Some Nigerian health workers collect bribes and issue COVID-19 cards to individuals without administering the vaccine, investigations by the Media Advocacy West Africa Foundation (MAWA-Foundation) have shown.
MAFA is a nonprofit organisation based in Abuja, Nigerian capital city, which was founded in 2016.
In an undercover investigation that started last year, covering three states, Plateau, Ebonyi, Gombe, and Abuja, MAFA Foundation uncovered how the Nigerian health workers comprised professional standards and ethics and have adopted an unprofessional attitude driven by corruption that is putting many lives at risk.
In the practice that is common among the states investigated, health workers collect bribes and issue COVID-19 certification cards without administering the vaccine; an action that seems the worse form of professional misconduct.
This is even as the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act, a legislation that regulates health practitioners in Nigeria, mandates them to safeguard the public at all times, and ensure professional misconduct, incompetent or unethical practice are not allowed or condoned.
To get hold of admissible evidence of how health workers carry out these corrupt practices, the MAWA Foundation, undertook undercover investigations in the states below.
The MAWA Foundation officials in efforts to find out how health workers in Plateau State are collecting bribes and issuing COVID-19 certification cards without administering the vaccine, visited Jos the Plateau State capital, and spent a number of days.
During our stay, we visited some of the Primary Health Care Centres, pretending to be in the need of the COVID-19 certification cards. We approached health workers who demanded money from us to get the cards without administering the vaccine.
We bargained with a health worker at Kuru II Primary Health Care Centre in Kushe ward, who charged us N25, 000.00 for two vaccination cards; an amount that was paid into a First Bank account belonging to one of the health workers.
Two weeks after the payment was made, two COVID-19 vaccine certification cards were issued to MAWA officials without any of us being vaccinated.
The act was carefully carried out by the health workers to ensure there is no trace of fraud anywhere. Perfecting the act, the health workers, ensure our data was carefully uploaded on the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) COVID-19 vaccination platform, while we received SMS from the agency showing that we have been administered the vaccine.
At the Primary Health Care Centre located in Rayfield area of Jos, a health worker charged us N40, 000 for a single COVID-19 vaccination card without administering the vaccine, an amount we refused to pay.
A senior health official at the Rayfield PHC in interaction with MAWA officials denied any issuance of COVID-19 cards without administering the vaccine. She, however, admitted to having heard some PHCs issuing cards without administering the vaccine but said that does not happen in her hospital.
At a Primary Healthcare Centre located at the Gura Topp area of Jos South, a senior health official who spoke to MAWA confirmed the issuance of the COVID-19 certification card without administering the vaccine but said that happens in other hospitals that is not theirs.
The health worker, however, blamed the practice on the contradictory and diverse narratives that have made it impossible for people to have trust in the vaccine and appealed to the government to put in place an effective communication strategy that will lead to proper education and awareness on the safety of the vaccine. And, in that way, many will take the vaccine.
When MAWA sought the explanation of Mr. Livinus Miankwap, the Executive Secretary, Plateau State Primary Health Care, he said they had received a report of such practice in Jos North, but did not have enough evidence to punish the offenders.
MAWA Foundation officials in efforts to uncover the COVID-19 vaccination card racketeering taking place in Ebonyi State, visited Abakaliki, the state capital where we spent days investigating the practice.
During our stay in Ebonyi, we visited Mile Four Hospital, Alex Ekwem Teaching Hospital, and Maternal and Child Health Hospital. Investigating how the health workers are issuing COVID-19 certification cards without administering the vaccine, we went undercover, pretended to be in need of the COVID-19 certification card.
Because, in our first day at Abakiliki, we had focused group discussion with the locals, comprising members of civil society, the media, and community influencers, we understood that it is difficult to get any of the health workers to admit such a practice exist.
To penetrate the health workers and get them to issue us a COVID-19 certification card without administering the vaccine, we made use of the locals who presented us to them as people who are genuinely in need of the COVID vaccine certification card.
The health workers after a series of negotiations admitted to issuing the card to us at the cost of N3, 000 an amount we paid into a Fidelity Bank account belonging to one of the health workers.
Perfecting the act, we waited for three weeks and three days before a COVID-19 vaccine certification card was prepared at the Amagun MDG Primary Health Care Centre located at the Ezza South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State was delivered to us.
A delay the health workers said they were making sure the card went through all the required processes to make it authentic devoid of any suspicion that it is fake. Unfortunately, they were taking their time to issue a fake card in a highly compromised way and abuse medical practitioner ethics and profession.
One of the health workers told MAWA team that individuals who desperately need the COVID-19 vaccine certification card, especially those traveling abroad are made to pay N2, 000 for the card without vaccination.
Community residents who spoke to MAWA, said residents do not want the vaccine administered to them because they do not believe COVID-19 exists, they believe the virus is ordinary malaria that does not require any special measure to cure.
“The suffering we are going through in Ebonyi is more than COVID-19, why are they not bothered about how they will give us food, why are they putting efforts to kill us using a fake vaccine in collaboration with the white” Mr. Okechi, one of the residents told us.
When we reached out to Mr. Ebenyi Hycinth, Director-Ebonyi State Primary Health Care, for an official response, he denied knowledge of the practice, but, however, said if at all that happens, the people perpetrating the act aren’t health workers, but those impersonating and parading themselves as health workers.
The incidents in Gombe state are not different from what is obtainable in other states we visited. Health workers in the state were caught issuing the COVID-19 vaccine certification cards without vaccination.
MAWA officials spend days at Gombe investigating how health workers collect money and issue vaccine certification cards without vaccination. The cards are issued to individuals depending on your bargaining power and who is helping you to negotiate.
Using undercover, we fronted the locals who helped us to negotiate with the health worker to issue us vaccine certification cards without being vaccinated.
A deal the health workers agreed and charged us N20, 000 for two cards, at the price of N10, 000 each. An amount that was paid into a First Bank account belonging to one of the health workers.
Two weeks after we paid money to the health workers, a COVID-19 vaccine certification cards prepared at Pobawure Primary Health Care Centre, located at Billiri Local Government Area was delivered to us without any form of vaccine administered.
When MAWA Foundation contacted Gombe State Primary Health Care Development Agency, a senior official of the agency who did not want his name mentioned, said he has no authority to speak on the issue.
This is even as some of the locals who spoke to MAWA, said they prefer to pay money and collect the card and not take the vaccine.
They accused the government of conniving with European countries to kill and reduce their population using the vaccine and vowed never to be vaccinated.
Abuja, the Nigerian capital city that ought to observe the strict adherence to COVID-19 vaccination rules, has since been caught in act of violating the rules, with the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHCDA) officials collecting bribes and issuing COVID-19 vaccine certification cards without vaccination.
In the deal, NPHCDA officials collect amounts ranging from N5, 000 and above to issue vaccine certification cards without vaccination.
MAWA Foundation went undercover at the Gwagwa area of Abuja in one of the vaccination centres in a pretense that we are in a dire need of the card to travel abroad.
NPHCDA official who is in charge of the vaccination, after a series of negotiations, charge us N5, 000 as a fee for a COVID-19 vaccination card without administering the vaccine. An amount that was paid into an Access Bank account he provided.
Shortly after the money was paid, we got a text message from the NPHCDA showing we have been enrolled in the vaccine.
The NPHCDA official perfected the act in such a way that it appears genuine, but in a real sense, it is a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.
Perfecting the deal, all information is uploaded to the NPHCDA platform and a text message sent to a telephone number provided by the card bearer, while an ample of the vaccine used for the fake COVID-19 vaccination card is broken and discarded into the dustbin as having been used and a record of it taken.
Some of the locals who said they got their COVID-19 vaccination card after paying money, accused NPHCDA officials of using the vaccine as an avenue to make money at the detriment of public health and safety.
When MAWA Foundation contacted the NPHCDA for an official response, a senior official of the agency who did not want his name mentioned, said they are aware some people are getting the COVID-19 certification card without vaccination, pointing out that they have put taskforce in place to monitor the malpractice, but, said it is unfortunate the practice still happens despite all training and warnings given to the officials.
This practice is worrisome because, as of January 26, 2022, the NPHCDA on its website, said a total number of 14,389,796 persons have taken the 1st dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 5,312,081 persons taken the 2nd dose.
Good as these figures seem, our investigations have shown that they are not accurate as a good number of persons with COVID-19 vaccine certification cards were not vaccinated.
The state must rise against this ugly practice, as it is a public health issue that puts everybody at risk. We cannot afford to sacrifice public health to corruption which is defiling many efforts made towards addressing Nigeria’s health system.
This report was supported by African Investigative Journalism Conference, Gates Foundation, and Henry Nxumalo Foundation.