By Ikeddy ISIGUZO
WHEN Covid-19 swept through the world with Nigeria recording its first case on 28 February 2020, the lethargic preparedness of government was evident. Only Lagos State was close to readiness yet within days its facilities were choking. A Central Bank of Nigeria-managed, private sector initiative of banks, billionaires, millionaires, and other organisations, Cacovid – Coalition Against Covid-19 – was formed. It funnelled resources to the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. Cacovid redeemed the chaos over where to make contributions to combat Covid-19. Among the easiest donors was BUA Group, a foods and infrastructure company. Forbes ranked its owner Abdul Samid Rabiu as the 176th wealthiest man in the world in August 2020 with $3.2 billion. His current worth is reportedly about $5.4 billion.
BUA’s statement that its founder, Abdul Samad Rabiu, acquired a million doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines for Nigeria with delivery pegged for next week through the Afreximbank Vaccine Programme in partnership with Cocavid affronted some Cacovid members. Cacovid took up the battle on their behalf with unbecoming zeal. It belittled BUA’s contribution by almost denying it efforts, stating it operated on a collegiate fund contribution model, and there was no agreement between BUA, Cacovid, and Afreximbank. Cacovid said its leadership agreed to contribute $100 million to procure vaccines for Nigeria, with the 1 million doses being the very first tranche.
Vaccine purchase, Cacovid said, was only possible through the Federal Government of Nigeria and that no individual or company could purchase vaccines directly from any legitimate and recognised manufacturer.
Some questions for Cacovid: Did BUA make a payment of $3.45 million on 8 February 2021 to CBN for purchase of 1 million doses of vaccine for Nigeria? Did CBN accept the money? Did BUA stop other members of the coalition from making the payment? Were other members of Cacovid ready, willing and able to make the payment on 8 February 2021?
Would Nigeria have bought the vaccines if BUA didn’t make the payment to beat the deadline? If another member announced it made the payment, would Cacovid have lobbed the same reaction? BUA was treated as if it was the wrong organisation to pay for the vaccines. A Cacovid spokesperson on television was short of saying Cacovid would not touch the BUA vaccines. The controversy was needless.
Cacovid was detonating a bomb in its bunker with immaculate execution? What did it intend to achieve? The investments we make in fighting over nothing to achieve nothing would startle anyone who appreciates the intensity of challenges Nigeria faces. The latest tiff on Covid-19 vaccine procurement tells another such Nigerian story. Cacovid should deploy its enormous energies to management of the vaccine distribution, when it arrives, to avoid the waste of resources witnessed in the distribution of foods Cacovid bought in the first phase of Covid-19. It cannot match the demands of that engagement if it fritters away its goodwill. A more immediate Cacovid concern should be repair of relationships blighted by its deliberate mismanagement of BUA’s gesture. The coalition could otherwise slip into disarray.
There are still 41 million doses of vaccines to be acquired. About $96.55 million is needed to get them. A huge opportunity exists for Cacovid members who felt upstaged to make that contribution.
If they dally, as they did at the meeting of 8 February 2021, they should not complain if BUA rescues the situation again, in more spectacular fashion.
*Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues