The Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, visited Sokoto State last week where he entered a pact with the state governor, Aminu Tambuwal, and five Northern governors to eradicate polio in the country, writesMohammed Aminu

The recent visit of Bill Gates to Sokoto State will for a long time remain indelible in the minds of the people. Gates’ visit was in continuation of his efforts to eradicate polio and some diseases that afflict mankind. Gates’ humanitarian gesture has touched millions of lives particularly the downtrodden across the globe. The humanitarian gesture is hinged on his belief that a wealth acquired amounts to nothing without service to humanity.

His first visit to Sokoto was in 2009 where he met with the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar  and other northern emirs as part of his efforts to eradicate polio in the country. Then there was no massive security presence at the palace nor at the Government House while journalists carried out their duties without much interference from the security operatives.

However, his recent visit to Sokoto was discreet, as people were unaware. The trip was shrouded in secrecy as journalists were mandated not to write reports ahead of the visit for security reasons. In fact, Gates, who was accompanied by Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, arrived the state amid tight security with stern looking American body guards and officials of the state security service.

Gates had earlier met with the Sultan and other members of the Northern Traditional Leaders Council at the Sultan’s Palace where a review was conducted on the progress made so far in routine immunisation and the way forward with a view to eradicating the disease in the region in the next two years. He later proceeded to the Government House, Sokoto, where he signed a memorandum of understanding with the governors of Sokoto, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Borno and Yobe states, Aminu Tambuwal, Nasir el-Rufai, Abdullahi Ganduje, Mohammed Abdullahi Abubakar, Kashim Shettima and Ibrahim Gaidam, respectively.

Most journalists in the state were barred from covering the visit at the Government House, Sokoto for “security reasons”. Even the few journalists that covered the event were warned not to send pictures or reports until he departed the state. This is meant to avoid any undue publicity to the event.

Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal along with the second richest man in the world, Mr. Bill Gates, the richest man in Africa Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and governors of Kano, Borno, Bauchi, Kaduna and representative of the governor of Yobe State attended a meeting to review the Routine Immunisation in their respective states. Tambuwal was joined by Kashim Shettima of Borno, Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, Mohammed Abubakar of Bauchi and Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna at the signing ceremony which held at the Sokoto Government House.

The meeting was aimed at assessing the progress made so far on routine immunisation on the eradication of polio in these states, as well as the signing of the extension of memorandum of understanding between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dangote Foundation and the governments of six other states. The signing of the MoU was witnessed by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, commissioners from the participating states, other development partners and key stakeholders of the health sector.

Speaking at the community engagement meeting, the Co-chairman of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, said all partners are committed to ensuring maximum number of children are reached, adding that the MoUs are intended to enable states achieve targeted coverage. According to him, the signing of the memorandum of understanding can do a lot in routine immunisation with training and better management. “I am excited to be part of this meeting and the signing of the memorandum of understanding with the governors. The fact that the governors are present here is an indication of commitment.

 “With increased campaigns, we should be able to get high percentage coverage to check challenges and progress made. Vaccinations are phenomenal in their impact because a child that has not been vaccinated is twice likely to die. We can prevent millions of deaths through routine immunisation and we will not relent in our commitment towards that,” he said.

He described the meeting with the governors as a good step in the right direction aimed at eradicating polio and diseases in the region. Gates harped on the need for increased community participation and commitment of traditional leaders and local government councils to ensure the eradication of polio. He also stressed the need for parents to follow up on vaccination in order to ensure high coverage levels.

He said with the election season approaching, all hands must be on deck to ensure that the targets are met. He projected that all partners were committed to reaching at least 80 per cent plus coverage in the coming year. Gates commended all the signatory-states for their commitment, adding that Nigeria is so far on the right track not just in efforts to fight polio, but on achieving targets in routine immunisation. He urged the governors and traditional leaders in the North to intensify efforts and campaigns in order to ensure maximum coverage. “My request is that all the governors should review campaigns and ensure that in the next two years, we complete polio eradication. We can prevent millions of deaths by doing work on routine immunisation,” he said. Gates to this end,  reaffirmed his commitment and support towards the eradication of polio in the country.

Delivering the opening remarks, Tambuwal said all the states are committed to improving vaccine availability, encouraging stronger community engagement and securing financing. “In addition, we will ensure strong monitoring and evaluation while at the same time, accountability mechanisms will be put in place.”

He said the meeting was meant to sign a memorandum of understanding between six governors and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dangote Foundation and United States Agency for International Development(USAID). The governor noted that through the combined efforts of Bill Gates and Dangote Foundation, Sokoto has achieved modest success and shown enthusiasm in eradicating polio. Tambuwal commended Bill Gates for his service to humanity, saying his gesture has touched millions of lives across the world. “Bill Gates is a global citizen and a philanthropist who has touched millions of lives across the globe that are not from his race or country but for the sake of humanity,” he stated.

In his remarks, the President of Dangote Foundation, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said the fight against the polio disease requires a sense of urgency and commitment by all stakeholders. Dangote emphasised the need for governments to be up to date on the payment of their counterpart funds, and to work hard on improving data especially at the grassroots level. “We are delighted that the MoU has been extended, reaffirming Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and Yobe states’ commitment to the health of their citizens. Our expectation now is that this commitment will be translated into concrete action,” he stated. He commended both the federal and state governments for working on data improvement and for reaffirming their commitments to tackling preventable diseases.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, described poverty as an impediment to the attainment of a healthy society. He said the support and efforts of Bill Gates has gone a long way in tackling polio and made positive impact in the lives of the people in the North. He commended Bill Gates and Aliko Dangote for their support and efforts towards tackling polio and other diseases in the region, describing it as unprecedented. “Since Bill Gates visited Sokoto in 2009, he has been doing his best to see to an end to the polio scourge and other diseases. I hope Gates and Dangote will not look back until poverty and the diseases are tackled. “Somebody that is impoverished cannot be said to be healthy. So, I really commend them for their support to humanity because we have seen the positive effects on the society.”

“We are committed and ready to go the extra mile to ensure that success is achieved so as to have a healthy society where everybody can feel the sense of belonging,” the revered monarch added.

Commenting at the event, Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, said his administration took 100 per cent  ownership of the funding of Routine Immunisation exercise at the end of the extension of the signed routine immunisation MoU between the state government and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Dangote Foundation, adding that it has also entered into a new MoU on Child Health with the two foundations last year.

Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, emphasised that the present leadership in the North was determined to change the narrative by improving the lives of children through routine immunisation.

Also speaking, Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai, expressed the commitment of the Northern governors to strengthen the health sector and enhance routine immunisation. “We should not be the part of the globe with the highest number of out of children and maternal mortality. We are really committed to save Northern Nigeria,” he averred.