ollowing the recent relaxation of the Coronavirus pandemic safety measures by the Nigerian government, this reporter was on the lookout for vaccination centres on the streets of Lagos, to, at least, know the status of the centres and what has become of them should there be another wave or new infection outbreaks.
But apart from seeing poorly managed facilities, the reporter also encountered brisk businesses by unscrupulous officials who have been feeding fat from the pandemic that once put the whole world on its toes.
One of such corrupt officials is Solomon Oriere, a male nurse attached to the National Primary Health Care Development Agency’s (NPHCDA) accredited vaccination centre located in the premises of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.
It is not known whether he is employed by LASUTH or the Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board (LSPHCB). But as he is popularly called at the health facility, Mr Solomon is a go-to man for anyone in need of either COVID-19 test results or vaccination cards.
“You do not need to come here, all that I need from anyone in need of result or card is just the money paid into my account, and they will be provided,” Mr Solomon boasted, adding that, “In fact, we use courier services to deliver to those outside the state without seeing them.”
He also offered a 12.5 per cent discount for referrals on testing, saying the reporter could pocket N5,000 on each person recommended.
“For either the card or test result, just send me name, phone number, date of birth, email address and home address of whoever may need it and I will backdate it because, normally if you want to take it, it takes like eight months, for the first dose, second dose and booster doses.
“Before you can take booster alone, it takes six months, the first and second takes a month plus each, that is about seven and eight months,” he added.
Vaccination card obtained without jab
he quarantine holding bay near LASUTH’s main gate may have been temporarily converted to a clinic for diabetes patients following the significant decline in COVID-19 cases, but within it are officials who make brisk business from the pandemic that once caused the world complete lockdown.
These agents are taking advantage of unsuspecting residents who walk in for vaccination which is meant to be free.
Near the bay is a makeshift office which might have served as the registration point for newly admitted COVID-19 patients at the height of the pandemic. It is the place where Mr Solomon now operates and conducts his businesses.
A young woman in mufty, whose identity could not be ascertained, was the first to engage the reporter on the processes to obtain vaccination cards without taking the jabs and the prices for the different services.
“Sister, the procedure is that if you want to take the vaccine, you will need to register online and choose a preferred vaccination centre. But if you can pay N25,000 for vaccination cards or N40,000 for test results, we can supply them to you without the protocol,” the young woman said.
While the conversation with the woman was ongoing, Mr Solomon entered and invited the reporter to a “safe” corner where he restated the prices and offered further explanations.
And without fear of any consequence, Mr Solomon provided his Access Bank details with the name; Oriere Solomon Ahunsimhenre, and account number; 0055229357.
As someone who did not prepare for such payment, the reporter promised to return some other day to pay as required.
On 28 December when the reporter returned to the facility and paid N25,000 cash, the process was seamless, giving a strong indication that it is a normal business at the centre, as neither Mr Solomon nor her assistant showed any sign of excitement or worry.
Registered as Arowolo Ifeoluwa, Mr Solomon issued the reporter a COVID-19 vaccination card with VAC ID: NG-KA56555956RD, stating that the first and second jab of AstraZeneca Vaxzevria were taken on 17 January, 2022 and 22 March, 2022 respectively. The batch number of the vaccine was given as 4121z257.
According to the card issued, the third dose, otherwise known as booster dose, was given as BioNTech Pfizer and that it was administered on 23 September, 2022 with batch number fm7378.
Mr Solomon claimed the reporter took the vaccine at Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area of the state, instead of LASUTH where he works, and uploaded these details on the NPHCDA vaccination site.
Asked about the implication of the local government area claimed, Mr Solomon said: “It doesn’t matter and no one will ask of it. I wanted to use Alimosho LGA before but anyone is fine.”
When the reporter confirmed the authenticity of the card on the NPHCDA website, the details were displayed on the e-certificate.
Mr Solomon, who smiled at the reporter’s curiosity, boasted that he was one of those health workers earlier deployed to isolation centres in the state when the pandemic broke out in 2020.
While attending to the reporter, Mr Solomon was also busy taking samples for other in-patients as he frequented the wards.
What Solomon’s action means for vaccination in Nigeria
ince the first case of COVID-19 infections was confirmed in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital city, in February 2020, the state has remained the nation’s epicentre of the virus with a consistent surge in infections, accounting for about 40 per cent of the total infections recorded in the country.
As of 1 January, data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) shows that Lagos State tops the COVID-19 infection chart with 104,219 confirmed cases of the total 266,450 cases recorded across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Lagos has also recorded 771 of the total 3,155 deaths reported in Nigeria.
As the state with the highest COVID-19 infections and fatalities, the latest data from the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) shows that Lagos State is performing poorly on the vaccination ranking and is far from vaccinating 50 per cent of its targeted population.
While the Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board (LSPHCB) believes the state has and is still doing everything to ensure residents get vaccinated, PREMIUM TIMES found that the activities of unscrupulous agents like Mr Solomon has discouraged many people from getting vaccinated or being tested when they notice certain symptoms.
According to Tundun Oluwatoyin, a computer operator in Ogba area of Lagos, many young men and women who used her computer centre to process their travelling documents in 2022 opted to purchase the vaccination cards rathern than being vaccinated.
“They are many and I was surprised when they said like Yellow Card required for travellers to Southern African countries from Nigeria, the COVID-19 vaccination cards are also available for sale,” she said.
Also, the vaccinators also discourage residents from taking the vaccines, scaring them with what they described as the ugly reactions the jabs may trigger in individuals.
For instance, Mr Solomon told this reporter that even though he works at the vaccination centre, he could only cope with the first dose, and that he has refused to take the second and the booster doses because of the way his body reacted.
This was a gimmick to discourage the reporter from being vaccinated so that the money required for the cards without the jabs could be paid.
Poor practices at other centres
visit to other vaccination centres in Lagos shows that the number of people going to get the vaccine has reduced significantly.
At Orile Agege Primary Health Centre, one of the vaccination sites listed under the Agege Local Government Area, the medical attendant who clearly stated vaccination is free told this reporter as of 1 p.m on 19 December that the centre had closed for the day.
A woman with no smartphone, who identified herself simply as Mrs Abiodun, was discouraged when she was told to find someone to register her details on the vaccination site and that she should return the next day.
“I do not have a phone to register and I have not done it before. So I dont think I will come back ’cause I live quite far from here,” she told this reporter.
Unlike in LASUTH, the hospital seems to be transparent with its operation. The PHC attendant who said he was unsure whether the COVID-19 test comes with a fee told this reporter that the PHC only gives vaccination between 9 a.m and 12noon.
Meanwhile, a private vaccination centre at Lagoon hospital may have taken a break from the COVID-19 vaccination.
One of the nurses said the hospital “only conducts vaccination when the government sends the list of those who registered online and make the hospital their vaccination centre”.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), the vaccination attendants were said to have gone on a medical outreach when this reporter visted and there was no one in sight as the centre was rough and dirty.
NPHCDA condemns fraud
hen confronted with the findings in this investigation, the Executive Director of the NPHCDA, Faisal Shuaib, described the sale of vaccination cards and test results as fraudulent.
“What is happening in that facility is fraudulent and the offender and the clique working with him/her should have been reported, arrested and handed over to the security agencies,” Mr Shuaib wrote in an email response to our enquiries.
He also provided explanation of how the fraudulent officials could have put such fake vaccination details in the NPHCDA database.
“The COVID-19 vaccination team members have been given login access to the server, so that they can legitimately register persons/clients that have reported at the health facility or vaccination site (fixed or outreach) for the COVID-19 vaccination and have been vaccinated. This is not just for data monitoring and recording, but it is also to ensure that Nigerians who have been vaccinated can show proof of their vaccination no matter where they are in the World.
“You will agree with me, that this process made international travel seamless for Nigerians who travel as just by scanning their vaccination cards at the immigration border of the country they would like to visit, their vaccination record was seen.
“There will always be people who would want to beat the system. We have been working with security agencies to try and catch state and LGA health officials who are involved in fraudulent activities.”
Mr Shuaib said some of the people involved in the fraudulent practice have been caught.
“We have caught a few and they have been handed over to the authorities. We have even announced in the National media some of the cases caught. We encourage Nigerians to always report vaccination team members that are involved in the act of collecting money to issue cards without the actual vaccination, as this is an offence.”
Lagos primary healthcare board reacts
eanwhile, the Permanent Secretary of the Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board (LSPHCB), Ibrahim Mustafa, said the state does not take corrupt practices lightly.
He said: “We got a few people through the taskforce, which has a clear guideline on how to deal with them. If you get caught, you retire to the court immediately but initially, most of these things don’t happen in Lagos but in other states.
“I’m not saying it didn’t happen but the few we got were ad-hoc staff who were stopped from working immediately.
“The problem is people also don’t help. They come to report after they have collected money from them and then refused to mention the names of the corrupt officials, saying they don’t want to spoil someone’s career,” he added.
Vaccination in Lagos
s of 31 December 2022, NPHCDA data shows that Nigeria has fully vaccinated 63.3 million of the total eligible persons amounting to 56.6 per cent of the country’s targeted population while 12.2 million are said to have been partially vaccinated nationwide.
The data shows that Lagos State has only fully vaccinated a total of 1.9 million of its estimated 17 million population.
NPHCDA’s last summary on COVID-19 vaccination performance in all states in Nigeria puts Lagos at 28th with 23 per cent and five per cent of its targeted population estimated to have been fully and partially vaccinated respectively.
The data shows five states: Jigawa, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Osun and Kano are leading on the chart.
The breakdown shows that the Northwestern states of Kano, Kaduna and Jigawa have fully vaccinated about 7.7 million, 6.3 million and 5 million respectively, while Osun State in the South-west and Nasarawa in the North-central have fully vaccinated 3.4 million and 2.1 million residents respectively.
Vaccination campaign in Lagos
peaking further, Mr Mustapha said NPHCDA in 2021 gave Lagos a vaccination target of four million, and the state then scaled up its vaccination campaign.
“We set that target for ourselves. Around that time we also started private vaccination, because of how overwhelming the sites were.
“The state was sceptical to include the private health centres because they dont want a situation where people have to pay to get vaccinated and the mandate of NPHCDA is that vaccine is free,” he said.
On the issue of Lagos’s performance on the NPHCDA ranking, he said the percentage for Lagos can’t be compared to other states.
“Lagos is the most populated in the country. For instance, what is 20 per cent in Lagos, may be 100 per cent elsewhere. Two million out of a target of 20 million will still be 10 per cent. If Bayelsa State vaccinates such it could be 50 per cent for them. In terms of absolute figure, Lagos was doing more than any other state,” he claimed.
He added that to reach more people, the state deployed officials who started moving from house to house to get Lagos residents vaccinated in 2022.
“When we started, we recorded a high number of people vaccinated,” he said. “Before that, the state had mass vaccination sites situated around religious houses, marketplaces, campuses, bus stops.”
“Having discovered that taking it to the people will improve the number of people getting vaccinated, we initiated what NPHCDA call Scales 3.0 which was meant to start in September 2022.
“Lagos could not start 3.0 in September because of some technical and financial issues which we needed to sort out with NPHCDA to ensure we don’t owe the ad hoc staff,” he said.
He further noted that it was difficult to deploy more staff who could administer the COVID-19 vaccination and pointed out that Lagos could not deploy most of its medical staff to fast-track the Scales 3.0 campaign in order not to abandon other serious illnesses and immunisation.
“We don’t have many people to deploy the vaccination, we have staff but we can’t because of only covid move our staff where there are other serious things to attend to like diarrhoea immunisation, we were not compelled to move people to the field, so what we normally do is to use ad-hoc staff.
“We have gotten some but we are still short of the numbers we need to fast-track the campaign. If it is about taking tablets, drugs, we can easily use people that are not trained, but to give injections, it has many implications,” he added.
(The production of this story is supported by the Centre for Democracy and Development).
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