice Institutions in Nigeria.
Opara once told the story of how detectives attached to the Inspector- General of Police Special Intelligence Response Team allegedly brutalised and detained her over offences allegedly committed by her husband, Engineer Linus. She said: “My experience in the custody of IRT men was horrible. My blood pressure became too high and I bled for three weeks.
I was ordered to write that my husband was a kidnapper. They kept me in their custody for two months. I was there between July 14 and 20. A policeman hit me on the head with the heel of a shoe and blood started gushing out. Their leader, identified only as Philip, used his belt to flog me repeatedly.”
As she narrated her pathetic story, tears furiously rolled down her cheeks. At a point, she suddenly stopped, perhaps needing to compose herself, and only continued after a long while. According to her, the ordeal with IRT detectives started on July 14, 2017, when she got a call from an unknown number that she had a DHL parcel to collect. Thinking it was a prank call, she forgot all about it.
But a few days later, the caller persisted, asking for the nearest bus stop to her home. Pretending he wanted to drop the said parcel, she fell for the trick, disclosed the name of the bus stop and went ahead to meet the caller. Opara recounted: “My husband took me to the bus stop in his car. But he didn’t alight from it with me. When I got to the bus stop, I saw three men; they suddenly surrounded me.
They ordered me to enter their car, I said no. I didn’t know them. They said they wanted to take me to Igando Police Station. Yet, they did not take me there, eventually. “Even though they claimed to be policemen, I still refused because they failed to show me their identity cards. Right there, they started hitting and punching me.
They punched my right eye and I went blind momentarily. I couldn’t open my right eye for some days until I bought medicine while in the police cell to use.“When we got to Lagos State Police Command headquarters, Ikeja, one of the policemen, named Christian, ordered me to write a statement.
He asked me the type of work my husband does, and I said he is an engineer but he forced me to write that my husband is a kidnapper. The leader of the team, Philip, told them to put me in a cell where I would suffer. With my baby just a year old and sick at the time, I begged them to release me because of that but they refused.
“While in detention, another member of the team, identified simply as Idowu, was chatting with my husband. He pretended that he was a member of a kidnapping gang. They asked my husband to bring N10 million for ransom and he responded that he didn’t have such money. He told them that he could only raise N200,000.” Thinking it was a case of kidnapping, Opara’s husband promptly reported the case to the Igando Police Station.
At the time of her arrest, Opara was nursing a baby she was delivered of prematurely but was still clamped into detention for well over two weeks. On July 20, she said Christian brought her out of her cell and led her to Philip’s office where Idowu, Philip and three other policemen started beating her, leading to an injury on her hand. She recalled: “One of them used a shoe heel to hit me on my forehead; blood started flowing, on my body and on the floor.
The officer that hit me with the shoe gave me a rag to tie against the injury so as to stop the blood flow. At a point, I started losing strength because I had not eaten. I was on the floor; I begged them for water but they refused. Later, the officer that broke my head threw a bottle of water at me but I couldn’t open it because I was already feeling dizzy.
Our cell Marshall, Ijeoma, was in that office on that day. She assisted me to open the bottle of water and gave me some to drink. From their office, Christian and Idowu hand-cuffed me and took me to my house. When we got to my street, they parked at the end of the street. They said l should call my younger brother and sister to come and I did.
When they came to where we were, the policemen lied that I was arrested because my husband committed a crime with my phone number. They told them that I would rot in jail and my children would grow up on the streets of Lagos and would never see me again. They told my brother and sister to assist them in arresting my husband.
My sister gave me some clothes while my brother gave me N4,000. Idowu, however, collected N2,000 from the money, saying it was for fuel.” Finally, on July 22, a Friday, Opara’s husband was arrested. In a raid on their home, policemen allegedly took two black handbags, one rechargeable lamp, one lamp bulb, two phone chargers and a Camry ‘drop light’ car. “Christian and Idowu told my people to bring N100,000 before they would release me but my people couldn’t afford such an amount. They said they could afford N20,000. On July 24th, being Sunday, my people brought the N20,000 and gave to Christian for my bail,” added Mrs Opara.
After they switched her place with her husband’s, she went to the station to find out his offence from him. “My husband told me that he sold some health products to Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, otherwise known as Evans. The products were worth N120,000. After paying for the product, Evans tipped him N50,000. When I and my elder sister went to the station to see my husband, Christian said we should pay for the recharged card he bought before he would bring out my husband from the cell. I paid N1,000 but he said that we should refund the N170,000 Evans gave my husband so his hands would be off the case.”
Opara noted that on August 7th, she gave Christian N100,000, adding that Idowu and Philip were not around when she gave him the money. She said: “On August 11, I gave Christian N5,000. He said that the money was meant to help my husband. On August 12, Christian called me on phone and told me that my husband lied to them because they had gone to Abuja with his picture to ask Evans how he knew him. He said that Evans told them that he told my husband to monitor somebody for him and that he gave my husband N700,000. He said my husband got another N300,000 for the health products, adding that my husband got N1million from Evans and we have to return the money.
He said that we have to return the N1million. I told Christian that I wanted to sell our fridge and air conditioner, in order to raise the money. My husband’s friend also tried to use his car to get money from lenders. My husband asked me to sell anything I could in order to get him out of detention.
“On July 26th, I called Christian that I wanted to see my husband, he said I couldn’t unless I had the money with me. On 27th, I went to the station to give my husband money for feeding but Christian told me that they went to see Evans with my husband and Evans said he gave my husband money again.
A day after, Christian called and said that he wanted to withdraw from my husband’s case since we seemed unwilling to bring money. He called my brother, Nonso, and told him we were not ready to secure my husband’s release. My husband is asthmatic and had undergone hernia operation not long before his arrest.
“Nonso told him we didn’t have such money and that the life of my husband was in God’s hands. On September 5th, which was my last day at the station, I begged Christian to allow my husband to call some of his friends that could raise some money for him to give them. He agreed and my husband made the calls; but those he called didn’t respond.”
The IRT, regarded as one of the most respected and hardworking sections of the Nigerian Police, is headed by an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr Abba Kyari. Since the creation of the section under the leadership of Kyari, the unit had cracked several mind-boggling cases and arrested large scale criminals. However, recently, the unit was replicated in different states, with team leaders heading such units in each state.
The overall lead er remains Kyari, whose office is in Abuja. But since these units can’t be monitored personally by him, many people have claimed that atrocious acts are being perpetrated by the policemen, especially those in Lagos. Kyari has only been able to keep abreast of activities at the units across the country through information handed to him by his lieutenants. Reacting to the allegations, Kyari said that the woman was lying. “She’s the wife of Linus, who is an informant to Evans. Her husband is one of Evan’s gang members, who had brought many jobs for Evans. Nobody tortured her.
She’s lying. I know how she was arrested. How we staged the husband, that she was kidnapped before eventually arresting her. The new thing these days is to brand the police that they had collected money, rape, torture among other allegations. That’s the new tactics among suspects. Let an independent body investigate her allegations, please. Independent bodies like the Police X-Squad or Provost Department. If the men are found wanting, they should be dealt with and if the woman lied against policemen, she should be charged to court for giving false information “These men, who she made allegations against, had seen and avoided big money from Evans, let alone this chicken change like N20, 000 and N70, 000. She’s lying. She’s fabricating things to blackmail people who arrested her husband. The husband will be in court with Evans during the next court sitting.
How can somebody, who operated with Evans, be released?” he asked rhetorically. Human right groups, however, insisted that they didn’t care whether Linus is a gang member of Evans or not; what they are only after is the fact that Mrs Opara was arrested in his place, tortured and detained for more than the days approved by law. They are also concerned about the human rights violations of Linus who was detained for over three months in a police detention facility. Mrs. Opara is definitely not the only one making a case out of being mistreated by policemen. Obimdi Ocho also a petition filed by his lawyer, Dan Okonkwo. Ocho specifically complained about Supol Musibau Salawu of Zonal Intervention Squad (ZIS), Ikorodu, Lagos State, under Zone 2 Police Command in Onikan. Oowner of Formula 2 Hotel &Suites located at 1&2 Oluwa Memorial, Olodi Apapa, Lagos, Ocho accused the squad of alleged misconduct, extortion among other allegations.
He urged the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, to probe the incidents. According to Okonkwo, Ocho briefed him that on November 24, 2017, some policemen barged into his hotel complex in commando fashion and demanded to know if it was true security guards attached to his hotel were usually armed with rifles.
However, Ocho reportedly told them that the rifles in possession of his security guards had valid licences, which he immediately presented to the policemen. “Our client was informed by the policemen that a Pump Action rifle does not have licence, but our client told us that when he bought the rifle, he took it to Ikeja Police Command where he was issued a licence in 2015. They further questioned our client on why his guards were armed, he told them that cult members used to disturb customers and members of the public in the community, depriving them of their valuables.
“Our client briefed us that he had had cult boys coming into the hotel, and these boys sometimes used to fight the security men and often injured them. The case was reported at Trinity Police Station. They were arrested and handed over to Federal Special Anti- Robbery, where they were thereafter charged to court.” Okonkwo explained that in spite of Ocho’s response to all ZIS operatives’ questions, they still went ahead to arrest one of the guards identified as Cyril Nwachukwu.
“They whisked him away in their vehicle and didn’t drop phone number or their office contact address. Ocho ran to Trinity Police Station to inform them of the situation. It was there that he was told that the men came from Zonal Intervention Squad, Ladegboye, Ikorodu. Ocho later got the phone number of one of the policemen, identified as Supol Musibau Salawu. Okonkwo said: “When Musibau Salawu was called, he picked offence and ordered his men to come down to the hotel and arrest our client. These policemen handcuffed our client, with his hands behind and put him into the boot of their car.
They took him to their office at Ikorodu, where he was manhandled just because of the calls he made,” Okonkwo said. The lawyer said that when Ocho got to the ZIS office, he was shocked that the policemen placed a gun in his hand and took his photographs. Okonkwo added further: “These policemen came to his hotel, handcuffed and bundled him into the boot of their waiting car. At their Ikorodu office, they handed him a gun and took his photographs. They threatened that if he didn’t give them N1 million, they would send his pictures to media houses, especially online publishers, alleging that he was arrested during a robbery operation.
“The sum of N400,000 was collected from our client before he was released around 12.30am. On December 4, 2017, one of the team members went to our client and collected the sum of N60,000.” The lawyer explained that the policemen told Ocho that because of some phone calls he made after policemen stormed his hotel.
The IGP, the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), in charge of Zone 2, Mr. Ibrahim Adamu and the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, are all now aware of the case. The detectives claimed the money collected from Ocho would be used to settle some senior police officers and Okonkwo has urged the IGP to check the inordinate ambition of Supol Salawu and his men and restrain them from further harassing Ocho. When Zone 2 spokesperson, Dolapo Badmus, was contacted on the issue, she promised to investigate the matter and get back to our correspondent.
But since Thursday, she neither picked further calls nor responded to text messages sent her by our correspondent. When our correspondent called Salawu about the allegations, he said: “It’s not true. But I can’t talk right now. I will call you back.” A senior police officer, however, disclosed that the policemen were already being quizzed on the allegations. Like Opara and Ocho, Sylvester Ihejirika, a 27-year-old man, says he is also a victim of human right abuse. According to him, it all happened February this year after the construction company which employed him in Port Harcourt, laid off some of them. He got N500,000 in March as his benefit and thought of what he could do with the money.
“I met a friend, Temple, where I went to watch football. While chatting, I told him that I would like to go into transportation business. He introduced me to Alhaji Moruf Mustapha. He is a car dealer and has a car mart at Waterlines Junction, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Alhaji brought a Sienna car, 1999 model and I liked it; we agreed on N500, 000.
The car had mechanical faults, including a cracked windscreen. I had a sick mother, whose hospital bills I was also paying at that period. I paid him N400,000 to Mustapha and promised to pay the balance later. I also needed to fix the car,” Ihejirika said. He said when Mustapha put pressure on him to pay his balance, he paid N90,000 and was to balance him N10,000. Ihejirika said: “The Alhaji started calling and threatening me. I decided to sell the car. In June, my company called me back. It was during that period that Alhaji called, saying that he had a Camry for sale. I decided to sell the Sienna car, added money and bought the Camry car. I felt Sienna was bad.
I didn’t know there was no Camry car. He came with policemen. I spent N250, 000 to fix the Sienna car. On that fateful day, I had N27, 000 in my pocket and my ATM card. “When the policemen walked up to me, I thought they were kidnappers. One instructed them: “hold him”. I struggled with them and then another appeared in police uniform.
They handcuffed and put shackles on my legs.” Attempts by Ihejirika to alert his brother, who is a naval officer, were rebuffed as they allegedly demanded the PIN of his ATM but he refused to disclose it. He said they dragged him all the way from Port Harcourt to Lagos where he was told that the Sienna car was a stolen car that belonged to a lady. While this was happening, Ihejirika said Mustapha who sold the car to him, was with the policemen. “They attacked and hit me with the butt of their guns. Alhaji took them to other places, where about eight people were arrested for allegedly buying stolen cars from the him. They also arrested my brother and later released him after collecting N30,000 from him.
They threatened to shoot me if I tried to question them. They wore T-shirts with inscription, ‘FSARS, Lagos State Command’ but they took us to a station in Ogun State. “They told the detainees that we were militants. We were beaten mercilessly. Later, I noticed that some inmates looked sick, injured and had fluids coming out from their ears,” Ihejirika said, adding: “We spent two weeks in cell. When I asked for the lady that owned the Sienna car, they said it was not my business.
They took my wristwatch, gold necklace and belt. While in detention, I saw them driving the Sienna car around, using it to arrest other people. My IPO is called Scorpion and he told me that his commander needed N1million. My people and I said we didn’t have such an amount. We later paid N50,000 into his account. The policemen later again asked for N500,000 for bail but my brother paid N120,000 and then I was released.
They are still with the car. None of the eight of us was charged to court. The car dealer, Alhaji, is working with the police. They used to call him out from cell to feed and interact with him,” he said. As far as Chime Adioha, a photojournalist who works with Spaces for Change, a non-governmental organisation, is concerned, one of the areas where citizens’ rights are abused most is during demolition of houses. He recalled that on June 2, 2017, using the lens of his camera, he was able to capture the agony of people losing their homes without due notice from the Lagos State Task Force. He said: “It was forced eviction at Badia East. The occupants were beaten as they attempted to salvage some of their property.
I was taking their shots when policemen came and walked me into their Black Maria. They seized my camera. I saw six community members brutalised and bleeding. A woman, called Biliki, was beaten and her clothes torn. They took every one of us to their office at Bolade, Oshodi. They asked every one of us to sit on wet floor and continued beating the community members. I guessed what saved me was presentation of my identity card and their knowledge of where I work. Six policemen repeatedly kicked the community members with their boots.
I was instructed to delete the documentary of the demolition and I did.” As chilling as the accounts are, not only policemen get involved in human rights violations; almost all uniform personnel in Nigeria are guilty of these atrocities as they often feel they can get away with their crimes.
A commercial cyclist, Muhammed Idachaba, was in Sabon Gari area of Idah when a Naval officer, Lt. Col Bassey, Assistant Commandant of Idah Naval Post, allegedly attempted to shove him off the road. The road was bad so Idachaba felt the naval officer was trying to manoeuvre through the potholes. However, a little bit ahead, he realised that the same officer had parked his car and as he rode past, he pursued and crossed his motorbike, forcing him to halt.
Coming out of his SUV, he ordered Idachaba to park his motorcycle, then ordered him to kneel and he obeyed. Bassey then ordered Idachaba to start doing frog-jump, and as he went about this in pain, the naval officer was said to have asked him if he remembered what he told him during the last state assembly re-run election at Ogegele. He allegedly reminded him that he promised that he was going to waste him any moment, he sees him. At this point, he drew his pistol and started to shoot Idachaba. After shooting him several times, the helpless man fell and taking him for dead, Bassey allegedly entered his SUV and drove off, heading to a motor park where he picked a girl in his car. Unknown to him, a plain cloth police officer was by the corner, observing the incident and trailed him.
The cyclist, who was rushed to Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, luckily survived to tell the story of his abuse in the hands of the naval officer. NOPRIN and the National Human Rights Commission, with the support of the Observatory on Monitoring of Human Rights Observance by Security and Justice Institutions in Nigeria, held a public hearing on police abuses in Nigeria, recently to discuss the issues. Those in attendance were National Coordinator of NOPRIN, Okechukwu Nwanguma; Southwest Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission, Lucas Koyejo; the Lead, Security and Justice at PRAWA, Mrs. Ogechi Ogu and Collins Okeke, Lawyer at HURILAWS as members.
In 2014, civil society and the Nigeria Police collaborated to develop a new police-training curriculum to replace the outdated colonial police training curriculum. The old curriculum was devoid of any human rights content and the new curriculum set out to fill the gaps and to reform and upgrade it to international standards for law enforcement education.
The Nigeria Police Force formally adopted the new training curriculum and the manual for use in police training institutions and for all levels of police training and retraining, with the Inspector General of Police writing its foreward to this curriculum. Although the new police training curriculum is exhaustive, encapsulating all the human rights principles governing democratic policing and law enforcement by the Nigeria Police, men and officers are still not in tune with the purpose and intent of the curriculum as human rights abuses by members of the Nigeria police continue to be on the rise.
According to the rights group, beating, torture, threat to life, extortion, conversion of property, resulted in violation of the rights to personal liberty, dignity of human person, fair hearing and right to property. Harassment and intimidation resulting in violation of the right to dignity of human person, beating/unlawful detention of complainant, extortion of complainant, conversion of property of complainant, continued unlawful detention of complainant’s husband without charge resulting in violation of rights to personal liberty, dignity of human person, fair hearing and right to property, which occur on daily basis, have no place in modern policing. The group recommended that NHRC should assist complainants identify perpetrators among others including making DPOs responsible for violations in their police stations.
LASSA Fever epidermic, blessing to us–Rat poison sellers
The incessant outbreak of Lassa fever, which has somewhat become a recurring decimal in Nigeria, appears to have opened new vistas of business opportunities for fumigators, hawkers and other pest control providers in the country. Yet, those selling garri are complaining. But how are the caregivers and family members of the sick reacting to the epidemic? ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to find answer to this
The incidence of Lassa fever cases in Nigeria has continued to increase despite ongoing efforts by the Federal Government to control the disease. The epidemic is currently ravaging 18 states. These are the states where the virus is active: Edo, Ondo, Bauchi, Nasarawa, Ebonyi, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Imo, Plateau, Lagos, Taraba, Delta, Osun, Rivers, FCT, Gombe and Ekiti.
The magnitude of the spread has already prompted international aid efforts in containing the outbreak, though figures show cases are on the rise. Since the onset of the current outbreak, there have been 110 deaths, 78 confirmed positive, eight probable cases and 24 negative cases, while Case Fatality Rate (CFR) in confirmed and probable cases is 23.8 per cent. Between February 26 and March 4, 35 new confirmed cases were recorded in five states.
The states are Edo 19, Ondo 5, Bauchi one, Ebonyi 9, and Plateau one, with seven new deaths in confirmed cases from three other states; Ondo 2, Edo 2, and Ebonyi 3. However, from January 1, to March 4, a total of 1121 suspected cases is said to have been recorded. Of these numbers, 353 are confirmed positive, eight classified as probable, 723, negative and 37 are awaiting laboratory results. Meanwhile, two health workers were confirmed positive this week in Ebonyi State. But cumulatively, 16 healthcare workers have been affected in six states –Ebonyi 9, Nasarawa 1, Kogi one, Benue one, Ondo one and Edo 3 with four deaths in Ebonyi, 3 and Kogi one.
The predominant age-group affected is put at 21 to 40 years. And cases currently on admission at Irrua Specialist Hospital is 35, Federal Medical Centre, Owo, 18 and Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakiliki, 16. All isolation beds at the treatment facilities are occupied, according to information from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The malady, however, appears to have opened new vistas of business opportunities for some Nigerians. For instance, Badmus Ishola, residential fumigator, is delighted that the scourge has been a good thing because “I have been making enough money from my customers since its outbreak. “Unlike before, fumigators are not really known; it is like they never existed.
You would hardly see fumigators in cities like Lagos except you go to the rural a r e a s w h e r e s o m e work on the farm. But now that Lassa fever has been ravaging Nigerians, people know where they can find us. One of my customers has already introduced me to over 15 people who want their surroundings fumigated. I wouldn’t tell you how much I have been making but I am earning enough compared to old times.” For Kalu Ezenwa, a petty trader in the Abule-Oja area of Yaba, people should not wait for an outbreak of diseases like this before seeking solutions.
He asked: “Why is it that when one disease is rampant that is when people will start seeking solution? Does anyone need to inform people before they buy insecticide and rodent poison to ensure safe environment? Anyway, I wish this Lassa fever could continue till I make it big. The time is good for some of us now. We are in business and business has been good.” Yet, Ishola and Ezenwa are not the only ones counting their blessings from Lassa fever epidemic. Another rat-poison merchant at kola market in Abule-Egba, Lagos, Odewole Rasheed, said the sales of his product had increased and “I’m thankful to God for the increase.
I have also cash in on the demand to increase the retail price.” For the Managing Director, PestOFF, Lekki, Lagos, Tunde Aderinto, it is a boom time for the pest control outfit as no less than 10 companies have, since the new burst a few days back, contracted the firm to fumigate their facilities and offices. According to Aderinto, the news of the outbreak of the virus as well as the accompanying commentaries has resulted in increased business for his firm. “Before, if we submitted 20 proposals to organisations seeking to fumigate their offices, maybe only one will respond.
In fact, at a time in 2014, we offered fumigation services free just to sensitise the citizens. But in the last three weeks, more than 10 companies have sent their officials to us, requesting the fumigation of their offices and facilities. I have had to sublet some jobs to my other colleagues because I am running out of chemicals to meet people’s demands,” Aderinto said. Yet, not everyone is happy over this scourge. As deaths increased as a result of Lassa virus, medical practitioners have advised people not to smoke garri carelessly.
The warning came from the Medical and Health Workers Union, Lagos State Council, which said that it would embark on public enlightenment to discourage consumption of soaked garri for now to prevent Lassa fever. Razak Adeofalade, the chairman of the union, stated that house rats that caused Lassa fever are mostly in contact with Nigerian most popular food, garri, a cassava product. Apart from health workers, the Anambra State Government has also prohibited the drinking of garri in the state as a measure to prevent the contraction of Lassa fever.
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Joe Akabuike, announced the ban while educating residents of the state on measures to prevent the disease, which is spreading in parts of the country. He said: “The garri you see spread along the highway while you’re travelling is very risky to consume, especially when you drink it. It is better and surer consuming the ones you prepared yourself.
We are by this enlightenment prohibiting the drinking of garri in the state.
“Like any other form of disease, good hygiene practices and taking precautions over all forms of symptoms among family members and friends will go a long way to curb the spread of diseases. Hand washing remains an effective way of preventing diseases. Families as well as corporate organisations should re-adopt the use of tip taps and hand sanitisers placed in public places,” he advised.
Also, the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, has warned residents to stop drinking ‘raw garri’ as people continue to die in the state as a result of Lassa fever. “This is not the period for people to drink raw garri because you know it is not cooked and people just pour water on it and drink after rat might have urinated on it. So, people are advised as much as possible to ensure that their food is properly cooked,” the governor said.
These bans, as expected, have already been affecting the sales of the product nationwide. “I used to sell half bag of garri every week but now it’s been two weeks I have not finished selling quarter of the same bag,” said Deborah Ejike, a garri trader at the popular Mile 12 Market, Lagos. She said she was unaware that medical practitioners advised people not to smoke garri but she observed that market hasn’t been going very well for her.
A housewife, Mrs. Fatimoh Ayodele, also told Saturday Telegraph, that ever since she heard about the disease, she had been very careful and vigilant in her home.
“Now, I no longer place my spoon used in taking soup from the pot carelessly. I also cover my foodstuffs very well to avoid rats from intruding.” She, however, urged the government to do something very fast to arrest the situation.
Another resident of Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos, equally disclosed that she has a neighbour, who usually beat his son mercilessly for not covering her garri container lid properly.
She added: “As it is now, I’m even afraid to store garri in my house because we have ‘Rats Company’ in the area. I am even afraid because no one can tell if where the garri is coming from has the virus already. For the main time, I will be mindful about garri consumption because prevention, they say, is better than cure.”
However, it has not been easy for family members of the sick. One of such, who craved anonymity, said: “I smell like urine. I keep the house clean. It takes all my strength to keep house and my kid sister together. Our house is rented and my sister is dying. It’s been so difficult because it’s like dying with her. People warned me this would ruin my life. They told me they would never do it anyway. But I see it as a sacrifice to care for my sick sister in spite of the risk of contracting the virus.”
Another caregiver also told Saturday Telegraph that she does absolutely everything that she was supposed to do, professionally. She said she was beyond bored, depressed while doing her job. “I care for Lassa patients with great percussion to avoid contamination. But one tries to show love and give hope to those down with the virus, even when they are dying.
“The first thing I do when I return home from office is go straight to the bathroom to vomit from the stench of illness. Though, I am frequently commended for my marvelous sense of humor, my great love for the sick, my admirable sense of duty, my smiles. You’re so strong!” was all colleagues tell me.
It sneaked in like a thief in the night and has left in its trail deaths in some neighbourhoods, and panic in others. It has thus far dispatched hundreds including caregivers to their untimely grave. The young, not so young and the aged have all been victims of this rampaging monster. Though, it kept coming back since its first appearance in a small village of Lassa, in Borno State, Nigeria where it derives its name in 1969, yet, it threw both the health community and the general populace into quagmire.
Like the equally dreaded Ebola that distressed the country not long ago, Lassa fever or Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), an acute viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the natal multimammate mouse or rodent, the primary animal host of the Lassa virus, has rattled the health structures that were supposed to be on red alert. The sector was again caught off-guard, at least in the estimation of ordinary citizens.
This perception may be why some people have been insinuating that the health authorities’ and government’s ineptitude and unseriousness are to blame for the current epidemic. But, to some medical experts, clinically, Lassa infections are sometimes difficult to distinguish from other viral hemorrhagic fevers.
One of those with this opinion is a Professor of Public Health and Consultant Epidemiologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Adebayo Onajole, who insisted that viruses of this nature usually surfaces once in a while. He also claimed to be aware of the government surveillance system in place.
“But, the problem is that it is extremely difficult to distinguish it from other viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Marburg and from more common febrile illnesses such as malaria. Most times it comes like the normal fever and there is always a low index of suspicion and most people affected may not present clinical symptoms. Some may just have it and with related treatment, survive without presenting any serious suspicion.
“Haven said that, the government needs to do more to strengthen the health sector, particularly at the local levels as to be able to confront such malady effectively in future because they would always resurface now and again. In any case, that does not mean we have to heap the blame on government or the healthcare systems,” Onajole said.
Dr. Osahon Enabulele, a Consultant Family Physician and former President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), also toed this line of argument. He told Saturday Telegraph that he is at loss as to where people are getting their views concerning the lacklustre attitude of the health officials and government on the issue at hand.
“The much I know is that Lassa is not a new thing and the health authorities are alive to the challenge. What I think we should be talking or thinking now is how to strengthen the health systems at the local level in terms of both primary and secondary structures. This is because an aggregate of that is what healthcare is supposed to be.
“In any case, we need to continue to emphasise research into these areas, this should have been the thinking since the Ebola saga. Given the fatality rate of the current Lassa of about 50 per cent, the Federal Government should not thread blames like we are reading from the media presently. Instead, it should step up effort like it’s already doing in terms of awareness, particularly at the grassroots and like I said earlier, move to fortify the local health system.
“We should not forget that this type of health challenge will always come and there ought to be system in place to tackle such anytime there is a recurrence. We should not be reacting like we are doing now but seem to be proactive. When we do that, the rate of fatality would be minimal. Of course, from the current prevalence, nobody should be blamed for being panicky,” Enabulele said.
Yet, a gynaecologist and first vice president, Society of Gynaecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON), Dr. Olurotimi Akinola, added another angle to the issue. He said: “Nigeria is endemic to Lassa; it’s homegrown unlike Ebola which was imported and much more deadly. I don’t think there has been any year without an outbreak of Lassa in the country and so we have been having it.”
Another Consultant Psychiatrist and former Chief Medical Director, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja, Dr. Olufemi Olugbile, seemed to agree with Akinola when he said that the disease is indigenous to Nigeria. To him, what is needed now is high incidence of awareness from time to time.
“It’s basically a wake-up call for both public health practitioners and the general public, especially in the area of hygiene that we habitually neglect. I won’t admit that the current epidemic took us unawares, rather I’d commend public health sector for the speedy way they have combated it. It could have been worse but for their alertness. However, I would recommend that government should intensify the consciousness campaign against filth; it should height things that promote cleanliness. Lassa is simply an environmental problem,” Olugbile said.
Meanwhile, death toll from the disease has continued to rise. At the last count, many more deaths have been attributed to the deadly virus with over 110 deaths, and 78 persons isolated in 18 most affected states, according to health authorities. Alarmed by this, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has called on government to improve existing response mechanism to ensure rapid response in cases of disease outbreaks in the country.
President of the association, Dr. Muhammad Askira, decried the emergency response arrangement set up by the government to tackle outbreak of any epidemic of this nature. Askira said that such outbreaks do not require ad hoc arrangements or committees; rather, there should be an existing strategy to cushion the effect in any emergency or epidemic situation.
According to him, it will, in no small way, reduce the death toll arising from such cases. He also recommended well-structured strategies from the local, state and federal governments to ensure that prompt attention was given to such situations.
“There should be on ground, at any given point, well-structured strategic system, from the local to the federal governments, from the primary healthcare level to tertiary healthcare, whereby the team is already on alert for prompt and effective response to this type of epidemic. We should not wait until there is an outbreak before we start rushing to address the epidemic.
“This involves a lot of logistics, which comes from the society, healthcare providers and the government itself. It can be in the form of financing, appropriate equipment and facilities, well and adequately trained manpower to handle suspected and confirmed cases. So, whenever these are not adequate or properly applied, we have pockets and periods of epidemic of this nature,’’ he said.
First identified in 1969, the hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus can be transmitted via contact with urine, faeces and blood of a rodent, commonly known as the multimammate rat. Human to human transmission has also found to be possible. The virus is widespread in West Africa, particularly in Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
Lassa fever can be deadly if not cured during its early stage. Typical symptoms of this disease include high fever, general weakness, sore throat, cough, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Later symptoms include bleeding, rashes and swelling of the eyes and genitals. The incubation period lasts from six to 21 days, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Contamination can be prevented by, among other things, storing food in containers not accessible to rodents, disposing of garbage far from home and avoiding contact with bodily fluids of sick people. While most humans are infected either from contact with an infected rat or inhalation of air contaminated with rat excretions, like other hemorrhagic fevers, Lassa fever can be transmitted directly from one human to another.
It can be contracted through direct contact with infected human blood excretions and secretions, including through sexual contact. However, no evidence of airborne transmission from person-to-person has been identified. But, transmission through breast milk has been observed.
2.5MILLION CHILDREN RISK DEATH FROM MALNUTRITION
A lack of clean water and proper nutrition weaken immune systems and invite infectious diseases, especially in children. This often leads to threats that can last a lifetime and into the next generation. In Nigeria many under age five suffer stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, looks at undernourishment as a problem that affects more than 80 per cent of the country’s child population, in spite of huge spending, particularly in the northern part of the country
…inspite of huge funding on feeding
Two-year-old Roseline only recently began growing her first strands of hair. Her eyes twinkled and her lips curved into a grin as she toddled over and climbed onto the lap of her mother, Nwadimuya. Just three months ago, she didn’t have the energy to walk. Listless and with sunken eyes, the toddler was dehydrated and severely malnourished, recalled the mother.
The circumference of her upper arm, measured to assess the nutritional status of children, was less than 9 centimetres, about the circumference of a plastic bottle cap. At this acute stage of malnutrition, Roseline was so sick that she didn’t want to eat. Her frightened mother took her to a nearby children’s clinic in the rural Northwestern corner of the country.
A complex battery of health issues most likely contributed to the young girl’s malnutrition. She was treated for parasites and given antibiotics to help fight other possible infections. The medication soon helped sparked her appetite, and the hospital she was rushed to was well-equipped to provide her with food, especially formulated to combat her condition.
Every day, she ate packets of a special calorie-rich therapeutic food. Thanks to partnerships with the United Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the centre that has access to a peanut-based therapeutic formula for treating severely malnourished children. This is because many of such children could be reached and saved through life-saving malnutrition treatment powered by the community-based treatment of acutely malnourished children in some parts of the country. At present, over a million children have been reached with over 200,000 lives saved in recent times, according to government and UNICEF, its partner on child issues.
The special calorie-rich product quickly helped put weight onto her small frame. After just two weeks of the intensive therapy, which also included drinking a daily concoction of nutrients, Roseline was well enough to return home. Sadly, Roseline’s poor health is not an unusual story. She is just one of the dozens children who are now enjoying healthy childhood thanks to the lifesaving care provided by the Community- based Management of Acute Mal-nutrition (CMAM).
This was piloted in Gombe and Kebbi states in 2009 and has now been introduced in 11 northern Nigerian states where malnutrition poses the greatest threat. CMAM treats acutely malnourished children from six months to five years old on an out-patient basis.
This allows the centres to provide a full spectrum of care for acutely malnourished children, from treatment of underlying infections, to a balanced food regimen that allows rapid recovery. Because of this, a childlike Roseline can quickly recover from a critical state and begin living a healthy childhood in just weeks. Yet, Roseline is not alone in this pathetic state. In the northern part of the country are many of such sights. In Kano, for instance, one-year-old Aminat, who weighed a little above 6 kg and rested on a bed next to her equally malnou
rished mother, is one of such kids. The little girl and her poor family live on Warri Road, in Sabongari area of the ancient city. “You see her arms? They are almost the width of my thumb,” said Zainab,as she carried her flabby, emaciated daughter with one palm. “She is too weak.
She can’t even sit by herself,’’ the distraught mother added. Zainab is pipe-stem thin. Her rather large teeth jut from a somewhat perpetual open mouth etched on a face with skull-tight skin and buzz-cut hair. She often grits her teeth when she cries. She was naked on this day with wrinkled frame.
Her sight casts a dark shadow over a rising Nigeria, where millions of children have little to eat. She is skinny, languid and sick in this locality with its intermittent power supply. If she survives, she will grow up shorter, weaker and less smart than her better-fed peers. She weighed 5 kg, about half of what she should. She is as light as a leaf,” said her mother, who, sporadically, jabbed her rib-protruding stomach, jokingly. The sight of other women holding their severely malnourished children as they stood outside their homes is also common. Poor hygiene, little education and awareness have not helped.
Age-old customs discriminating against women such as child marriage have equally contributed, but are far harder to tackle, said experts. Like Aminat, most of the children in this bustling community are said to come from Nigeria’s poorest communities, according to indigenes, where literacy is poor and poverty high.
Their mothers are themselves often undernourished, forced into early marriage when they reach puberty, and give birth to underweight babies with weak immune systems. Many Nigerian children suffer from malnutrition, which is the single biggest contributor to child death in the country, according to UNICEF. Girls, in particular, carry the heaviest burden of malnutrition worldwide – they are twice as likely as boys to die from malnutrition, according to world health bodies. This is not surprising. In many Nigerian neighbourhoods are children whose bones are popping out of the body.
The sunken eyes, drooping faces, swollen belly, chapped lips and wrinkled skin are common place in most states of the federation. This, incidentally, is the physical description of a child, who is malnourished. Due to lack of food and insufficient health supply, many children in Nigeria suffer from this heartbreaking disease. However, states in the North-West of Nigeria are fighting to stem the scourge of malnutrition, which is said to have affected more than 1,594,462 children in the region.
UNICEF estimates that every single day, Nigeria loses about 2,300 under-fives and 145 women of childbearing age, making it the second largest contributor to the under-five deaths and maternal mortality rate in the world. It is also estimated that Nigeria has been adversely affected by Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), with the number of malnourished children put at 2,539,704.
A check revealed that the seven states in the North-West zone account for more than 75 per cent of the total severe malnutrition cases recorded in Nigeria in 2016. According to reports, the governments of Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina and Sokoto states are, nevertheless, taking measures to provide medication to affected women and children, and prevent new cases. In Kaduna, which has an estimated 263,495 cases of acutely malnourished children aged six to 59 months.
The state government and UNICEF, reports said, had injected more than N824 million since 2016 to tackle the menace. In addition, the government also made a provision of N137 million in its 2017 budget for the procurement of therapeutic food and drugs for the management of the malaise. Jane Gwani, the nutrition officer in the state ministry of health and human resources, said that strategies adopted so far were helping to reverse the situation. She said that the state had collaborated with other relevant stakeholders across communities, public and private sector, civil society, government ministries, department and agencies to ef-fectively contain the situation. She further disclosed that the state currently operates 17 CMAM centres – six in Zaria, six in Makarfi and one in Ikara Local Government Area.
“Others are one each at the Kaduna State University Teaching Hospital; General Hospital Kachia; General Hospital Kafanchan and General Hospital Birnin Gwari. “And so far, about 2, 525 malnourished children were admitted in the CMAM sites in Zaria alone, out of which 800 fully recovered, while 52 died between March and August 2016.
This is in addition to many ongoing interventions, some of which include promotion of exclusive breast feeding and proper infant and young child feeding. Others include micronutrient deficiency control support and capacity building for resource mobilisation to scale up nutrition,” Gwani added. Florence Oni, UNICEF’s Nutrition Specialist in the state, however, said there was the need to do more, given the number of children suffering from malnutrition in the state.
She noted that current high cost of food items was hampering ongoing fight against the scourge. Also, Silas Ideva, chairman of the state chapter of Civil Society Scaling-Up Nutrition in Nigeria, said governments in the zone must improve budgetary allocation for nutrition sensitive and specific interventions. He attributed the increasing rate of malnutrition in the northern part the country to ignorance, and called for massive awareness campaign on good nutrition practice in the region. In Kebbi, the government said it is working with UNICEF to provide nutrition support to the 216,795 estimated to be acutely malnourished.
This figure did not, however, include the over 500,000 children that are said to be stunted in the state. The government, it was gathered, had spent over N100 million in 2016 on the matter. According to UNICEF’s Chief Nutritionist in the state, Arjan De Gwat, the collaboration would reduce maternal and child death.
He said the joint effort was also aimed at improving the nutritional status of pregnant women and children under five years in the state. “Some 500,000 children of the 800,000 children under five years old in Kebbi are stunted – far more than the national average.
At least 90,500 children aged six to 59 months are severely malnourished and are nine times likely to die, and without treatment, an estimated 17,400 of these are likely to die,” he said. He noted that 77,000 children aged between zero to six months did not get exclusive breast feeding, which is the most cost effective intervention to prevent malnutrition and save lives.
“The records indicated that 174,000 of the 200,000 pregnant women in the state do not take iron supplements to prevent anaemia and stillbirth,” he added. He, however, said the partnership with the state had, however, helped to counsel 88,000 women on breastfeeding and family best practice. The state Nutrition Officer, Beatrice Kwere, said the ministry of health had organised sensitisation and mobilisation workshops for community and religious leaders on the importance of nutrition to mothers and children.
“We held child and maternal week to give care to newborn and women free of charge in three health facilities in every ward of the state. We want husbands to allow their wives to come and even come along with children as their health status will be checked at our various facilities in the state,” she said. Reports from Kano State also indicated that no fewer than 55,000 children were treated for acute malnutrition in 2016. The figure is far short of the 397,515 estimated to be acutely malnourished.
A Consultant Nutritionist with UNICEF, Ayodeji Osunkentan, said that the level of malnutrition in the state was being controlled with support from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation through CMAM. Also commenting, a nutritionist with the state ministry of health, Murtala Ibrahim, stressed the need for the government to focus more on bringing the problem under control.
He said that 54 per cent of child death in the state was due to malnutrition, and stressed that government must employ the services of experts to address the situation. He commended UNICEF for its intervention in the treatment of acute malnutrition in the state, disclosing that 50 intervention centres were established in six local government areas of the state through CMAM.
“The local government areas included Bichi, Kano Municipal, Madobi, Sumaila, Tsanyawa and Wudil.” In Katsina State, the government said it had treated no fewer than 245,789 malnourished children between 2010 and 2016. Yet, records from UNICEF indicated that the state had estimated acute malnutrition cases of up to 278,079 in 2016 alone. Rabiya Muhammad, the state Nutrition Officer revealed that the state government released N200 million in November 2016 for nutrition programmes.
She said that part of the money was used in conducting Maternal and Newborn Child Week, where pregnant and nursing mothers received vitamin A supplement, immunisations and other drugs for themselves and their children. The officer attributed the high rate of malnutrition cases to poverty and ignorance on the part of mothers on how to prepare nutritious diet. For Zamfara, the level of government intervention was said not to be encouraging in a state where an estimated 68,382 children and mothers have acute malnutrition in 2016.
The state Communication Officer of Save the Children, Isa Maru, though said the government agreed to provide additional funding in its 2017 budget for nutrition programmes. Maru disclosed that the state government had in September 2016 released N5 million to address malnutrition issues. He said that the programme was carried out in some communities in Gummi and Bukuyum Local Government Areas. “In addition, all the 14 local councils have been providing N1.4 million monthly for nutrition programmes in primary and secondary schools in the state.” While in Sokoto State, the estimated acute malnutrition cases in 2016 was put at 34,419.
With this figure, the state government promised it would start producing Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a nutrient used in treating malnutrition, as a way to curtailing the trend. Paul Mudzongo, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist in Sokoto, equally urged for a renewed commitment by government to curb the menace through the adoption of comprehensive, multisectoral nutrition strategies across the northern region. Details on the various intervention strategies adopted to tackle the issue in Jigawa were not immediately available, but the state is said to have an estimated 167,364 acute malnutrition cases in 2016.
In addition to the state governments’ efforts, UNICEF is also said to have spent over $10 million in Nigeria to treat acute malnutrition and others in 2017, according to one official. Aside that, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, had only recently pledged to donate $100 million to fight malnutrition in Nigeria.
The partnership between the two foundations was announced at a news conference in Nigeria’s capital Abuja not too long ago. The Aliko Dangote Foundation is the philanthropic organisation of Aliko Dangote, founder and Executive Chair-man of the Dangote Group, Africa’s largest homegrown conglomerate.
The Foundation is said to be on a mission to reduce the prevalence of undernutrition by 60 per cent in the most needy areas of Nigeria, specifically the North-East and North-West, where malnutrition has affected millions of lives and crippled the local economy. Moreover, the Health Minister, Isaac Adewole, said plans by the Federal Government and the World Bank to launch a $350 million programme to address malnutrition and stunting among 13 million children has reached advanced stage.
Adewole said that the sum of N1.2 billion was set aside for procurement of RUTF paste for treatment of SAM in the 2017 budget, but that little progress had been recorded, prompting the government’s decision to scale up services that will save the lives of millions of children. For more than a decade, hunger, undernutrition and malnutrition have plagued Nigeria, despite several humanitarian efforts from aid workers and agencies in the country.
This is likely to continue to ravage the country, according to Dr Adamu Saleh, a food nutritionist in the northern Nigeria, if the country continues to lack political will to invest in food security and rural development. Nigeria, according to statistics, has the third largest burden of malnutrition, only ahead of Niger Republic and Senegal. Although, there has been a significant improvement in recent years, but as UNICEF puts it, about 11 million children under the age of five are still stunted with more than half of children under 5 years in northern Nigeria, according to surveys.
For instance, “children from the North-West and North-East geopolitical zones are more at risk of malnutrition than children from other geopolitical zones. Underweight prevalence in those two zones is also very high. Results are similar for stunting and wasting prevalence,” the UN children’s agency said. In five states in the North – Katsina, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe, and Zamfara – 58 per cent of under-five children suffer from severe effects of malnutrition, impairing their physical and mental development. Stunting, according to UNICEF, is associated with an “underdeveloped brain, with long-lasting harmful consequences, including diminished mental ability, learning capacity and poor school performance in childhood.”
Stunted children who grow into adulthood are at risks of reduced earnings and increased risks of nutrition- related chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, the agency said. In spite of the huge spending to fight malaise, about 2.2 million out of the 2.5 million severely malnourished children in the country are said to be from Northern Nigeria, according to one official, during a two-day summit for state policy makers on financing nutrition in northern Nigeria, organised by the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning.
The official said, while 50 per cent of child mortality in the country has malnutrition as underlining cause, no fewer than 1200, out of 2600 estimated daily deaths are caused by malnourishment. The major cause of this abnormality is poverty, experts said.
They see ignorance as the fuel that ignites this scourge. But beyond poverty, they also see ignorance as playing a critical role in permeating malnutrition in the northern region. “There is a relationship between poverty and ignorance. Because a lot of the time, the information that you are able to pay for maybe more convincing than what travels around and that is why ailments such as malnutrition are more associated with the lower classes,” one expert, who craved anonymity, said.
He said this lack of information influences adults choices in selecting what food to feed their children with, based on the assumption that procuring healthy meals might be too expensive for them to afford. “Number one, the lower classes, due to, perhaps, the level of their finances, assumes that ‘oh, I cannot afford this or this kind of meal would be too expensive to be given to this child, we better spend that money on other things.”
This ignorance, he said, is dangerous because, in most cases, those healthy foods are within their environments and are not expensive at all. It helps pervade malnutrition, according to him, leaving severe impacts on children’s health. But Nigerians, as a minimum, deserve a life free from hunger, considering her resources. Unfortunately, both poverty and hunger have continued to haunt the country’s landscape. Hunger is both a cause and consequence of poverty, as people on low income tend to have worse diets, while people who lack adequate nutrition struggle harder to extricate themselves from poverty.
In addition, conflicts in the North- East have equally led to severe malnutrition crisis in Nigeria. As a significant amount of food consumed in Nigeria is produced in the northern Nigeria, conflicts and Boko Haram-related violence and large-scale displacement continue to disrupt food production in the country, “limiting income-generating activities such as agriculture, reducing household purchasing power and access to food,” said USAID. Add to this is the allegation of monumental fraud via diversion of funds meant to fight the scourge.
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