COVID-19: Okonjo-Iweala wants Nigeria, other African countries to produce own vaccines, warns of dire consequences of current global unequal distribution

Director-General of World Trade Organisation ( WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has reiterated the need for Nigeria and the African continent to produce their own COVID-19 vaccines as unequal distribution continues to have adverse effect on the continent.

She made the call today at this year’s National Diaspora Day celebration with the theme “Diaspora Integration for National Peace and Development” organized by Nigeria in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) in Abuja, to celebrate the achievements of Nigerians who have contributed immensely to the development of the country.

Speaking virtually as one of the special guests, Okonjo-Iweala reiterated her call for Africa to create a “roadmap” for boosting the continent’s capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines, describing as worrisome the fact that the continent relies 99 percent on importation for her vaccines and 90 percent for  her pharmaceuticals.

The WTO DG said: “I am quite worried and that is why we tried to bring these CEOs of the major manufacturing companies from Moderna to Pfizer to AstraZeneca, J& J; the Chinese ones and now Russia’s own also – they have told us all the numbers and how they are trying to increase production.

“The vaccine volume is actually increasing. In June, they had 1.1 billion doses more vaccines produced in the world, 45 per cent more than the amount in May. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of those doses ended up in the developed countries and the vaccine inequity continues and that is why we are trying to work with them (vaccines producers) to change the story.

“We understand that COVAX where I was one of the founding members is beginning to do better. It will be able to send more vaccines. It has already sent 130 million doses to developing countries but it was supposed to have done about 500 million by now. So, hopefully this will happen this summer, July-August, so that will improve things a little.

“But what we are trying to do is to say let us not be dependent on other people all the time. We cannot as a continent continue to import 99 percent of our vaccines and 90 percent of our pharmaceuticals. What we are now pushing is for house to develop that industry in African. And the AU ACDC is working very hard and in our country the minister of health, the CDC have been working very hard to also see that we can attract some of these companies. We can even develop our own vaccines, two Nigerians in the diaspora I hear have developed  vaccines which they are experimenting now. So that is the right direction.”

Senate Committee on Health as well as the Vice Chairman Senate Committee on Diaspora/NGOs, Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe, speaking in the same vain, assured that Nigeria was working on producing its own vaccines.

He said he was a member of the Taskforce  headed by the minister of health, Dr. Osagie Enahire, to look at the issue of Nigeria manufacturing  her own vaccines. The committee is made up of Okonjo-Iweala, the Deputy Secretary General of United Nations, Amina Mohammed, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina and Dr. Mohammed Pate.

Oloriegbe said: “I want to assure everyone that we have worked on the issue of Nigeria manufacturing it’s own vaccines. I want to assure us that as National Assembly we have provided all the necessary support for that to become a reality. In the COVID-19 budget in the 2020 budget we had provided N10 billion for local production of vaccine. That money was provided for in the 2020 budget which shows that Nigeria has actually prepared as said by the WTO DG, Dr. Okonji-Iweala. I am also in that committee she talked about. We are in competition as South Africa, Rwanda. What we have done now is that that money will become seed money together with other investments  that the federal government has spent for the production of vaccine. In very near future, Nigeria will produce not just Covid-19 vaccine but other vaccines.

“We can see that Nigerians in diaspora together with us are putting the necessary measure so that we will be able to to achieve that very essential and necessary life saving measures.”

Meanwhile, The DG of WTO has joined the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Zubairu Dada and the Chairman/CEO of the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) Abike Dabiri- Erewa to advocate for Nigerians in the Diaspora to participate in the voting process in the country’s subsequent elections.

Okonjo-Iweala noted that the contributions of Nigerians abroad warrant that they be given the opportunity to decide who will occupy leadership positions in the country.

“Nigerians in the Diaspora must be allowed to vote, they are contributing a lot, and if they are sending over 20 billion as remittances every one why can’t we vote?. Even if we are not sending anything we are still Nigerians and we deserve to vote,” she said.

The occasion also marked the presentation of the National Diaspora Policy (NDP) framework for the coordination and harnessing of the talents, energies and resources of Nigerians in the Diaspora for national development.

In his key note address, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dada, who lauded the efforts of Nigerians in the Diaspora, urged them to do more, assuring that the government was ready to create enabling environment for them to thrive.

“This country belongs to all of us and we must work together to ensure its growth and peace as we all have a role to play. All relevant parties are working to ensure that Diaspora Voting Rights are attained, as we believe that Nigerians in the Diaspora have the same rights and duties as Nigerians who reside in Nigeria and thus should be granted the same opportunity to decide the governance process in the Country. We may not get a perfect output at first but little by little, we would achieve our goals and objectives,” he said.

He also called on Nigerians in the Diaspora to deploy expertise in diverse fields, especially in technology to assist in the development of the country.

In her opening remarks Dabiri-Erewa said: “As part of the mandate of NiDCOM, the leadership and team of the  Commission is putting its best at ensuing that the issue of Diaspora Voting tops the agenda of the current Constitutional Review by the National Assembly, I assure you that both Committees on Diaspora and our Civil Society Organizations are strongly supporting Diaspora Voting to be actualized in Nigeria in the shortest possible time, especially with the contributions of the Nigerians in Diaspora to national development.”

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