Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Should Government Force People To Take The Covid Vaccine?

Earlier today, on my radio show, I mooted a conversation on the federal government’s plan to mandate all federal workers to get the COVID-19 vaccination if they wish to be allowed into their offices as from December 1st, 2021. Majority of those who called in to air their opinions were not pleased with the development. It is not a new thing or the first time that the federal government will put out a plan that Nigerians are not in support of. Yet, the government asking every federal staff to take the COVID-19 vaccine is an important step in the fight against the pandemic that has destroyed families and devastated economies around the world. So why doesn’t it enjoy much support from the people? From the conversations I had with listeners, there was an underlying complaint: The federal government is believed to have misplaced priorities and is using first-world solutions to solve third-world problems.


That people should be encouraged to take the vaccine cannot be over emphasized. After all, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the Nigerian economy, killed over two thousand people and rendered people jobless. The sooner we are able to defeat it and set things back on track, the better for everyone. But the question remains: should people be forced and coerced to take the vaccine?


A hesitancy to take the vaccine in Nigeria is common. The vaccine has been subjected to a number of weird conspiracy theories by both religious leaders and political leaders. Worse still, many Nigerians do not consider it an urgent need as they feel Nigeria has bigger problems than COVID-19. Among the issues raised, insecurity and food crisis topped the list. For instance, killings, kidnappings, and banditry are on the increase and, according to SBM Intelligence, over 2000 people were killed in the third quarter of 2021 alone – that is about the same number the NCDC recorded for COVID-19 deaths in over a year.


There’s a food crisis presently ravaging the country. Food inflation has risen by over 20% going by data from the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. Poverty and unemployment are now at an all-time high. In the midst of these, does the average Nigerian see COVID-19 as the most pressing problem of the Nigerian people? The huge trust deficit between the government and the Nigerian people is also not helping matters because people do not see government fighting or working to improve the lives of Nigerians. They see the government as a place populated by people who just want to line their pockets.


With such an already soiled reputation, adding coercion to the mix by asking people to get vaccinated by force has only gotten Nigerians more suspicious of the government. One caller pointed out that the government did not make palliatives compulsory during the lockdown but instead hoarded the donations given by NGOs and Corporate Nigeria to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians at the time. He questioned why relief materials were not made compulsory at the time.


In the same way that the lockdown met with criticism from people who questioned the necessity of it, the idea of compulsory vaccination is also generating the same reaction. There are questions as to whether the Nigerian government is just imitating America, rather than coming up with custom solutions for the Nigerian people. Hence, the question: is the Nigerian government deploying a first-world solution to a third-world problem?


Let’s look at the Biden example. Before President Biden of the United States instituted a vaccine mandate (which is still been contested by the way), he made sure Americans had access to the vaccine by providing more places for Americans to get vaccinated – from community health centers to pharmacies, to hiring more people and to making sure the vaccines were available, testing and screening centers were also increased so Americans can get tested. He put all these in place to make sure Americans had access to the vaccines. In the Nigerian scenario, there are only just a little over 10 million doses which include donations from the COVAX facility and were not even bought by the Nigerian government for its citizens. Of this number, over 7 million have been administered. Also, the number of vaccination centres are still very limited across the country. Also, of the estimated 206 million population in Nigeria, less than 2% have been tested.


The second thing the Biden administration did for Americans was to incentivize them by offering $100 to everyone who got vaccinated. In the Nigerian scenario again, the government is not incentivizing people to take the vaccines. Instead, it is resorting to coercion. As another caller pointed out, the simple idea of setting up an open kitchen for people to come and eat and take the vaccine would present a sure way of getting compliance. Feed the people and you may not need to compel them. Is it possible that the Nigerian government does not understand its own people and how to proffer custom solutions? Is copying the USA and other western nations the new way of governance?


The chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, had justified the compulsory vaccination mandate for federal workers by saying that the workers will be travelling on behalf of the nation. On the other hand, his Aviation counterpart, Hadi Sirika, also added his voice to resist the idea of a vaccine passport for air travellers in Africa citing inadequate vaccines. Already, in March 2021, the Minister of State for Health, Olorunimbe Mamora, had said that the federal government had no plans to force anyone to take the vaccines but will continue to appeal to them. The recent development makes it unlikely that Mamora was speaking for the government at the time.


There is also the issue of violating human rights. Can such orders just be given without any law backing it up? In Edo State where this was first introduced, the state government was sued and there was a court order restraining the state from going ahead – an order that was not obeyed by the state anyway. Similarly, the federal government may have lawsuits springing up if they decide on this course, except they also decide to follow Edo’s footsteps by ignoring any court orders stopping the compulsory vaccination. In all of these, I believe that people should get vaccinated. I encourage people to do so because I have also taken the two doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.


The idea of a compulsory vaccine mandate being supported by a few reeks of elitism and detachment from the problems faced by the average Nigerian. If the Nigerian government wants compliance, it would do well to follow the carrot approach before using the stick approach. For many Nigerians, it is not about being against vaccines or being sold on the conspiracy theories of vaccines, they simply have bigger problems of insecurity and lack of ability to purchase food amidst the constantly rising food prices to contend with. The government will do well to keep that in mind as it embarks on its vaccine drive.




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