On UK’s refusal to recognise Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccination certificates, By Isaac N. Obasi




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Writing on COVID-19 and enforcement of compulsory vaccination policy, this column on Friday, 24 September 2021 made the point that “from all indications, COVID-19 pandemic is a very controversial, divisive and manifestly a conflict-ridden phenomenon”. COVID-19 pandemic, it argued “has also created and continues to create divisions, acrimony and manifest conflict between citizens and their governments around the world” (See https://sundiatapost.com/covid-19-and-enforcement-of-compulsory-vaccination-policy-by-isaac-n-obasi/

The other aspect of this conflict-ridden nature of COVID-19 pandemic has been the restrictive measures adopted against international air travellers across the world. The safety restrictive measures by themselves are good for everyone, as priority is placed on public health than any other consideration(s) including the expected huge economic benefits accruing from international tourism. However, individual travellers who are directly affected by the restrictive measures, consider them highly inconveniencing. For close to two years now (precisely after one year and ten months), there is still no respite for international air travellers under this period of COVID-19 pandemic. These travellers have, therefore, been facing one form of mobility hardship or another particularly in countries that are strictly enforcing COVID-19 restriction measures. 

For example, Australia has announced that it was going to open in November 2021 its international boarders which were closed following the severity and devastating effects of the pandemic. The BBC News for instance captured this announcement in this not-so-cheering manner: 

Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives. Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border rules – even banning its own people from leaving the country. The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families. “It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” PM Scott Morrison said. People would be eligible to travel when their state’s vaccination rate hit 80%, Mr Morrison told a press briefing on Friday. Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores” (See https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-58757888

The restriction measures adopted by different countries are in order, after all a report by the BBC News (23 March, 2021) revealed that “Covid-19 vaccines, vaccine passports and faked negative test papers are being sold on the darknet.”  It further said that “prices range between $500 (£360) and $750 for doses of AstraZeneca, Sputnik, Sinopharm or Johnson & Johnson jabs. Fake vaccination certificates are also being sold by anonymous traders for as little as $150.”  The report equally said that the “darknet, also known as the dark web, is a portion of the internet that is only accessible through specific browser tools.” See https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-56489574). this kind of racketeering going on even in some developed countries, the imposition of restrictive measures by different countries is in the interest of global public health. Nigeria for example banned international flights from selected countries such as India, Brazil and South Africa at the emergence of the COVID-19 Delta variant. This proactive policy measure helped tremendously to save Nigerians from the devastating effects of the Delta variant that would have entered the country.  

It is in the light of all these that one receives the news that Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccination certificates were not among those of the approved 50 countries in the UK database. As it was widely reported by the media, Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccination certificates are currently blacklisted by the UK government. Expectedly, the news generated a lot of displeasure among Nigerian UK-bound passengers. And of course, they have a right to be dissatisfied because the inconvenience and cost implications are too serious to bear. The UK’s blacklisting policy was not pretentious about such inconvenience as demonstrated below.  

Firstly, on the one hand, the UK policy for instance stated that:

Fully vaccinated residents in other countries not yet part of the inbound policy, as well as those partially vaccinated, will still have to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests for day 2 and day 8 after arrival, and self-isolate for 10 days, the option to test to release after 5 days (See BusinessDay, October 5, 2021 by Ifeoma Okeke via  https://businessday.ng/news/article/snag-for-travellers-as-uk-blacklists-nigerias-covid-19-vaccine-certificate/. But in spite of this inconvenience, public health takes priority above every other thing including personal comfort.

Secondly, on the other hand, the policy stated that:

The new simplified travel system meant that eligible fully vaccinated passengers and eligible under-18s returning from over 50 countries and territories, not on the red list, can do so without needing to complete a pre-departure test (PDT), a day 8 test or enter a 10-day self-isolation period, making it easier for those travelling — whether that’s to see friends and family, or on business trips (Ibid, BusinessDay).

Be that as it may, Nigerians may want to know why the federal government failed to do the needful to warrant blacklisting of its COVID-19 vaccination certificates by the UK government. This is against the fact that the volume of air traffic between Heathrow airport at the one end, and Lagos and Abuja at the other end, is very high. For example, in another BusinessDay report (October 5, 2021 also by Ifeoma Okeke), that quoted Susan Akporiaye, – the national president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, (NANTA) – Nigerians “are still travelling to the UK despite the travel restrictions as British Airways flights for next week are almost fully booked.” (See https://businessday.ng/news/article/lack-of-central-vaccine-database-puts-nigeria-on-uks-blacklist/). This is typical Nigerian behaviour of ‘suffering and smiling’ all at the same time. But on a more serious note, why was Nigeria’s vaccination certificates blacklisted? According to an investigation by BusinessDay (Ibid), “the Federal Government’s failure to provide a single recognised vaccine database is the major reason the United Kingdom (UK) has refused to approve Nigeria’s vaccine certificate.” The report further said that “Nigeria has since been slow to provide a database that could help authenticate the vaccine cards of those vaccinated.” The report finally added that its “checks show that countries that have had their vaccine certificates recognised by the UK have had to provide a single database features that would help verify the authenticity of the vaccines, a step Nigeria has been slow to take.”

Does Nigeria have any good reason(s) for failing the do the needful that is causing its citizens such untold hardship? Surprisingly, the copious reasons given by the Federal Government do not seem to be in agreement the revelations made by BusinessDay. What is this Nigerian government’s in this regard?

According to BusinessDay, the Federal Government said that the reason was “because the UK Government is reviewing vaccination certification programme of countries in phases and it is not yet Nigeria’s turn”. (Emphasis ours). But the question is about whether Nigeria has a central database for verifying the authenticity of the vaccination certificates? If she has, the issue of reviewing vaccination certificates in phases should not be an issue given the revelations by BusinessDay’s report. That question seems not to have been satisfactorily answered. 

But rationalising its position further, the Federal Government further said through Dr. Faisal Shuaib that:

 The current listing of countries approved vaccination certification has just started in the UK. They are reviewing the countries’ programmes in phases. If you go through the list of 50 closely, no African country made the list. “From my communication with the UK Government officials, the vaccines administered in Nigeria are approved by the UK Government. They are also involved with the vaccination programme in Nigeria through the Foreign, Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) and they are optimistic that by the time Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccination programme certification is assessed, it will be approved (See https://businessday.ng/news/article/lack-of-central-vaccine-database-puts-nigeria-on-uks blacklist/).

Whatever the reason may be, what Nigerians want is that the Federal Government should do the needful to enable her citizens travel to other countries minimal or avoidable inconveniences. 

Prof. Isaac N. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research at the Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: [email protected].