BY AYOOLA OLAOUWA
Billionaire philanthropist, Mr Bill Gates, has become the ‘poster boy’ for conspiracy theories and falsehoods that have trailed the Coronavirus pandemic, no thanks to his selfless efforts at combating global poverty and improving the wellbeing of poor citizens.
The world second richest man, with a net worth of $102bn as at April 2020, according to Forbes, and his wife, Belinda, have donated more than $50 billion through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which primarily works to combat global poverty, and their efforts have saved millions of lives.
According to a report posted on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Friday, the foundation has contributed substantially to the development and delivery of vaccines around the world.
These vaccines, argued the Chief Medical Director of Fountain Medicals in Ikeja, Lagos, Dr Gbemisola Bhadmus, prevent potential life-threatening diseases such as measles, tuberculosis, meningitis and polio, which would be the opposite of population reduction being adduced by conspiracy theorists.
The billionaire has suddenly become a villain overnight, crucified and vilified each day by self-proclaimed ‘right to life” and religious activists, as well as conspiracy theorists. Hardly will a day pass without a new video or text message emerge, linking him to a plot to depopulate the world through coronavirus.
The theorists selectively and inaccurately tie together quotes from Bill Gates’s speeches, his connections with pro-birth control personalities such as Jeffrey Epstein and Bill Clinton, accusing them of engineering the pandemic and using it for profit and control population growth.
Some of the accusations in the videos and messages and shared through the social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp, include: ‘Bill Gates wants to depopulate the world’; ‘Gates invented COVID-19 because he has the patent for its vaccine’; Bill Gates is an anti-Christ, his motive is to plant chips in people to be able to monitor them’; ‘Bill Gates wants to wipe out the black race with a vaccine’, as well as many other conspiracy theories they could come up with.
His offence: Trying to warn the world of a looming health crisis and also been at the forefront of finding a cure and vaccine for Covid19.
According to BusinessHallmark findings, Bill Gates, as far back as 2010, had warned about the lack of preparation and systems in place to deal with infectious diseases’ threats that could lead to a pandemic. He had argued that infectious diseases are deadlier than nuclear attacks.
With the outbreak of Coronavirus just a decade later, the seer is in trouble for prophesying the coming of the disease, despite several scientific and intelligence findings that the Covid19 is not man-made, but evolved naturally from the strain of coronavirus which was first documented in 1965.
BH checks revealed that the deliberate polarisation of the American political landscape by President Donald Trump further fuelled the attacks on Bill Gates, particularly among hardcore white supporters of the president, conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccination activists.
According to a 17 April article in the New York Times seen by BH, the first mention of a baseless conspiracy connecting Gates to Covid19 was on January 21 when a YouTube personality linked to QAnon suggested on Twitter that the billionaire had foreknowledge of the pandemic.
According to the allegation on Twitter, a British group funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pirbright Institute, has already obtained the patient for Covid19 vaccine. The New York Times article, however, debunked the claim, arguing that the patent was not for Covid-19, but connected to a potential vaccine for another strain of coronavirus that affects poultry.
According to the authors of the article in the New York Times who had been tracking disinformation and conspiracy theories involving Gates “From February to April, conspiracy theories involving Mr Gates and the virus were mentioned 1.2 million times on social media and television broadcasts.
“By April, false Gates conspiracy theories peaked at 18,000 mentions a day”, the article stated.
Bill Gates also courted trouble for continuing to fund the World Health Organization (WHO), despite President Trump’s decision to suspend America’s dues, constituting almost half of the budget of the global health body.
“While the disinformation war against Bill Gates rages in America and Europe, globalization made it possible for it to gain ground to in Africa. A South African cable television network, News24, aired a news report on 4 April 2020 in which it reported that the billionaire philanthropist wanted to test a coronavirus vaccine in Sub-Saharan Africa. News24 however, recanted three days later, apologising for the news it described as fake.
Meanwhile, the damage had already been done, particularly in Nigeria, where the space is fertile for the spread of fake news.
Checks by our Correspondent revealed that many Nigerians, even the educated, academics, lawyers, media practitioners and right activists have jumped on the bandwagon by spreading the anti-Gates propaganda in the social and online media.
The conspiracy theorists argue that coronavirus pandemic was created for a vaccine from which Gates will subsequently profit.
“Several people don’t know that Bill and Melinda Gates are the largest donors to WHO. Why are they doing this if not for their ulterior motives? Are they the only billionaires in the world? And why the emphasis on diseases and vaccines?”, demanded Dennis Agoben, a staff of a federal government media agency in Lagos.
The two arms of the National Assembly, the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, inadvertently, worsened the already bad situation with their poor handling of the controversial Health Emergency Bill sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi, who represents Enugu North and doubles as Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Disease.
Many Nigerians, particularly critics are bothered about a provision in the bill which gives the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) the power to compulsorily vaccinate all Nigerians during the outbreak of a disease.
Despite the intense criticisms that trailed its introduction in the House of Reps, the two arms of the assembly decided to proceed with the bill by holding closed-door sessions on it. The massive outcry from Nigerians who alleged ulterior motive by the lawmakers prompted them to jettison the closed-door sessions arrangement.
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) took up the gauntlet by warning the National Assembly against imposing a vaccination law on Nigerians. Its Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, alleged that the lawmakers have been bought over by foreign interests to use their people as guinea pigs.
“We have watched with utmost dismay the speed with which the lawmakers are working on a bill to use Nigerians as guinea pigs for the forced testing of coronavirus vaccines and endanger the lives of over 200 million citizens.
“If the lawmakers want to truly justify the bribe they have taken from foreign producers of COVID-19 vaccines, they should make a law that will provide for compulsory vaccination of all the legislators in the country as a way of proving their patriotism to the Nigerian federation. Let them volunteer to be the guinea pigs.
“It is even more shocking that the Nigerian legislators have not thought of a law to force electricity distribution companies in the country to compulsorily install prepaid meters in households across the country but can force citizens to be vaccinated.
However, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, dismissed concerns that foreign interests prompted the proposed control of infectious diseases bill.
The speaker said it was unfortunate that the proposed legislation was being touted as a sinister attempt to turn Nigerians into guinea pigs for medical research or strip them of their fundamental human rights.
“None of these allegations is true. Unfortunately, we now live in a time when conspiracy theories have gained such currency that genuine endeavours in the public interest can quickly become mischaracterised and misconstrued to raise the spectre of sinister intent and ominous possibility.
“In the recent uproar, certain fundamental truths have been lost and are worth remembering. Our current framework for the prevention and management of infectious diseases is obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.
“The current law severely constrains the ability of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to take proactive action to prevent the entry into Nigeria of infectious diseases and the management of public health emergencies when they occur. Even now, the government remains vulnerable to claims that some directives already being implemented to manage the present crisis do not have the backing of the law and therefore cannot withstand judicial scrutiny,” he said.
He assured that the House of Representatives will never take any action that will harm Nigerians at home or abroad.
Responding to an email enquiry from BH, the Chief Executive Officer of Melinda Gates Foundation, Mark Suzman said it was distressing that there are people spreading misinformation about the Foundation when everyone should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.
“No, Bill Gates did not engineer the COVID-19 pandemic”, Suzmad declared.