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Edo State Secretariat Gate on September 15, 2021

By Isaac Asabor

There is no denying the fact that the Compulsory COVID-19 vaccination in Edo State aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the state might be counterproductive if what happened yesterday, September 15, 2021 is anything to go by. This is as the government locked out workers who did not provide proofs of having taken the COVID-19 vaccines.

However, as speculated by not few observers, the exercise could generate a productivity slump and threaten economic growth of the state in the long run given the fact that the civil service, which was majorly affected by the order is unarguably the core and permanent administrative arm of the state government.  It is no doubt made up of staff that are responsible for advising on, developing, and implementing government policies and programmes as well as managing the day-to-day activities of the government in the state. Ominous enough is that the governor is yet to appoint commissioners.

It was gathered that not few civil servants and others who had businesses at the State Secretariat, located along Sapele Road, were turned back from having access to the State’s Secretariat.  Equally denied access to the Secretariat were visitors and others who came for one business transaction or the other, but also could not produce the certificate.

It would be recalled that Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, had three weeks ago, announced that beginning from the middle of September, Edo State residents who refused to be vaccinated against the Coronavirus pandemic would be denied access to large gatherings, banking halls and other offices.

According to Haruna Yusuf, the Head of the COVID-19 Enforcement Team in the State, “What we are going to do tomorrow is to allow those who have the authentic vaccination card, access to their government working places and those without, can go back and work from home and government will know how to deal with that.”

To my view, it would be more productive if the government expedite action in ensuring that the workers are equipped with tools that are required to work from home.  On the other hand, to hasten the process, hybrid workplace model should be adopted for the civil servants.  With the hybrid workplace model, there would be flexibility as it would allow some civil servants that have not done the vaccination to work from home while those that have done the vaccination work, and as the process remain in progress, newly vaccinated workers would by-and-by join their colleagues in their various offices.

Again, it is expedient to remind the governor that resorting to threat may backfire. For instance, when President Joe Biden pointed a finger at the roughly 25% of vaccine-eligible people in the U.S. who haven’t had coronavirus shots as he rolled out a broad vaccine mandate aimed at bringing the pandemic under control, he was reported to have said, “We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal”. It is surprising to hear that such statement, in every sense of the interpretation of its connotation, which ordinarily in this part of the world can be considered to be innocuous, was in America interpreted to be a threat.

According to Shyam Sundar, a media scholar from Penn State University, “Such direct high threat” messaging can backfire.  “These messages can have the unintended effect of causing psychological ‘reactance,’ in which people resist complying with health guidance on issues as seemingly benign as flossing or keeping kids off drugs, he says. To me, it is possible for anyone to say “That is America, not Nigeria”. In as much as this writer will agree to the foregoing view, it is expedient our leaders begin to emulate how the rights of others are respected and prioritized on across countries in American and European continents. Aptly put, if we are truly copying the tenets that are inherent in America’s Democracy, we should copy them wholistically.

According to Sundar on communication gone awry, “It is a psychological phenomenon that can be seen around the world and is exemplified by widespread protests and opposition to mandates. When individuals sense a threat to their freedom of action, they become motivated to restore that freedom, often by attempting to do the very thing that is prohibited or by refusing to adhere to the recommended behavior.”

Now back to Edo State, it can be argued that the governor appears to have forgotten that the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had on 31 August granted an exparte order restraining him from enforcing the order mandating all residents of the state to get vaccinated for Covid-19. In fact, he had prior to the court order warned that any resident who failed to get vaccinated would not be allowed access to worship centres, banks and other public places in the state.

It would be recalled that coalition of civil societies in the state had earlier staged a protest round the state before approaching the court to file an action.

In as much as Covid-19 represents the biggest health, social and economic threat the world has faced for decades and has forced governments across the globe to enact extraordinary and unprecedented policy measures to contain its spread, it is equally logical to say that attaining what can in this context be described as herd-compliance to its protocols has been a huge challenge. In fact, while efforts to vaccinate people have been ongoing in most parts of the world, it can be said that rhetoric has proven to be a powerful ally in efforts to gain public confidence and influence behavioral change.

For the sake of clarity, rhetoric epitomizes a powerful method, specifically designed more than two-thousand years ago to persuade the public to follow a set of behavioral patterns without coercion.

To be persuasive, rhetoric needs to tap into three elements of what Aristotle called ‘artistic persuasion’: logos, pathos and ethos. In general terms, rhetoric can be defined as ‘the art of persuasion’ or the art of using language in such a way as to impress an audience to persuade them for or against a desired course of action. Within this description, rhetoric can be broken down further into ‘non-artistic’ and ‘artistic’ means of persuasion. The former relates to persuasion that comes from pre-existing facts, external to the author or speaker such as laws and contracts; and the latter needs effort and flair to be effective. According to Aristotle, ‘artistic proof’ has three core elements: logos (logical proof), pathos (emotional proof) and ethos (ethical proof).

All the foregoing core elements, as expected to be deployed by the information arm of Edo State, should be able to persuade the people on why they should not go to work, church, mosque, markets and other public places without their vaccination cards. It should be able to persuade them that they would not experience the same degree or level of loss they incurred during the COVID-19 lockdown of last year, 2020. Aptly put, the State government should embark on public enlightenment campaign while people will by each passing day, starting from yesterday, be complying with the directive. The importance of the combined use of all the three means of persuasion lies in the fact that, as social scientists have convincingly shown, logos, ethos and pathos are complementary since they activate specific sides of the listener’s mind and emotions to varying extents.

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