Nigeria kicked off its Covid-19 vaccination campaign March 5 after receiving nearly four million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Full vaccination commenced soon afterwards in 32 states and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) but Kogi, Kebbi, Zamfara, and Oyo fell behind.
Even so, hitches have emerged, some very serious. Perhaps, the most worrisome is suspected sabotage and corruption. Director-General of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, said on Monday that 122,410 have been vaccinated across the country in a population of over 200 million. However, according to him, “issues of mismanagement” have been reported at some centres. He singled out the one at the police clinic, Falomo in Lagos State. “This is currently being investigated and we understand from the Lagos State Government that a report would be filed,” he said. “We anticipate that decisive action will be taken against anyone found culpable of subverting the vaccination process.”
Shuaib said the government has instituted mechanisms to ensure that the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine is free from corrupt practice. He said there was “a collaborative partnership” with regulatory and anti corruption agencies to strengthen vaccine accountability. “Any information of vaccine mishandling and mismanagement will be handled using stringent measures and appropriate sanctions,” he said.
We are not surprised by the exposé now emerging with regard to the handling of the Covid-19 vaccine. We saw it all in the manner palliatives were mishandled, stolen, repackaged and resold in the open during the lockdown period announced by the government. Underhand dealing was widely reported in the contracts for the purchase of the palliatives. Though the reports were denied by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, mistrust of government officials ran deep. Private sector contributors to the fight against the pandemic refused to give money to the government, but did it alone.
Government’s denial of anything untoward in the handling of the palliatives fell flat on its face last year. Angry Nigerians, during the October anti SARS riots, attacked ware houses in state capitals, helping themselves to the stocks and burning the rest.
It is against this backdrop that we maintain that the latest ugly report about the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination campaign is not completely surprising. Mr. Shuaib used phrases such as “issues of mismanagement”, “subverting” and “corrupt practices”. Other than imply that something is wrong, they do not say anything exact. But then this is normal in officialese. Make it as bland as possible to make investigation impossible. One good thing, however, though. These exposés are coming out in the early days of the vaccination campaign. This means something still can be done to stop the rot before it spreads. But who will do it. Certainly, not the government. We are thinking of trusted independent bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO).