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COVID-19 vaccination deadline for civil servants

By Editorial Board
10 November 2021   |   3:01 am
Typical of many policy directives in Nigeria, the announcement that civil servants will be prevented from accessing government offices if they are not COVID-19 vaccinated is

Typical of many policy directives in Nigeria, the announcement that civil servants will be prevented from accessing government offices if they are not COVID-19 vaccinated is, again, putting the cart before the horse. More measures need to be put in place before the enforcement of such policies, the most crucial perhaps being to ensure the availability of the jabs in the nooks and crannies of the regions. And besides, moral suasion and public enlightenment seem to be a more suitable option for the government to adopt at this time in swaying public response to COVID-19 vaccination, given the wide speculations and conspiracy theories that have bugged the vaccine and the pandemic.

The Federal Government announced a December 1, 2020 deadline for civil servants to get vaccinated or face the prospect of being denied entry to their offices. As expected, the directive has generated debates and controversies with some human rights activists threatening to drag the Federal Government to court for trampling on the rights of citizens if it goes ahead to enforce the directive.

Delta State had also made a similar pronouncement on the deadline for vaccination. On October 19, 2020, Kaduna State Government had announced a 12-day ultimatum for all civil servants to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Communication, Muyiwa Adekeye said civil servants not vaccinated by October 31 will be denied entry into government offices. He said visitors will, however, be permitted entry upon presentation of evidence of registration with the state Ministry of Health for vaccination and that such visitors must be wearing their face masks.

Earlier on September 15, Edo State government reportedly announced a “No COVID vaccination, no entry” policy. The latest state to join the threat to bar civil servants and other residents from government offices is Ogun State where Governor Dapo Abiodun has given a 60-day ultimatum starting November 1, 2021. While flagging off the COVID -19 mass vaccination campaigns in the state capital, Abeokuta, he said the 60-day window would allow unvaccinated residents to take their jabs as part of moves to flatten the curve of the virus. “Anybody, after 60 days that are not vaccinated will not be allowed to do business with us. We will chase this person in our markets, you will be required to carry your vaccine cards with you at all times.”

The language and tone of the governor are certainly harsh and unnecessarily threatening, instead of being conciliatory and persuasive. The military era style of governance and engagement with the people should by now have given way to civility and persuasion after 22 years of return to civil rule in Nigeria. Ironically, at the same venue, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaibu disclosed that the Federal Government was targeting the vaccination of 50 per cent of the eligible population of Nigeria by the end of January 2022. Shuaibu said as of September 2021, a total of 5,684,939 Nigerians had received their first dose of the vaccine while 3,730,937 Nigerians had been vaccinated with both the first and second doses. With a population of 200 million Nigerians, it means that only five per cent and 2.8 per cent have received their first and second doses respectively.

The implication of these figures is that vaccination penetration is still low and more concerted efforts should be put in place by governments at all levels before threats and sanctions are issued and enforced. It will be difficult and will amount to putting the cart before the horse if governments proceed with punitive measures for the populace.

Availability and accessibility have remained daunting challenges for the majority of Nigerians in these states. The deadline in Kaduna State, for example, has come and it is obvious that the regulation cannot be enforced for now. Why make policies and give directives that cannot be enforced? Although no deadline has been given in many states including Lagos State, indications are rife that the Lagos State Government may have challenges in distributing the vaccines. In some vaccination centres, those who ought to have been given their second dose have had to be asked to come back. It is suspected that the vaccine may be in short supply.

The vaccination is not a cure but a palliative to lessen possible adverse effects of COVID-19 by boosting immunity. Part of government measures should be geared towards encouraging the citizenry to leverage on local solutions through encouraging research and funding of efforts to develop local responses to the pandemic rather than aping the western world where the health care systems function better. Even in those climes, the rule of law and human rights considerations are prioritised over threats and sanctions.

The eagerness of governments to get rid of this pandemic is understood and appreciated given the devastating effects of the pandemic on all spheres of human endeavour but this must be done carefully and systematically, else it engenders negative consequences. In some advanced countries where the COVID pandemic is more serious, sections of the populace are engaging governments to establish the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Nigeria should learn from these climes and seek to convince Nigerians on the merit of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Persuasion and civil education should not give way to fiat in this fight to defeat a common enemy.