Police in northern Nigeria have arrested and charged three radio journalists for allegedly sparking the killings of at least nine women gunned down while trying to administer polio vaccines.
Police claimed on-air comments on Wazobia FM about a vaccination campaign in the area inflamed the region and caused the attacks.
Last Friday in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north, gunmen attacked women preparing to give the oral-drop vaccines to children, killing at least nine people, police said. Witnesses later said they saw at least 12 dead.
No group has claimed responsibility, though suspicion immediately fell on the Islamic militant sect known as Boko Haram, which is waging a guerrilla war across northern Nigeria.
A few days before the attack, Wazobia FM aired a programme in which presenters talked about how one of the station’s journalists had been attacked by local officials and had his equipment confiscated after encountering a man who refused to allow his children to be vaccinated. Those on the programme apparently discussed the fears people have about the vaccine, which then spread through the city.
Initially, police said the journalists would face charges of culpable homicide over the polio workers’ deaths. Those charges can carry the death penalty.
However, at a hearing yesterday, prosecutors brought lesser charges that included conspiracy, inciting a disturbance and obstruction of a public servant.
There have long been suspicions about the polio vaccine in Nigeria, with people believing the drops would sterilise young girls. Today, it is one of only three countries where polio remains endemic, the others being Afghanistan and Pakistan.