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Published: July 2, 2021

Covid-19 Vaccinations in Nigeria: what are the implications for international NGOs?

By: Emmanuel Kuza

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The Nigerian government aimed to vaccinate at least forty per cent of its citizens –about 80 million people - against COVID-19 by the end of 2021. Emmanuel Kuza from the Citizens Centre for Justice Leadership and Peace, Nigeria, explains why Nigeria may not meet its vaccination target and what this could mean for NGOs’ operations in the country.

Nigeria committed to implementing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria. Like the restrictions and national lockdowns experienced by populations elsewhere, the Nigerian government established protocols for implementation in the COVID-19 regulations 2021.
When the COVID-19 vaccine was announced, the Nigerian government committed to vaccinate at least forty per cent of the population by the end of 2021.
This means that for over 200 million people, Nigeria would have to vaccinate at least eight million people every month or 258 065 people every day. As of May 31st, though, only 1 637 078 Nigerians have been vaccinated – less than one per cent of the projected national target.
Two reasons could explain the poor vaccination record: inadequate political will and a trust deficit.

An Inadequacy of Political Will

The COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Nigeria is still in its first stage. Mainly frontline health workers and strategic leaders are being vaccinated. People are largely expected to book their vaccinations online, however, this does not take into account that a large share of the public and frontline health workers struggle to access internet and lack technical knowledge of digital technology.
Moreover, there are no robust measures to create awareness about the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in other major local Nigerian languages like Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Many Nigerians consequently cannot access essential information in their own language.
Nigerians have been looking to the government for an effective response to COVID-19, alongside tackling other longstanding issues like corruption, insecurity, poverty and other development challenges. A weak vaccine rollout could therefore heighten Nigerians’ frustrations with the government.

The Trust Deficit

During the 2020 lockdown in Nigeria, the Coalition Against COVID-19 mobilised essential items and shared them with state governors to distribute to vulnerable people in their states. Symbolic sharing took place all over the country but then stopped. There was no publicly available record of the items distributed or support provided through the state governors.
However, at the peak of the #EndSARS protests, people discovered that the palliatives meant for distribution during the lockdown were not completely distributed. The items were looted, with many Nigerians accusing the government of withholding food and essential items when many Nigerians were in dire need of assistance. In public discussions, many now remark that these actions highlight that the government should not be trusted to offer vaccines.
There is also widespread doubt about the existence of COVID-19. This is combined with a lack of trust of vaccine manufacturers because of Nigeria’s negative experience with a previous Pfizer vaccine. Subsequently, some people do not allow polio injections.
The 3.92 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were donated and delivered to Nigeria by COVAX. Yet, the government took a loan of $600 million (USD) from African Development Bank and is seeking another loan of $1.5 Billion (USD) from the World Bank for COVID-19. Because the country’s vaccination record remains poor, many citizens are accusing the government of corruption.

Security and Acceptance Challenges

For international NGOs implementing programmes in Nigeria, the implications of the lack of ongoing vaccinations and distrust surrounding them could pose serious problems.
With many aid organisations employing both international and local/national staff, these organisations could are facing issues around who gets vaccinated (and with what vaccine). If local and national staff cannot access vaccines while international staff can travel home to get theirs, this could deepen real and perceived inequalities between international and national staff. Moreover, with the Astra Zeneca vaccine’s reputational issues and this vaccine being used in many COVAX distributions, local and national staff could feel more hesitant about this vaccine. This could be exacerbated by many internationals receiving Biontech Pfizer or another vaccine abroad.
For organisations that are outspoken and encourage vaccinations publicly in their communication efforts with staff and local populations, vaccine hesitancy and disinformation facilitated by the already existing trust deficit could also decrease their organisations’ acceptance. This could be further impacted by rising tensions between the government and Nigerians. Protests and escalating violence could pose additional security risks for staff and programmes.

Looking Forward:

1. There is a need for more transparency and accountability in the COVID-19 response activities. How the Nigerian government plans to use funds and improve the rate of the vaccine rollout are not yet clear.
2. NGOs working in Nigeria need to openly communicate about the vaccine(s) with their staff and the communities they work with. Aid organisations must be transparent around who is receiving which vaccine and why and be available for questions.
3. NGOs should support their staff and local communities in accessing the vaccine by communicating with relevant community leaders and in local languages.
4. NGOs must understand the implications of the vaccine rollout and how it impacts their acceptance.
While vaccination programmes are globally making progress, the rollout remains difficult in many other contexts and NGOs should continue evaluating the associated security risks.

About the Author

Emmanuel Kuza is the Executive Director of Citizens Centre for Justice, Leadership and Peace, a Nigerian based NGO. He was a Principal Legal Aid Officer with the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria before he retired in 2018. He is also a legal practitioner, a youth leader, a peace advocate, community mobiliser, advocate of good governance and social justice. He aims to promote peaceful coexistence amongst people and add value to human life all over the world.


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