By Edwin Uhara
FOLLOWING the successful transition of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to a Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, I have come across several reactions that trailed the development since the announcement was made by the Federal Government on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. While some hailed the move, others expressed reservations.
But one that caught my attention most is the comment attributed to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, who said: “I was listening to the radio yesterday (Wednesday last week) when I heard that the PTF on COVID-19 has been converted to a steering committee. We were not consulted in terms of what will be the operational mechanism and so on… What is the content of that conversion? How will the steering committee work?”
However, at the first national press briefing of the PTF after Easter break held in Abuja on April 6, 2021, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the PTF/PSC, Mr. Boss Mustapha, announced the approval given by President Muhammadu Buhari for the transmogrification of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to a Presidential Steering Committe on COVID-19 starting from April 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021 with a modified mandate to reflect non-emergent status of COVID-19 as a potentially long-term pandemic.
The SGF said: “Mr. President has considered the report and has approved the following: That the PTF will transition to a Presidential Steering Committe on COVID-19, effective from April 1, 2021 with a modified mandate to reflect the non-emergent status of COVID-19 as a potentially long-term pandemic; that the structure of the PSC shall reflect the new focus of the response with a targeted approach on vaccine oversight, risk communication, international travel quarantine processes in sub-national engagement, that the term of the Presidential Steering Committtee shall last till December 31, 2021.
The Presidential Steering Committee would maintain the present constitution, functions and strategies of the PTF; be supported by a slim technical and administrative structure. The current National Incident Manager (Dr. Mukhtar Mohammed) shall formally take over from the national coordinator and function as the Head (Technical Secretariat) and member of the PSC.”
The SGF added that the PSC will coordinate the vaccine rollout, deployment and administration, while a private sector supported transition consultant will sustain the multi-sectoral relations and policy guidance. He further disclosed that the PSC would meet less frequently while maintaining effective communication with Nigerians and also monitor and audit ongoing systems, reforms and infrastructure development in the health sector.
Before the transition, President Buhari had extended the lifespan of the PTF twice after the expiration of its original mandate on September 17, 2020. The first extension was between September and December 2020, while the second extension was from December 22, 2020 to March 31, 2021. It will be recalled that the PTF was established on March 9, 2020 to coordinate and oversee Nigeria’s multi-sectoral inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
In other words, the overall goal of the taskforce was to stop further transmission of COVID-19 within Nigeria as well as ensure provision of basic treatment to those infected; and reduce the overall social and economic impact of the pandemic on the country.
Let me also add that as of the time the PTF was established, no one envisaged the breakthrough we currently have in the world of vaccine. Instead, the main goal and mandate of the taskforce was to flatten the COVID-19 curve. But because of the virulent nature of the disease as well as the huge investment made in vaccine research and development by the global community, COVID-19 vaccine was found towards the end of 2020. Hence, the challenge is no longer about the existence of vaccine, but about vaccine hesitancy, anti-vaxxers, vaccine nationalism and lately vaccine passports.
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Vaccine hesitancy, according to report, is the reluctance or refusal to be vaccinated or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases. Vaccine hesitant individuals often say they want to “wait and see” as vaccines are distributed in their community. However, vaccine hesitancy is slightly different from anti-vaxxers. While vaccine hesitant people can change their mind, anti-vaxxers can rarely be persuaded to give up their fixed beliefs that all vaccines are harmful.
According to report, health experts have recommended that medical professionals should focus on those who are vaccine-hesitant instead of anti-vaxxers. Someone can become vaccine hesitant because of misinformation on the social media or a lack of confidence in the safety of the vaccines, but anti-vaxxers are not.
Vaccine nationalism, according to Indian Express, is when a country manages to secure doses of vaccines for its own citizens or residents and prioritises its own domestic markets before they are made available in other countries. This is done through pre-purchase agreements between a government and a vaccine manufacturer. While vaccine passport is a proof that a person has been immunised against COVID-19.
It could be in the form of a smartphone app or a written certificate, for those who don’t have smartphones. According to Washington Post report, the goal is to digitise individual countries’ paper vaccination certificates into internationally recognised passes for travel. “A few options for vaccine passports exist for Americans so far, and other countries and regions have also developed, or are in the process of developing their own.”
As of today, Nigerian scientists have also come up with two COVID-19 vaccines which are waiting for clinical trial and certification by relevant bodies. Nonetheless, another challenging development is the mutation of the virus leading to several strains or variants; from the United Kingdom variant (B.1.1.7 ) to the South African variant (B1351) to the Brazilian Variant (P.1) and the less known B1525 widely regarded as the Nigerian Variant according to report by the April 8 edition of The Sun Newspaper of London. With B1525 being regarded as Nigerian Variant, it then means that Nigerians are going to face difficulties when travelling around the world if nothing is done urgently to arrest the situation.
Therefore, Mr. President, in exercising the powers conferred on him by the Quarantine Act to take extra-ordinary measures during public health crises, decided to enlarge the scope and mandate of the defunct PTF by officially converting it to a Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 with all encompassing mandate and responsibility to coordinate vaccine rollout, deployment and administration, while a private sector supported transition consultant will sustain the multi-sectoral relations and policy guidance, among others.
The action of Mr. President is based on the fact that the Quarantine Act gives him broad powers to deal with public health crises or emergencies. According to some legal commentators, the President is authorized to among other things, declare any infectious disease a dangerous infectious disease as well as declare any area in or outside of Nigeria as infected area, and as well issue regulations to prevent the spread or importation of any dangerous infectious disease in to the country or around the federation.
Therefore, the onus falls more on the desk of the Presidency than on any other arm or organ of government.
Instead of trying to distract Mr. President with debate over consultation before doing the job he was elected to do, we should rather support him and the team he has set-up to kick Coronavirus out of Nigeria because no one knows who is going to be the next victim of the disease. Now that the third wave of the pandemic has hit some countries, Nigerians will appreciate their leaders more if normalcy is returned instead of the usual filibustering certain comments suggests that we are more interested in.
In this regard, Nigerians will value their leaders if the scourge of the pandemic is finally decimated and they are free to go about their normal businesses without fear of being infected with any disease or been arrested on account of forgetting to wear their facemasks or as the case may be.
Until the country is declared Covid-19-free, I urge everyone to continue to take personal responsibility, accept the vaccine when it is their turn and adhere to the Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention put in place by the government.
Comrade Uhara, a UN-trained negotiator, wrote from Lagos
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.