The Director, Special Duties and State Operations, National Orientation Agency, Mrs Mette Edekobi has assured Nigerians that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and that the federal government has the interest of its citizens at heart and has insisted that the health agencies in charge of safety and standard like the NDLEA and Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) will further certify the vaccine safe before it’s administered on the citizenry.
In this interview with Sundiata Post Assistant News Editor, Chibuike Nwabuko, the Director gave detailed account of what the National Orientation Agency is doing to sensitise and mobilise Nigerians preparatory to the arrival and vaccination of Nigerians against the COVID-19 infection ravaging the world.
QUST: Nigeria is a fertile ground for misinformation and Nigerians believe that the COVID-19 is a scam by international conspirators to cash in on public ignorance and public finance. How do you access what National Orientation Agency (NOA) has been doing to counter this sentiment.
ANSWER: I want to say that long before Covid-19 we were already dealing with fake news so that was a program and activity we were already carrying out at the NOA before Covid-19. Therefore, when the issue of Covid-19 came in and people had their prefrencing for what they think Covid-19 was all about or is still all about, we were ready to respond because people are free to think for themselves and get information for themselves and as you know, Nigerians that we have today are dominated by young people in comparison with old people and this young people are on the social media and when you are talking about information, what will take you (old People) a day to get, in a second they (young ones) have gotten and received and they know how to deal with that. So under such a circumstance, it will be difficult for you to say people should not hear, see or think what they want.
However, despite that entitlement for every person to do that, we still feel that something is ravaging the entire world-whether you call it Covid-19 or you want to call it another names, whatever name you choose, something is fighting the entire world at the same time; shutting down the entire world at the same time and doing all kind of things that we do not expect. So for that reason alone, I believe strongly that not just as a staff of NOA but as a Nigerian, that there is reason for us to sit down, if nothing else, uphold the protocol because they are not expensive, they are not demanding anything of you. Somebody says wash your hands and UNICEF was already working with Nigeria on the hand washing even before COVID-19 so it is not a new thing. About social distancing, who likes somebody talking to you and pouring saliva all over your face, nobody likes that. So these things are natural phenomenon in our day to day lives that is being demanded of us now because we are being told to do it to protect ourselves, it looks like it is a rocket science. I believe strongly that hand washing, wearing of facemask, social distancing are things that we should do naturally so if somebody says something is wrong and you say look I don’t believe in that thing that is wrong or somebody says if you do these things I am saying, even if there is something wrong, you are likely to save yourself, I will do it. So every patriotic Nigerian is expected to reason in that direction and say yes let’s just wash our hands, wear our mask, keep social distance, peradventure this is true even though I don’t believe. So even from that point of view, we call on Nigerians to do it because it is in our best interest, it does not cost anything and they are things we were taught from childhood so why are we going to refuse it just because this time somebody is saying something is wrong and even if somebody is not saying, we can see that around the world, something is wrong.
It cannot be something that is within our power to control as an individual therefore whether you believe COVID-19 is real or not, what does it cost you to wash your hands, to sanitize or wear a facemask when you are in a crowd and what does it cost you to keep a social distance because nobody wants another person’s sweat to touch him naturally and nobody wants another person’s saliva to drop on him when he is speaking, so for those common sense reasons, I think it is not wrong to keep to the protocols.
QUESTION: Are Nigerians actually ready for Covid-19 vaccine.
ANSWER: Well if we want to go back to retrace our steps that this is not the first time Nigeria and the world is being confronted with a need to vaccine, then we know that something is wrong and people are saying this is what we discovered and this can help just as the polio vaccine we give our children and other different kinds of vaccines, do we know them? We don’t know them either but they said it will help and to some extent it helped. As a mother, I subjected my three children to the vaccination until they turned one and every time they drop something in the mouth of your baby are they not all part of it? But I think the concern of people should be as heard and people are discussing because as Nigerians, we come from families and homes that the complain should be put in a format or even if it is a criticism, it should be put in a manner that those who are in leadership would be concerned enough to go back and say, oh! this thing they are saying, they have a point here but for your to say vaccine is not called for we don’t need it, then we will just have to take a look at it. Safety yes, who does not want to be safe. You can take anti-malaria and something other than curing malaria could happen, those are in percentages but we pray that those are not what the vaccine is going to be but that vaccine is going to be a cure and put a stop or kickout this Covid-19 completely.
QUESTION: There is this fear that this Covid-19 vaccination is targetted at reducing population of certain countries. What is your take?
We have also heard that in NOA and our thought is that would the Federal Government of Nigeria want a vaccine that will come and depopulate its citizens or bring a vaccine that will come and kill its citizens. Who are they going to govern and if we have that at the back of our minds, then we will be asking the questions: are these leaders not Nigerians. They are not from another country – when we were under Colonial rule that we say that they are not black people like us or Nigerians that we were suspicious of most of their moves and all that. I want to believe that as NOA our thought is that the Federal Government has the best interest of its citizens at heart and no government will deliberately want to go and kill or depopulate her citizens because we have a proverb that “when you throw a stone in the market, you don’t know whether that is the day your mother or sister is in the market, so if that is the intention, will it be wise? We believe in NOA that our government has our best interest at heart as Nigerians so they should be looking at the best options for its citizens.
QUESTION: Nigerians believe that the best option is to source for the vaccine locally, what is your take?
I want to believe that that is a more technical question. If something is wrong with the vaccine that they already discussing, we have NAFDAC, SON and the Primary Health Agency – these are the technical people to either say this is good or something is wrong with this and they have been doing that. So if we have our doubt, they will give us a better answers on what you know but it is important to ask, the person asking the questions and those of us who are giving our promotions on whether it is good or bad, on what strength are we basing our question. Is it that we have discovered that the ways they have gone about it is wrong. And then, have we provided any vaccine in Nigeria for such a thing. These are also questions that we should ask and if we are asking the Federal Government which we belong to, I will say that the Federal Government should be seeking the best interest of her citizens nothing less than that.
QUESTION: What is NOA doing in respect of mass vaccination in term sensitisation and mobilisation of Nigerians as FG is about to acquire this vaccine. What is NOA doing to get Nigerians ready to accept and take the vaccine when it comes.
ANSWER: Part of our job is to ensure we mobilize Nigerian citizens effectively and part of doing that is that we give information to Nigerians. If you are lettered, you get flyers, posters and there are going to be jingles in different languages explaining what the government is saying about the vaccination. At the state level, the state directors will be on advocacy visit to traditional leaders, religion leaders, schools homes etc. There are different stakeholders that are involved in this conversation and this conversation will trickle down until every Nigerian understands the need or benefits of this vaccine. Our job is to ensure that when the information pertaining to the readiness of this vaccine comes, the NOA will tell the public and ensure that the last man will hear the benefits or the truth of the vaccination.
QUESTION: What has your public communication system been and how do you think when the vaccine comes they will be effective towards changing the thinking of Nigerians?
ANSWER: We believe that as Nigerians we are human beings and if one speaks to the sensibility of a person he will listen. If we had a discussion and that is why people have debate, if I am able to convince you that this thing makes better sense to you, based on information that we have and proof by those who are the technical persons in nigeria (e.g NAFDAC, SON), it will be a condition. I do not think it will be a war or a battle, after all in a conversation your intention is to put the fact on the table and if they are convincing, the party that needs to be convinced accepts.
Question: How has the NCDC been carrying NOA along in disseminating the message against covid-19 and preparedness of Nigerians towards the vaccination.
ANSWER: Our minister – Minister of Information is a member of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and we also have our reports being sent to them and they have publicly saluted the effort of the NOA which was well publicized last year and I know that when it comes to publicizing information and matters of public interest so to speak, it costs money and so it is never enough for publicity because until the last man says I have heard and am doing what you said, you hav not achieved it. Somebody could hear what you are saying and refuse to do it and so because he is not doing it it’s a minus to what you have said. So if you have publicized the protocols of COVID-19 for almost one year and somebody is still insisting that he does not believe that there is COVID-19, it is not the absence of fact that you have not spoken he is an individual and he is entitled to his opinion but that opinion happens to be personal to him so is affecting your account on hand. Many people heard you, listened and believed so we just keep talking and that is why we are not going to stop. Some people will say why won’t you talk about something else there is nothing serious with COVID-19 but something is killing people and its gradually killing Nigerians, so if it is not vaccine and it is just protocol, why don’t we do it.
QUESTIOIN: From your words, I realized that NOA has not started putting the message out there about COVID-19 vaccines because you are waiting for the arrival into the country before you start sensitizing the public.
ANSWER: No, this week, the forms that have been sent out include the conversations on the vaccine. Our conversation is to let the people know that a viaccine is good. It will pass through all the relevant levels of testing locally as stated by the Federal Government and when it is time, the Federal Government will also, through the institution that is responsible for the vaccine, storage and all that, let the public know and for the public to know NOA will also continue to sensitise Nigerians. So that is the information that will go out for now but when, how it will be done is not in the public domain and so there is no need to talk about that now but to tell Nigerians that the Federal Government believes that the vaccine is good, can be helpful and will do a lot of good than harm and that the people should believe that their government is doing it in their best interest. That is the information we are putting out there.
QUESTION: The NCDC has been collaborating with telecom providers and we have been seeing several messages from the NCDC. What is NOA doing with the telecom providers, is there any plan to engage them to take the message out there.
ANSWER: We have been sending bulk sms messages just as the NCDC. We also send bulk sms to different Nigerians. But like I told you, there are some text messeges that you have already said you do no subscribe to based on stop the unwanted sms code. Therefore if you already have activated that facility in your phone, there are certain messages that will elude you because you don’t want them. I didn’t do that so I receive such messages on my phone, so it is like that. We have been doing so and those messages are going out. We are on social media because we have a strong situation room and we have young people there, and that’s all they know how to do, so what ever messages we want sent out are going and at the state level, we have social media desk officers in every state.
In fact they are billed for a workshop in the next one week just to improve their skills. So those are some of the things we are doing but like you said from the beginning, we have a very large population with different individuals. I am a user of smart phone, but If I tell you all I need it for, then you would be wondering if any of these things will be working for me. But most people have phone so sending text messages is also very good so those who do not do social media and all that they know is just to get a phone. Some of us cannot read messages but we own phone so what do I care if a message come in. if my son or daughter who bought the phone calles me, I know where to press and answer the phone. So if a text message comes it is none of my business. But when you are sending these bulk messages you don’t know who is literate and who is not. You just send it so it depends on whose phone it gets to so I want to believe that it definitely get to people lie you who is educated.
QUESTION: What of those not lettered, is there any means to send out these information in local language?
ANSWER: Yes and sincerely at the state level and if the FCT directorate goes out, they speak to local language, vernacular, and you will find any of us. I can send my messages in pidgin. I know how to do that and I can speak it fluently, if you want me to send my messages in my own local dialect, at least I can speak ijaw, igbo so I can have three to my advantage plus English – making three so that is the advantage we drive at NOA and it is a plus for us.