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.
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.