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MAGNUS ONYIBE

Magnus Onyibe is an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta state government. Since the return to multi-party democracy in Nigeria over 21 years ago, Onyibe has written and published over 200 opinion pieces on the Nigerian economy, business, politics, leadership, governance and foreign relations issues.

At a point, the second wave of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic seemed so farfetched. But with the number of cases of covid-19 pandemic carriers ramping up as reflected by the increase in the count of people testing positive for a disease that was thought to be on its way out, Coronavirus has once again crossed our defense line and infiltrated our ranks like the invisible enemy that it truly is. The above reality is based on the alarm recently raised by the trio of Secretary to The Federal Government, SGF, Boss Mustafa, minister of health , Osagie Ehanire and Nigerian Center for Disease Control, NCDC, director general , Chikwe lheakwazu.

While the SGF has notified Nigerians that some members of his family have tested positive to Covid-19, so he has gone into isolation; both the minister of Health and NCDC have only last week put Nigerians on notice about the need to brace up for a second wave of the deadly disease. That’s even as lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwa-Olu who has also tested positive to the virus, has gone into isolation. But must our public servants always be reactive, instead of proactive, and is mere alarm a good enough defense mechanism against COVID-19 pandemic ? Obviously, based on experience from other climes where coronavirus is running rampage and they are taking extreme precautions , it is not. Let’s not forget that owing to Nigeria’s affinity to Europe by virtue in of colonial ties, what happens over there trickles down here very quickly. Are there measures in our airports to test visitors arriving from Europe and other coronavirus hotbeds into Nigeria, as is currently the situation in Rwanda? There is obviously no such arrangements. And such is the none existent or forlorn fight that is being put up against a very ferocious and deadly enemy-COVID-19 pandemic that has at 15 December killed over 1,194 and infected about 73,000 in our country. Apart from low testing rate which needs to be increased, awareness creation is abysmally low hence, there seem to be reluctance on the part of the masses to go for COVID-19 testing.

Back in those terrorism defined days, privacy rules were suspended as telephone wire tapping was allowed just as major airports , even had scanners that exposed airport users to harm from x-rays and in some cases revealed human anatomy and private cavities to those manning the equipment. Could it be a function of poor leadership now compared to 2011 when the country was under the leadership of President George W Bush ? Would a bill by the congress , promoted by president Donald Trump suspending some liberties, have helped ease the current tension and prevent avoidable deaths ? We may never know . Over the years , and after the 1918 Spanish flu, there has been other pandemics , including HIV aides. As Science has proved that condoms are the safest protection against infection from HIV aids , until anti HIV aids vaccine is discovered; so also do face masks, hand washing with soap and social distancing, for now,  offer the best protection against  Covid-19, simplicita. But why are folks not as keen on following the Covid-19 pandemic protocol with a similar zeal and commitment seen with respect to compliance with the use of condoms as protection against HlV AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases? By comparison, in terms of deadliness, Covid-19 has proven to be deadlier and faster to kill, as a coronavirus sufferer can die in a matter of days and weeks, which is in sharp contrast to HIV aids patients, who can Iive much longer after being infected. Perhaps, presenting the truth about coronavirus pandemic by comparing it to the dreaded HIV aids, whose devastating effect, most Nigerians are familiar with, would bring the reality home . And such an approach may especially benefit most of our compatriots  in the lower rung of the social ladder who nurse or harbor the ignorant notion that COVID-19 pandemic is a disease exclusive to the rich, which is such a fallacy” The above referenced piece was written three months ago. In another article that l wrote and titled “COVID-19: Do Nigerians Need Celebrity Enlightenment On CNN?’’ and published on 23 April, by Cable Online newspaper and traditional media platforms, l made a case for massive publicity about Covid-19 pandemic involving communicating in major Nigerian dialects of Yoruba , Hausa and lgbo. The whole idea is that the message need to percolate down to the grass roots people who constitute the bulk of the skeptics who currently regard coronavirus as being peculiar to ‘big men’ only. “Were there to be any need for the use of traditional media to mobilize Nigerians, why not concentrate it on Nigerian broadcasting stations? If it’s about taking advantage of the wider coverage area of the CNN ,how about syndicating the adverts to local TV stations nationwide back in the rural areas where the bulk of Nigerians reside? Better still, why not produce the adverts in the three major Nigerian dialects of Hausa, Yoruba and lgbo spoken widely by practically every Nigerian from the regions? Is Aliko Dangote, not Hausa, are Jim Ovia and Tony Elumelu not Delta Ibo and are Femi Otedola and Folorunsho Alakija not Yoruba. Wouldn’t it have been novel if they spoke to each of the audiences with affinity to them in their local dialects? Without a doubt, these ‘big men’ speaking English on CNN could have connected better with the folks back in their homesteads if they spoke to them in their dialects? It was very refreshing for me recently when l saw a video clip of former CNN anchor lady, Aisha Sesay enlightening her people in patois spoken widely in her homestead, Sierra Leone. She simply stripped herself of the Western garb and climbed down to the level of the ordinary Sierra Leoneans at the bottom rung of the ladder by communicating with them about coronavirus in flawless patois”. How can you blame the ordinary folks for assuming that coronavirus is a ‘big man’s’ disease when the bulk of the people that have so far been recorded in the media as haven died from Covid-19 are mainly ‘big men’? Take a look at the roll call of the ‘big men’ who have so far unfortunately and sadly succumbed to Covid-19 in Nigeria: Abba Kyari, Suleiman Achumogu, Abiola Ajimobi, Isma’ila Isa Funtua, Kashamu Buruji, Harry Akande and Wahab Adegbebro. Unlike the upper class members of society highlighted above, the poor people who have caught coronavirus or died from it are simply unannounced and therefore unknown to the masses. On the contrary, in the USA,CNN for instance regularly profiles those that lost their lives to coronavirus irrespective of their station in life. The short profile of most victims on global TV is one of the ways of making every American see that coronavirus is real and can kill both the rich and the poor. If such an approach is adopted here, the people in the category of the poor in our society that had not related to the fact that Covid-19 pandemic can kill people of their status because it is not their reality, may be convinced. So the ideal solution to the apparent malaise of ignorance amongst the masses is for the PTF, NCDC or CACOVID to make awareness creation a critical component of their strategy to combat the pandemic of coronavirus. As the saying goes , ignorance is bliss. In my view, with respect to coronavirus, ignorance is not bliss but a risky predilection . That’s because the disease actually thrives and preys on ignorant people who who fail to wash their hands regularly , engage in touching their noses or eyes with infected hands and also transmit it by shaking hands with others, or dont wear face masks when mingling simply because they fail to realize that they are involuntarily being vectors for the disease. Now that a vaccine against Covid-19 has been approved in both the Uk and US, there is another mountain for public health authorities in Nigeria to climb. Apart from the challenge of creating awareness about Covid-19 pandemic, there is a much bigger huddle of convincing Nigerians to agree to be vaccinated. Given the negative experience of the past about some unsavory fallouts of vaccines especially in the northern part of Nigeria, getting most Nigerians to take the vaccination would certainly be more than an uphill task. And as stated earlier there are many good reasons for that. The American Health Association, in a thorough review of the infamous experiment on blacks in Tuskegee, Alabama, USA where black men were infected with syphilis and monitored without treatment between 1932 to 1972, showcased the horrific experience of the victims. That medical cruelty and racism has influenced and shaped the attitude of black people and indeed the less privileged who have learnt to be suspicious about vaccines which can be used as a weapon against them by the rich and powerful. According to the study published in American Journal Of Health : “The strategies used to recruit and retain participants were quite similar to those being advocated for HIV/AIDS prevention programs today. Almost 60 years after the study began, there remains a trail of distrust and suspicion that hampers HIV education efforts in Black communities. The AIDS epidemic has exposed the Tuskegee study as a historical marker for the legitimate discontent of Blacks with the public health system. The belief that AIDS is a form of genocide is rooted in a social context in which Black Americans, faced with persistent inequality, believe in conspiracy theories about Whites against Blacks” The negative sentiments about the sinister motives of whites against blacks with respect to the origin of HIV Aids and its cure are still rife hence there is suspicion and maybe reluctance to coronavirus vaccine by none white and none rich people in the society .  Back home in Nigeria, there was also the case of negative outcome in the clinical trial of Trovan vaccine for meningitis outbreak in Kano . In 1996, Pfeizer (Pfeizer again) went to Kano where 100 children had the vaccine Trovan administered on them  and another 100 had the another drug chloramphenicol given to them. Things went south as the outcome literarily left a bad taste in the mouth as some of the children experimented on suffered severe side effects and about five even died. Below is a narrative of the bizarre outcome of the Pfeizer made Trovan vaccine on children in Kano. “In 2000 a Nigerian report exposed the negative outcomes from this drug trial; in Kano there were street demonstrations and demands for reform. Thirty families sued Pfizer in 2001, and in 2007 the Nigerian and Kano State governments also sued for damages. In February 2009 there was an out-of-court settlement for a reported $45 million. This incident was on everyone’s mind when WHO personnel showed up in Kano with an American-made vaccine for polio eradication. The authors indicate that resistance to the vaccination program was political and somewhat irrational, and that pressure from the WHO, the United Nations, and the U.S. government resolved the crisis. There was a political dimension to this problem, but people were wary of any medicine from the United States. When Muslim religious leaders stated that the vaccine would sterilize young girls—a terrible outcome like that of Trovan—the program was “boycotted.” Obviously , the effect that these past sordid experiences would have on the masses is that it would reinforce their resistance to the anti-coronavirus vaccines. The already bad situation is being exacerbated by the weird conspiracy theories being spurn in the social media alluding to alleged plans by the advanced Western world to hide under the pretext of administering COVID-19 vaccine as an opportunity to implant chips into humans for population control and manipulation which is basically a hoax. So truth telling to facilitate trust building will be required to wean skeptics of their anti-vaccine bias and hopefully get them to accept to allow medics put the needle containing the vaccine into their arms when it becomes available in Nigeria.  Given the scenario above which clearly defines the magnitude of aversion of the average Nigerian to the concept of vaccines in a suspicious world, mass education about coronavirus and the efficacy of the vaccine as antidote is vital and critical for success. Doubtless, the enlightenment has to be of the magnitude of voter education that INEC-the electoral agency and   politicians engage in while mobilizing the electorate for political party elections. It could even be to the extent that Fast Consumer Goods Manufacturers, FCGM go in marketing their products and services such as telecommunications service providers like Glo, Airtel and financial institutions/banks such as Zenith, UBA, as well as  manufacturers like Dangote industries that engage consumers consistently in the media via advertisements and promotional messages. Aside from the need for the enlightenment and education of the masses so that they would buy into the vaccine initiative, is Nigeria ready with vaccine centers preparatory to receiving our allocation which Ngozi Okonjo-lweala, chair person of GAVI foundation-a vaccine  focused NGO, has stated as being on the way for Africa and other poor countries from the end of January, 2021 , or we would as usual be scrambling to establish the required vaccine centers after the vaccines must have arrived our shores? Are our leaders ready to lead from the front by being publicly vaccinated so that the skeptics amongst us may be convinced that the vaccine contains no harmful elements as some leaders in the USA such as ex-president Barack Obama and president-elect, Joe Biden have committed to doing? In conclusion, from the above introspection and projections, the PTF and CACOVID have got their jobs cut out for them. As the saying goes, the ball is now in their court and they must not allow the opportunity to keep the COVID-19 pandemic death toll in Nigeria down and low , slip off. Deaths from religious insurgents, bandits, and common diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and LASSA fever which have reached pandemic proportions in our country are bad enough, so we don’t have to add coronavirus deaths if we can prevent it by being proactive in stemming the spread and getting the masses to do more testing as well as accept to take the vaccine . ONYIBE, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst ,author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from lagos.

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