From Elohor Igbru, Abuja
Nigeria yesterday came out of her slumber to lash out at former colonial master, Great Britain over the latter’s “unfair, discriminatory” travel ban over the coronavirus omicron variant which has been detected in the country.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said the United Kingdom should immediately review the ban describing it as “kneel-jerk, apartheid, discriminatory, punitive, unfair, indefensible, and unscientific.”
Mohammed said Nigeria has been praised globally for her proactive approach in the COVID campaign and accuses the UK and other developed countries of using their “enormous resources” to mop up “promising vaccines” to the detriment of less developed ones.
The Minister however could not determine immediately if Nigeria would respond in similar fashion against countries which had issued the travel ban including: Canada, Singapore, Honk Kong saying “The appropriate decision will be taken by the appropriate Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19.”
Mohammed said the actions of these countries were driven by fear and not science. He said: “Britain now joins other countries, including Canada, which has taken similar action against Nigeria over Omicron.
“Let me say straight away that it’s up to the PSC to respond to this action by the British Government and others, and I have no doubt that the committee will respond appropriately.
“However, as the spokesman for the Federal Government, I can say, without mincing words, that the decision by the British Government to put Nigeria on the red list, just because of less than two dozen cases of Omicron which, by the way, did not originate in Nigeria, is unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory. The decision is also not driven by science.
”We sincerely hope the British Government will immediately review the decision to put Nigeria on its red list and rescind it immediately.
“Nigeria has handled the COVID-19 pandemic with utmost responsibility and based on science, and has rightly earned global accolades for its efforts. Nigeria does not belong on any country’s Red List.
“As we speak today (yesterday), nobody has been reported to have died of the Omicron variant. It is just pure prejudice and discrimination
“How do you slam this kind of discriminatory action on a country of 200 million people? Whereas British citizens and residents are allowed to come in from Nigeria, non-residents from the same country are banned.
“The two groups are coming from the same country, but are subject to different conditions.
“Why won’t Britain allow people in both categories to come in, and be subjected to the same conditions of testing and quarantine?
“This is why this decision to ban travellers from Nigeria, who are neither citizens nor residents, is grossly discriminatory and punitive.”
Nigeria has been proactive in approaching the omicron variant of the virus with a revised protocol issued on December 5, 2021 to reduce the risk of importation and exportation of the virus.
Mohammed said: “In the wake of the discovery of Omicron, the PSC reviewed its International Travel Protocol.“The revised protocol, which came into effect yesterday (December 5), is aimed at further reducing the risk of importation and exportation of COVID-19, especially the variants of concern.
“Under the revised protocol, inbound passengers arriving in Nigeria are expected to provide evidence of tests done 48 hours before their arrival while those outbound travellers are to show PCR test results done 48 hours from the time of boarding.”
Mohammed argued that if any country felt unsatisfied with the measures, it could “simply” subject inbound travellers “to their own PCR tests and proven conditions, like quarantine, instead of banning them outrightly?”
It is travel apartheid- Nigeria
Mohammed said Nigeria considers the ban as a form of travel apartheid.
His said: “Many developed countries have used the advantage of their enormous resources or relationship to sign agreements with manufacturers to supply their countries with vaccines ahead of making them available for use by other countries.
“Even before the clinical trials were completed, millions of doses of the most promising vaccines have been bought by Britain, US, Japan and the European Union.
“Some of these countries bought doses five times the size of their population, while others, mostly in Africa, have little or no access to vaccines.
“This is the real issue to address instead of choosing the easy path of travel bans, which the UN Secretary-General (António Guterres) called travel apartheid. Let the world know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
The minister said the knee-jerk reaction against African countries by developed economies cannot help the fight against Coronavirus.
He said: “Let me use this opportunity to highlight the fact that travel ban, the type that has been slammed on some African countries, is a knee-jerk reaction that can only be detrimental to our quest to most conclusively tackle this pandemic.
“Instead of these reflex responses that are driven by fear, rather than science, why can’t the world take a serious look at the issue of access to vaccines, and ensure that it is based on the principles grounded in the right of every human to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political belief, economic or any other social condition.”
UK sues for peace, understanding
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, has however, sought Nigeria’s understanding of the travel ban. Laing, spoke on the rejection of the policy by the Federal Government, saying the ban was for the public good and need by the UK to understand the new COVID-19 variant.
Laing said: “We know that this decision will have a significant impact on people in both our countries, particularly at this time of year.
“This decision is a precautionary measure to protect public health in the UK, whilst we try to understand this new variant.
“These are temporary measures that have been introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK and will be examined at a review point on 20 December.
“We continue to work very closely with the Nigerian authorities in tackling the tackling the pandemic and commend their ongoing work.”