After several endorsements for polio vaccine from eminent Nigerians, including the revered Sultan of Sokoto Muhammed Sa'ad Abubakar III, it appears strange that some people still refuse to let their children and wards benefit from the life-saving vaccines. Or what reason did 102 residents of Niger State have for clinging to wicked rumours spread by the uninformed?
According to media reports, Dr Aliyu Shehu Yabagi, the state's director of the Primary Health Care Development Agency, revealed that 102 people have been arrested, prosecuted and either fined or jailed for refusing to allow polio vaccines to be administered on their children and wards in the past two years. Some of the arrested people, he disclosed, "paid fines for their action while others served various jail terms to serve as a deterrent to others". Yabagi also stated that the State House of Assembly was working on a bill to criminalise preaching against the acceptance of polio vaccines, with a huge fine or jail term for convicted offenders.
Stubborn parents could still be persuaded to discard their ill-informed beliefs. Those who have been "converted" to accept the vaccine could also be appointed programme ambassadors to reach the "hardliners" left. In the meantime, however, every legal and proactive step taken against ignoramuses opposed to polio vaccine should be supported. And we recommend Niger State's approach to other states in the country where similar opposition to the life-saving polio vaccines exists. While government at all levels should not relent in advocacy to enlighten the citizenry on the need to vaccinate children against debilitating childhood diseases like polio, we have come a long way on the anti-polio campaign now as to allow mull-head opposition to vaccination in the manner encountered in some parts of Nigeria. There is no longer a logical basis for any parent or guardian of a Nigerian child to refuse the polio vaccine and no argument against the vaccination is tenable. Only an irresponsible government will hold back in throwing the law at recalcitrant adults opposed to vaccinating children against a preventable disease that cripples them forever at the very beginning of their lives.
The Niger State House of Assembly should expedite action on the executive bill before it seeking to criminalise sermons against the acceptance of polio vaccine and pass it into law. Governor Babangida Aliyu must also append his assent to the law as soon as it is passed. Other state governors and houses of assembly would do well to take their cue from Niger State and give polio a final and permanent kick out of Nigeria. It is a sacred duty we all owe every child who comes into the world through us as parents, guardians and as a country.