INSECURITY: Beyond lamentation of National Assembly

ANGER reigned in the  two chambers of Nigeria’s National Assembly, yesterday, as senators, and members of the House of Representatives, separately, condemned the United Kingdom’s inclusion of Nigeria in her COVID-19 red list without justification.

This is even as governors of the 36 states of the federation expressed angst over the UK government’s decision, describing it as arbitrary stigmatization of Nigerians.

Urging the UK government to be sensitive to the diplomatic relationship between both countries, the Senate called on the British parliament and authorities to consider removing Nigeria from the red list, and urged the Federal Government to engage its British counterpart to reverse the decision.

Toeing the path of the senators, members of the House of Representatives said the United Kingdom government’s travel ban on Nigerians was hasty and embarrassing to Nigeria, noting, however, that the ban was a wake-up call for Nigeria as a country to reinvent herself as the giant of Africa.

The lawmakers spoke as the  Nigerian Centre for Disease Control,  NCDC, reported three new cases of Omicron variant in Nigeria yesterday, just Dr. Anthony Fauci, DirectorÿNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Maryland, U.S.A, assured Nigerians of the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines booster shots.

Also, the 36 state governors of the federation described the UK government’s action as unfair, discriminatory and arbitrary stigmatization, noting that there were several countries with  reported higher cases of Omicron than Nigeria but had not been banned from entering the UK and/Canada. The governors called on the World Health organization, WHO, to intervene by setting uniform standards.

However, the United Kingdom has assured that student, and work visa applications would  be processed, despite travel restrictions.

Nigerians deserve better treatment from UK govt — Senate

The Senate said Nigeria does not deserve to be on the UK’s red list and called on major vaccines powers, namely Britain, Canada, America, and the European Union, among others, to take urgent and bold steps to ensure vaccine equity in the interest of the entire human race.

The Senate also charged the administration to remain firm in the enforcement of necessary protocols in the containment of every COVID-19 variant in Nigeria.

These were some of the resolutions reached by the chamber yesterday, following the consideration of a motion on the “Need for Government of the United Kingdom to remove Nigeria from COVID-19 Red List” sponsored by Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West).

Coming under orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Rules, Ekweremadu noted with satisfaction the efforts of the government of Nigeria in the containment and treatment of COVID-19 cases, saying “Nigeria is among the countries with the lowest cases of COVID-19.

“The decision by the British government to include Nigeria in their COVID-19 list, with its concomitant implications, will affect many citizens of Nigeria, who had planned to spend their  Christmas and New Year holiday with their families,” he said.

Also worried that Nigerians with genuine needs to visit the U.K within this period will be denied visa and those with visa will not allowed to enter the U.K., the lawmaker noted that Nigerians had consistently complied with all the COVID-19 protocols required by the World Health Organization, WHO, and U.K Government for travelers, prior to the ban.

“Targeting Afrigan countries, especially in the COVID-19 travel ban, amounts to profiling and discrimination as well as an attack on our cordial diplomatic relationship with the U.K.,” Ekweremadu said, and drew the attention of the Senate to global concerns over vaccines hoarding, and inequity and the resulting consequences on low-income nations in the fight against COVID-19.

In his remarks, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, said the decision to include Nigeria on the U.K. COVID-19 red list posed a strain on the diplomatic relationship between both countries and bemoaned the poor treatment of Nigeria by the U.K. government.

Lawan, therefore, called on the British Parliament to intervene, with a view to having Nigeria removed from the country’s COVID-19 red list.

“Let there be justification for it. We are not saying they cannot put any country on the red list, including Nigeria, but there must be reasons for doing that.

“Of course, Nigeria has done so well to the admiration of many countries in the area of containment of COVID-19.

“Therefore, we don’t see any reason Nigeria will be on that so-called red list. I believe  Nigerians deserve better treatment from the British government.  I’m using this opportunity to ask the British Parliament to mount pressure on their government to remove Nigeria from the so-called red list.”

It’s a wake-up call on Nigeria to self-develop — Reps

The anger of the Reps followed a motion on the travel ban moved by the Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu.

Some members of the House who took turns to ventilate their views on the issue, said the ban was a wake-up call for Nigeria as a country to reinvent herself as the giant of Africa. And called for a diplomatic way to resolve the matter.

Moving the motion, titled: “Need to Intervene in the Suspension of Issuance of Visitors Visa to Nigeria by the United Kingdom Government,” Elumelu said the ban would affect over 8,000 Nigerians who had already bought flight tickets to spend the Christmas holidays with their families in Nigeria as they would not be allowed to re-enter the UK after their stay.

Elumelu said: “In an announcement made by the United Kingdom (UK) Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, on Saturday, December 4, 2021, a temporary ban was placed on foreign travelers from Nigeria to the UK with effect from Monday, December 6, 2021, as a result of concerns over the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

“The decision covers travel to the UK for tourism, visiting friends and family, undertaking short term business activities, short term studies, exchange programmes as well as medical reasons.

“This is coming only a few days after Canada extended its travel ban to travelers who recently visited Nigeria.

“Though the ban is for Nigerians bound for the UK, it does not exempt over 8,000 Nigerian travelers that have bought air tickets to visit Nigeria during this festive period, as the restriction would affect their re-entry into the UK after holidays.”

The lawmaker expressed worry that the UK government did not interface with other countries in the commonwealth to know the spread of the new variant before handing down the ban.

He said that Omicron had been found in over 40 other countries around the world, wondering why Nigeria and a few other African nations should be singled out.

“Rather than seek to work with its commonwealth ally on ways to combat and curtail the spread of this new variant, the UK government decided to out rightly ban Nigerian travelers from entering their country which is a sharp contrast to that of the United States government whose response is for travelers to produce evidence of negative test result at the point of departure as well as a Day Two test result after arrival in their country, a response that have received wide commendation across board.

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“The UK government chose to announce the ban without discussing the data in its possession with the Nigerian government but instead gave an hour’s notice to the Nigeria authorities before its inclusion on the red list, contrary to known international convention. “Omicron variant has now been found in over 40 countries around the world including many from the European Union but only Nigeria and a few African countries have been banned by the UK government.

“This decision if left unchallenged will stop thousands of Nigerians that normally come back home at this time of the year to boost the social and economic activities of the country from coming into the country, thereby causing the nation serious revenue loss.

“If the Nigerian Government does not urgently engage the authorities of the United Kingdom, this decision would have a significant impact on businesses and travelers intending to carry out lawful transactions in the UK as opportunities and investments already made would be lost, hence the need for a quick interface.

“Children who school abroad and had thought of returning home during this festive period to rejoin their families and with fears that when they later go back will be subjected to 10 days mandatory isolation centre and be made to pay £2,700 for such hotel bookings may be totally discouraged from coming home and thereby deny such families the opportunity of their children rejoining them for this annual family union”, he said.

The minority leader who was visibly furious over the issue, added that being black does not make an African less human. “We have no record to show that we have been unfair to the United Kingdom but when there is any issue, the way they treat us is unfair. No record to show that any Nigerian had contacted Omicron. I think that this is not good.   Because we are black does not make us less human. It is a racist action that should be condemned by everyone,” Elumelu added.

Reps, who spoke on the issue, included Garba Datti representing Sabon Gari federal constituency of Kaduna State (who asked Nigeria to review her membership of the commonwealth); Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase; Aminu Sulieman, from Kano State, who took a swipe at the NCDC for hurriedly announcing the presence of Omicron in Nigeria within 24 hours; and Jimoh Olajide from Lagos State.

Ossai Nicholas Ossai from Delta State; Henry Nwawuba from Imo State; Nnolim Nnaji from Enugu State;   Musa Bagos from Plateau State; Onofiok Luke from Akwa Ibom State; Toby Okechukwu from Enugu State; and Johnson Oghuma from Edo State also spoke and proffered suggestions on how Nigeria should address such issues on a long-term basis. The House asked its Health, Foreign Affairs Committees to interface with ministries.

Adopting the motion after securing a favorable voice vote, the House heeded the prayer, mandating its committees on Health and Foreign Affairs to interface with the Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Steering force on COVID-19 on best ways of resolving the issue.

Action of UK unfair, we reject arbitrary stigmatization — Govs

Similarly, the 36 governors in a statement by Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, and Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, condemned the UK government’s decision in very  strong terms,   and  urged the World Health Organisation, WHO, to urgently intervene in the matter by setting uniform standards acceptable to all for banning countries across the globe.

Kayode’s statement read: “Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, wishes to draw the attention of the World Health Organization to the arbitrary stigmatisation that is caused by the recent banning of countries from visitation based on omicron spread. “Only three cases of the Omicron variant of the Corona virus were detected in Nigeria less than a week ago, precisely on December 1st, 2021.

“Canada and the United Kingdom have hastily included Nigeria among the Omicron present countries which must stay away from their shores, an action viewed by the NGF as precipitate, unfair and discriminatory.

“Omicron still remains relatively unknown globally as it is not yet clear whether it is more transmissible from person to person compared to other variants including Delta.

“It is 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.

“Confirmed Omicron cases as at December 3rd, across some countries are: Nigeria (3); Australia (7); Brazil (3); Germany (9) Israel (4); Italy (9) & Netherlands (16). There is also no evidence that harsh, blanket travel bans will protect the countries that impose them.

“It is ironical that this ban comes at a time when the DG of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, advised that “rational proportional risk reduction measures” be taken by countries such as screening passengers prior to departure and/or upon arrival in a country, or enforcing a quarantine period.

“The NGF therefore urges the WHO to intervene in this matter by setting uniform standards that are acceptable to all for banning countries across the globe.

“As we know, vaccine hesitancy is quite high and for many reasons including disruptive announcements like this which could exacerbate distrust of the vaccine and heighten hesitancy.

“World leaders and stakeholders in the West need to remember that with the COVID-19 pandemic, until everyone is free, no one is free. Variants will continue to appear and spread across the globe as long as global herd immunity has not been achieved.

“We call on countries to be guided by science and fairness in setting the criteria for updating their red list. We encourage both public and private stakeholders to continue to support vaccination efforts and address hesitancy. We encourage Nigerians not to be discouraged and to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

NCDC reports three new cases of Omicron variant

Meanwhile, the NCDC, yesterday announced three additional cases of the Omicron variant in the country.

The new cases bring the total of the recently discovered variant of the COVID-19 virus in Nigeria to six.

The NCDC in a statement signed by the Director-General, Ifedayo Adetifa, explained that the three additional cases were detected in passengers linked to South Africa in November.

The statement read:   “The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has confirmed three more cases of COVID-19 with the B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 lineage, i.e., the Omicron variant, in Nigeria.

“In addition to the three cases announced earlier on 1st December 2021, this brings the total number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant detected in Nigeria to six. All the Omicron cases so far were detected in persons with recent travel history to South Africa in November.

“The NCDC through the National Reference Laboratory continues to coordinate genomic surveillance activities across the country to sequence all positive COVID-19 samples from international travellers arriving in Nigeria.

‘’This includes sequencing of positive samples from international travellers from October 2021 to date.  The Delta variant remains the dominant variant and so far, we have not seen the replacement of this variant by the new Omicron variant as observed elsewhere.”

Student, work visa applications will be processed despite travel restrictions — UK

However, the United Kingdom on Monday said student and work visa applications would be processed, despite travel restrictions imposed on Nigeria amid the outbreak of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

The British High Commission, Abuja, made this known in a statement titled, ‘Statement from British High Commission on UK visa applications’. The High Commission had on Sunday said it will “pause making decisions on visitor visa applications in all red list countries, including Nigeria, until travel restrictions are lifted.”

But in an update  late Monday, the UK said visa applications in other categories such as for persons who wish to study, work or live permanently, would continue to be processed.

“To support the UK Government’s aim to protect public health from COVID-19 and associated variants of concern, UK Visas & Immigration have paused making decisions on visitor visa applications in all red list countries until travel restrictions are lifted.

“Applications in other categories (student/work/live permanently in the UK) will continue to be processed.

“If you have been in a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive in England, once you arrive you must quarantine for 10 full days in a managed quarantine hotel (the day you arrive in England is day 0),” the statement read.

Fauci assures Nigerians of booster vaccines’ efficacy

In a related development, Dr. Anthony Fauci, DirectorÿNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Maryland, U.S.A,  has assured Nigerians of the efficacy of booster shots in the fight against COVID-19.

Fauci is also the Chief Medical Adviser to the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden.

He gave the assurance during a webinar at the National Summit on COVID-19 with the theme: “End the Pandemic and Build Back Better.”

The event was organised by the Presidential Steering Committee PSC, on COVID-19, and continued yesterday, from Monday.

COVID-19 vaccine boosters shots are now authorised by the PSC and being recommended by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, NPHCDA,  for eligible Nigerians. A COVID-19 booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine given after the protection provided by the prescribed shot(s) has begun to decrease over time.

The booster shot is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for longer periods. The White House chief medical advisor said that studies strongly suggest that booster shots protect against a wide range of COVID–19 variants, but added scientists were undertaking further research on it.

Fauci said booster shots markedly increase antibody titers against variants of the virus. “The third shots also increase so-called memory B cells and T cells, a line of defense produced by the immune system to fend off a virus.

“Memory B cells create antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses, while T cells target and destroy other cells infected with a virus. “There is every reason to believe that if you got vaccinated and boosted that you would have at least some degree of cross protection,” Fauci assured.

Lagos experiencing fourth wave of COVID, says Sanwo-Olu

Also yesterday, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said the state was currently experiencing a fourth wave of the COVID pandemic.

In a statement, the governor blamed the fourth wave on refusal of residents to adhere to the protocol, adding that as of December 5, Lagos had recorded a total of 78,564 confirmed cases.

“Most of the continents of the world – including Africa – are now experiencing a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Lagos State is not left out as we are also experiencing the beginnings of a fourth wave with current positivity rate at 6%. This is against the positivity rates of 0.1% as at the middle of November 2021,” the statement reads.

“Based on our analysis, the fourth wave was brought by the non-adherence to the laid-down protocols to mitigate this pandemic.”

The governor said the state is working on measures to curb the ongoing fourth wave such as increasing the percentage of vaccinated residents from 1.6% to 30% within one year.

“I have specifically mandated the Lagos State Ministry of Health to administer 8 million doses to 4 million residents by the 25th of December, 2021, under the Count Me In campaign,” he said.

“We are launching 30 private priority sites for those who want to be vaccinated within a private health facility.”


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