President Muhammadu Buhari accompanied by 10 ministers, on Wednesday, travelled to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, a few hours after Nigeria recorded three cases of the new coronavirus variant named Omicron.
They were accompanied by multiple aides as well as representatives of the business community to participate in an exhibition tagged ‘EXPO 2020 Dubai’.
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Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said in a statement on Wednesday that Buhari was accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Health, Osagie Ehanire; Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Ali Pantami; Industry, Trade and Investment, Adeniyi Adebayo; Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; Defence, Bashir Magashi; Aviation, Hadi Sirika and Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammad Abubakar.
Others are the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite; State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Maryam Katagum, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Rufai and the Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
Adesina said EXPO 2020 Dubai, with the theme, ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ created the environment for Nigeria to join over 190 countries to forge true and meaningful partnerships “To build a better future for everyone.”
Even though there was yet no international protocol barring foreign trips, some pundits and health officials wondered why the president chose to travel out with 10 ministers and other key government officials at a time they were supposed to be at home to fine-tune the national response against the new coronavirus variant.
A health official in Abuja said, “It is not wrong for the president to travel but there is time for everything. I think what is at stake deserves more attention than an exhibition in Dubai.
“We are fine here in Nigeria for now; we just recorded three cases but there is the fear of the unknown around the world…Who knows, as you can see, dozens of our leaders are going to mingle with other people out there,” he said.
A lawyer and an activist, Abubakar Sani Aliyu, said, “The president should have asked the trade minister and one or two people to go.
“It is not necessary that he must go everywhere and it is more appalling that he travelled with no fewer than ten ministers and those at the helm of the security architecture of the country.”
The Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said, “It is unfortunate that officials turn the overseas journey to jamboree and avenue for making money and not in the interest of the country or of the people.”
Daily Trust reports that many countries around the world were rolling out new measures among them restricting inbound passengers from some countries while working on probable lockdown to contain the spread of Omicron.
Omicron is said to be deadlier and transmissible than other COVID-19 variants.
The world is said to be in the race against time as at least 22 countries have so far recorded the variant.
The countries include South Africa with 77 cases, the United Kingdom (20), Netherlands (16), Portugal (13), Australia (7), Austria (1), Botswana (19), Brazil (2), Canada (6), Czech Republic (1), Belgium (1), Denmark (4), France (1), Germany (9), Hong Kong (4), Israel (4), Italy (9), Japan (2), Nigeria (3), Norway (2), Saudi Arabia (1), Spain (2), and Sweden 3 cases.
On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated Omicron a variant of concern on the advice of its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).
This decision was based on the evidence presented to the committee that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.
How Omicron came to Nigeria
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Wednesday that it has detected three confirmed cases of the variant in the country.
The agency in a statement signed by the Director-General, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said the Omicron, also known as lineage B.1.1.529 was detected in three persons with a history of travel to South Africa.
The NCDC said the 3 cases were found after collection of samples for the stipulated day two test for all travellers to Nigeria.
“These cases were recent arrivals in the country in the past week. Follow up to ensure isolation, linkage to clinical care, contact tracing and other relevant response activities have commenced.
“Arrangements are also being made to notify the country where travel originated according to the provisions of the International Health Regulations,” the statement said.
“The NCDC assumes Omicron is widespread globally given the increasing number of countries reporting this variant. Therefore, it is a matter of when, not if, we will identify more cases,” the organisation said.
Ramaphosa’s visit successful despite Omicron scare – President
Before he departed to Dubai on Wednesday, President Buhari had said that the State Visit of President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa was successful despite the scare generated by the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Buhari, who hosted his South African counterpart at the Presidential Villa said, “Despite the scare generated by the new COVID-19 variant, we have been able to hold successful meetings while observing strict COVID-19 protocols through fraternal cooperation and understanding.
“I sincerely wish to thank my brother and colleague, President Cyril Ramaphosa for honouring my invitation.
“I equally wish to thank members of the South African delegation and the experts that worked tirelessly during the Senior Officials Meeting,” the President said at a joint press conference with the visiting South African president.
He underscored the need to enhance people-to-people relations between South Africa and Nigeria to avoid unhealthy competition.
Buhari had earlier at the opening of the 10th Session of Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission (BNC) held in his office, said such relations were necessary to evolve a bond that would be of benefit to both countries and the entire African continent.
He said, “In this regard, we need improvement in educational and scientific cooperation, mines and energy resources, transport and aviation, tourism, youth exchange programmes, trade and investment and military cooperation, to mention but a few.”
Ramaphosa, who landed in Nigeria Tuesday, is on a three-day working visit.
The visit which was planned long before the Omicron was flagged was perfected at a time many countries were shutting their doors to South Africa.
South Africa was the first country that reported the new strain of the virus.
The action against South Africa over the variant had triggered a backlash as the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, had voiced displeasure over the “stigmatisation and penalisation” of Africa for new COVID-19 variants discovered on the continent.
The AfDB president, who wrote on his Twitter handle, stressed that Africa was not the source of the COVID-19 virus, which had continued to put the world on edge.
Nigeria and Senegal among other African countries have also shown solidarity to South Africa and its neighbours in what could be described as a clear departure from what was obtained during the COVID-19 break in late 2019.
Ramaphosa had severally said his country was being needlessly punished for unravelling an existing problem in the West.
On Tuesday, Dutch health authorities said the Omicron variant was present in the Netherlands earlier than previously thought and before South Africa had first reported the new strain of COVID.
COVID-19: FG’s directive wobbles
The federal government’s directive barring unvaccinated federal workers from their offices, effective from December 1 (yesterday) only lasted a few hours.
Daily Trust reports that civil servants without proof of COVID-19 vaccination were allowed into their offices at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja after initial resistance by law enforcement agents deployed with other health officials to the Secretariat complex, Abuja on Wednesday to ensure compliance.
The federal government in October mandated civil servants to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk being barred from office from December 1.
Our correspondents who went round yesterday observed that civil servants without vaccination proof or negative PCR tests were only barred from entering their offices for a few hours.
Those with the vaccination cards and a few with negative PCR test results were all allowed passage at the entrances to access their offices.
However, in the afternoon, the sternness of the enforcement of the order was relaxed as the security officials stopped asking for the cards and were more concerned with the wearing of facemasks.
It was also observed that many civil servants and other Nigerians queued up at the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) vaccination centres opposite the Federal Ministries of Health and Education to get vaccinated.
Some workers told Daily Trust that they did not see anything wrong in the government’s directive, as it was in the national interest.
Contacted, the Director, Communication, Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHoCSF), Malam Abdulganiyu Aminu, told Daily Trust that there was no compromise in the enforcement of the government directive.
“I have my vaccination card and I saw many others with theirs. I also saw that those without their cards or the test results were prevented from entering here.
“Your question that the effect of the order was relaxed in the afternoon may not be correct. Some workers would have to move in and out of the complex on a few occasions.
“If they were recognised by the security operatives, there may not be the need to be asking them for their cards especially that they may have shown their cards on more than one occasion,” he said.
The supervisor in charge of the vaccines at the Federal Secretariat, Yakubu Musa, said the speculation that they would stop giving the vaccines yesterday has created a huge crowd in the centre, adding that, unlike other days, at least 150 persons were vaccinated at the three desks he was supervising when Daily Trust visited at about 2: pm.
“We have enough vaccines here and if it is finished we will ask for more,” he said.
By Muideen Olaniyi, Ojoma Akor, Abbas Jimoh & Baba Martins