The Media Advocacy West Africa Foundation (MAWA-Foundation) has uncovered how Nigerian health workers collect bribes and issue COVID-19 cards to individuals without administering the vaccine.
MAWA in undercover investigations that started last year, covering three states, Plateau, Ebonyi, Gombe, and Abuja the Nigerian capital city, has uncovered how Nigerian health workers compromise professional standards and ethics and are putting many lives at risk. The Medical and Dental Practitioners Act that regulates health practitioners in Nigeria mandates medics to safeguard the public at all times. The Act ensures that professional misconduct, incompetent or unethical practice are not allowed or condoned. In the states investigated by MAWA, health workers collect bribes and issue COVID-19 certification cards without administering the vaccine.
The MAWA Foundation officials visited Jos the Plateau State capital where they spent a number of days. They visited some of the Primary Health Care Centres, pretending to be in need of COVID-19 certification cards. Health workers demanded money from them to get the cards without administering the vaccine.
‘’We bargained with a health worker at Kuru II Primary Health Care Centre in Kushe ward, who charged us N25, 000.00 for two vaccination cards. An amount that was paid into a First Bank account belonging to one of the health workers. Two weeks after the payment was made, two COVID-19 vaccine certification cards were issued to MAWA officials without any of us being vaccinated,’’ one MAWA official reports.
The act was carefully carried out by the health workers to ensure there was no trace of fraud anywhere. The health workers ensured that our data was carefully uploaded on the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) COVID-19 vaccination platform. We accordingly received SMS from the agency showing that we had been vaccinated.
At the Primary Health Care Centre located in Rayfield area of Jos, a health worker charged them N40, 000 for a single COVID-19 vaccination card without administering the vaccine, an amount the officials refused to pay. A senior health official at the Rayfield PHC in interaction with MAWA officials denied any issuance of COVID-19 cards without administering the vaccine. She, however, admitted to having heard some PHCs issuing cards without administering the vaccine but said that such a practice was not happening in her hospital.
At a Primary Healthcare Centre located at the Gura Topp area of Jos South, a senior health official who spoke to MAWA confirmed the issuance of the COVID-19 certification card without administering the vaccine but said that this happened in other hospitals, not theirs. The health worker, however, blamed the practice on the contradictory and diverse narratives that have made it impossible for people to have trust in the vaccine and appealed to the government to put in place an effective communication strategy that would lead to proper education and awareness on the safety of the vaccine. In that way, many will take the vaccine.
When MAWA sought the explanation of Mr. Livinus Miankwap, the Executive Secretary, Plateau State Primary Health Care, he said they had received a report of such practice in Jos North, but did not have enough evidence to punish the offenders.
MAWA Foundation officials visited Abakaliki, the state capital. They visited Mile Four Hospital, Alex Ekwem Teaching Hospital, and Maternal and Child Health Hospital, pretending to be in need of the COVID-19 certification card. In a focus group discussion at Abakiliki with the locals, comprising members of civil society, the media, and community influencers, it was difficult to get any of the health workers to admit such a practice exists.
To penetrate the health workers and get them to issue us a COVID-19 certification card without administering the vaccine, MAWA officials made use of the locals who presented them as people who were genuinely in need of the COVID vaccine certification card. The health workers after a series of negotiations admitted to issuing the cards to MAWA officials at the cost of N3, 000 an amount that was paid into a Fidelity Bank account belonging to one of the health workers.
Perfecting the act, MAWA officials waited for three weeks and three days before a COVID-19 vaccine certification card was prepared at the Amagun MDG Primary Health Care Centre located at the Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State was delivered to them. Health workers said the delay was to ensure that the card went through all the required processes to make it authentic devoid of any suspicion that it was fake. Unfortunately, they were taking their time to issue a fake card in a highly compromised way and abuse medical practitioner ethics and profession.
One of the health workers told MAWA team that individuals who desperately needed the COVID-19 vaccine certification card, especially those traveling abroad had to part with N2, 000 for the card without vaccination.
Community residents who spoke to MAWA, said residents did not want the vaccine administered to them because they did not believe COVID-19 exists, and that the virus was ordinary malaria that did not require any special measure to cure.
“The suffering we are going through in Ebonyi is more than COVID-19, why are they not bothered about how they will give us food, why are they putting efforts to kill us using a fake vaccine in collaboration with the whites?” Mr. Okechi, one of the residents asked.
When Mr. Ebenyi Hycinth, Director-Ebonyi State Primary Health Care, was asked for an official response, he denied knowledge of the practice, but, however, said that if at all that happened, the people perpetrating the act were not health workers, but impersonators.
The incidents in Gombe state were not different from the other states MAWA officials ahd visited. MAWA officials spent days at Gombe investigating how health workers collect money and issue vaccine certification cards without vaccination. The cards were issued to individuals depending on their bargaining power and who was helping them to negotiate.
In Gombe, MAWA officials were charged N20, 000 for two cards, at the price of N10, 000 each. The amount was paid into a First Bank account belonging to one of the health workers. Two weeks after the money was paid, COVID-19 vaccine certification cards prepared at Pobawure Primary Health Care Centre, located at Billiri Local Government Area were availed without any form of vaccine administered.
When MAWA Foundation contacted Gombe State Primary Health Care Development Agency, a senior official of the agency who did not want his name mentioned, said he had no authority to speak on the issue.
Some of the locals who spoke to MAWA said that they preferred to pay money and collect the card and not take the vaccine. They accused the government of conniving with European countries to kill and reduce their population using the vaccine and vowed never to be vaccinated.
Abuja, the Nigerian capital city was caught in the act of violating the rules, with the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHCDA) officials collecting bribes and issuing COVID-19 vaccine certification cards without vaccination. In the deal, NPHCDA officials collect amounts ranging from N5, 000 and above to issue vaccine certification cards without vaccination.
MAWA Foundation went undercover at the Gwagwa area of Abuja in one of the vaccination centres pretending they were in dire need of the card to travel abroad. An NPHCDA official who is in charge of the vaccination, after a series of negotiations, charge them N5, 000 as a fee for a COVID-19 vaccination card without administering the vaccine. The amount was paid into an Access Bank account he provided. Shortly after the money was paid, MAWA officials got a text message from the NPHCDA showing they had received the jab. The NPHCDA official perfected the act in such a way that it appeared genuine. All information was uploaded on the NPHCDA platform and a text message sent to a telephone number provided by the card bearer, while an ampule of the vaccine used for the fake COVID-19 vaccination card was broken and discarded into the dustbin as having been used and a record of it taken.
Some of the locals who said they got their COVID-19 vaccination card after paying money, accused NPHCDA officials of using the vaccine as an avenue to make money at the detriment of public health and safety.
When MAWA Foundation contacted the NPHCDA for an official response, a senior official of the agency who did not want his name mentioned, said he was aware of some people getting the COVID-19 certification card without vaccination and had put a taskforce in place to monitor the malpractice. He said is was unfortunate the practice still happens despite all training and warnings given to the officials.
This practice is worrisome because, as of January 26, 2022, the NPHCDA on its website, said a total number of 14,389,796 persons had taken the 1st dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 5,312,081 persons had taken the 2nd dose. Good as these figures seem, investigations show that they are not accurate.
The state must rise against this ugly practice, as it is a public health issue that puts everybody at risk.
By Liberty Oseni
Media Advocacy West Africa Foundation (MAWA - Foundation)
This report was supported by the African Investigative Journalism Conference, Gates Foundation, and the Henry Nxumalo Foundation.