OMICRON AND THE POLITICS OF RETALIATORY TRAVEL BAN
BY UBAKA OKOFU
Rather than a run-of-the- mill approach, the Nigerian government should have seek a diplomatic solution to the latest decision by the United Kingdom, Canada, Argentina and Saudi Arabia to add the former to their Covid-19 red lists. An outright retaliatory ban by the Nigerian government might be considered too hasty given the fact that all of the affected countries have better health systems, hence they do not belong to countries with health systems that are likely to be overwhelmed by the challenges of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. The decision of the Nigerian government to reverse to diplomacy after her hasty and retaliatory travel ban amounted to licking ones vomit.
The cheering news is that the United Kingdom has reversed the travel ban on Nigerians and citizens from 10 other African countries. This shouldn’t be seen as succumbing to pressure from the retaliatory travel ban by the Nigerian government. The UK Parliament had to relax the travel ban because Omicron was already in 57 countries of the world and limiting its’ travel ban policy to Nigeria and 10 Southern African countries might just be a scratch on the surface in its’ renewed moves to tame the spreading Omicron .
In all of this, we should not misunderstand the principles of reciprocity in international relations to include countries with less values in the eyes of global economic might. Its’ still tenable that economic strength and military might solely shape or determine the contents of the foreign policies of a country. A retaliatory travel ban by the Nigerian government would have been appropriate against countries of equally weak economy as hers, and not giant economies with prodigious trade surplus. In 2020, trade goods exported from the UK to Nigeria were worth about 1.3 billion U.S dollars while Nigeria export to the United Kingdom was 864.42 million U.S dollars. Severally, Nigeria has recorded foreign trade deficits of over N7.38 trillion trading with countries of the world.
The latest action by the above countries to ban movement of persons from Nigeria might not be an act of malice or deliberate prejudice, or a new form of apartheid as the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa had alleged penultimate week. But one of the most appropriate and safest measures to arrest the escalating cases of the Omicron variant. Also, its’ important to note that the countries in question are well organised nations that know exactly what it takes to square up with a stubborn airborne disease particularly when the pandemic is not showing clear signs of abating.
Talking about reciprocity in international relations, one might be tempted to say that the exponents of the diplomatic principle never anticipated the principle to be an expedient policy weapon in the face of such dire global health challenges as we face today.
The principle simply means granting benefits and rights to another country only if the other country had granted same treatment. Now, the retaliatory travel ban between the United Kingdom and Nigeria per se is a preventive measure and shouldn’t be seen as economic prejudice.
Even though the nexus here is expedient and preventive, its’ better and safer to see the ban by the Nigerian government on travellers from the United Kingdom, Canada, Argentina and Saudi Arabia more as retaliatory than reciprocity. But, the big question remains, who loses when a weak economy is locked in policy fisticuffs with a strong economy? The answer is clearly in favour of the strong economy.
Its’ obvious that the pandemic is not in a hurry to end soon. What one nation does about the control of the fast spreading Omicron variant is the business of other nations. If nothing, the world is now a global village. What affects one, affects others. Hence, the pandemic would not have done so much danger and destruction to globalization trade relation.
If there was any African leader who couldn’t maintain humiliating silence in the lopsided and discriminative politics in the distribution of vaccines, it was the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa accused big nations of reintroducing apartheid with the promise and distribution of vaccines. He lamented the fact that African countries were getting crumbles as vaccines. In the light of that, the South African President did not see why these big nations would turn around to punishment African nations specifically for cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 which is already in 57 countries of the world.
The Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Ifedayo Adetifa opines that western countries should appreciate the sincerity of the Nigerian government in revealing actual figures of cases of the new variant in the country. The South African government had also chorused the same line of argument. Hence, both countries had argued that their countries do not deserve the ban slammed on their citizens and those of other African countries.
What the Nigerian government has just done by threading with caution would have been more dignifying knowing it could not sustain such retaliatory policy for a long time. As third world nation, we must learn to count our cost. Being combative with nations with stronger economies might further impoverish the country.