How Pfizer's Lobby Against Kano Victims Plops


Isa Muhammad Inuwa

Pfizer, a renowned American based multi-national company; popularly specializes in drugs production, supply and related pharmaceutical functions across the world. The company, while in search of an opportunity to test one of its drugs called “Trovan”, sometimes in 1996, sent a contingent of its experts to Kano to treat children, victims of Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis, using the drug on them, while using the innocent children as Guinea-pigs to test the efficiency of their drug. The experts, who came during a crisis period of an alarming pandemic, somehow sneaked their way into the I.D.H. Hospital, and posed themselves as volunteer Doctors from a foreign country, whereby they applied the medicament on test on the patients of CSM in the Hospital.

Reports indicated that the foreign Doctors, after having finished their business, just fled in a very mysterious and clandestine manner, the way they first made it into the Hospital. However, weeks after the treatment, signs of deformities and side effects of Pfizer’s medicine began to show on the over 200 treated children, with some of them becoming deaf and dumb, some had their body parts paralyzed, while others died from the effect of the Trovan drug application on them. Not quite a year latter, this apparent side effect of Trovan on the children was noted by some keen and concerned individuals, whose research also linked the side effects to Pfizer’s treatment on the children, using its Trovan drug. This group of concerned people instantly lodged a court case against Pfizer, both in Nigeria and in the U.S. The case in the United States generated a lot of heat and made a lot of screaming lead stories in the News. However, along Pfizer’s multi-front wars to quash down the case, it somehow succeeded in killing the litigation in the U.S. through a kind of lobby, and continued to battle with the Nigeria’s charge against it.

As a result of some hitches along Nigeria’s transition to civilian rule and the antecedents that accompanied it, court hearing on Pfizer had for sometime been in the lull, until during the present Democratic governance, precisely from the year 2003 to date, the case resurged to fresh currency and active litigation. The Association of Victims’ Parents of Pfizer drug in Kano, attributed this development to the intervention of the present Kano state Government into the matter. During President Obasanjo’s era from 2003 to 2007, the Pfizer Company enjoyed a lot of upper hand treatment through connivances with both the President and the Federal Ministry of Health seeking to sweep the case under the carpet. However, with the ouster of Obasanjo, the subsequent regime under Umaru Musa Yar Adua gave a new spirit and a fresh leveled ground to pursue the court case against Pfizer to its conclusive stage.

All along there had been heated legal battles between lawyers protecting both sides of the case. At one point, Lawyers standing for Kano state Government in the case requested the court to summon some Pfizer officials before the court in order for them to testify and answer some vital question in connection with the incident. But while those Pfizer staff living abroad refused to show up to testify before the court, the Kano state Judiciary went ahead to arrest some of the Pfizer staff in Lagos. This particular happening prompted Pfizer lawyers to sue Kano state lawyers for an alleged violation of judicial regulation in the form of arrest outside territory of the alleged committed crime.

Names of the seven Pfizer staff who were jointly sued as defendants in the case and invited by the court to testify before it were; Williams Steere, Samuel Ohuabuwa, A. Dogunro, Scot Hopkins, Mike Dunne, Debra Williams and Robert Buhl. Yet, among these invited suspects, only two Nigerians; Samuel Ohuabuwa and A. Dogunro, were forced to appear had before the court. In no distant time however, all the summoned suspects, including some two Kano based Medical Doctors who served as puppets for the Pfizer at the Trovan drug test, would soon appear before the court and face interrogations from the panel of the jury. The two most blame-worthy Kano based Doctors who had all along being living and functioning untouched, include a recent past Health Commissioner in the state and a head of a Federal Government Teaching Hospital. Both were recently interrogated by the State Security Service for their role in the Pfizer scandal and they were suspected to have collected some hundred thousands of Dollars as their remuneration for facilitating the Trovan Drug test, all at the peril of their kin and kith and the vulnerable children of the poor and less-to-do people.

With all these however, the Pfizer seemed to have been conscious of its implication in the case by trying to strike a bargain and make an out of court settlement with victims of the Trovan drug. But what seemed to be the bargain chip hoped by Pfizer is for it to get everything at the platter of gold by paying very negligible amount of money as compensation for the 200 victims of its drug, some of whom died from the treatment and many of whom have suffered permanent bodily damage. Some of the children that obtained deformities from Pfizer’s treatment were often taken to the premises of the court, they look apparently deaf, dumb and paralyzed at certain parts of their bodies.

The latest attempt to bury the matter by Pfizer was a negotiation arranged at London between representatives of both sides. Yet the negotiation was posed in form of a lobby sought by Pfizer from some outstanding individuals in Kano, as Pfizer sponsored the lobbyists to the London treaty, for them to intervene in favour of Pfizer, so that a very minimum amount of money would be paid by Pfizer as compensation for the victims. However, the ploy by Pfizer failed to yield the intended result, as representatives of the victims turned down the offer, which they considered as meager and vehemently protested the so called negotiation. The representatives vowed they would never concede to a situation whereby rights of weak, poor and vulnerable individuals would be violated and betrayed for nothing sake. At the end, the whole mission was a fiasco.

When juxtaposed to other forms of compensations by Pfizer at similar cases elsewhere, the Kano case could well be seen as a far cry to reaching the standards of international gauge of compensation. While Pfizer has paid up to 2 Million Dollars to each of the victims of kidney damage caused by its drugs in America, another 2 Million Dollars each to some 9 victims of kidney in Canada, and 1 Million Dollars each of some victims of drugs test by certain European groups in Libya. In another sharp contrast, London’s famous Newspaper “The Wall Street Journal” issue number A3 of Saturday/Sunday May 3 – 4, 2008, reported a similar incident titled “Pfizer settles Lawsuits Over Two Painkillers”, at which a complainant group claimed damages from Pfizer to the sum of 350 Million Dollars, which was worth 200,000 Dollars for each victim of Betrax and 400,000 Dollars each for victims of Celebrax medicaments. Yet, here is Pfizer is bent on haggling to settle its Kano victims for the peanut fee of 100,000 Dollars per victim only.

One salient fact is that there is totally no iota of possibility for the plaintiffs to accept and get settled for such a meager amount and even anything closer to that. With the 12 good years dogged fight put by both the plaintiffs and their sympathy groups and of recent, the Kano state Government, all this cumulative effort would never go vain gloriously, without yielding the expected and recommended compensation, based on the world scale of measurement and the gravity of the crime against humanity committed by Pfizer against its Kano victims in 1996. Definitely, both the backing authorities in form of Kano state Government would never relent on their oars towards ensuring a justified and commensurate compensation being paid to the Pfizer victims.

Now, the inescapable fact remains that as Pfizer’s ploy and lobby chip finally plopped as it has been happen in similar several attempts in the past, the multi-national drug firm is enmeshed in a quagmire that lacks any escape route, but to face the reality and come to terms with rationale of paying the real and acceptable amount of money as compensation to its teeming 200 Kano victims, or else the crusade against the giant permacheutical firm would loom further to assume multi-faceted fronts and forms unimaginable in the future. All we wait to see is for justice to prevail and for the truth to be given a chance to take its due and inevitable sway in the whole matter.

ISA MUHAMMAD INUWA is Kano based Journalist and reports for Radio DW-Bonn, Germany. P.O. Box 4534. E-Mail: