Last week, Bill and I were in Nigeria, to meet with federal, state, local officials and religious leaders to discuss the need for the country’s leaders to re-engage in the fight to end polio.
Early on in our trip, we were in Kebbi state in Northwest Nigeria, where polio cases have almost quadrupled since this time last year. While there, we participated in a town hall meeting with more than 400 leaders who re-affirmed their support to the 2009 Abuja Commitments that set the goal of 2012 to end polio in Nigeria and support routine immunization.
Polio victims sit on the floor while traditional leaders line up to sign the pledge to eradicate polio during the Town Hall meeting with local government representatives and traditional leaders in the Presidential Lodge at Kebbi 27 September 2011.
Watching hundreds of leaders, dressed in flowing robes and colorful caps and headdresses, stand in line to sign this joint pledge to end polio in their districts and local government areas was quite powerful to witness. We also heard from leaders who talked about the need for Kebbi state to demonstrate leadership within Nigeria and for Nigeria to join the rest of the world in ridding their country of polio.
Kebbi’s leaders got it. So did Kano’s leaders.
In a meeting with the governor of Kano, His Excellency Dr. Rabui Musa Kwankwaso committed to personally visit the homes of any parent who refused to let their child be vaccinated.
They know that leading by example is a powerful motivational tool for others. They understand the difference they can make by publicly immunizing their children, speaking personally to educate reluctant parents about the benefits of immunization. And, they know their leadership and personal commitment is critical for staying focused on eliminating polio and getting others to follow.
When we met with federal leaders in the capital, it became clear they got it too.
Bill Gates and Jeff Raikes meeting with the Executive Governor of Kano State on 28 September 2011.
At a meeting with members of his federal Executive Council, President Goodluck Jonathan announced he was creating a special task force and his desire for Nigeria to have close to zero cases this time next year, and to be finished with polio soon after. We also met with Vice President Namadi Sambo and more than 20 state governors, and with Senate President David Mark and other senators.
In more than 30 years of business, I’ve learned that there is a danger in delegation. And, in the case of polio and other health issues, it’s no different.
From federal and state leaders to religious leaders like the Sultan of Sokoto, to district heads and village leaders, there is tremendous value in demonstrating personal commitment and leadership. It’s what is making a difference in Nigeria’s fight against polio and it’s what will ensure that all Nigerian children, and all children in the world, are free from this terrible, yet preventable disease.