[LAGOS/ABUJA] Nigeria has health ministers after a gap of nearly nine months during which a major fraud case has been running against top-ranking officials.
The health ministry has been without direction since March 2008, when both minister Adenike Grange and minister of state Gabriel Aduku resigned after SciDev.Net revealed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was investigating widespread corruption claims (see Nigerian health ministry dogged by fund misuse claims).
A dozen staff — including both ministers, nine top ministry officials and Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health — are nowon trial fighting 56 counts of fraud.
Administration director H. B. Oyedepo, one of the accused, has testified in court that both civil servants and elected officials signed an agreement to divide unspent funds from the previous year's budget, totalling 300 million Nigerian naira or US$ 2.5 million, as an unauthorised bonus.
The trial is one of many headaches facing the new minister of health Babatunde Osotimehin and his new minister of state, Aliyu Idi Hong, who were appointed this month (17 December) and are expected to be in office until the next elections scheduled for May 2011.
Nigeria was criticised last month at the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health in Mali for not investing in health research (see Key African countries 'not keeping health research promises').
Osotimehin, who is a former director general of Nigeria's National Agency for the Control of HIV/AIDS, told SciDev.Net that ''research for evidence based healthcare is a key priority''.
The minister has called for better coordination of donors' contributions, community health insurance, increasing the rollout of antiretroviral drugs to fight the spread of HIV and a greater emphasis on routine immunisation, particularly for polio.
"We have to improve the capacity of the ministry to deliver quality service to the Nigerian people. That capacity is not limited to physical access but includes competence through training and financing,'' Osotimehin told SciDev.Net.
Diran Onifade, vice-president of the World Federation of Science Journalists, said Osotimehin was an academic who provided ''a good example of a scientist that engages with the public. He is not afraid to communicate and is a good role model for other laboratory scientists and professionals in the health sector".
Former chemistry lecturer and university administrator Alhassan Bako Zaku has been upgraded from minister of state to full minister in the Nigerian Department of Science and Technology.
The permanent secretary for the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology is former civil engineer Raymond Nwobodo Okenwa.
Former science and technology minister Grace Ekpiwhre has left the science and technology ministry, after an editorial in The Nigerian Tribune on 18 December suggested that she ''has been away from the planet'' for claiming that the country's science education standards have not fallen recently.