Thursday 8 March 2012

Nigeria: The Yellow Fever Spat with South Africa

Nigerians humiliated
It was just about 27 months ago when two sitting senators and an ex-envoy to South Africa were roughed up or somewhat humiliated by the South African immigration authorities.
I wrote then [1] that I would have very much wanted to protest the effrontery and disrespect to Nigeria, the country of my heritage by reason of my parents but after much thought I felt there was an underlying problem with Nigeria’s image that presaged that event and with high-level politicians suffering such humiliation their experience will inform the need to change elements of our national psyche to earn respect from countries like South Africa.
Happened again after warnings
That must have been a pipe-dream because South Africa having persistently complained [2] to the Nigerian government about the use of fake yellow fever vaccination cards by Nigerians precipitated a diplomatic row by turning back 125 Nigerians at their borders for apparently possessing fake yellow fever vaccination cards.
Politicians and Nigerians on social media forums rose up with righteous indignation, taking offence at the insensitivity and domineering influence of South Africa which they considered a slight on the supposed “Giant of Africa” – a very debatable concept but we are allowed our delusions and opinions.
In time, South Africans were getting deported, immigration checks enforced more stringently, envoys were summoned, politicians fulminating and in the process even Nigerians with legitimate cause [3] and valid documents began to bear the brunt of this fallout.
The rule is clear
The entry requirements to South Africa include this particular stipulation culled from the CDC [4]:
Effective October 1, 2011, proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for all travelers ≥ 1 year of age if traveling from or transiting through a country with risk of YFV transmission regardless of the amount of time spent at the airport. This requirement also applies to the following countries with low potential for exposure to YFV: São Tomé and Principe, Somalia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Eritrea (as of January 1, 2012).
Travelers not meeting this requirement can be refused entry to South Africa or be quarantined for up to 6 days. Unvaccinated travelers with a valid medical waiver will be allowed entry.
(Updated February 7, 2012)
Probably quite necessary for action
On this occasion, the immigration authorities chose to be heavy-handed rather than sympathetic, so rather than putting the Nigerians in quarantine for 6 days, they were deported. One of the passengers on that flight was a sitting senator and Nigeria would have preferred that this situation were handled to avoid embarrassment but a greater principle was at stake – forcing Nigeria to act and having such a high-level politician involved was just the opportunity.
South Africa has since apologised [5] “following this regrettable incident which the South African government believes could have been handled better.”
An apology does not necessarily mean an admission of guilt because that would include restitution and compensation which has not been evident in the statements, it is a state of detente with the hope that a very important point has been made to Nigeria to put their house in order.
The issues remain
Much as one is encouraged with the idea of more bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and South Africa some issues still need to be attended to and addressed in Nigeria.
The corrupt enterprise of selling Yellow Fever Vaccination cards at the airports must stop and we need to establish reputable travel centres that deal with travel health requirements to countries that demand certain steps be taken, ensuring travellers are observant of those requirements and are not circumventing due process.
The idea that travellers to South Africa without proof of yellow fever vaccination will be vaccinated at the point of entry into South Africa should be terrifying for all sorts of reasons one should leave to the imagination. More importantly, it is better to be vaccinated with a good knowledge of your medical condition than be turnstiled and syringed through the system just to end up the worse for it.
Do NOT use Yellow Fever Vaccine [6] if:
  • You are allergic to any ingredient in Yellow Fever Vaccine or latex rubber
  • You are allergic to eggs, egg products, or chicken protein
  • You have a weakened immune system due to HIV or cancer or are receiving radiation treatment or chemotherapy (e.g., alkylating drugs, corticosteroids)
Candidate Patient Zero
Besides, the Yellow Fever Vaccine only offers full protection 10 days after taking the vaccine, so taking the vaccine at the airport and entering South Africa without having developed the antibodies most likely sets the person up as first vulnerable to infection and then a vector for the disease either in South Africa or when they return home where it might already have been eradicated – the person then takes on the ignominious title of Patient Zero – the concept and proposed solution is just wrong.
Like I opined in 2008, the problem is initially and primarily in Nigeria where we have to deal with sharp and corrupt practices with regards to preparing for international travel but once again like was the case with James Ibori with the United Kingdom convicting our criminals, it has taken the action of an external party to force an issue we should have managed better at home – the hope is the greater lesson is learnt by the so offended Nigeria and Nigerians once we have been sated with the words of the apology.
There is work to be done; Nigeria put your house in order.


@ba55e4 said...

very expository!! Learnt a great deal! We already know the FG isn't serious about handling the matter of fake yellow cards. If they can do this, then, I'd be convinced their action is completely responsible.

Akin Akintayo said...

Thanks for your comment. I hope we can take our patriotic blinkers off to deal with the real facts of the matter. South Africa was never the problem.

KAA said...

I do agree that there might be issues with yellow fever vaccinations in Nigeria but that does not give immigration in South Africa the right to deport so many Nigerians. I lived and worked in South Africa and I can say the prejudice against Nigerians by some South Africans was definitely of xenophobic proportions. In this case the Nigerian government are right to ask for an explanation and apology from South Africa.

Akin Akintayo said...

Thanks for your comment. I well appreciate pre-existing issues with xenophobic animosity to Nigerians.

Maybe the Yellow Fever Vaccine situation was played out to the extreme but it does not take away from the fact that the Nigerian government was persistently warned about the issue of fake cards.

Despite the apparent making up after this spat, it is necessary to know what Nigeria plans to do because we are already aware of what South Africa will do.

Besides, there are parts of South Africa with the Yellow Fever Virus threat, it is only reasonable as a matter of health priorities to ensure the Nigerian government checks that its citizens are properly vaccinated within the necessary time to develop resistance so as not to bring the problem back to Nigeria where it has already been eradicated and create a health emergency.

On balance, I am still in support of what South Africa did, extreme and outrageous as it was.

Xmalcolm70 said...

We may argue back and forth..but it is important to note that SA erred in not following due process in handling the deportation saga. for instance why were the nigerian officials in SA not alerted before the nigerians were deported. if the issuance of visas was predicated on the yellow card..why were the visas issued to them in the first place..?.. you do not deport that many people on such a flimsy excuse...WHO recommends that the passengers be quarantined at the port and vaccinated AND NOT DEPORTED!!!....

Ms X said...

I don't agree with the writer's views because first and foremost anyone who has applied for an SA visa before knows that your yellow fever card is screened here in Nigeria at the SA Embassies before you are given a visa. To get to OR Thambo and then be deported shows malice. Yes, Nigeria needs to deal with its Yellow Fever Card issues but then was it not said that Nigeria has been certified free from yellow fever by the WHO. Nigeria needs to deal with other issues as well such as compulsory testing for HIV for South African citizens wishing to enter our borders after all we know that, that is one disease alive and thriving in those parts.

Akin Akintayo said...

Thanks for your comment. If you referenced the link to the 2008 blog I wrote you will note that immigration services even when contacted by the Nigerian Consulate on behalf of the 2 senators and the ex-envoy could not care to entertain the views they had.

In fact, as a fundamental health issue, South Africa has the right to refuse entry to all passengers on the same flight - immigration does not have to contact the embassy on the matter though it would be best practice to do so - there is usually high enough a hierarchy at the airport to handle such matters.

We are still left if the fundamental problem of fake yellow fever vaccinations cards either in the hands of the one or all of them - a visa in hand does not guarantee entry at the destination, everything still gets scrutinised and customs might have better information than visa offices abroad.

Akin Akintayo said...

Thanks for your views.

According to the information used in my blog, the news story suggests the Nigerian government had been persistently complained to about fake YFV cards to no avail.

It must mean South Africa had for a long time been allowing people to obtain visas and enter the country for reasons besides following their rules.

The issue is not so much that Yellow Fever has been eradicated from Nigeria but that it is present in South Africa and people who are not vaccinated with the defence of anti-bodies for protection can spread it in South Africa as well as back home in Nigeria.

This matter should be critical health emergency for Nigeria first and the South Africa apart from it better a primary responsibility for the passenger to ensure they are adequately protected.

HIV is not the issue and it is also prevalent in Nigeria so that is a moot point. The issue is Nigerians doing what is right at all times and there by preventing these unnecessary embarrassment.

I stand by my views made in 2008 and today.

Thank you.

godwyns said...

Well, Writer, glad you have all the time to [try to] educate some Nigerians on the issue of accountability, responsibility and the rule of law. Those are not qualities you easily find in 95% [rough guess but must be very correct] of Nigerians. Their patriotism outweighs any sense if common sense... And that is why Nigeria is in a mess. We always find excuses to justify nonsense instead of facing issues squarely and demanding for responsibility and accountability from our government and service deliverers. This is also used to justify corruption in Nigeria government. If they are not supporting the thieving government official because he is from their tribe, they are supporting him because he is of their religion, from their State, Local government, former school mate, etc; all manner of useless endorsements. I am ashamed of my country. Nigerians blame evil spirits or the soul of the dead or lack of prayer, etc for road accidents in the face of death-trap roads or disregard to traffic rules or lack of them.

Well, we may boast of our GDP overtaking South Africa's but would the ordinary Nigeria feel the impact? We all wish Nigeria well, but wishes are not wind and can only be achieved by doing the actions required. Our immigration-reputation is shaming. What airport do you pass with a Nigerian passport and not be inspected 90% of the time? Even business partners think twice before agreeing to discuss business in Nigeria... Or insurance companies? It baffles me that Nigerians really feel patriotic; what for?

Akin Akintayo said...

Dear Godwyns,

It is difficult to add to what you have already said. As you can see from the foregoing comments we are in a minority in trying to address the fundamental issues involved in the matter.

However, what needs to be said must be said, no matter how unpalatable - the problem is primarily and fundamentally in Nigeria first and after all that has happened the question remains - what are Nigeria's plans to clean up their act?

Thanks for your comments.

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