By Ibrahim Shuaibu and Patrick Ugeh
Gunmen Friday morning shot dead nine female health workers during a routine polio immunization exercise at Filin Kashu and Shargalle Health Centre (in Hayen Hotoro) both in Kano metropolis in two separate attacks.
The gunmen who came in a tricycle shot dead three women at Filin Kashu and injured three others, while another set of gunmen also attacked Shargalle Health Centre and killed seven women.
The attack has drawn strong condemnations from across the country. "On behalf of himself and the federal government, President Jonathan extends commiserations to the families of the victims and the government and people of the state," a statement issued by the president's spokesperson, Dr Reuben Abati, said.
He assured the bereaved families that the loss of their loved ones will not be in vain as the Federal Government will ensure that the mission to totally eradicate polio from Nigeria in which they were engaged is carried out to a very successful conclusion.
"While the government will continue to do everything possible to track down and apprehend agents of terrorism in the country, the President has directed that enhanced security measures be put in place immediately for health workers in high-risk areas," the statement read.
Eyewitnesses revealed that a portion of the Shargalle Health Centre was also set on fire in an attempt by the gunmen to destroy the building.
There was pandemonium as residents of the two affected areas ran for their safety during the attacks, while others remained indoors to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
The Kano State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Abubakar Labaran, confirmed the attacks and casualties.
Dr. Labaran said, "already those killed and injured have been taken to hospital; it’s so sad that the female health workers were killed by the unknown gunmen."
The spokesman of the state police command, Assistant Superintendent of police (ASP) Musa Magaji Majia also confirmed the killings. He said: "This morning around 9.00am, unknown gunmen attacked some female health workers; there were two separate attacks and nine women were killed.
"Two women were shot dead at Filin Kashu and seven women at Shargalle Health Centre and the gunmen fled before the arrival of the Joint Security Task Force personnel."
Majia added that no arrest had so far been made but that security agents have cordoned off the areas with a view to securing the crime scene for proper investigation and possible arrest.
A day earlier, a guest on a local radio station had condemned the immunization exercise as a Western campaign with ulterior motives. His criticism had outraged the state government and the state's deputy governor went on the same station to denounce the statement.
The recent criticism of the polio immunization programme evokes memories of negative sentiments across Nigeria's northern states some few years back which greatly undermined progress towards eradicating polio. Nigeria is one of few countries where the wild polio virus is still endemic.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has also condemned the killing. The speaker in a statement issued on his behalf by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Imam Imam, described the attack as "barbaric and inhuman", adding that the killings were obviously "meant to instil fear among residents with a view to stopping the immunisation exercise".
The Nigerian Medical Association also condemned the attack, describing it as "cruel murder".
The attack on the health workers comes barely three weeks after the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, narrowly escaped death when suspected terrorists attacked his convoy in the city.
The Emir’s driver, two palace guards and an official of Kumbotso Local Government, in the convoy were killed during the attack while several others were injured.
Bayero, one of the most revered traditional rulers in the country, was unhurt.