COLUMN/OPINION

Bill Gates, Peter Obi and Nigeria’s pandemic, by Hassan Gimba


 In the past year, hardly can find a word that elicits palpable fear, confusion, hope and scepticism as COVID-19. Surely COVID-19 has changed the world drastically. And definitely, it has changed the way we think and the ways we interact. The pandemic has also been a source of a lot of hardship because, as a result of it, many businesses have closed shop.The pandemic has been a reason for many job losses and plans gone awry. It has killed a lot of initiatives, pushed more people into poverty, bred many other diseases, pushed some into suicide and killed so many more.In a world that believes it is civilised and can get a panacea for everything, such a scourge cannot be allowed to remain unchecked for long, hence the race for COVID vaccines. It is quite understandable why the world is at its tenterhooks because the pandemic has afflicted over 105 million with over 2.3 million deaths worldwide.Globally the race to rein in its spread is apace. We can all see how medical personnel are battling against scarce resources to save the lives of hundreds of thousands. You see them, you feel them. And your heart goes out to them. And because they are sincere to themselves, while searching for medical solutions, governments take care of their citizens through palliatives – in cash and in-kind – at personal levels. At corporate levels, the governments provided and have kept providing bailouts to a lot of businesses. The pandemic brought fear and confusion among the serious countries, but there is also hope that a solution will soon be in hand.Here, there is make-believe fear among the authorities. People are confused because the source of the fear is not visible. However, those at the forefront of the anti-COVID-19 campaign are just fine because they are making money off it while the generality of the people increasingly become more sceptical. Yes, unfortunately, as if we are not part of the global village, the pandemic has been turned into a money-making venture. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) goes about it in a way that raises suspicion over its motives. States must declare a rise in the infection figures or risk being labelled high-risk areas.A source close to the NCDC revealed that one of the reasons states like Yobe and Kogi were “blacklisted”, apart from being straight over the pandemic scare, is because their governors shot down the plan to cause the presidency to impose another lockdown on the nation. A lockdown is like a blank cheque to the itchy-fingered officials.But tales abound of its staffers suddenly becoming rich overnight or about the agency giving out contracts in billions that end up as nonexistent projects while appropriated monies have been paid out. The NCDC, officials of the federal ministry of health, to an extent, and those of the presidential task force on COVID-19 have turned the pandemic into a means of making money out of the misery of fellow citizens. The daily allowances they each take home makes one believe the funds collected are meant for them alone.When the first lockdown was announced early last year, subsequent events proved that the palliatives meant to cushion the excruciating difficulty envisaged were misapplied. While the world is losing greatly because of the scourge but sincerely fighting it, Nigeria’s officials are smiling to the bank. All these and more are factors that have made many people distrust the government, its agents and agencies.Many conspiracy theories have been flying about, especially when the so-called ‘Chinese doctors’ surreptitiously brought in disappeared like ninjas. Nigeria now intends to spend between N400 and N450billion to procure the vaccines. The intention is to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population at $8 per vaccine. But the government would do well to get the vaccines from a country or countries that the citizens would at least be at ease with. Of course, the government has ways to make people get vaccinated, no doubt, but a government that owes its authority and credibility to the people needed to make the people comfortable. Already people are afraid of western produced COVID-19 vaccines but luckily, Russia, India and Cuba have produced them. The majority of Nigerians may be more comfortable with them than those from the western bloc.However, there are even two schools of thought on this. The first which does not believe in the pandemic as being touted in Nigeria is the one led by Yahaya Bello, the governor of Kogi State. Bello believes that with such amount, each state in the country can have one (two for six big states) N10billion world standard hospital and we shall be better off for that.Another school of thought led by Mr Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, believes we can get the vaccines at one-third of that amount. He offered to lead the federal government’s purchasing team to get this dream bargain for the country.But this is even if we need the vaccines in the first place. Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world for the past 20 – 30 years, believes we do not need them. All the conspiracy theories surrounding the pandemic begin or end with his name. Sometimes his name may not be at the start or finish because it has appeared in the middle.Bill Gates, like the Kogi governor, believes that what we need are functional, state of the art hospitals dotted around the country. Bill Gates’ proposition to the Nigerian government: Invest the billions in healthcare, not COVID-19 vaccines. “There is no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system, particularly the primary healthcare system, will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives,” Bill Gates says.The co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants Nigeria to prioritise the development of its health sector rather than focusing on the COVID-19 vaccines. Nigeria should divert resources budgeted for the approved COVID-19 vaccines into the development of the country’s weak health care system, he opined. “There is no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system, particularly the primary healthcare system, will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives. Nigeria should not divert the very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines,” he advised.Mr Gates did not stop at that. He said Nigeria is already a beneficiary of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership to increase access to immunisation in poor countries. “The key is that Nigeria is still eligible, and so, for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through the GAVI facility that we have raised money for”, said Gates. That means Nigeria will get a reasonable number of the vaccines free of charge.But will they pay heed to him? Already it is as if those who have other intentions for these hundreds of billions will neither listen to the Kogi governor nor acknowledge the offer of assistance by Peter Obi, whom they may begin to see as a busybody. But everybody knows Mr Obi’s reputation as a frugal overseer of government purse. As for Bill Gates, he may as well take his advice elsewhere before they will accuse him of interfering in a sovereign country’s affairs. As it happened during the first lockdown when there was an insistence that school children trapped at home must be fed, so there will be insistence now to buy those vaccines. As billions were spent in the first lockdown on palliatives but only those provided by businessmen were seen – those later vandalised – billions will be appropriated for vaccines but only those received from donations would be the ones to be seen.But the worst of all is that the presidency may allow all these shenanigans to happen. The pilferers will have their piece of the cake. And sadly, Nigerians will continue living as if nothing momentous has happened.But we can see why charlatans set the agenda in our country. So long as the words of governors – serving and former – will not be taken seriously or those of people like Bill Gates will carry no weight with us, so long will the words of Nnamdi Kanu, Femi Fani Kayode, Sunday Igboho and Shekau continue to shape the thinking of our masses and set agenda for our country. And so we shall continue to see the initiative being taken away from the government by non-state actors. Now we witness the “expelling” of “criminals” (not minding whether they are criminals or not) by Igboho on the one hand and the “dissuasion” of criminals on the other by Sheikh Muhammad Gummi – both responsibilities of the government, yet out of government’s hand.

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