The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alh. Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, on Wednesday, advised the government not to mount pressure on Nigerians to accept the COVID-19 vaccine.
He gave the advice while speaking at a sensitisation programme on COVID-19 for Muslim scholars and imams in Nigeria which held in Abuja.
The royal father warned that Nigerians would not be stampeded into accepting the vaccine. But stressed that the people could be convinced to accept the medicine through adequate knowledge and information about it.
He said: “What we take away from this interactive session is so important, because it will help us convince the people of the need to take the COVID-19 vaccine or not. I believe we cannot force people to take vaccines.
“When the Almighty Allah brought me to this position in 2006, we had very serious cases of polio in Nigeria.
“The then Minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, approached me that he wants to use traditional rulers to sensitise the people. I said, ‘It’s okay… we want to see healthy communities.’
“That was how we picked a senior traditional ruler from each of the 19 Northern states and the FCT, and set up the Northern Traditional Rulers Committee on Polio. It was the work of that committee that was able to give us the polio-free certification after 13 years.
“Such is the importance of traditional leaders. But traditional rulers cannot do much without religious leaders. Any monarch who is not close to religious leaders is not a good leader. A collaboration between the traditional and religious institutions gave us the victory over polio not coercion.’’
According to him, the emergence of COVID-19 vaccine was trailed by negative conspiracy theories, but stressed that truth and adequate knowledge were necessary to dispel the lies and half-truths.
The Sultan added, “People talk of conspiracy theories such as that the COVID-19 vaccine is meant to kill us. But my take is that if a vaccine was meant to kill us, will anybody wait for the COVID-19 vaccine before killing us? We have been consuming soft drinks and other medicines that are imported into the country. If any foreigner wants to kill us, there are more than a million ways to do so.
“The vaccines are free. You are not going to pay for it. But to take it is your choice. How? You have to find out the truth about the vaccine yourself. How do you find out the truth? By seeking knowledge. How? By communicating with the right people.”
In his remarks, NSCIA’s Secretary-General, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, warned that delay in the COVID-19 vaccine acceptance could pose major threats to the nation in the future.
“It is hoped that soon our government on account of its care and concern about the health of all citizens, may procure these vaccines. However, though COVID-19 vaccines may now be within reach, we are not unaware that hesitancy in its acceptance may pose the next major hurdle to cross.
“Indeed, the fear of reluctance, resistance or even outright rejection and opposition to the new vaccine is real and cannot be wished away. It looms large even after the government may have overcome the challenges associated with sufficient supply and efficient rollout of easy, quick and affordable access to the vaccines.
“This is simply because resistance to vaccines is rooted in factors that drive people’s behaviours including enabling environment, socio-cultural influences, motivation, ignorance, misinformation and disinformation.
“We must confront and surmount any envisaged hurdle now, not tomorrow, and not a moment later. If we neglect to do so now, the Muslim Ummah will lose the opportunity to maximize the benefit of the ne COVID-19 vaccine, and lag behind others in taking the vaccine, with dire consequences to us all.”
Speaking also, the Executive Director, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said: “There is no special COVID-19 vaccine for Africans or Nigerians. We are expecting the same vaccines that are accepted globally. NAFDAC only has to certify that they are safe for Nigerians.”
He also stated that the meeting was apt since it would equip participants with new skills and knowledge on issues relating to COVID-19 vaccine and the requisite attitude to enable beneficiaries mount an effective and efficient sensitisation programme for their followers back home to enhance its acceptability.