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Trovan victims: A war without end

THE Nigerian judiciary was jolted last year by a suit filed by the so-called Trovan Victims Association, TVA, represented by Mustapha Maisekeli and their lawyers against Pfizer Inc., Pfizer Specialties Limited, the Healthcare Meningitis Trust Fund, Chief Anthony Idigbe and Bode Technology Inc.

In the case, the plaintiffs accused the respondents of conspiring against them in order to shut them out of the compensation due them as contained in the out-of-court settlement agreement reached on July 30, 2009 by Pfizer Inc. and the Kano State government.

In the said agreement, a provision was made for the establishment of the Healthcare-Related Programmes Trust Fund to finance a health project chosen by Kano State up to the tune of $30 million. It also provided for the establishment of the Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund to determine the actual participants or their relatives and pay the appropriate compensation to them. Two Boards, made up of very eminent people elected by the two parties to the agreement, were appointed to administer these funds.

The Healthcare Related Programmes Trust Board had a smooth sail completing its assignment of delivering the ultra-modern Diagnostic and Disease Control Centre in record time. Obviously excited, the Kano State government has already designated the facility as the proposed School of Medical Sciences of its newly established Northwest University.

However, the Healthcare Meningitis Trust had some disruption midway in its operations.

The Trovan Victims Association, a group of people who claim to be part of the clinical trials of 1996 and led by Mustapha Maisekeli, went to court and got an injunction stopping the Board from continuing with the DNA testing it embarked upon to verify the claimants.The Meningitis Board had earlier advertised for those who participated in the 1996 study to come up for verification to determine their participation, triggering off a deluge of a total of 547 claimants when only 200 people actually participated in the clinical study. This bloated pool of claimants further necessitated the Board to resort to DNA testing to empirically determine the real participants from the impostors.

After a series of negotiations, the TVA agreed to rejoin the process and promised to abide by the findings and decisions of the Board. The Board thereafter went ahead and screened all the 547 DNA samples submitted to it by the claimants. Out of the 547 people, only 14 people passed the DNA test and qualified for compensation in line with the agreement. These are the people who received compensation ranging between $87, 500 and $175,000 each.

It is worthy to note that of all the 186 members of TVA that came for the test, only four people passed the test and were fully compensated. Even the leadership of the TVA failed the DNA test and were refused compensation. This makes the current court case in Abuja bear all the trappings of a bad-loser syndrome. The plaintiffs seem to aim at getting from the court what they failed to get from Board.

From the TVA’s Statement of Claims, it accused Pfizer Inc of teleguiding the Board, thereby depriving the Board of its independence. It also accused the Board of setting very high standards for qualification, thus reducing the chances of his members’ qualification, among others.

A novel ambition was shown in the case by the plaintiffs. They sued Pfizer’s lawyer, Chief Anthony Idigbe, for interfering “with the economic relations and interests of the plaintiffs when he wrote to the Board of Trustees asking it to wind up its operation…thereby denying the plaintiffs an opportunity of qualifying for compensation under the Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund process”, as contained in TVA’s statement of claims.

When Chief Idigbe challenged the inclusion of his name in the suit on the grounds that he was only performing his role as a counsel to Pfizer Inc and Pfizer Specialties, the plaintiffs quickly dropped his name. Also when Pfizer challenged the TVA lawyers’ conflicting roles as counsels as well as beneficiaries of the suit, they quickly dropped out of the suit.

Meanwhile, Pfizer Inc. has filed its own motions asking the court to dismiss the suit on numerous grounds, including the plaintiffs’ signed releases. According to them: “This new legal action, brought by and on behalf of parties who voluntarily dismissed their lawsuits against Pfizer with prejudice two years ago, after settling their claims on mutually agreeable terms, is completely groundless and prohibited by unconditional releases these same plaintiffs signed and delivered to Pfizer as a condition of their resolutions.”

It further informed that the TVA dismissed their lawsuits against Pfizer with prejudice and agreed to rejoin the Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund claims process being conducted by an independent Board of Trustees. The plaintiffs provided Pfizer with full and complete releases, under which they waived their rights to litigate the matter further and also agreed to be bound by the Board’s decisions on their claims.

One wonders why the same TVA, having waived its rights to litigate on the matter further, is now in court for the same case it willingly delivered its full and complete releases to Pfizer Inc. One also wonders why, having accused Pfizer and Kano State government of conspiracy to deprive them of their rights, TVA left out the Kano State government in the suit.

While I will not say the case is an abuse of court processes, as that is for the court to decide, I just hope that the TVA realises that Nigerians are getting tired of this case, which went on for years without actually going to the trial of the substantive suit and heaved a sigh of relief when an out-of-court settlement was reached by both Pfizer Inc and the Kano State government.

TVA should let things be the way they were after the settlement.

NKEM NWANDU, a public affairs analyst, wrote from  Abuja.




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