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President Jonathan confers national honours on Bill Gate, as Ondo emerges best performing state on polio eradication programme

By The Citizen

President Goodluck Jonathan today conferred on Bill Gates, the Co-Chairman of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the nation’s prestigious titles, Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR), he will be decorated during the award ceremony in December.

President Jonathan disclosed this at a Forum on the Presidential Task Force on Polio Eradication put together by the Federal Ministry of Health, held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa Abuja.

The Nigeria Governors Forum, Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation and the Dangote Foundation, instituted an award meant to encourage governors to do more towards complete eradication of polio in the states.

The best performing state by zone in 2012 are Ondo State for the South West, Cross River State for South South, Kogi State for North Central, Anambra State for South East, Borno State for North Easte and Zamfara State for North West. While the most improved state nationally is Niger State.

The President expressed surprise that analysis available to him revealed that the 2011 elections was responsible for the lapse experienced in the fight against polio,  urging politicians to ensure that scenario must not repeat itself in the 2015 elections. President Jonathan described as a thing of shame that Nigeria was still being accused of exporting polio to neighbouring countries and particularly commended the traditional rulers led by the Sultan of Sokoto, for their immense contribution which has led to a sharp reduction in the infection rates. He also commended Bill Gate for his commitment to help Africa solve its health problems.

“Apart from supporting us in the fight against Polio and provision of life saving commodities he (Gates) is also assisting us in agriculture.

Jonathan also commended Aliko Dangote for also showing high degree of support for government and all sectors.

“For those states that have won this award, the challenge is that we will not want to see polio in your states again otherwise we will wipe out the award. You now have very strong partners, partner with FG to eradicate polio.

“Like Dangote mentioned earlier, there is no reason we should not eradicate polio by 2014. Let me assure you that the Federal Government is totally committed to eradicating polio. We promise that we will work hard because we don’t want to handover polio to another government in 2015. With the support of all stakeholders present here I believe we will succeed in our commitment to eradicate polio.

“I charge you all to be so committed especially as the elections are coming. In fact from the analysis I was just briefed now I’m really surprised that in 2011 there was lapse and it was attributed to the elections, that during campaigns for elections we the politicians think more about winning the elections and forget about other things. I think and I charge you all that we must work together to make sure that the 2014/2015 will not create any kind of gap in our commitment to eradicate polio.

“In our local government and states that have suffered polio, it should be part of our campaign, it should rather be part of our campaign instead of our election to create a problem, our elections should enhance our commitment.

“We should all feel ashamed that we are being excused of exporting polio to neighbouring countries.

“As the President and Commander in Chief I hereby confer on Bill Gates, one of our prestigious titles, the Commander of the Federal Republic. His decoration will come up during the award ceremony in December”, he said.

On his part, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyeabuchi Chukwu in his remarks said three states Kano, Borno and Yobe were of the greatest concerns.

Chukwu disclosed that since November last year we have not had the transmission of the Type A polio virus. We have reduced infection by 50 per cent though we have recently had 51 cases, Borno, Kano, Yobe and Bauchi are on the top ranks.

He further stated that the current challenges facing the success of the fight against polio is the non-accessibility to children due to insecurity in the area, and non accountability hence the reason the Local Government chairmen were invited to be part of the meeting.

The minister recalled that in March 2013, some of  vaccinators were murdered in Borno State, “which led to the exercise being halted but by September 70 per cent of the children have been reached”.

Chukwu commended the President, the National Assembly and the Governor of Borno for the success recorded thus far.

He blamed low political commitment, poor team performance, poor oversight and financial accountability has hampered their work, as he equally urged President to direct rapid information sharing between JTF and the programme on accessibility/security in security-compromised areas.

He urged governors and LGA chairmen to ensure that immunization task force reviews result of each polio campaign with LGA chairmen within two weeks of each polio round.

Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad 111, in his remarks said the traditional rulers have total concern to the welfare of their people. “No father will sit down and watch his child crippled permanently and refuse to do nothing.

“The traditional rulers were the foot soldiers who did the work.

“When we started in 2009, Bill Gates had encouraged us both financially and morally. We thank him for his support in helping humanity not only in Nigeria but in the world.

“What we did attracted the UN but they never believed the level of success we achieved in one year and they have recognised our efforts. We are committed to eradicating polio and by 2014 we will invite Bill Gates to return to celebrate the total eradication of polio in Nigeria.

“We encourage Mr. President should not look back, and polio should not be politicised. In 2010 we witnessed it and many governments refused to be involved and this should not repeat itself as 2015 election approaches.

“Bill Gates donated $1.5 billion to the fight against polio. What I want us to go back with today is that Vaccines are free to those who cannot afford it. But in reality Vaccines are not free but have been paid by Bill Gates and Aliko Dangote Foundation for our children to have it free”.

The Sultan congratulated President Jonathan on the victory of the Golden Eaglets, saying that “the symbolic feat by those kids show the Nigerian spirit. When people think Nigeria cannot achieve anything, they showed that we can”.

Bill Gates was later decorated by the Sultan of Sokoto with traditional northern tire.

Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, whose state emerged the best overall, thank Gates for his commitment to eradicate polio and assured that the award will encourage them to do better.

He also commended Dangote for being part of the uncommon commitment for support humanity.

He commended all the stakeholders that have contributed to the eradication of polio.

“I can see important partnership to drive primary health care in Nigeria with the traditional institutions”.

Mimiko commended Jonathan for leadership and pray that all his challenges today will become his testimonies tomorrow.

Dangote said it was encouraging that Nigeria has progressed greatly adding that “by February 2014 our efforts will ensure we totally eradicate polio by that same year.

“We cannot rely on Bill Gates alone that is why we have commended the traditional rulers whose role have ensured reduction from 102 to 51 cases.

“We will continue to be partners to ensure that Nigeria becomes a safe place to be”.

Bill Gates said, “Every year I come to Nigeria I see us getting closer to the goal of polio eradication. At Abu Dhabi meeting we re-dedicated ourselves to the fight against polio and I have re-dedicated myself to this cause. He commended the President for commitment”.

He commended the Sultan of Sokoto and other traditional leaders for the great work they have done. “Polio is in our sight, we have states that don’t release money, run the campaign, so the taskforce need to track these gaps and the need to do better so the country will move in a exciting way by eradicating polio. Is a legacy we all have and I will be excited when we reach the milestone of no more polio”.