Despite a drastic reduction in the number of the world’s leprosy patients, from 5.2 million in 1985 to a mere 189,000 by 2012, Nigeria has been losing the battle to contain the disease. EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE reports on last week’s intervention by federal lawmakers and the bribe-for-defection allegation in the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives last Tuesday raised the alarm over the outbreak of leprosy in Nigeria which last year recorded 3,805 infections according to the Leprosy Mission in Nigeria.
The new alarm ranks Nigeria among 16 endemic countries in the world recording more than 1,000 new cases annually, a development federal lawmakers blame on Nigeria’s dysfunctional health care delivery system.
To this end, the House called on the country’s health ministry to set up treatment centres across the six geo-political zones to ensure early detection and treatment in a bid to check the resurgence of leprosy infection. The House Committees on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (lead) and Health were detailed to ensure compliance and report to the House in three weeks.
These were fallouts of a motion on urgent national importance moved by Hon. Patrick Ikhariale (PDP/Edo) on the leprosy outbreak in Nigeria.
“Leprosy, a forgotten issue is staging a comeback… a high level of neglect has taken place in the health sector… we must take every step and commit our resources to ensure that the health of Nigerians is not at risk,” Ikhariale said in his lead debate.
Despite a drastic reduction in the number of the world’s leprosy patients, from 5.2 million in 1985 to a mere 189,000 by 2012, Nigeria has been losing the battle to contain the disease.
The Leprosy Mission Nigeria, the Nigerian affiliate of an international organisation serving the needs of people living with leprosy, raised the alarm in the run-up to the January 26 World Leprosy Day that the incidence of leprosy infection was on the rise again in the country. According to the TLMN, while there were 3,500 new cases in 2012, the number increased to 3,805 last year.
Before the recent resurgence, leprosy had been eliminated from 119 out of 122 countries where it was considered a health problem in 1985.
Nigeria now joins countries such as Angola, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, South Sudan, and Congo Democratic Republic that still boast of a high level of prevalence.
Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease (HD), is a chronic infection caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. The disease which is associated with severe disability and social stigma, affects the skin, peripheral nerves outside the brain, the spinal cord and the upper respiratory tract. The eye is also a target. The main symptoms include the appearance of disfiguring skin sores, lumps and bumps that last for weeks or months. Nerve damage results in loss of feelings in the arms and legs as well as the weakening of muscles. Ultimately, the patient ends up with major disabilities.
Irked by an allegation by the spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lai Mohammed, that House members were offered “millions of dollars” in bribes by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to defect from the APC, the House opened an investigation into the matter to ascertain the truth or otherwise in the claim.
Relying on the bribe-for-defection story published by LEADERSHIP on Wednesday, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (Rivers/PDP) who rose on a motion to protest breach of his privilege argued that the allegation is against the integrity and image of the lawmakers before the electorates.
His argument was greeted with responses from both parties involved in the allegation with lawmakers from the PDP shouting, “they (APC) should provide proof, they must prove it!”.
Chinda said the APC spokesman should be asked to substantiate his claim. “Let us not take this as if it is a political issue. It has to do with our integrity and image before the electorate. What we should do is get to the root of this matter so that the truth will be known”, he said, adding; “clearly, the originator of this communication is known. Mr Lai Mohammed, the fact that your name is Lai does not mean you should act like your name”, he concluded.
House Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal referred the matter to the House Ethics committee after the request was put to voice vote and approved by the legislators. The committee has two weeks to report back to the House.
In separate reactions, the House Deputy Leader, Leo Ogor in a fiery response tagged the APC bribery allegation as “unfortunate” and “absolute nonsense”.
APC in a statement said the PDP promises $2 million to each senator who returns to the PDP; $1 million to each member of the House of Representatives, and $10 million to each “leader” who abandons the APC for PDP. It said the price tag for the federal lawmakers from Rivers State is even higher, at $5 million each.
Briefing newsmen last Wednesday, Ogor (Delta/PDP) again dared APC to back up their allegations with proof. He accused APC of double standards and “grandstanding”, a situation he said distracted lawmakers from their core legislative mandates.
Ogor said: “First and foremost it is very alien that today APC is crying wolf. When 37 members of the House defected to the APC, are they saying that they were bribed? It is very unfortunate that APC today is singing a different tone. They are now finding themselves where they actually belong.
“Secondly, I think it is important that this their so- called political grandstanding is taken outside the National Assembly. They are not helping the electorate. The electorate elected members of the House to come here and represent them. And when they came, they swore to an oath of allegiance. Their oath of allegiance is to defend the constitution and serve the Nigerian people, not serving political interest of some political parties.
He added: “The talk of people being influenced is absolute nonsense. Nobody in his rightful mind will want to make such comment. There was nothing of that nature. Let him or her who alleges prove. You know that he that allege is saddled with the responsibility of proof. The question I ask is that the other people that defected from PDP which are still subject matter before competent court of jurisdiction; are they saying they were also bribed?
“Or is it because the reverse is the case that they are now crying? They were the ones celebrating and busy trying to take over the House. I tell you one thing knowing the person of President Goodluck Jonathan, he won’t give you a dime for anything, I can swear on that. He believes in transparency, due process and respect for the Rule of Law.
“Those that are defecting from APC have realised that if the stay in APC, they won’t win election and every politician who wants to be relevant must win election. Those allegations are totally unfounded, nobody can substantiate them. At the moment, they are more like people losing a battle, they are drowning in the middle of a ocean.
The PDP continued to consolidate on its prior members majority status in the House as it last Tuesday opened a 10-margin gap over its closest challenger, APC. The gale of defections continued with five more lawmakers defecting from the APC to the PDP, swelling the latter’s ranks to 178.
APC gained one with the defection of a prior PDP member to its fold. The defectors (APC-PDP) as announced by the House Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal are: Hons. Lawan Shehu-Bichi (Kano); Abdulsalam Adamu (Kano); Sani Umar (Zamfara); Ibrahim Shehu Gusau (Zamfara) and Umar Bature (Sokoto).
Hon. Isa Mohammed Ashiru (Kaduna) was the sole defector from PDP to APC, in effect leaving the latter with 168 members.