By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
As of Wednesday last week, Nigeria had recorded six additional fatalities from the Covid-19 pandemic with 432 new cases confirmed across 14 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). This was contained in an update shared on the Facebook page of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) last Thursday’s morning.
The update also revealed that the total infection from the pandemic in the country as of that date stood at 249,586, while the fatality toll had increased to 3,092, while a total of 220,839 Nigerians had been certified fit and discharged nationwide.
But he figures could be higher, experts say, since the country is low on testing and the data on death rate is inadequate.
In the face of the growing threat of this pandemic, especially its new Omicron variant, there has been a frenzy and fear since it spilled over into Nigeria on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.
Yet, the population of anti vaccine choristers is growing by the day, making it extremely difficult for government’s fight against the virus to achieve the desired success. Even the basic non vaccine protocol such as mask and social distancing is observed in breach.
The latest corona virus variant is widely believed to be potentially the deadliest, and has continued to generate serious concern across the globe.
The greatest threat to efforts at fighting the pandemic is the growing population of vaccines opposition and their dangerous campaign of calumny against vaccination which has succeeded in sending fears and dissuading many Nigerians from taking the vaccines.
Until recently, perhaps for political and other reasons, Femi Fani Kayode, former aviation Minister used to be the arrowhead of the tribe of vaccines ‘opposers’. Recent report says that this opposition is dangerously affecting the traditional basic child vaccination the country, which has been n decline since 2020.
Until March 20 2021, when he made a surprising U-turn and told Nigerians that he had taken his first jab, Fani-Kayode was in the eyes of many the Doyen of anti vax movement in Nigeria against COVID-19 vaccines. On that date, March 30 he loudly shouted on Twitter that he had taken the COVID-19 vaccine.
He once characterized the vaccines as pawn and ploy in the hands of the Western world to depopulate Africa and the global south, adding that the objective was to create a new world order, which would be marked by the deaths of millions.
To further dissuade his followers, he would tweet unconfirmed information and conspiracy theories being peddled against the virus. He was only parroting he belief of his pastor, Rev. Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy church, and a strong anti- vaccine apostle.
BusinessHallmark could recall on March 29, 2020, Fani Kayode claimed that the virus was a ploy to create a new world order and get the United States President, Donald Trump, out of power. Elections in the U.S. were about seven months away then.
“One of the many objectives of the Illuminati & those that are behind the corona virus pandemic & the emergence of a New World Order is to get @realDonaldTrump out of power in this year’s pres. election by sparking off a massive recession & crashing the American &world economy,” he tweeted.
The tweet as of Monday, June 14, had garnered 6,904 retweets, likes and comments and thousands of duplication across many platforms. Some fact-checking efforts were deployed to counter these claims but not long enough, Mr Fani-Kayode released two more fearsome tweets about COVID-19 vaccines.
On April 30, he added a fearsome advice on the need for Nigerians not to take the vaccines, saying the vaccines which by then were in the trial stages could result in mass deaths.
In doing so, he made three unfounded, totally false claims. Firstly, that vaccination would result in millions of deaths; secondly, that Nigeria was about to enact a law to make vaccination compulsory for all, and thirdly, that the vaccines are meant to depopulate the world.
Research by Eduplus, an educational consultancy services revealed that “many Nigerians are followers of Robert Young, an alternative medicine practitioner, who at a meeting of a conspiracy theory group said that vaccination is a chemical warfare to depopulate the world.
Even when former aviation Minister recanted, not many believed his conversion was borne out of sound logic and additional information, many said on social media that he had been brought over to do for political reason.
Against the nature of his earlier tweets condemning the vaccines, Fani-Kayode announced on March 30, 2021, that he had taken a jab.
“Despite my initially strong reservations I bowed to sound logic and superior reasoning and took my Covid 19 vaccine today,” he wrote in a thread of tweets.
Misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines started out in Europe and the United States but has found fertile ground in Africa, especially Nigeria where a lot of conspiracy theories has sprouted out against taking the vaccines in spite of enormous health challenge not taking the vaccines poses.
Adesewa Abimbola, a petty trader at Bolade in Oshodi told this newspaper that “My husband has warned me never to go for the vaccines, according to him he heard that the vaccines are meant to kill we Black people.”
She was not alone out of 30 traders-men and women sampled at the market only four expressed contrary opinion in favour of the vaccines.
“Let me tell you I have taken it and since then I have not experienced any form of discomfort in my body”, he told BusinessHallmark.
Dr. Anthony Nweke, a consultant at University of Ilorin told this newspaper that “the Centre for Diseases Control, the federal ministries health and information have not done much sensitization and awareness to counter the various disinformation and organized campaign of calumny against the vaccines.”
He said until the relevant authorities embark on massive anti disinformation campaign the flight against the pandemic may be difficult.
In April 2021, Wilcox Onyemekeihia, Secretary of Programmes to the Senior Special Adviser on Youth Affairs in Nigeria’s Cross River state, was on a panel discussing the myths and realities of vaccine hesitancy for COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
To the surprise of other members and the audience, Onyemekeihia called in question the vaccine’s quick development process, over-hyped the side effects of the vaccines and questioned the true status of the pandemic in Africa—implying vaccines were unnecessary, given the associated risks. All of these talking points were straight from the anti-vaccine playbook.
Ever since, he has continued to share vaccine-hesitancy sentiments on social media, views that may be influenced by one of Nigeria’s top pastors, who connected 5G to COVID-19 and spread other vaccine myths.
Vaccine hesitancy was already gaining momentum globally. And the sentiment eventually spread to Nigeria and other African countries.
Melissa Fleming, chief spokesperson for the United High Commissioner for Refugees notes that miscommunications probably originated in Western countries, especially the United States and Europe, and these were fueling vaccine hesitancy in Africa.
“Building vaccine confidence is an issue across the globe. What we’re really concerned about is that these pieces of misinformation that are created in the USA or in the UK, they’re traveling and finding some fertile ground in Africa as well,” Fleming says.
Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, says vaccine hesitancy in Africa is not being driven by people’s fears alone. According to Mihigo, international groups are fueling anti-vaccine tendencies that had not been seen in Africa before COVID-19.
“Anti-vaxxers in some Western countries are taking advantage of all the concerns about the adverse effects of vaccines. We need to address the spread of vaccine misinformation in Africa,” says Mihigo.
When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Nigeria, officials at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, led by the director general, Chikwe Ihekweazu, described a miscommunication menace, enabled by social media, as a major threat to the country.
This view was also shared by the foremost virologist Oyewole Tomori when he persistently warns of the danger of misinformation on the vaccines