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Beyond the Politics of COVID-19 Vaccines

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Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

By Edwin Uhara

Since the federal government made its intension to acquire and inoculate Nigerians with COVID-19 vaccines public, I have read several critical comments against the plan by some Nigerians opposing the move without proposing an alternative solution to the reality of the pandemic in our country.

Most of the opposing views are hinged on myths, conspiracy theories and blatant denial of the existence of the disease.

But one thing some of them failed to understand is the fact that the number of COVID-19 cases recorded daily by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is not just figures but fellow human beings with dreams, aspirations, visions and passion for both individual and collective successes.

They are the fathers who are breadwinners of their various families, mothers, sisters and brothers who worked hard daily to realise their ambition but got trapped in the web the dreaded pandemic.

As at the time of writing this piece, there were over 1,547 deaths caused by Coronavirus while there were over 127,024 confirmed cases with 24,619 active cases – these are citizens undergoing treatments in the various treatments centres across the federation; not talking of the huge resources spent in the treatment of 100,858 patients who recovered from the disease and have been discharged.

Nevertheless, now that the new strain of the virus – B117 found in the United Kingdom has been discovered in the country, only God knows what would have been the fate of Nigeria had President Muhammadu Buhari not signed the COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021 bill into law to contain the rapid spread of the disease in the country, especially the new variant, which spreads faster than the normal virus.

The new law, which the President signed by the virtue of Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, has made the use of facemask and adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions mandatory in any part of the federation irrespective of locality.

Part of the law reads, “In the exercise of the powers conferred upon me by Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2010 and all other powers enabling me in that behalf; and in consideration of the urgent need to protect the health and wellbeing of Nigerians in the face of the widespread and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, I, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, hereby make the following Regulations.

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“The first part of the new regulations imposes restrictions of gatherings and enforces a physical distancing of not less than two meters between persons at all times.

“The part also provides that no gathering of more than 50 persons shall hold in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which case the gathering shall not exceed 50 per cent capacity of the space.

“All persons in public gatherings, whether in enclosed or open spaces, shall adhere to the provisions of Part two of these regulations.

“The provisions of these regulations may be varied by guidelines and protocols as may be issued, from time to time, by the PTF on COVID-19 on the recommendation of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“The second part of the law addresses operations of public places like open markets, malls, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, hotels, event centres, gardens, leisure parks, recreation centres, motor parks and fitness centres.

“The law provides for wearing of face masks, hands washing, and the use of hand sanitisers, amongst other regulations.

“It stipulates a penalty of a fine or a prison of six months for offenders.”

Before now, the government strategy had been on interrupting the viral transmission of the disease; reducing its risk on the health system from being overwhelmed due to increased demand, minimizing mortality among most vulnerable parts of the population until the curve is finally flattened.

But the attitude of some Nigerians who live in total disobedience to non-pharmaceutical measures of wearing facemasks, observing social/physical distancing, avoiding crowded places, washing and sanitization of hands regularly, staying at home if there is no solid reason to go out among other prevention measures put in place by the government increased the viral transmission of the disease.

The second wave of the pandemic was however made worse by super-spreaders like the general and by-elections in some states, EndSARS protesters, Christmas and New Year festivities.

With the rising cases as well as the entrance of the B117 variant, the government cannot fold its arm to watch the predictions of those who said Africa would be littered with dead bodies to come true.

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Nonetheless, it is instructive to note that the government started the battle from the stand-point of weakness with manpower shortages, inadequate facilities, poor equipment among others. But today, the reverse is the case as the difference is clear in terms of sample collection, testing and establishment of treatment centres with Intensive Care Units in all the states of the federation.

Thanks to the leadership and members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 who accepted the uneasy task despite the false and malicious accusations, media attacks, stereotyping and all sorts of unprintable names and allegations.

Probably, if only these set of Nigerians should get to know that what is now regarded as the PTF was just a piece of paper that was handed over to its Chairman, Mr Boss Mustapha, on March 9, 2020, maybe they will begin to appreciate the level of works done and support it in the challenging tasks ahead.

So, when the government says we should take personal responsibility and ‘say no’ to vaccine hesitancy, it is for our own good and safety because if the worst should happen, there would not be space in our hospitals to treat other ailments just as the Vanguard Newspaper in its editorial comment of January 25, 2021, said: ”That the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened our already bad situation in the health sector is an understatement. The rising cases of COVID-19 infections are fast overwhelming Nigeria’s healthcare system.’

“The situation has become so critical that in some tertiary health institutions, all non-emergency cases are being suspended in order to devote more time and resources to COVID-19 care.

“We have observed that hospital admission is now guaranteed only after deposits of huge sums of money. Some private health facilities demand a deposit of between N2 million and N10 million to admit a COVID-19 patient, apart from the cost of treatment which could be up to N300,000 per day.

“It is alarming that presently in Nigeria, a COVID-19 patient who requires oxygen would, on the average, need 8 to 16 cylinders of oxygen daily at the cost of N20,000 to N50,000 per cylinder.

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“Such rising cost of healthcare in Nigeria, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has thus become a potential death sentence to the majority of Nigerians who live below the poverty line of less than $1 a day.” The editorial said.

Another reason that favours vaccination programme is the shortage of health professionals in the country.

According to the report, the ratio of Nigerian doctors to the population is 1: 2753. This means one doctor will be treating 2,753 patients should everyone be infected with the virus.

By all standards, the doctor-patient ratio in the country is inadequate because the World Health Organization recommendation is 1:600 which means one doctor should be responsible for 600 patients.

Like we all know, ideals are not always translated to reality especially in the least Developed Countries (LDC’s) because of so many factors.

Therefore, the question to those encouraging vaccine hesitancy is, should we allow politics to triumph over-vaccination programme that will save many lives or do we allow vaccination to prevail over politics knowing full well that advanced countries of the world like the United States with all the state of the arts medical facilities just recorded 433, 000 deaths with 25.8 million infected persons?

Whichever way we go, I want to end with a quote from the former United States President, Mr Barack Obama during his visit to Kenya.

He said: “We have not inherited this land from our forebears, we have borrowed it from our children. If we are enjoying the sacrifice made by others in the past, what sacrifice are we making to safeguard the lives of those who will come after us?”

As the nation prepares to roll out its own vaccination programme anytime soon, history will remember us if we encourage vaccination by the power of our example and not by the example of our power; apologies to President Biden.

Comrade Edwin Uhara is a UN-trained Negotiator and member APC Presidential Campaign Council in the last presidential election. He writes from Abuja

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A PIB-Centred Telephone Conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah

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Comrade Joseph Evah

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

To help douse the swift and conflicting reactions, utter confusion and frustration raging in the minds of the Niger Deltans and other stakeholders, occasioned by the inexplicable and unexpected provisions of the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), I sought a telephone conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah, Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group. That was a few days ago.

Essentially, on that day, at that time and in that place, I listened to him with rapt attention as his frankness made it very easy for me to be at ease in his presence.

After ‘watching’ him use analysis and well-crafted arguments to demonstrate among other concerns how the federal government is creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control, I concluded that what made the ‘meeting’ crucial was not its focus on the Petroleum Industry Bill, but how well the new awareness will serve the interest of the nation.

Beginning with the 3% allocation to the community, he said; well, as you can see, every normal human being from the Niger delta is against the 3% or 5%. They are in support of the community’s demand of 10%. Yes.

Although, like the Bible says; no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house Mark 3:27. Those who want to frustrate us or make nonsense of our heritage are now sponsoring some of our children who are betrayers to work against our common objective.

We are telling the Federal Government that they are creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control. This is the time the Government is talking about Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. This is the time that the Government is worried about Sunday Igboho of the Yoruba nation. All these agitations are because of injustice. Instead of the Buhari government to do something to build our unity, he is by his actions encouraging the separatist movement. If it is at this time that this kind of bill is coming up, it means the government is also encouraging separatist movement in the Niger Delta

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Providing direction to this conversation, I asked; how would you evaluate the role played by the representatives from the south-south region?

And just immediately, he gave this tragic-comic reply; we said they should come and give us a report of what happened, we are waiting for them. We have called their Telephone lines, and all their phones are not working. Yes! All their Telephone lines are not working; I have called some of them and their phones are not working.

Some of them at the National assembly are my cousins. Their Telephones are not working. They are all betrayers and they are hiding. They have put their names as Judas. They are the Judases of Niger Delta. We cannot fold our hands for something that in the next ten years will backfire on us.

In the next ten years from now, anybody can become Nigerian president and do whatever they like, because they believe that the Niger Deltans are the only people that send betrayers to the national assembly. We will not encourage that.

We expected them to walk out of the National Assembly. Other regions have in the past walked out of the national assembly. And there was reconciliation because those people walked out of the national assembly.  What have they been sitting down like Mumu at that place for? What are they benefitting? So, we are angry. They are Mumu. People from other tribes see them as betrayers of their region. In Abuja, they are shameless people moving about.

On 13% derivation, he captures it this way; we are not saying 100% as our expectation but because we are human beings, we will continue to talk to our leaders, let this thing be workable.

In 1999, I made a submission to Chief Olusejun Obsanjo, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I remember telling him that the 13%derivation should be changed, and should not be given to the Governor because the governors see the 13% as a Christmas party.

Instead, he added, let us apply what Babangida did. Babangida used trade by barter to build Abuja. He started the 13% with Julius Berger because Julius Berger could not be corrupted. Julius Berger built the Aso rock; Julius Berger built 90% of all the facilities. It was Julius Berger that changed Abuja to London.  So, if he gives part of that 13% to Julius Berger Construction Company, you will see that Niger Delta will change to London.

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To help make the conversation more rewarding, I (the author) asked this solution-oriented question; how will the region remedy the situation bearing in mind that Mr President is yet to sign the bill into law?

Let’s again listen to Comrade Evah; that is why we are appealing to the president to do the needful so as not to encourage the separatist movement in the Niger Delta. He should send the bill back to the National Assembly for them to revisit it again. Even the Supreme Court reverses itself when the need arises. So why can’t the National Assembly? That is our advice for him

Yet again, the author fired; what do you think is the holistic approach to the Niger Delta challenge?

Hear him; the holistic approach to the Niger delta challenge strictly depends on those who are ruling the country. It depends on their ability to assemble the nation’s first eleven for the purpose of development, as used after the civil war. It means selecting people who are focused and impeccable.

Politics has bastardized everything. No investments for our children, nothing, the universities are not working.   How come Buhari who has been a former military Governor, former Minister and former head of state cannot assemble people who are credible, people who are productive? All we have witnessed is everyday borrowing? What kind of government is that? When they promised to change, we never knew that it was borrowing change.

At this point, the author urged that the conversation moves from an expression of grief to finding a solution. Can’t our electoral system address the present leadership challenge in the country particularly, the issue of the first eleven as mentioned above?

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He responded thus; yes, elections can but our electoral process cannot be trusted.  If we want to deal with and correct this situation, we must learn to spend less money on elections. Through that process, you will see the beauty of democracy. The best candidates will emerge.  But will they allow it? It will not be allowed. We have some members of the National Assembly that go there to sleep. Some of them have been part of the National Assembly right from the government of Shehu Shagari. We have to confront these people. That is why we are confronting them.

He continues; I hope that all that we are saying on television and newspaper Mr President sees them unless the press secretaries will be hiding television from him because that is what some press secretaries do. Instead of the president watching news channels, press secretaries will tune to cartoon networks. Instead of them showing him newspapers on national matters, they show him any magazine that contains cartoon networks.

Those who are guarding the president give the president a fake opinion. They are blocking people from coming to tell the truth to his ears. That is the problem. All the press secretaries around the president need to repent. Give him newspapers on national matters to look at the opinion of the people. It will help the president to manage Nigeria.

The above scenario notwithstanding, Comrade Evah noted that leaders from the Niger Delta, particularly members of PANDEF have made a lot of moves. They are still making moves and the Ijaw National Congress leaders too; are still making moves to visit the Aso Rock to talk to the president. The problem is that, will the president be fair enough to do that?

On his thoughts about how the Amnesty programme can bear the targeted result, watch out for part two of this piece.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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Citizenship, Immigration Quota, Economics, Conflict & Development

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Immigration Quota World Map

By Nneka Okumazie

What does the country an individual comes from say?

Many nations of the world offer what can be called nationality neutrality, where not much can be thought of people from there in terms of risk.

But there are a number of nations where coming from there, with or without nationality is a liability of caution around them.

There are many who say they judge based on individuals – but it is not that simple because of how the memory associates one thing with another.

There are countries – across continents, not just obvious guesses, whose people are known for exponential horror.

There is often deliberate avoidance – by many – of certain places or people because they know what the people are capable of.

Yes, there are most things in every country, to differing degrees.

Countries have prisons, where their own people fill.

Countries also have cases where their own people do unspeakable stuff.

But the countries that ensure to do better per positives are hardly represented by their worst.

The countries of negativity may have a number of best to offer but are dwarfed by their sea of horror.

There is something pervasive in whatever country – where behaviour generation skews grim.

The people may not know, outsiders may not understand, but these countries where it is just bad news, darkness, evil, etc. are cases of obdurate societies whose priority should be doing better by the people, not anything else.

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But most times, the people are careless, double-down, or use interpretations that justify their actions.

They forget that to advance, evil from within must be conquered.

They also forget that there is no procession with evil that does not lead to destruction.

These places, in how they think, behave, assume, and induce ruin, set themselves and their people – everywhere – back.

They have a pattern – and that, predictable about them makes them weak. It also makes them unwanted.

They most times carry negativity wherever they go and are veritably selfish no matter how they seem to have fake bonds or gatherings among themselves.

No don’t say this about that people, or don’t talk about it – consign many to almost a life of waste – reared in those places.

The bigger problem, many forget, with evil – hidden or known, is what it inspires.

There are many extremes in the world at present that were not this horrific couple of decades ago.

There are also horrors within the last century that continue to shape negative action.

In many ways, good offers leadership and bad offers leadership.

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The world is not that complex to have so many sources of leadership.

There are a few, relatively, and many just follow. Some who follow cannot even see that they are.

There are countries that would hardly do anything prosperous for themselves unless nudged by external people in some form.

There are those whose objective is sabotage and pain transmission.

There are those who would copy, skipping key sequences – just to do what others are doing.

There are many who would follow digital currency because everyone is doing it, but forget that differential productivity and jobs are better valued than capital pegged against anything.

There are also those whose education offers no leadership, whose sectors offer no leadership, whose businesses offer no leadership, but to follow what is done elsewhere – while over predicting their distance.

There are those who cannot show real courage, who do not even understand what courage is and that without risk – to the extent of losing all, most times, progress may never be attained.

There is a difference in the courage it takes to move from a poor country to a better one, to the one it takes to move to a poorer or unstable one, or to a war zone.

There was some civil war at some location within the last century where foreigners came to fight for a side to defeat what they believed would be dangerous.

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Many died, but courage in that arena, where those having it better, keep it aside to war on backwardness, may decide for them, how they progress.

Courage is to open a business or do something.

But opening a business with a market does not compare to opening one with no defined market or developing a new product that can be useful, but may fail in demand.

There are just so many who peak at the luxury a position offers – and have nothing they would ever make better.

It is possible to make progress in different ways, but a nation without its best – those who are super attitudinally extraordinary, trying, it may be difficult to find new methods to change from their situation.

Where are you from?

Those from weak countries who do not do their best – selflessly for their nations may not be too distant from their worst.

[Judges 20:13, Now, therefore, deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel:]

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Dysfunctional Federalism and the Centre Called Abuja

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Abuja

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

In the words of James Tar Tsaaior, Professor of Media and Cultural Communication, School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, the circle looks harmless and innocuous’ but it is not. It is guilty of certain politics, inclusionary and exclusionary politics.

Every circle has its centre and margin, its core and periphery. The centre is the point of attraction because of its strategic position. Anything outside of the centre does not validly belong to the circle. It exists as a tangent, beyond its orbit or circumference.

It is interesting how the mathematical sign of the circle has become an idea for instituting cartographic domains, political hierarchies, economic zones and cultural categories in today’s global neighbourhood. These include the global North and South, the First and Third Worlds, the metropolis and the province, the centre and margin and the core and the periphery, among other binary oppositions.

Likewise, here, Abuja represents the centre. It is the capital city of Nigeria. It is in the middle of the political circle called Nigeria. The skyline of the city, which was built largely in the 1980s, is dominated by Aso Rock, an enormous monolith. It rises up behind the Presidential Complex, which houses the residence and offices of the Nigerian president in the Three Arms Zone on the eastern edge of the city. Nearby are the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

The city overtly and covertly shares the above attributes of a centre.

In the spirit of the true federal system, Abuja and the federal (central) government, was originally meant to operate as a coordinating government and not as a controlling government and has the exclusive responsibility for the mutually agreed common national services.

But contrary to expectation, Abuja is guilty of certain politics as it presently ‘enjoys’ political obesity- welding much power to the detriment of the federating states. Laced with the spirit of command and control, and has asymmetrically cornered to itself responsibilities such as the Armed Forces, Nigerian Police, Citizenship, Customs, Central Bank of Nigeria/National Currency, Immigration, Foreign Affairs including Foreign Trade, National Education Standards, but not Educational Institutions (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Levels, National Scientific, Technological and Industrial Goods Standards including Agricultural/Mineral Commodity Export Standards, Trunk A Roads or Interconnecting High ways of Nigerian Federation, among others.

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Evidently, for the reason that the ‘constitution we inherited (1999 constitution as amended), from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated; and did not originate from “the people” but rather a product of imposition’, it made slanted provisions that mirrors government at the centre as both ‘captain and coach’ of other federating states thereby characterizing Abuja as a general surrounded by many lieutenants. This set the stage for the nation’s dysfunctional federalism.

Today, Abuja means different things to different people.

To some lazy state governors, who are clueless about increasing their state’s internally generated revenue (IGR), and depend solely on federal allocation, Abuja, means a ‘dispenser of goodness’.

For politicians outsmarted in their states, Abuja is the ‘wilderness of consolation and a desert of hope’. For those that lost elective positions in their states/constituencies, Abuja is the centre where the sweet phrase; ‘weep not child’ can only be heard via political appointments and contracts.

This inglorious disparity in the power-sharing arrangement has rendered as unabated the need for restructuring the relationship between the centre and the states to reflect true economic and political federalism that will allow for resource control by the varying states while paying the constitutionally stipulated taxes to the centre.

Compounding this present national challenge is the posture of President Muhammadu Buhari, who presently sees nothing to restructure in the political edifice called Nigeria.

To add context to the discourse, represented by the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu, at the launch of Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari, Zaria Peace Foundation which took place at Ahmadu Bello University Hotels, Zaria, Mr President said as follows; “Again, those who are discussing restructuring, my question is, what are you going to restructure? If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find out that they have nothing to talk about.

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“Some of them have not even studied the 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is almost 70 to 80 per cent the same with that of the 1979 Constitution.”

Unmistakably, there exist two reasons that qualify Mr President’s latest position on the state of the nation as a crisis and deeply troubling.

First, it is coming a few years after the same Mr President noted while delivering a nationwide broadcast on Monday, January 1, 2018, that ‘no human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to the changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments.’

Identifying those imperfections and catalysing the process of reforming this changing circumstance as muted by the president should be the preoccupation of all at the present circumstance.

The second concern is that Mr President is not alone in this deformed argument.

Recently, some Nigerians argued that President Buhari was elected by Nigerians and he is the symbol of the sovereign many talked about. Therefore, asking him to convoke a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of restructuring Nigeria is to ask him to abdicate the high office of the presidency of Nigeria, that is, to surrender his powers, office to a group of elected or selected persons who now determine the tenor of the federation.

While this piece accepts the above reasoning is true, the argument is, however, plagued/deformed by its decision to remain silent or failure to remember that Mr President is also constitutionally empowered to demand from the national assembly via executive Bill, amendments of the constitution according to the changing circumstances.

In simple language, this is what Nigerians want/demand and will appreciate if Mr President performs this function at the most fundamental level.

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Supporting this claim is a statement credited to the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor as it lays bare what Igbos and the generality of Nigerians demands.

He said in parts; fundamentally, what Ndigbo really want is some form of internal autonomy based on a restructured Nigeria.

Categorically stated, we are of the view that the federation of Nigeria must be a union of equals and the composite units must have the ability to stand without begging the centre for survival. That is a federal system of government with its characteristics of decentralization and devolution of power among the federating units”.

From the above reason flows yet another concern which has to do with justice. Globally, there exists a veiled agreement that justice has two different faces, one conservative of ex­isting norms and practices, the other demanding reform of these norms and practices.

Thus, on the one hand, it is a matter of justice to respect people’s rights under existing law or moral rules, or more generally to fulfil the legitimate expectations they have acquired as a result of past practice, social conventions, and so forth.

On the other hand, justice gives us reason to change laws, practices and conventions quite fun­damentally, thereby creating new entitlements and expectations.

While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with the campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness and resurgence demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stems from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.

The best way to reverse this trend is to first acknowledge that the constitution we inherited from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated. And most importantly, we must make Abuja/the government at the centre shed some weight via power devolution. Call it restructuring, you may not be far from the truth!

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