•Saraki, Salihu, others seek improvements in maternal, child health
Tobi Aworinde, Jesusegun Alagbe and Tope Omogbolagun
Founder of Medicaid Cancer Foundation and wife of Kebbi State Governor, Dr Zainab Bagudu, has said the support of child marriage by some traditional rulers spells trouble for members of the public as they (traditional rulers) have the most influence at the grassroots.
Bagudu, who was the guest of honour at the maiden edition of the PUNCH Digital Town Hall with the theme, ‘Strengthening the Nigerian Maternal and Child Health through Clinical and Community-based Interventions,’ on Friday, raised the alarm over maternal mortality and child marriage in Kebbi State and Nigeria.
The consultant paediatrician underscored the importance of traditional and religious leaders in local communities, saying her campaign against child marriage which had yielded the most impact was liaising, working, and collaborating with the traditional and religious rulers.
She said, “No matter how much I or the political leaders shout on the top of a hill, at the grassroots, these are the people that have the most impact, whether we like it or not. The majority of Nigerians live in rural areas; the majority of them are not educated. They do not have access to TVs, the worldwide web, webinars, and high-level people talking.
“I can only go to so many local government areas; how much more, villages or hard-to-reach areas in the state? But if I sit with and engage all the traditional and religious rulers, which we do very often, then I get their buy-in (because) they are respected in their areas and are listened to.
“If a traditional ruler speaks for child marriage, then we are in trouble. But if we can get them to change their mindset, some of them really don’t believe in it and don’t support it. So, if we strengthen them by acting as a bridge between these people and the other stakeholders, it helps us to reduce it.”
She also noted that Governor Abubakar Bagudu had presented the Child Rights Act to the Kebbi State House of Assembly, while expressing hope that the law would be passed “in the next couple of days or weeks, at least.”
Also speaking at the event, the Founder-President of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa and wife of former Senate President, Mrs Toyin Ojora-Saraki, said poor maternal and child health contributed to a stunted economy and everyone was to blame.
She pointed out that much needed to be at the local government level to curb maternal and child mortality.
She said, “We are all aware that between 2010-2015, Nigeria recorded significant gains in maternal and child survival and these were clearly attributed to the coverage of the then midwife service scheme, which recruited 4,800 retired midwives back into service and sent them across the country. That was designed to be taken over two years later by the local governments, and that was where it failed.
Saraki said investments must be made in maternal and child health, but mentioned that irrespective of all the investments to be made, nutrition could not be ignored.
Also, the Senior Programme Officer, MacArthur Foundation Africa Office, Dr Amina Salihu, noted that girl-child education was very important in the fight against maternal mortality.
Salihu mentioned that Nigeria’s population consists of only 2.6 per cent of the world population, but the country was responsible for 26 per cent of maternal death.
She said, “The role of education is very important. In Northern Nigeria, for example, only one out of four girls will complete secondary education. This is data that came in 2012 and things aren’t getting any better. We have over 10 million out-of-school children and the larger parts of them are girls.
“The content of education also matters. What are they teaching the children in schools? Keeping them in school is important because if a girl stays in secondary school until 18 years, that can help delay fertility. Education would have helped us prevent early marriage. If we pass the Child Rights Act that makes education compulsory, qualitative, and accessible to girls, we will see the resultant effect on reducing the maternal mortality rate.
The town hall, which was moderated by communications strategist, Mr Chido Nwakanma, also featured other speakers, namely the Founder of Brown Button Foundation, Adepeju Jaiyeoba; policy and development expert, Mr Rotimi Sankore; and Global Advocacy Director, Pathfinder International, Dr Habeeb Salami.
The Chairman, PUNCH Nigeria Limited, Mrs Angela Emuwa, appreciated the participants for their valuable contributions.
She said journalism was a great tool for incremental change, noting that the event was PUNCH’s modest contribution to getting solutions to some of the problems that had impeded the country’s march to greatness.
“Going forward, future editions of this intellectual flagship event will draw attention to issues in other critical sectors,” she noted.
The PUNCH Media Foundation is a non-governmental organisation and the non-profit arm of the PUNCH Nigeria Limited, publishers of PUNCH Newspapers, established in 2019 with a vision to promoting active public engagement, accountability, good governance, and free enterprise using the instrument of public policy advocacy, digital journalism, investigative journalism, and media development. ,,