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Muslim Leaders Face Nigerian Court After Boycotting Polio Vaccination Efforts - 2004-03-23

Muslim leaders in northern Nigeria who have boycotted a second round of polio vaccinations will have to plead their case in court after a civil rights organization filed suit against them. The religious leaders' opposition to the program is blocking a global campaign to eradicate polio by the end of the year.

Human rights activist Shehu Sani says some more moderate Muslims in northern Nigeria are showing support for the next round of polio vaccinations, but other members of the Muslim community are not.

"The Sultan of Sokoto together with other leaders of the moderate Muslim group came out to make a categorical statement that the vaccine is safe and that it can be used. But the hardliners led by Alhaji Datti Ahmed and his organization called the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, they insist they will go on with the campaign against the vaccine and they will do everything possible to ensure it is not being used in Muslim areas."

Mr. Sani says his organization, the Civil Rights Commission, felt the need to bring the Supreme Council of Sharia Islamic law to court because its anti-vaccination campaign is allowing the virus to spread and endangering the health of Nigerians.

Northern Nigeria, which accounts for almost half of the world's polio cases, began boycotting the vaccinations because religious leaders claimed the injections were part of a Western plot to spread infertility in the region.

Last week, a committee of officials, scientists and religious leaders confirmed that the vaccination is safe. But the Supreme Council of Sharia did not accept that judgment, and says it wants to purchase its own supplies from an Islamic country.

The suit against the council is due to be heard in court starting in April, just weeks before the third round of polio vaccinations is scheduled to start.