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Published On: Fri, Oct 31st, 2014

Polio Eradication: The Roles of Ulamas

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Allah says:

“And when I am ill, it is He who cures Me [ash-Shu’ara’i: 80]

This article is a formal commemoration of the International Polio today by all Muslim Religious Leaders in Nigeria who have contributed in one way or the other in the war against polio virus. The main objective is to tell the worldtheir apprehensions andrejection at the onset of the war, and their recantation, subsequent acceptance, support and commitmentsin its eternaleradicationfrom Nigeria.

By Husain Zakariyya Yawale

The initial apprehension demonstrated by the Ulamas towards polio vaccines was not only necessary then, but was also timely in defense of their followership from the West for free despite what they consider as riskier! They were right because both the home government and the international donor organizations did not involve them in the project nor sensitize them on both safety and efficacy of the vaccinations. This panic was compounded by the agents of anti-polio vaccinations and politicians of the day.The government forgot that the Ulamas have very strong influence and impact on both the spiritual and temporal lives of the masses than anybody around. They are their closest guardians, councilors and spiritual frontrunners. The masses consult them on almost every aspects of their private and public lives for guidance and prayers.

Indeed,Nigeria was one of the most entrenched reservoirs of wild poliovirus in the world. It was the only country with ongoing transmission of all three serotypes: wild poliovirus type 1, wild poliovirus type 3, and circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2. Northern states of the country were then the main source of poliomyelitis threatening theneighbouring countries.

As a result of that, the federal government declared a state of emergency on polio eradication in the country in 2012. The then Minister of State for Health, Dr. Muhammad Pate constituted a Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication on the instance of the federal government to tackle the menace of the deadly virus; the poliomyelitis especially in northern Nigeria. The same mistake was repeated; the omission of the Ulamas’ representation in the task force! Thus, nothing remarkable was changed from the anti-polio vaccine attitude of repulsion and revulsion of the outspokenclerics.

The situation became more appalling to the pro-polio vaccination with the political meddling into national health issues most especially in Kano State. The federal government and international donor organizations faced their most ardent challenges ever! The publics became more terrified than ever with anything to do with polio. They were fed with dreadful and fearful information that are in the real world unsubstantiated and unproven scientifically, and untrue islamically.

However, the tide was to completely change by the timely intervention of one woman by the name Dr. MairoMandara of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with his Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, AlhajiSa’adAbubakar II when she invitedsome prominent Muslim Religious leaders of the major Islamic sects and organizations to attend a Global Vaccine Summit and an interactive session with the major international players and donors in polio vaccination campaigns at Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirate precisely in April, 2013! Mr. Bill Gate was in attendance and we had a very close encounter with all the personalities that be, unhindered. Gracefully I was an active participant in the great event!

In fact, it was this singular event that changed the antagonism, the antipathy, the aversion, the hostility and the opposition to Polio Vaccination by the Ulamas. The presence and inquisitions of the most influential Religious Leaders from the north could not be wrong in their abrupt and decisive transformation in support of Polio Vaccination! The following religious personalities were satisfied with the information they got from the authorities in attendance in the polio vaccination projects. The crowd pulled peopleof unquestionable integrity from both the West and the Muslim worlds.

The team from Nigeria comprises the federal government headed by the then State Minister of Health, Dr. Muhammad Pate, the Sultan of Sokoto flanked by some Royal fathers, professionals from the health sector and the contingent of the Ulamas led by Sheikh AbdullahiBala Lau of the Jama’atuIzalatilBid’a, Sheikh KaribullahNasiruKabara of the Qadiriyya Order of Nigeria, the Tijjaniya Movement of Nigeria and HajiyaA’ishat Ahmed Hassan of the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN). It is these Islamic organizations that have the most influence to the lives of the Nigerian Muslims today. Thus, sensitization is important condiment in achieving any short or long term objective especially if it involves the wellbeing of any nation.

Prior to the active involvement of the Ulamas in the campaign against polio and its eventual eradication, the figures of polio prevalence was 122 polio cases in 2012, 53 cases by the end of 2013 andalhamdulillahpresently wehave only 6 cases; fivefromkano Stateand just onefromYobe State!

The Sultan of Sokoto because of his concern about the prevalence of polio in the north while the south is free, made him to expand the involvement of Muslim clerics from all work of life. He singled handedly coopted the Da’awahCoordination Council of Nigeria (DCCN) to work in synergy with the UNICEF and the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee (NTLC) on Polio Eradication. Their entrance into the fight against polio made tremendous positive impact. DCCN is an umbrella organization of Da’awah organizations in Nigeria and has 48 members spreading across Nigeria.

Thus the Ulamaswill continue to play strategic role in polio eradication efforts particularly in northern Nigeria. From 2012 to date more emphasis was placed on shifting the focus to the community level with the expansion of household and community engagement approaches. Ulamas were appointed as Religious Focal Persons (RFPs) at the national, state, LGA and ward levels in order to give the project the highest impetus and all it takes to eradicate the polio virus finally. They have become not only key advocates of polio immunization but also supporters of broader child healthprograms in their various communities. This bold synergy resulted into reducing significantly cases of non-compliance (NCs).

In fact, when I visited the office of UNICEF Country Representative on Polio,Madam Melissa Corkum recently, she saidto me with confidence and satisfactionthat presently there is strong support and acceptance of polio immunization in all nooks and cranniesof the north because of the important role the Ulamas in the campaigns at the community level. This glad tiding indicates that the war against polio is succeeding, and eventually it will be wiped out from this part of the world.

There are some Ulamas that are worthy of mentioning because of their glaring contributions in the fight against polio in this part of the world. They include but not limited to the following Sheikhs Dr. Ahmad Gummi, Kaduna, Imam Nasiruddeen Adam, Kano, Sheikh Tijjani Bala Kalarawi, Kano, DahiruBauchi,Bauchi,Alhaji Ahmed Jambo, Bauchi, SaniKwanni, Sokoto, FarukYabo, Sokoto, Muhammad LawalMaidoki, Sokoto, Ahmad ShehuLemu, Minna, Muhammad Turi, Kano, Allaramma Hassan, Mina and too numerousto mention here have advanced and rented their voices at many occasions on both the safety and efficacy of polio vaccines to be administered to our children.

Similarly, there are Ulamas at the international level who deserved our tribute on this day that is set aside for the purpose of renewing our resolute and determination to exterminate poliomyelitis virus from the surface of the earth.

Late Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baaz, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, late Sheikh Tantawi, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi the Grand Mufti of Qatar, Sheikh M.T. Othmani, Pakistan, Dr. W. Zuhaili, Syria, Dr. A. Abu Ghudda, Syria, Sheikh K. Al Mays, Lebanon, Sheikh M.A. Taskhiri, Iran, Dr. R. Osman, Egypt, Dr. Ali Karadaghi, Qatar, Sheikh M.A. Khalili, Mufti of Oman, Sheikh A. ben Baya, Mauritania, Dr. A. Al-Nashami, Kuwait, Dr. M. Abdul Raheem, Chief Scholar, UAE, and Dr. A. Al Mahmoud, Bahrain. They are scholars of impeccable understanding of Islamic jurisprudence representing organizations of impeachable reputations who would not agree to make mistakes that would eventually be injurious to the nation of Islam. I am sure every healthy sense will be convinced by the roll call of the personalities that endorsed and vouched for both the safety and efficacy of polio vaccination. Certainly their consensus on any issue affecting Islam and Muslims would not be sheer coincidence, happenstance or preventablemisfortune.

It is also worthy of mentioning here for the purpose of record the efforts and contribution of the World Health Organization (UN), UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Northern Traditional Leaders Committee (NTLC) on Polio Eradication, the Ulamas under the auspices of Northern Muslim Religious Leaders on PHC, FOMWAN and DCCN in building a Nigeria where individuals and communities will be able to enjoy a life free from all preventable diseasesmost especially poliomyelitis. I am sure Nigeria is very determine than ever to putting behind her once again polio virus after her onerous victory over Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) recently!

Finally, I ask Allah to grant us our aims and objectives not only on the complete eradication of polio virus on the surface of the earth, butalso the leave to be witnesses to a world that is free of all types of preventable diseases,varieties of terrorisms and forms of injustices!

By: HuseynZakaria


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