THE brutal murder of nine polio immunisation officials in Kano State by yet to be identified gunmen is not an isolated incident. It bears the hallmark of the negative campaign launched against the programme, led by a prominent northern medical practitioner and politician, in 2003. Once you play on the emotions of the uncritical or gullible majority, it is hard to convince the people otherwise. Since 2003, there is a significant number of Muslims who still believe that polio immunisation programme is a Western or American scheme to induce infertility among Muslims to achieve the single objective of reducing their population. How preposterous!
Unfounded rumours travel fast and cause enormous havoc to society. Sadly, majority of Muslims whose children are victims or potential victims of this baseless campaign of falsehood can hardly ask critical questions about the validity of the claim that polio vaccination is intended to cause infertility among Muslims. Sadder still, this unfounded claim is being propagated by some preachers and imams based on the misleading information fed to them.
For the sake of our innocent children who are being enormously harmed by this dangerous campaign of lies, it is important at this point to raise questions about the reliability of this claim to withstand scrutiny. The greatest harm you can to do to the people is to exploit their ignorance or gullibility. And to a great extent, the anti-polio campaigners have succeeded in their diabolical propaganda.
Concerned Nigerians have a duty to subject any unsubstantiated claim to logical questions. For example, did these enemies of polio programme present any evidence of Muslims who have become infertile as a result of immunisation now or in the past? If such evidence ever existed, why is it available only to them? Why didn’t their claim survive critical inquiry from the global scientific community? If they insist on their claim, they should submit a record from 1964 to date of the number of Muslim, male and female, who have been rendered infertile as a result of exposure to polio immunisation. The truth is that they have no such record or data to buttress their claim. If they have, let them publish cases of infertility ever recorded as a result of immunisation.
Do we need to be scientists to ask intelligent and simple questions? For anyone to dogmatically claim that polio immunisation induces infertility, especially when he is a scientist, the onus of proof lies with him. The first class medical doctor deviated from basic requirement of scientific inquiry. Accuracy is described as the morality of science. In the absence of valid evidence to support their claim, should we surrender the fate of our innocent children to the manipulation of these anti-polio campaigners?
What would the World Health Organisation (WHO) or UNICEF gain by deliberately promoting any immunisation programme specifically intended to reduce Muslim population in Nigeria or anywhere else? The claim of the anti-polio immunisation campaigners stretches our credulity to its ridiculous limit. The business of science is not conducted in the dark corners of secrecy. If the anti-polio immunisation campaigners have any valid proof that the vaccination causes infertility, why didn’t they put it on the table in the open market of ideas? They have so far failed to do so convincingly.
Science is not about dogmatically making unsubstantiated claims and then imposing them on humanity as gospel truth. Polio immunisation in the country has suffered intermittent setbacks, thanks to the inimical campaign by people whose mission is to cause chaos, confusion, fear, uncertainty and disruption of progress at the expense of innocent children who must be protected. It is a purposeless, wicked and misguided campaign against the interest of our children.
Despite the fact that this claim was discredited repeatedly, thousands of Muslim parents are still sceptical or suspicious of polio immunisation. Therefore, the latest murder of polio officials in Kano State has only added a dangerous dimension to the rejection of the immunisation programme by Muslims misled by the politician and his group.
Playing to the gallery with the lives of innocent children is the most irresponsible thing to do by any right thinking person. If the Americans or the West have any policy to reduce Muslim populations, why is Nigeria their primary target? The Muslim population of India is 177 million. Why didn’t the West target Indian Muslims with infertility-causing polio vaccines to reduce their population? What specifically does America or the West stand to gain by reducing the population of Nigerian Muslims through polio immunisation?
In fact, if the claim is valid, why are the polio immunisation officials in Nigeria not asking parents whether their children are Muslims or Christians before they administer the vaccines? Are they using different vaccines for Christians? Again, are these vaccines produced according to the religious faith of the potential beneficiaries?
Exploiting the ignorance of the majority is wickedly selfish and sadistic. If truly the West or America has any plan to reduce Muslim population by inducing infertility through immunisation, why do they need to achieve this objective only through vaccines? Can’t they achieve the same objective through foods and drugs, which we import and consume daily? Isn’t their science advanced enough to achieve this objective by other means? Islam is expanding in the United States and Europe and one wonders why the West didn’t see the need to reduce their Muslim populations through public health policies.
Nigerians may wonder why a medical doctor like the one in question should lend his support to this counter-productive propaganda against children. Let us not forget, however, that the virus of extremism and confusion can also infect even educated men like doctors. The Egyptian-born Mohammed Al-Wazihiri, the successor to the late Osama Bin Laden as the leader of Al-Qaeda terror network, is a medical doctor! Did we also forget that Dr. Joseph Mengele, notoriously known as the Angel of Death, was a medical doctor administering lethal injection on the Jews during Hitler’s Germany? The chief prosecutor to the 1946 Nuremberg war crime trials, the late Telford Taylor, said doctors without conscience are the ultimate evil!
Having wrongly converted many Muslims to the idea that polio immunisation is intended to decimate their population in disguise, why should anybody be surprised at the latest killing of nine polio immunisation officials in Kano State? The fact that armed extremists have now joined the campaign to express violent opposition to polio immunisation is bad enough. However, the responsibility for this tragedy must be laid at the doorsteps of those who started the anti-polio campaign in 2003. Manipulating the religious emotions of gullible Muslims for cheap popularity is vile and indefensible. When you tell Muslims to reject polio immunisation, you have a duty to give them alternative. Unfortunately, the group has no such alternative to saving children from polio infection. Should we then abandon our children to their fates, watching them become permanently incapacitated, denying them the benefits of immunisation? Poliomyelitis is preventable and although it is not a fatal disease, it can badly damage the quality of life of its victims.
In leading Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, vaccination certification is a requirement for entering the country. Do governments in Pakistan with 178 million Muslim population and Indonesia with 204 million not love their peoples by allowing their children enjoy the benefits of immunisation? Moderate Muslim leaders must rise up to this challenge and save our children from being destroyed by cranks that thrive on causing confusion and disrupting our progress. Although the Federal Government has paid N1 million each to the families of the polio immunisation officials killed by the unknown gunmen, the problem still lies in the entrenched prejudice against the programme by fanatics who effectively have declared war against our children. They are harming Muslims by this dangerous propaganda against the polio immunisation policy. We, therefore, have a duty to rise against these enemies of our children. If they don’t like polio immunisation, it is their business. They have no right, however, to deny or discourage others from taking advantage of the immunisation policy to protect their children.
• Zagga, is a journalist based in Abuja.
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