Whose Interest Are You Protecting? Open Letter To Alhaji Mustapha Maisikeli And His Trovan Victims Forum

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Dear Alhaji Mustapha,

We are a civil society organisation dedicated to advocating for better approaches to delivering development to the poor and underprivileged in the community. We hold that the process for delivering development to people is as important as the content of such development.

We believe that all victims of the Trovan trial conducted by Pfizer in Kano in 1996 deserve full compensation for the tragic turn of the exercise and we are pleased that Pfizer took the path of honour in agreeing to offer such compensation and that an independent board had been jointly constituted by both Pfizer and the Kano State Government to oversee the process.

However, we are alarmed at the snail speed of the administration of this compensation thus far.

If the justice intended by the settlement terms between the government of Kano State and Pfizer is delayed, then it is as well being denied. That is an irrefutable axiom.

As an organisation that is committed to assisting people break out from cycles of deprivation and ill health, we hereby affirm our more than passing interest in the resolution of this unwholesome state of affairs. In furtherance of this, we would like to constructively engage you and TVF on how to resolve the impasse. We would normally join in a bandwagon of any organisation that sets out to represent the wider interests of the downtrodden. However, based on our analysis of the issues surrounding the implementation of the compensation package, we are constrained to call into question your conduct on the saga and to raise questions about the interests that you are pursuing.

We are concerned about your tendency to frustrate efforts to pay compensation to the six members of TVF who passed the DNA test. Indeed, we feel quite uncomfortable with your seeming stranglehold on other members of TVF, to the extent that no other members of the group are able to raise his or her individual voice. While your antecedents are well known as a former reporter with NTA, your TVF looks like a phantom organisation designed to do the will of one man and his sidekicks. You are taking undue advantage of the fact that most of the people affected are largely illiterate.

We frown at the prospects of anyone trying to amass personal fortunes from the misfortunes of others. We are in possession of copies of reports in at least two leading Nigerian newspapers and internet blog sites—Pyramid, Fresh Facts and Pharma Monitor—which cast aspersions on your position.

While purporting to be the leader of the Trovan Victims Forum (TVF), we feel that you have, in fact, been a cog in the wheel of speedy administration of compensation to the real victims of the trial for the following reasons:

We have established that of the tests conducted on 192 claimants under the aegis of TVF, only six of them passed the DNA test. Do you not personally feel scandalised by the revelation that in actual fact, the 186 TVF members so disqualified had made false claims that they participated in the 1996 Trovan trail in Kano? We are further aware and this is patently damaging to your claim of selfless representation of the interest of the underprivileged, that your claim that two of your daughters were affected by the 1996 trial has been debunked by the outcome of the DNA test.

Is it true, as alleged in the media, that you have collected $5,000 on behalf of each of the 192 claimants under the umbrella of TVF before agreeing to go along with the DNA process? Before that, there had been allegations that you collected some money from the Shekarau government on behalf of TVF members only to short-pay the affected people. Each time allegations were made or your underhand dealings exposed, you often resort to name-calling instead of addressing the real issues.

To help Maisikeli, make a response to this poser, he might also like to know that the reports alluded to the use of persons originally born with deformities—and totally unrelated to the Trovan trial—to seek compensation. Indeed, the following persons were cited among those recruited by you to make false claims: Auwalu Magaji, Lantana Magaji and Yusuf Ibrahim.

We are at pains to understand why you have been hot and cold over the use of DNA for the determination of claims. We are aware that parties to the dispute agreed in July 2009 to this method, considering that 547 persons had come forward, whereas the study covered only 200 people. On the one hand, you submitted to this method, as evidenced by the 192-person list of claimants submitted by TVF. However, when, as has been established, your “candidates” failed the test, you turned round to try to discredit the method all over again. Such prevarication is unbecoming of one who claims to be representing selfless interests.

Having received such compensations, you led your TVF members to rejoin the DNA testing programme managed by the trustees of the Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund, an independent body made up of some of the most respectable Nigerians. We are also constrained to question your propriety of ending your legal action only after TVF reached an agreement with Pfizer in February of 2011 after it received about N163.2 million (US$960,000) on behalf of the your 192 TVF members, in addition to other compensations.

You are probably calculating that since a new government has come on the saddle, you can confuse Governor Kwankwaso with your antics. I think the experienced engineer and administrator who calls the shots in Kano Government House is wiser than to be a tool in the hands of your ilk.

On behalf of the authentic victims of the Trovan Trial, we insist that you stop being a stumbling block to the payment of compensation to deserving claimants. Your present attitude is giving Nigeria a bad name. Enough is enough!

•Tajudeen A. Mohammed is the Zonal Coordinator (North West), Improved Action for Community Transformation (ImpACT), Tudun Wada, Kaduna; e-mail: [email protected]