One Advocate’s Journey to Amplify Voices Through an Interfaith Initiative in Nasarawa State, Nigeria

Feb 21, 2024

Contributed by Oluwafemi Rotimi, Deborah Khah, Uduak Ananaba and Olukunle Omotoso

One Advocate’s Journey to Amplify Voices Through an Interfaith Initiative in Nasarawa State, Nigeria

Feb 21, 2024

Contributed by Oluwafemi Rotimi, Deborah Khah, Uduak Ananaba and Olukunle Omotoso

Dr. Muhammed Ali is the Senior Special Adviser on Religious Affairs and Adviser on NGOs to the Governor of Nasarawa State in Nigeria.

Religious leadership plays a key role in the success of family planning initiatives in Nigeria. The Challenge Initiative (TCI) has taken proactive steps by creating Interfaith Forums in TCI-supported states.

Through TCI’s advocacy efforts with religious leaders, these forums have yielded advocates for childbirth spacing and family planning (CBS/FP) within their communities. Religious leaders that are members of the forum also engage in a variety of activities to educate their congregations about the advantages of CBS/FP facilitating access to related services.

Dr. Muhammed Ali – former Deputy Director of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and now Senior Special Adviser on Religious Affairs and NGO Advisor to the Governor of Nasarawa State – is a transformative change agent for reproductive health and family planning. Presently, he serves as the Representative of the Emir of Lafia on all health matters in the state and holds the esteemed position of Chief Imam of the Jumaat Mosque in Lafia, with a congregation exceeding 1,000 devout worshippers and members. Reflecting on his journey, Dr. Ali shared:

 I currently serve as the Interfaith Chairman at the state. We are so happy with the TCI coming to our state. It has provided us with a dynamic platform and channel to work and bolster our capacities. Many of us have gained invaluable insights through the technical assistance provided by the organization. We have since disseminated this newfound knowledge to our traditional leaders, Emirs, and their chiefs through advocacy mechanisms reverberating across the state. Substantial awareness campaigns have been conducted.”

Looking back at before Nasarawa State engaged TCI, several key challenges were identified, including slow engagement of family planning influencers within the religious and traditional sectors, a shortage of family planning champions and financial constraints. Dr. Ali delved deeper into these gaps, saying:

 Before TCI’s involvement, we had already covered the Southern Senatorial Zone though at a slow pace, reaching out to the Emirs and traditional rulers in this region, who then cascaded this valuable knowledge to their chiefs and local communities. The Northern Senatorial Zone, including areas like Akwanga, had also benefitted from this capacity-building initiative, amplifying voices for childbirth spacing and other reproductive health services. Our plans include extending our efforts to the only remaining zone, the Western Zones (Keffi, Toto and Karu). However, securing funding for this expansion has been a significant challenge, primarily due to its distance from the state capital. We encountered much resistance from the state and the community when we first started. However, the collective expertise of my colleagues became a powerful intervention. We engaged with many Imams and Chief Imams, seizing every opportunity to educate people at the state and community levels on the importance and benefits of family planning, leveraging our religious platform.”

Further highlighting the benefits and impact of the states’ partnership with TCI, Dr. Ali spotlights how this partnership has improved the quality of their sermons by integrating health and family planning discussions while providing religious guidance to men and women of reproductive age (WRA) who need contraceptive services.

 Our partnership with TCI holds immense significance because it has enabled us to cultivate an army of interfaith groups that now incorporate childbirth spacing into their sermons.”

Additionally, the strengthened capacity of the Interfaith Forum has not only rendered the group essential for CBS/FP interventions, but has also extended its influence to various program domains within the state. The Interfaith Forum is now seen as a potent platform for disseminating comprehensive health information, ensuring its visibility among religious and traditional leaders as well as communities throughout the state. This was emphasized by Dr. Absalom Madawa – Director, Community and Family Health – NAPHDA:

 The establishment of the Interfaith Forum stands as a pivotal achievement for our state through The Challenge Initiative interventions.”

Dr. Ali further reiterated his commitment and that of other religious champions to sustain these notable changes and continuous support for WRA in Nasarawa state, which will outlive TCI’s support. He noted:

 Our team is unwavering in their commitment to reaching this zone [southwest zone of the state]. The impact of this intervention is palpable; men are now receptive and have pledged to support their wives in family planning and childbirth spacing. Through our various engagements, we have shed light on the economic realities faced by families and the dangers associated with inadequate spacing between births, which not only risks the lives of women but also the lives of their children.”

Dr. Ali’s transformation exemplifies the power of reinvigorating interfaith groups that are committed to amplifying voices for family planning and childbirth spacing throughout the state.

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