President Goodluck Jonathan has just named Maurice Iwu, the notorious former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as a member of a committee charged with shaping Nigeria’s response to the widening scare of the deadly Ebola virus that has so far claimed more than 700 lives since its latest outbreak. The virus had claimed its largest tolls in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, with a few cases in Ghana and one confirmed death in Nigeria.
Mr. Iwu’s appointment to the committee comes shortly after the controversial former electoral umpire claimed that he had made a breakthrough in the treatment of the virus, using an extract found in kola nuts. The claims by Mr. Iwu, an erstwhile professor of pharmacognosy—a branch of pharmacology that deals with medicinal substances in plants—have found no collaboration in the scientific community.
In fact, Mr. Iwu first stated in the 1990s that he had collaborated with other scientists to discover a cure for the Ebola virus that then ravaged the Congo. Despite garnering more than $2 million in research funds, Mr. Iwu and his research team were not able to develop any drug to fight the debilitating and incurable disease.
A few days ago, SaharaReporters published a detailed expose of Mr. Iwu’s discredited claims as well as a series of financial shenanigans that compelled US banks to take him to court.
Other members of the Ebola committee appointed by President Jonathan are S.K. Gamaliel, a professor and director-general of the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development, and Innocent Uja, a professor and director-general of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research.
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the committee was expected to carry out research into the treatment of the Ebola virus; receive and verify claims relating to the treatment of the disease; collate and analyze related research findings, and advise the government on policy for combating the dreadful disease.
“The group does not have a limit to its work,” Mr. Chukwu said. “The members will continue to work until there is [a] result.”
On rumors in some quarters that bitter kola has the potency to cure Ebola, the minister said, “There is no proof of any such fruit known to cure Ebola. There is no scientific evidence that if you eat bitter kola, it will prevent Ebola.
“However, in vitro research showed that some extracts from bitter kola tend to have some activity against the virus. The research was not concluded. I want to restate that taking bitter kola does not stop Ebola Virus Disease.”
The Ebola committee’s broad mandate means that Mr. Iwu would be part of a group that may be vetting his own uncompleted research work and unverified claims.
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