Academics, Epidemics and Politics: a book by Idris Mohammed


There are several reasons why this blog has been a bit slow over the past 2 weeks. One of of them is that I have been deeply engrossed in the most significant book in contemporary times written on health and health care in Nigeria as titled above. If you are reading this blog…you must read this book. My attention was initially drawn to this book when it was mentioned in an editorial in the Thisday newspaper and I mentioned it in a previous blog. All my attempts at getting hold of the book via etc failed as it was not listed.

In Nigeria, despite the evolving renaissance of reading spurred by the run away successof new Nigerian writers as Chimamnda Adichie, Sefi Atta, Ike Oguine etc, bookshops are still rare, and Nigerian books in bookshops are even rarer. Well, I decided to start my search for this book in the most obvious of places for the new Nigerian elite…in The Palms; our new state-of-the-art mall in Lagos…our pride and joy 🙂. I was not disappointed. There lay the book I had spent a year trying to get hold of.

I started in tears and ended in tears.

You MUST read this book, whether you are interested in health or not. When there is a plane crash, we are beside ourselves with emotion (rightly so!). Millions are released to the Fani Kayodes and the Borishades to fix our airports (and we can see what happens then). However when planeloads of children die every week from vaccine preventable diseases no one else is dieing from, no one bats an eye lid. Not even you!

The author, Professor Idris Mohammed had served his country as an academic; a Professor of Medicine and Immunology as well as the Chief Medical Officer of the College of Medicine of the University of Maiduguri. One of the first 2 Nigerians to obtain a doctorate degree in immunology and in whose laboratory, the first case of HIV/AIDS was identified in Nigeria in 1986.

He served his country in operational public health roles as the leader of the task force for the control of the outbreak of cerebrospinal meningitis when the infamous “Trovan” experiment by Pfizer took place, as the Chairman of the board of the National Programme on Immunisation when the national coverage for childhood immunisation fell to 13% (no..this is not a typo!) and the Chairman of the committee that investigated claims of cure for HIV/AIDS including that of our esteemed colleague Dr. Abalaka.

The good professor has been right in the mix…and he spills it all…in all its often gory detail.

The only question on my mind was why was this book not on everybody’s lips? His story begins in Tafawa Balewa Square at the handover of our country from our colonial masters and runs through the next for and half decades. Prof Mohammed has been intricately involved in most of significant public health events of our time and does not hold back in describing these. He uses appendixes of original documents to back up his presentation of events to back up his assertions.

One except here:

At the close of the meeting Mr President (Obasanjo) grabbed my hand and took me to a place I had only seen before on television…asking” Professor, what is going on at NPI?” I said noting despite the question being put to me repeatedly. “…” “if you are not going to tell me, I will tell you. I am told that you are not being allowed to apply your professional experience to move immunisation forward, so coverage has remained low; there is no due process in financial transactions at NPI; contracts are awarded without tenders. I understand that a particular individual has been using my name to get you to award contarcst to them, their friends and

Over the next week….I will pick out a few excepts for the 2 most important events from the book…the Trovan Case…and the NPI story. Nigerians need to hear from Professor Idris Mohammed how the health of its children has been managed.

If you are not emotionally strong, do not read this bookelse buy the book

….it I published by Bookcraft ( Contacts of the publishers are,

23 Adebajo Street, Kongi Layout. Ibadan, NIGERIA.+234 2 8103238; +234 2 7517153, +234 803 3447889; +234 8037220773

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion5 Comments

  1. Thanks for starting this blogspot Chikwe and Co. I am accessing it from Washington DC where, needless to say, I am attending with some Nigerians – some as students, and others as naturalized US citizens/Americans, even though that heavy accent and pidgin simply wont shift!!!

    Got to go now… will be in touch after I’ve read this properly,

    all the best.


  2. Quite an interesting book indeed. Bought it on a trip to Ibadan at some bookshop in Jericho (i actually stopped to buy a birthday card when i saw the book!).
    Very informative albeit often times controversial.
    If you are not familiar with the ego profile of most Nigerian academics, you will make the monumental error of judgement in believing everything that is written in this book. I can tell you that it’s a safer bet to seek other points of view on many of the subjects discussed especially when the emotional state of the author tends to cloud his judgement. There is too much sense of infallibility in the author’s views and there is too much anger flowing through the writing. Those two conditions in my opinion damage the overall value of the book.
    Useful read, but far from gospel!

  3. Thank you Chikwe. But sentiments will not get us anywhere. I have been following the cases in court with regards to the Trovan Trials. Do you know that our government officials actually approved the trials? Yes! At both the federal and state levels!! Do you know that NAFDAC was informed and gave a go ahead? This is all bullshit – the court cases I mean. I am waiting for the day Dr Idris Mohammed will come to court to testify. He will be confronted with his lies.
    As a pharmacologist, I know that it would have been near impossible for foreigners to come here to do drug trials without the say-so of our government. Somebody, give me a break! I am a Northerner, although I take exception to the way our leaders use our people to make money. All the religious noise about polio vaccine is all too recent. Now polio is killing our people in droves while the children of the elite who are already immunised are unaffected. Those campaigning that the polio vaccine was a Western attempt to depopulate the North have suddenly gone silent. This year alone, meningitis has killed thousands in the north. Was Pfizer there this year too? Our governments have failed and our leaders as typified by Idris Mohammed are mere hypocrites.
    I have started reading his book. I shall return after I have gone though each and every page. Those of us who are determined to change the backward face of the north will not allow hypocritical government officials to get away with their mass deceit. See you all soon.

  4. Thank you, Yau. I am glad that we northerners are waking up to our responsibility in view of the mass deception of our so-called leaders.
    I find Governor Shekarau quite level-headed. What I resent is some smart do-gooder lawyers trying to use our people’s misery to make money from big corporations. I wish it was true that Pfizer did not get any form of authorisation before embarking on their trials. By now, they would have seen pepper – as we say in local parlance. But the people were permitted by our own people. I think what is happening is a standard occurence – people follow convenience or the exigencies of the moment and would deny their very names if things turn round. Yau, I cannot agree more with your comments on polio and meningitis. Go to Saudi Arabia which is hotter than Kano and see how the Saudis take care of their people, immunise them against these same diseases, and generally prepare them to cope with life. Let’s copy the positive things we can from our religion and our brothers in other parts of the world. Governor Shekarau is right to want to settle out of court. He has rightly said it is not a matter of just collecting money. That posture is noble.

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