PERSPECTIVE – Edo people and Nigerians’ attitude to COVID vaccines

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By Ehichioya Ezomon

In the name of protecting the citizens’ right to freedom of choice, concerned Nigerians watched the other day, in awe, a protest against COVID-19 vaccination in Benin City, Edo State.

Led by the civil society organisations, the protesters have also taken out a writ, to restrain Governor Godwin Obaseki and his government from enforcing mass inoculation of Edo residents.

Defying an early morning downpour, the protesters, who visited the Benin City office of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Government House, displayed placards with inscriptions as: “Obaseki, you can’t force us to take COVID-19 vaccines; Armed robbers, kidnappers, Boko Haram, herdsmen are killing us not COVID-19; Vaccines kill; Vaccines cause miscarriages; We have right to decide; I have right to my Church; I have right to my Mosque.”

Not surprising, the protesters bandied widespread and unsupportive claims by COVID deniers and anti-vaccine (anti-vax) exponents, among them some prominent Nigerian “men of God.”

Addressing newsmen at the NUJ press centre, spokespersons for the group asked rhetorically, “Are we a Banana Republic?” and urged Obaseki to “face infrastructural decay and insecurity instead of forcing residents to take COVID-19 vaccines.”

The group decried government’s move to force Edo people to take the vaccines “against our fundamental human rights,” adding, “you cannot force someone to eat what he or she doesn’t want.”

“We own the state not the government. It is the right of the citizens to decide whether to be vaccinated or not. If the government have failed, we cannot fail ourself. Government have the right to make policies but this policy is not law,” the group said.

The confrontation stemmed from government’s directive that the residents must vaccinate against COVID-19, failing which defaulters would be barred from accessing public places and facilities.

Obaseki, announcing the measures on August 26, said that from September 15, 2021, anyone yet to take the vaccine would not be allowed into public places, such as banks and worship centres.

As reported by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), to lead compliance with the directive are civil servants in the state’s Ministry of Health, who’re given a seven-day ultimatum to get immunised.

A memo of August 30 by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Mr Frederick Irabor, notified all staff members to “get vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 within the week.”

“I am further directed to inform all that from Sept. 6, any staff (member) who has not taken the COVID-19 vaccine will not be allowed into the office premises,” the statement said. But determined to have their way, the protesters have taken the matter to a Federal High Court in Rivers State, which has restrained Governor Obaseki from enforcing the COVID-19 vaccination.

Granting an ex parte order solicited by one Charles Osaretin, via his lawyer, Echezona Etiaba (SAN), Justice Adamu Turaki Mohammed adjourned the substantive motion to September 10.

An unfazed Obaseki, at a briefing in Benin City on September 1, said he’d appeal the court ruling, and iterated that, “our directive on vaccination stands,” and threatened a lockdown “if residents failed to follow the directive and comply with COVID-19 protocols.”

Obaseki described as “speculative and preemptive” the court’s order to maintain the status quo on the compulsory vaccination, as “commencement of the directive is the second week of September.”

He urged planners of social, religious, political or business events to ensure that they and their guests were vaccinated and possessed vaccination cards as proof, warning, “anyone without this proof will not be granted access to crowded facilities.”

As the battle line is drawn, the protesters be reminded that the government directive isn’t meant to punish, but protect the people from COVID-19, with its “Delta variant” more virulent and deadly than the first and second waves of the pandemic. The government wouldn’t mandate compulsory vaccination, to enable access into public places, if the people had embraced inoculation, with unvaccinated residents, according to Obaseki, accounting lately for 100 per cent of COVID deaths in Edo State.

Sadly, what’s witnessed daily in cities and towns, which are the epicentres of the pandemic, is blatant disregard for the health and social protocols accepted as the first defences against the virus.

The question: If you don’t obey these simple protocols to keeping you safe, and you’re anti-COVID vaccines, how would you protect against infection, hospitalisation and even death? It boils down to our attitude to things that affect our health and wellbeing: That any prevailing disease, whether epidemic or pandemic, doesn’t concern or won’t affect us.

However, we’re in perilous times, and should be wary of COVID-19. We’re faced with, and praying against physical insecurities clothed in terrorism, insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, robbery and ritualism, which the protesters alluded to. Yet, the unseen insecurity in COVID-19 is deadlier to be toyed with. But do Nigerians realise this danger? They don’t appear to, as they trivialise the virus, or out rightly dismiss or deny its existence.

If you told them about the implications of being complacent or in denial of the pandemic, they would quickly have recourse to emotive spiritualism, such as, “It’s not my/our portion.” Yes, God maketh all things possible (Matthew 19:26, Luke1:37, Philippians 4:13, Mark 10:27, Romans 8:28 and Ecclesiastes 3:11). But God does not ask us to expose ourselves to unnecessary danger with telling consequences!

We should obey the health and social protocols by wearing a face mask/shield, wash/sanitize hands regularly and maintain distancing that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Governments worldwide have obligated to preventing contracting COVID-19. Especially as the Delta variant has exponentially increased infections, hospitalisations and deaths globally, including Nigeria, where Lagos, one again, has become the lead epicentre.

An unverified social media report, posted by a COVID caregiver, about the millions patients spend to get treated in Lagos, calls for sober reflection, as similar conditions prevail in other states. Oxygen, which’s critical to patients staying alive, is reportedly pushed into the black market, from N20,000 a cylinder at the plant, to a minimum of N50,000, “depending on availability and desperation.” And with a patient requiring “8 to 16 cylinders/day,” that approximates to between “N400,000 and N800,000/day.” Going by the report, “to maintain oxygenation in inflamed lungs, you require 6 litres of oxygen per minute,” excluding Remdesivir, Ivermectin and other drugs that’ve quadrupled in prices.

As families and friends are the main sources of funding for COVID treatment, how many of the anti-vax agitators in Edo State can afford the amounts if they or their relatives contract the virus that attacks particularly the lungs and causes viral pneumonia?

Despite the negative campaign against COVID vaccines, over two million Nigerians have taken the specified AstraZeneca shots, and are supposed to be relatively safe from the disease.

Yet, they seem more afraid of the virus – and observe the health and social protocols for staying safe – than the unvaccinated that stand a greater risk of infection, hospitalisation and death.

COVID-19 deniers argue that to wear a face mask/shield, perform hand hygiene and distancing cause discomfort. But experts caution that, “contracting the virus is not only more physically discomfiting, it could bankrupt you and your family.” So, let’s be WARNED!

So, let’s be WARNED! May God protect us, as we observe the rules, and voluntarily accept vaccination, to prevent contracting the disease, and/or mitigating its impact in any eventuality.

  • Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.

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