By Adekunle Adekoya
BY now, it is accepted that Edo State Governor, Godwin N. Obaseki, is a fighter; the man is not afraid to fight anything, or anybody once he has convinced himself that the fight is worth it. Other people elsewhere will be able to refer to fights he had with them in the past, but Nigerians will mostly remember his fight with his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole.
That was an epic political conflict in which both, at daggers-drawn, refused to back off, refused to shift grounds, and refused to make concessions when mediators waded in. It was a political fight-to-finish, with huge stakes for both gladiators. Both had men of means and power behind them.
It was such a bad fight, a terrible battle of wits whose outcome many guessed about and failed, that Obaseki had to flee his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and sought shelter in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. At the end of the day, the Edo electorate, with the slogan, Edo No be Lagos, settled the matter. Obaseki was re-elected governor.
As he prepared for re-election last year, COVID-19 struck, and Nigeria, like many other nations, had to endure lock-downs aimed at stemming the spread of the virus. More than one year after his re-election, Obaseki is back in the trenches, this time against Edo residents.
Flagging off the second phase of vaccination against COVID-19 in Benin last month, the governor announced that residents who have no proof of vaccination will be denied access to public facilities and large gatherings. Let me quote him:
“With what we have seen so far, COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay. This is the third wave and there is nothing that points to the fact that other waves will not come. What we are likely to see is intermittent waves of this pandemic. We are not going to shut down Edo State but we will make sure we protect all Edo citizens.
“Therefore, I have come out with the following regulations, beginning from the second week of September 2021. Large gatherings as well as high traffic public and private places will only be accessed by persons who have proof of taking at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Such people will not be allowed to worship in churches and mosques. There will be no access to banking halls and event centres without proof of vaccination at the gates.”
It‘s a head-scratcher if you’re fighting somebody’s battle and the person turns around to fight you. Some people felt the governor was going beyond his bounds, and appropriately sought relief in court. A federal high court sitting in Port Harcourt, on August 31 restrained the governor and the Edo State Government from going ahead with any compulsory vaccination and restriction of people without evidence of vaccination.
No deal. In a circular dated September 14, 2021, the Edo State Head of Service instructed that the state’s COVID-19 committee would start enforcing “no vaccination card, no entry” rule, and in fact, started enforcement as promised, leading to many workers being refused entry into their offices.
As the third wave of Coronavirus rages on, with many strains being discovered in various parts of the world, it is natural to expect governments and public health authorities to be more proactive in curtailing the spread.
Even the Federal Government is worried at the attitude of Nigerians to vaccination and the non-pharmaceutical interventions. A member of the Presidential Steering Committee, PSC on COVID-19, Dr. Faisal Shuaib said: “If some individuals refuse to take the vaccine, hence endangering those who have or those who could not due to medical exemptions, then we have to apply the basic rule of law, which stipulates that your human right stops where mine begins. So, you have a right to refuse vaccines, but you do not have the right to endanger the health of others.”
The way Nigerians carry on, it is very difficult to believe that a pandemic like COVID-19 is raging, killing people, and wrecking economies. Except those who work in offices, people don’t wear face masks anymore. Those of us who still wear masks to church or other public places are looked at in amusement when we enter.
Commercial vehicles have gone back to pre-COVID habits — tight, full overloading of passengers in badly ventilated buses. Our markets, from Lagos to Lafia, Asaba to Akure, Port Harcourt to Potiskum remain crowded as ever, with buyers and sellers mostly without masks, and where there are, they are worn below the chin, and it’s zero social distancing everywhere!
On COVID-19 management, I applaud the passion Governor Obaseki has for his people in Edo, and dearly wish that all public servants display positive passion for our people in the discharge of their duties. If there is a fire, there must be fire-fighters. Nigerians must be saved from themselves, and somebody must start the task.
To my fellow countrymen, if we want a better country, we must change our ways, first by obeying the law and other rules and regulations. When we find them inconvenient, the courts are there. I fully support Governor Obaseki on this, but if a court has restrained him, he should remain restrained. The judiciary is the last hope of the comman man, and even the uncommon too. Let the governor obey the court.