Rumpus in House of CACOVID

Nigerians have been watching with keen interest the recent drama within the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID). It seems some steering committee members had some issues to settle with BUA Group, another member of the steering committee of this private sector-led group. Some CACOVID top shots must have been miffed by BUA’s action in attributing to their organisation the unilateral procurement of one million COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria.

The breakthrough in COVID-19 vaccines was met with worries and concerns for Africa. The concern was how Africa would get access to enough quantities of vaccines, especially in the face of the ghoulish wave that was ravaging developed countries in Europe and America, that had the resources to acquire as much as possible.

BBC News confirm “that as at January close to 900 million doses have been secured so far through various initiatives, enough to inoculate about 30% of the continent’s 1.3 billion people this year. However, hoarding by wealthy nations, funding shortfalls, regulations and cold chain requirements have slowed the process of rolling out the vaccines.”

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO equally noted that close to 40 million doses have been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, compared to just 25 doses given in just one of the lowest-income countries. He clarified the numbers as neither 25 million nor 25, 000 but just 25.

Almost three months after the first doses were rolled out in Europe, none of the main Western vaccines have been administered in Africa. The use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa was dismissed on grounds that it failed to prevent the new variant of the virus.

This must have inspired the Federal Government’s decision to roll out about 10 billion Naira to support local production of a home-based vaccine.

Nigeria was equally tipped to take delivery of 100,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the end of January. The first set of Nigerians to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 was to get their first shot in March. The vaccines were donations via COVAX facility.

At the end of January however, there were no forthcoming vaccines. Although WHO denied allegations of disqualifying Nigeria from the procurement, all eyes eventually turned to the CACOVID leadership that has demonstrated  commendable public-private working relationship in managing the resultant crises from the coronavirus pandemic.

It is important to mention that the major responsibility of CACOVID is to pull and garner technical support across major industries. This is coupled with providing funding and building advocacy.

It is against this framework that CACOVID was charged with the task of procuring COVID vaccines without any further ado, alongside coming up with guidelines for its allocation, distribution and prioritization. This follows a time table for the roll out of the anticipated vaccine.

The opportunity to procure vaccines for Nigeria came when Governor Godwin Emefiele communicated to members of the CACOVID steering committee a conference call that he held with Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and Herbert Wigwe, together with President Benedict Oramah, Afreximbank. According to the coalition, Afreximbank’s president briefed the three CACOVID leaders on the $2 billion facility it (the bank) has set up with the African Union Vaccine taskforce to purchase vaccines for the African continent.

CACOVID noted that the allocation for Nigeria had been capped at 42 million doses. One million doses from that allocation were available for shipment to Nigeria in the next two weeks provided a down payment was made by February 8th, 2021, the very day it was communicated to members of the steering committee of CACOVID.

CACOVID stated that the leadership of the group agreed to contribute $100 million to procure vaccines for Nigeria. The private-led sector coalition clarified that the one million doses from Afreximbank were worth $3.45 million being the first tranche. It further stated that it will purchase vaccines through other credible means and subsidized mechanisms like COVAX. However BUA stepped ahead without recourse to the group.

Alhaji Abdulsamad’s BUA Group stated that it unilaterally purchased the one million COVID-19 vaccine doses for Nigeria. The group said there was no agreement reached after extensive deliberations at the steering committee meeting. The chairman of the group said he took it upon himself to offer to pay for the one million doses at the agreed rate of US$3.45 per dose totaling the sum of $3. 45m which is the equivalent of N1.311 billion. This was after no other member of the CACOVID committee offered to pay.

Abdulsamad equally posited that it requested through the CBN governor that the Naira equivalent be paid to the relevant account with CBN, and that the apex bank forward the dollar payment to Afrexim on behalf of CACOVID. He presented a payment confirmation that revealed that the payment was made immediately after the meeting and BUA transferred the money to the CBN.

Chairman of the BUA group explained that this was carried out in good faith and the group finds it quite shocking, the report of an alleged disclaimer by CACOVID renouncing the payment for one million AstraZeneca vaccine doses for Nigeria through the Afrexim  platform. This plummeted into a back and forth between CACOVID and the BUA Group.

However, from the look of things, the scuffle is simply a matter of misunderstanding. CACOVID might have reasoned that as a coalition, it doesn’t make any justification for a member of the group to lay claim to any undertaking within the house even when the individual in the group carried the financial burden alone.

It appears tenable that taking credits for a unilateral action within a coalition and going on to make it public simply downplays the relevance of other members in the groups. It defeats the togetherness which informed the coalition in the first place. And it appears only as a matter of standard ethics in partnership that CACOVID would posit that the entire platform was responsible for the payment.

For a sensitive area that involves numerous lives, people may assume that the other member groups are just mannequins in the pack, who are not concerned about their welfare. For these other members, such action goes on to resonate on the image of their brand.

Since the inception of CACOVID, the group has delivered to Nigerians sustainable development that has helped cushion the effect of the pandemic. All the monies that were involved were not ascribed to any particular entity. When a single group makes N100 million donation, it is assumed that the entire team made the payment.

Chairman of the BUA Group might have been correct when he said some prominent members of the CACOVID house are not happy they took the initiative for the lives of Nigerians. But such statements undermine the core defining humanitarian ideals that led to the formation of the group in the first place. BUA and the other groups were not forced to be part of the group. They took up the initiative out of concern for the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

Besides, CACOVID is a private sector-led task-force in partnership with the Federal Government. This must have been the reason the official statement from CACOVID gave credit to the Federal Government by insisting that vaccine purchase is only possible through the FG, and that no individual or company can purchase vaccines directly from any legitimate and recognized manufacturer.

Nevertheless, it is said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. CACOVID has to rise above such misunderstandings within the house. They cannot allow fleeting distractions to becloud their focus. The world is at a crucial point where things are going at the speed of light. The impact of the pandemic on economies is excruciating. Countries of the world are constantly struggling to acquire vaccines for their citizens, to revive their ailing economies and get things kicking as soon as possible. As the giant of Africa, Nigeria is expected to set a good precedence that other African countries can follow.

Many of the organizations and groups that constitute the CACOVID are big private businesses, and so rely on a vibrant economy. Acquiring the vaccines and inoculating citizens to prevent the pandemic should be the main focus. This will be the fastest way to get the economy kicking. It will further sustain all the good works and efforts CACOVID has carried out since the outbreak of the virus.

Piercy Mabel

Categories: Features, Health

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