3rd September, 2021
By Jethro Ibileke
It would be an understatement to say that the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, has stretched the entire countries of the world beyond limits. Beside the huge funds spent to control and manage the dreaded disease, much are still being spent to protect citizens from getting infected.
Countries are still groaning under huge economic and other burdens imposed on them by COVID-19.
Of course, most countries are no longer under lockdown as it was during those bad days, but, every country around the world is doing everything possible to control the spread of COVID-19. Several measures are being put in place to control its spread, including imposition of travel ban to and from countries considered high-risks. Vaccines are also being administered to willing citizens, amongst others. Well to do countries, under the coordination of the World Health Organization (WHO) and other generous philanthropists have donated millions of doses of the vaccines to many poorer countries, including Nigeria.
As at 31st of August, statistics around the world show that a total of 2.14 billion people have been fully vaccinated. Of those figures, China has fully vaccinated 889 million; India, 152 million; USA, 175 million, Brazil, 3.5 million and Nigeria, 1.44 million.
Donated vaccines were been shared among the 36 states of the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). That accounts for the 1.44 million people fully vaccinated so far.
To be fair, Edo State has never lag behind in the fight against COVID-19. In fact, the State government under Governor Godwin Obaseki has been commended for its effort both during the era of lockdown and afterwards. In fact, Obaseki and his Deputy, Philip Shaibu were among state Governors and their deputies to take jabs of the vaccine. Beside the huge funds already committed to administering the vaccines, he has also done much to encourage citizens of the state to do the same. Regrettably, however, his rating appears to be dropping over recent actions and pronouncements. Let’s analyze them.
On Friday, August 21, 2021, the State Government took delivery of 76,712 doses of Coronavirus vaccines from the federal government. The the vaccines include 65,016 doses of Moderna and 11,696 doses of AstraZeneca.
The Health Educator of the State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (ESPHDA), Mrs. Irene Uabor, who received the consignment on behalf of the government, reassured the government’s commitment to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Four days after the delivery of the vaccines, on Monday, 24 August, the State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, promptly flagged-off the second round of vaccination campaign to enable more willing residents to take the vaccines to protect them from from the dreaded viral disease.
There is no gainsaying that Governor Obaseki, and, by extension, the state government and its agency against the spread of Coronavirus, committed huge financial resources to the fight against the dreaded disease, even with dwindling resources amidst the economic meltdown occasioned by the advent of the novel disease. I belive that most residents of the State appreciate them for working assiduously till now.
Governor Obaseki however steered the hornets’ nest on Monday, during the flag-off of the second round of vaccination campaign, when he announced imposition of restriction on mass gatherings, especially for citizens without evidence vaccination against COVID-19. According to the Governor, “only those with proof of one dose of vaccination will have access large gatherings.”
According to him, “Beginning from the second week of September 2021, large gatherings, as well as high traffic public and private places will only be accessed by persons who have proof of taking at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination. People who have not yet been vaccinated at all will depend on remote access to these gatherings.
“From the second week of September, people may not be allowed to worship in churches and mosques without showing proof of their vaccination cards at the gates. Similarly, people will not be allowed to event centers, receptions or parties, without showing proof of their vaccination cards.”
“People will not be allowed to access banking services from the middle of September 2021, if they are not vaccinated. We have made adequate arrangements with security agencies to prevent anybody who doesn’t have vaccination cards to access any of these places. We are doing this to protect our citizens and all these measures will remain until the pandemic passes away.”
The Governor said the new regulation is not to create hardship on the people, but to protect their lives and livelihood while the pandemic lasts. He however added that “his administration will continue to strictly enforce all non-pharmaceutical measures to contain the pandemic in the state.”
Little wonder then, that the conversion sparked-off controversy and wild debate among residents of the state, with many of them expressing disdain for the “order”.
Alarmed by the directive, hundreds of protesters under the aegis of Equity Initiatives, last Monday protested Obaseki’s directive. Armed with placards with various inscriptions like: “Obaseki can’t force us to take COVID-19 vaccines”; “I have right to mosque; We have right to decide”; amongst others. The peaceful protesters said the government’s order is tantamount to trampling on the fundamental rights of the citizens.
Chris Iyama who spoke for the groups, said: “We are here to express our displeasure over government’s move to force Edo people to take COVID-19 vaccines. This is against our fundamental human rights. You cannot force someone to eat what he or she doesn’t want. Are we in Banana Republicz? We own the state not the government.”
Also, Charles Osaretin, through his counsel, Echezona Etiaba (SAN), approached the Federal High Court, in Port Harcourt, to obtain an ex-parte order to restrain Obaseki and five others from imposing the rule.
Ruling on the motion, the presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed granted the ex-parte orders and adjourned the case till 10 September, 2021, for hearing of the substantive motion.
Even with the court order, Governor Obaseki on Wednesday during a press conference at the Government House in Benin City, boasted that he is empowered under the Gazetted Quarantine Regulations to make COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for entrance into public places. He went ahead to disclosed plans by the State Government to challenge the ex-parte order.
He described the court order as speculative and pre-emptive.
Obaseki said: “Although the State Governor, in truth, has the power to make such an order under the Gazetted Quarantine Regulations, this directive is actually only a denial of access to public places of persons who chose not to be vaccinated. We believe government’s overriding concern is the safety and health of its citizens.
“The Edo State Government has, therefore, instructed its Lawyers to vigorously pursue and challenge all such orders in the courts from where they emanate and if necessary, at the appellate level, while affirming its position as a law-abiding government.”
As innocent and well-intended Obaseki’s no-COVID-19 vaccination, no-public gathering attendance directive might appear, it also means that from the second week of September, COVID-19 vaccination certificate is the only license for free movement in the State. It means that if you are among the hundreds of thousands or residents who wanted to get vaccinated, but were unfortunate to get a dose from the very limited quantities available to the state during the first phase of the exercise, you can’t go to bank to get your money, you cannot go to your respective places of worship, if such places are opening.
It is good that the Governor “encourage everyone to get vaccinated”, but, I doubt if he was totally correct when he said that vaccination is “the only way we can save lives and livelihood, as well as return to our normal lives.” My reason? I remember reading of a United States-based medical practitioner, a professor who had received the two doses of the vaccine, yet, he later contracted the dreaded disease, did not exhibit any symptoms, suddenly took I’ll, was rushed to the hospital, and sadly, he died the following day.
In another word, doses of AstraZeneca vaccine or any other type do not guarantee total protection from contracting Coronavirus disease.
Manufacturers of the vaccines might have unwittingly created doubts and fear in people’s mind, as to the safety of the vaccines. The vaccine manucturers allegedly demand that countries buying their products sign indemnity forms, shielding them from liability of any kind and absolving them of any obligation in the after-effect of their use of the vaccines. In another word, they cannot guaranty the safety of their vaccines, and, if you take jabs of them and anything happens to you, you’re on you own.
Residents of the state have also reacted to the vaccines itself. They argued that the negative reactions, from mild to severe reactions, from high fever, diarrhea, vomiting of blood, paralysis and even death, that have been recorded, are serious reasons for concern.
A University lecturer and lawyer who did not want to be named, frowned at the decision of Edo state government to impose restrictions on people without proof of vaccination from accessing public places. To her, it is an abuse of power.
“Personally, I do not want to take that vaccine. I do not think it serves any purpose, it has not guaranteed total protection from Coronavirus, so, why force people to take it? Also, why impose a vaccine that the manufactures say they do not want to have any liability in case of negative reactions?”, She queried.
To Leftist Osaze Edighin, a civil rights activist, depriving citizens without evidence of vaccination from accessing public places is an abuse of their personal liberty. Rather than dissipate energy and resources on monitoring compliance with this order, Edighin called on Governor Obaseki and his team to focus on other more needs, such as improving security in the state.
He said: “There is nowhere vaccines are forced on the people. It is everybody’s right to determine self-vaccination or not. The deprivation of citizens from accessing public spaces over inability to provide proof of vaccination is abuse of personal liberty.
“There are more important issues expected to be tackled by the government than the current excessive waste of time on COVID-19 that doesn’t have emperical effect on the people.
“The isolation centres in Edo State are shut down, therefore one begins to wonder where the government is bringing the virus from again. Government should focus more on providing security along the Benin-Auchi corridor,” Edighin said.
Bevy Efe, a human rights activist, said: “Governor Obaseki is about to lose my support and thousands of my followers for him and his government if he continues the compulsory/force-vaccination of Edo people. I will not negotiate this for anything.
“The governor do not have the legal right to force any citizens to take the vaccine, citizens have the right to either take or not. Forceful vaccine [on people] is not the problem of Edo, Edo people need good roads, good health care. Most government hospitals are obsolete and insecurity is the order of the day [in the state].”
On his part, Austin Osagie, compared Obaseki’s restriction order to the draconian, repressive and obnoxious decree 4 of the infamous military regime of Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Tunde Idiagbon of 1984.
He said: “Always playing to the gallery. Is this directive not similar to decree 4 of the former military regime? Is there anywhere in the world where such a directive has been issued apart from showing the certificate at entry and exit point when traveling? May God help us in Edo State.”
With all these in view, we need to ask Obaseki: Has the state government procured enough doses of the vaccines to go round the over 3,000,000 citizens of the state?
Perhaps we remind him that no nation in the world, not even USA, the most powerful nation, has directed that its citizens be vaccinated against their wish. Nigeria’s government under Buhari has also not done that. So, why will Obaseki want to be the one to start it? What exactly is his problem?
In saner countries, the citizens are persuaded, induced with some incentives to take the vaccines.
In the interim, all fingers are crossed, citizens are eagerly waiting to see how much compliance will follow Obaseki’s no-vaccination, no- public places attendance order and how he plans to enforce compliance.