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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Nigeria and the world in a pandemic year

Nigeria became a beautiful bride of sort in a year of pandemic as the international community came to her aid in the fight against coronavirus in 2020.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire
Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Health Minister

Suffice to say that Nigeria benefited immensely from the benevolence of a few of the global actors in 2020, a year that will go down in history books as one of the most exceptional we have ever had.

What was initially thought to be ephemeral, COVID-19, left the whole world with a rude awakening of what the new reality could be.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic after more than 118,000 cases had been reported in 114 countries, and 4,291 people had lost their lives.

As part of efforts to curtail the spread of the virus, nations around the world shut their borders, giving room to emergency or essential trips only.

The restriction of movement meant that activities of diplomatic missions in Nigeria had to be halted or reduced to the barest minimum, as embassies and consulates not only stopped giving appointments for visa issuance, but also hurriedly evacuated their citizens to their home countries.

In April, the U.S. Consulate organised chartered flights operated by Delta and Ethiopian Airlines to repatriate 850 American citizens from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, to the United States. The British mission and some others did the same.

However, in spite of the challenges that were faced by the diplomatic corps and the international community at large, some positive achievements that were recorded brought a glimmer of hope for 2021.

Two of the major challenges nations across the globe faced at the initial stage of the pandemic was a lack of testing kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers.

Shortages of these equipment left doctors, nurses and other frontline workers under-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients such that in June, Nigerian doctors embarked on strike over lack of PPE and welfare concerns.

In a bid to support the fight against the virus, the UN provided Nigeria with supplies including 10,000 test kits, 15 oxygen concentrators, PPEs, and other vital health supplies.

Three ambulances were also donated to the Lagos State Government.

Also, the United States provided more than $73 million in assistance for the COVID-19 response.

This included the delivery of 200 ventilators and epidemiological COVID detection surveys, technical assistance and service plans pledged during a conversation between Presidents Muhammadu Buhari and Donald Trump in April.

The German Consulate also handed over PPE and consumables to Nigerian law enforcement and security agencies to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The items, worth €300,000 (N131,054,437), were handed over to representatives of the agencies by German Consul General, Dr Stefan Traumann.

Traumann said that the German government was committed to developing cooperation with Nigeria, and looked forward to a stronger Germany-Nigeria cooperation, especially in the fight against COVID-19.

Also in 2020, the UK Government awarded the prestigious Chevening scholarship to 49 Nigerians to further their studies in various fields and institutions in the UK.

Through the EducationUSA Opportunity Funds Programme (OFP), 19 Nigerians were awarded scholarships worth $2.17 million to study in U.S. universities.

Mary Beth Leonard, U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, said that both countries had accomplished remarkable feats over the course of 60 years.

“President Buhari recently signed the U.S.-Nigeria Open Skies agreement that will permit increased aviation links, generating new two-way trade and commercial opportunities. 

 “With the right policy environment, these trends will lead to even greater business and employment opportunities in 2021,” said the US envoy.

Francisco Luz, the Consul General of Brazil in Lagos, believes 2021 won’t be as surprising as 2020 because the world would be better prepared to cope with the situation of the pandemic.

 “I am optimistic that we will start to see normalcy in 2021,” he said.

By Busayo Onijala

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