The Sultan of Sokoto and Spiritual Leader of Muslims in Nigeria, Muhammad Abubakar III has stated that Islam is not against family planning and called for an effective communication among the people.
The Sultan disclosed this at an event organised by the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) and other health development partners during the 5th Annual Family Planning Consultative Stakeholders’ Meeting at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
While delivering a speech at the event with the theme; ‘Investing in Family Planning: Key to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Nigeria,” the Sultan stressed that the message of the advocates of child spacing must be modified in such a way that would be acceptable to the people.
Abubakar, who was represented by the Emir of Shonga, Dr. Haliru Yahaya said the issue of overpopulation in northern Nigeria could also be curbed the same way polio was eradicated.
“I think everything has to come down to communication. For example, when the government set up a new policy, there was an issue on population control – five children per family. That set the whole thing backwards. People resisted but the whole essence of it was good.
“If you use the premise of economy, they will tell you that only God gives wealth. But they will succumb to superior argument when you say, ‘doesn’t Islam say be nice to your wives?’ Doesn’t Islam talk about a healthy population? So, why do you have to have 10 (children)? And the person may agree to have two.”
While calling on the government to change its strategy, the Sultan stressed that Islam was also not averse to technologies.
The monarch added that he brought together the most influential clerics across all Islamic sects to sit down and agree on the issue of family planning which eventually led to the publication of a book titled, ‘Islamic perspectives in reproductive health and child birth spacing in Nigeria.’
The Sultan added, “Are the clerics important? Yes. This is because they are very close to the grassroots and that was how the rise in polio was reversed. This is the same way we can operate on this (family planning).”
In his address, the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi urged Nigerians, especially the elite, to preach the message of child spacing to their domestic servants and low income earners who are known to have many children.
At the event, a new family planning logo to help sensitise Nigerians on family planning and where to get the services in the country was unveiled by the Federal Ministry of Health.
The Health Minister, Isaac Adewole launched a new four-year plan to change how family planning is communicated nationwide and the “Green Dot”—the new logo for family planning services across the country.
Disclosing that Nigeria has built family planning into its Economic Recovery and Growth Policy (ERGP) which emphasizes population management, the Minister explained how Nigeria could reap demographic dividends. He said:
“We need to do three things: put resources, invest in growing people with extension to women and children, and invest in family planning.
“By adopting family planning in an aggressive manner, we will eliminate a third of maternal mortality.”
The adoption could see fertility rate drop with increasing access and use of modern contraceptives. The Green Dot will be displayed at health centres to indicate availability of family planning products and services.
It was chosen because it was considered simple, non-controversial, abstract, easy to describe and raised no national sensitivities across Nigeria’s geopolitical zones.
Many mothers die from unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, but the growing number of children and dependents outweighing working population is overwhelming the country’s resources, Adewole noted.
“It is critical to have an effective population management strategy,” he said, quoting the ERGP. “We need to reduce the number of babies so that the boat can move faster.”
The meeting, supported by the United Nations Population Fund, is a premier platform for family planning in Nigeria and is holding for the fifth straight year to push aggressive communication to knock down barriers to uptake of family planning.
UNFPA representative in Nigeria, Diene Keita, said, “Nigeria has made significant progress towards improving the health status of women and children in the last fifteen years.”
But she added the leading causes of maternal deaths were preventable—“using basic low-cost essential supplies and educating women.”
The federal health ministry has pledged $4 million every year until 2020 to buy contraceptives for public sector use, an increase from the $3 million committed from 2011 to 2014—and will also pay off backlog of commitments.
State governments last year allocated more than $7 million in matching funds for family planning through loans disbursed under the Save One Million Lives.
A further step is to have health insurance cover family planning—or at least have some programme reimburse the cost of such services in both public and private sector.