The Much Ado About Pfizer Compensation: Nigerian Politics

13 December 2010

By Saka Raji Audu

Pfizer is a New York-based pharmaceutical company and it is the world's largest drug maker. In April 1996, Pfizer Incorporation conducted an illegal Trovan clinical trial at the Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH), Kano during Meningitis outbreak. The conduct of the drug experiment involving mainly children is said to have led to some death, blindness, paralysis and brain-damage. Initially, the Pfizer claimed that the illness was caused by the Meningitis.  


After series of failed efforts to make Pfizer own up by accepting responsibility of the problem, the present state government led by Malam (Dr) Ibrahim Shekarau took the bull by the horn to ensure that justice is not only done but seen to be done. Thus, at the end of the day, light came through the dark tunnel as the Pfizer Company finally agreed to pay the sum of $75 million compensation being the resultant effect of its action.


It is understood that part of the negotiations was that two Boards of Trustees (BOT) be put in place with Pfizer and Kano State Government representatives as members. The break down of the Pfizer compensation is as follows: Pfizer victims ($35 million), Kano state Government ($30 million) and the legal team ($10 million). It should be recalled that the victims' Association took the Board of Trustees on victims compensation to a Federal High Court in Abuja and secure an interim injunction, restraining the BOT from releasing the result of DNA test conducted on the victims by Pfizer as part of the condition set by Pfizer for the payment of compensation to each victim.


It is also very clear that the government has no influence or control over the court process and that, the BOT on compensation of victims has distinguished jurists; Alpha Belgrore and Bashir Abubakar Wali as members who are highly respected Supreme Court Judges, the former being a former Chief Justice of the federation, noting that these jurists are people who no person would expect to disobey legitimately obtained Court restriction orders.  In the nutshell and except where contrary but clearly established fact is provided against the above claim, it means that the delay in the payment of the victim's compensation of $35 million is caused by its representative who had gone to court to stop the disbursement of the money and not a deliberate action of the Kano State Government as some politically induced persons would like to portray.


To any discerning mind, there is no way a government that has pulled out its machinery to ensure that those who were wronged in the Pfizer matter are compensated could turn round to frustrate it, else, it would amount to cutting one's nose to smash one's face, especially when the hard part of negotiations has already been completed by the government as a fair mediator.

In this case, why any one should think that a government that has so much concern for the Pfizer victims and has done so much in the struggle of the Pfizer matter could be accused of delaying the victims' right of compensation, knowing full well that justice delayed is justice denied.  Incidentally, it was reported in the Sunday Trust in May last year that during the sixth anniversary administration of Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, the "Governor raised alarm in an interview marking his sixth anniversary as Kano governor that "a group of unpatriotic persons" were planning to scuttle his government's effort in the settlement of Pfizer victims."

If not because of some element of avaricious greed on the side of whoever had gone to court to stop the disbursement of the Pfizer victims' share of compensation, the issue would have been settled long time ago. The painful truth is that as the court matter lasts, the victims continue to suffer. Instead of those who went to court to frustrate the disbursement to blame their  action on themselves and withdraw the matter from court or expedite quick dispensation of justice in the interest of Pfizer victims, they allowed their personal interest to take precedence over and above  the genuine beneficiary of the Pfizer victims' compensation.

Ironically, the same group of people who had gone to court to delay the Pfizer victims' compensation want to cash on public ignorance through deliberate award of penalty at the goal post of the government, knowing full well that there was no foul play from the government side. This perhaps accounted for the various accusations now being championed certain politically motivated fifth columnists to dray the name of the government led by Malam Ibrahim Shekarau in the mud.

For instance, on 5th December 2010, the Weekly Trust had its major story about the delay in the disbursement of the victims' compensation. Thereafter, a participatory cartoon followed. Still, on 7th December, a front page headline attributing the delay to Kano State Government was published, all in the same Media Trust titles.  While this consistent wrong accusation was going on, no one ever asked or try to point out reason why the representative of the Pfizer victims had to embark on court to stop the disbursement of the compensation to the victims, on whose side they claim they are fighting for.

As I have always portrayed in my writings, every one has every right to express his or her opinion but such opinion should be backed by element of fact. Making reference to reason behind the delay of the Pfizer victims' compensation, the Sunday Trust came up with report in May last year titled, "Dispute over Sharing formula: Pfizer victims ask US court to halt $75 million settlement". In this report, it disclosed that " According to the vice-chairman of the Kano Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) 1996 Trovan Victims Forum (TVF), Malam Zubairu Shaba, the formula agreed upon earlier on between the victims and the lawyers was that the victims' lawyers are to be given 33 percent of the total compensation, 5 percent for those who initiated the fight and the remaining 65 percent will go to the victims." If this sharing formula had taken place, who would have initiated the building of Pfizer N3.8 billion now making waves in Kano if one may ask.

The report went to say that "Shaba, who is now being accused in Kano as one of the persons behind the move to scuttle the settlement efforts, told Sunday Trust that it was not fair for the state government to sideline the real victims' lawyers and those who initiated the fight for the victims." If the issue is not dispensed off in the court, how does someone want the State Government led by Malam (Dr) Ibrahim Shekarau to authorise the payment of compensation that has gone beyond her power.  First, the government did not go to court to stop the disbursement and secondly, as mediator in the whole Pfizer saga, the government could not have unilaterally gone to court to withdraw the court case, which it is not a privy to. The simple solution would have been for those who went to court to stop the disbursement for whatever reason to withdraw the matter from the court in order to completely avoid the delay that they have been shouting about. This, I believe is better than any one to play politics in a matter that requires urgent attention and sympathy.   

Above all, we must give kudos to the Kano state government under the able and dedicated leadership of Malam (Dr) Ibrahim Shekarau for his spirited effort to see that justice is done in the Pfizer issue that culminated in the final settlement of the case and securing N3.8 billion hospital for Kano. No matter how the fifth columnists would like to address the issue, the fact is that Shekarau's government has really left an indelible mark in the sand of time. And with the truth now before us, it is hoped that the representatives of the Pfizer victims will now do the needful to avoid further delay on the disbursement of the real Pfizer victims. They know the right thing to do and they must not shy away from it in place of shadow chasing and conniving with kleptomania reporters to deceive the unsuspecting public. Enough should be enough.

Saka Raji Audu writes from Kano and can be reached on his email:



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