BusinessDay

Vaccine politics and UK-Nigeria relations

The historical texture of Nigeria-UK relations are such that it is possible to contend that an organic linkage exists between the two countries. The reason for this is not far to seek. One was the colonial power while Nigeria was the colonised.

Understandably, what has been sketched above was not just a power relationship. Rather it also entailed a situation in which till date, institutions of the erstwhile colonial power continue to dominate and permeate every aspect of life and existence in Nigeria. The features which come readily to mind here are; of course the English language, the judiciary, the education system, and if you like the mentality of our elite. Moreover even our economy, as seen in a number of critical economic concerns, are decidedly of British origin.

The upshot in much of the foregoing is that Nigeria’s relationships with Britain are very close. So close that at critical moments; what is expected of Britain at crucial moments, is a measure of empathy and consideration.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed what becomes clear at crucial moments, is a self-serving and callous attitude, which hardly takes on board the feelings of Nigerians and Nigeria. This gung-ho and very hostile attitude can be seen in the way in which, almost on a reflexive basis, and without due consideration for our feelings British authorities decided to impose travel bans on Nigeria and Southern African countries in the wake of the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant, omicron.

Read Also: Omicron variant: APRA condemns travel ban against Africa

This selective moratorium on Nigerian travellers flies in the face of certain realities. The first one is that it is evident that only Nigeria and other African countries were targeted for this no entry order. A close look at the situation reveals that over 20 countries around the world have identified people infected with this latest variant of COVID-19. Yet, only Nigeria and other social formations in the continent are having to contend with this travel-ban. The irony here is that this can even be likened to a case of punishing the whistle- blower for doing what is right. We wish to recall here that it was in Africa here that the scientific community decided to share its findings with the rest of the world. This was when it alerted colleagues beyond its borders that a new variant of the disease had been discovered. It is also more poignant that in the world of vaccine politics, Britain and the other rich nations have been very slow to respond to the vaccine needs of Nigeria and other African countries.

Britain is in reality, a fair weather friend that is always willing to give Nigeria the short end of the stick in her trying moments, as she has done on this particular occasion

The probable result of this callousness is what we are seeing now — the emergence of a new variant. But what is often ignored by Britain and other similarly placed countries, is the permeability of national borders that, should COVID-19, assume exponential proportions in Africa, then the rest of the world would be not safe after all.

Even then, it is evident that what the UK has done in this particular instance, amounts to something of an overkill. This is in view of the fact that scientists have gone on to contend that omicron is in reality, a mild version of COVID-19, which will eventually morph into a common cold. And such, it should even be allowed to spread. This is in the hope that it will ultimately displace its more malignant and morbid cousin – the original COVID-19. Clearly, no such reason was at work in the UK, rather a travel ban was simply put in place to keep out the Barbarians in consonance with the set mind and mentality of the Albion.

Even then, there is much to consider in the contentions of the UN Secretary General on this issue. This international civil servant was of the view that, rather than put in place a discriminating travel-ban like this, what should have been done was to invoke the necessary and existing travel protocols which, when properly applied will stop the spread of Omicron.

And very rarely for a diplomat, the UN scribe also spoke out and forcefully too, when he accused Britain and other countries of “travel apartheid”. We cannot agree more. But even then, it is possible to appreciate that in the long history of the relationship between Nigeria and the United Kingdom the latter has always turned out to be something of a letdown in crucial moments of Nigeria’s history. During the civil war for instance, Whitehall initially and crucially maintained a studious and curious neutrality, at a time when the country’s existence was in jeopardy. Indeed, as it can be recalled, it was Moscow, which came to Nigeria’s rescue.

Again during the heady days of Military dictatorship, when Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed, the United Kingdom dithered and prevaricated as regards the wielding of oil related sanctions. Clearly, so much was at stake as regards her economic interests, and only a Walter Carrington was to be seen visibly at the barricades. What is evident therefore is that despite the supposedly deep linkages between Nigeria and the UK, it is not too much to contend that Britain is in reality, a fair weather friend that is always willing to give Nigeria the short end of the stick in her trying moments, as she has done on this particular occasion.

We can only hope here that the Nigerian authorities are taking due note of this situation very carefully. This much is clear, our interests have been jeopardised and treated almost with contempt by Britain on a consistent basis. It therefore behoves us to do the needful and protect Nigeria’s interests in consonance with the time tested values and principles of international relations.

On this note, it is important to recall here that reciprocity is a major canon in global affairs. And as such, one way in which Nigeria can express its displeasure is to place a total ban on air carriers from Britain. It is surprising for instance, that British air carriers will continue to operate flights into and out of Nigeria, while Nigerians have been banned from their country.

Nigeria should not hesitate to pick up the gauntlet here. This is by barring British airliners and their nationals from entering Nigeria. Undoubtedly; this will do something to the bottom line of these economic concerns. In the process, a strong message would have been sent to the UK that a more serious and considerate posture should be adopted towards Nigeria and Nigerians.

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