Omicron: The ban by UK and Canada, Dan Agbese

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NNPC report

The United Kingdom and Canada have incurred the wrath of the Nigerian government and the people, as indeed they should – and unwisely invited themselves to put their heads in the hornets’ nest. They have banned us from entering their countries because of the new Covid-19 export from South Africa with the rather IT-induced name, Omicron. 

The howl of official protests over the ban speaks volumes about how Nigerians want other countries to treat them – fairly and justly. It is a wise, patriotic, and obligatory reaction to a ban considered by this country as unfair, unjust, hasty, and discriminatory. Some knowledgeable Nigerians even think the ban is a new variant of apartheid. Could be. Apartheid mutates too; ask Donald Trump.

The governor of Ekiti State and chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, said it was “very discouraging to note that there are several countries that have reported cases of Omicron similar to or higher than Nigeria’s, that have not been banned from entry to the UK and Canada.”

That, indeed, raises an important issue. So far as we know, there have been only three reported cases of Omicron in the country, said to have been brought into the country by travellers from the UK, not South Africa. That, on the face of it, is far from being indicative that our country is saturated with it and every Nigerian is a possible carrier and spreader of the virus. You would think Nigerians have been turned into vector mosquitoes. If, despite such an insignificant number of cases of infections in Nigeria, the two countries felt it necessary to take the drastic action they took, we must ask if there is something they know about this new variant of Covid-19 that our country and its leaders and officials do not quite know. 

The last report from the CDC indicated that more than 2,000 of our fellow country men and women have succumbed to Covid-19 since 2020. That figure is much less than the daily death toll from the virus in the United States alone. That, of course, does not make Nigeria a safe island in the polluted global waters of the Covid-19; it is just the lord’s doing.

Should the UK and Canada have banned us because of only three cases of the virus?  Does not seem fair; if it is punitive, it is out of proportion with the facts. However, let us admit that the UK and Canada have absolute rights to take such steps as they deem necessary to protect their citizens from the conquering global virus, Covid-19. Those rights are absolute and could not be questioned by other nations in so far as their right not to submit to the pandemic is rooted in their right to life. The protests are not questioning those rights; they are telling the two countries to be fair to our country in exercising those rights.

I would actually welcome the ban if the two countries were telling us to stay home and fix our problems such as more testing and vaccinations, and a strict adherence to, and enforcement of, the Covid-19 protocol decreed by the World Health Organisation. When the howls of protests subside, we must do much more than wonder why we are bracketed among countries with worse cases than ours. If they picked on us, they must have reasons that are good from their own point of view. There are two possible pointers to the action of the two countries. 

One, perhaps the UK and Canada are not overly impressed by our national efforts to contain the virus. They know we have a low testing and vaccination rates. They probably do not believe that the three Omicron cases tell the full facts about the rate of infection in our country and that it might all be 419.

Here is something that they might have picked up and wrongly construed as indicative of our lacklustre attitude towards the containment of the virus. On Monday, December 6, a summit, intended to “bring all stakeholders together to discuss the theme: Pushing through the last mile to end the pandemic and build back better,” was held in Abuja. The senate president, Dr Ahmed Lawan, declared it open. When he looked around the hall, he did not see the minister of health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, the minister of state for health, Dr Olorunimbe Mamora and the permanent secretary in the minister, Mahmuda Mamman. He was angry. 

He was told that the Ehanire was at the conference earlier but left before the official opening. It seemed to Lawan that the ministry of health that should coordinate efforts such as the summit, was not treating the summit as an important part of the national discourse on assessing the nation’s co-ordinated response to the pandemic so far; as well as examine what else needs to be done as the virus continues to wreak havoc globally. 

The senate president said that the ministry should have been represented at the summit by its three top officials “because everything we do here, the Federal Ministry of Health is supposed to be here to garner all the resources that will come out of this. The PSC (the Presidential Steering Committee) is simply an interventionist outfit. And as politicians and political leaders, we are supposed to be very serious and committed about the health of our people.” 

Nations in the hunt for those to blame for their problems might point to something like this and said, “See, these people are not serious about protecting themselves from the virus. If we allow them into our country at this time, we are inviting them as spreaders of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus.”

Two, and more importantly, the discovery of Omicron in South Africa is the aha moment for the western world. Now, Africa must take the blame. This is the evidence they have been looking for to tell the rest of the world that Africa is actually the birthplace of Covid-19; and that Wuhan in China is a province in an African country. After all, Africa is the birthplace of global bad news.

 At the outbreak of the pandemic, the West expected more people in Africa to die from it than anywhere else in the world. They would then invite themselves for humanitarian reasons to pour their medical and other personnel and medications into Africa to help the continent fight the virus. It is their traditional response to a dependent continent. Africa generally lacks the capacity to take on a health challenge this difficult and this complicated. But what they expected to happen did not happen. The corpses did not pile up in Africa; they piled up and continue to pile up in the morgues in Europe and the United States. This is a major puzzle for them. I am sure they have never heard of African juju or black power. I still think there is a third to pointer to why the rest of the world now picks on us. We would be living a lie, and we are any way, if we ignore the fact that we are not where the rest of the world expected us to be, given our unbelievable human and natural resources. We have descended from the Olympian heights as the leader of the continent and the black people everywhere to what the late Fela would describe as followfollow. Our feet as the giant of Africa have been progressively shortened by acts of omission, commission, and confusion in the challenges of nation- building. If we do not want other countries to continue to pick on us and subject us to avoidable embarrassment, I suggest we take determined steps towards recovering our image from the dustbin of our once glorious history when Nigeria had the loudest and the strongest voice in Africa. It spoke, and the world listened. It acted, and the world took due note of its calculated strides. Now, poor, and impoverished, it only grunts, usurping the right of the pig to talk unintelligibly.

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