The age-long bitter rivalry between Dangote Group and BUA Group, two prominent members of the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) is threatening the plan to procure COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria.
The latest development is not the usual direct confrontation between the two business groups, which have been fighting a supremacy war to establish who holds the ace in controlling the sugar, cement and other commodities market in Nigeria and beyond.
Those familiar with the rivalry between the duo describe the bickering exchanges on social media on Monday over a plan to procure COVID-19 vaccines for Nigeria as a shadow boxing between the two groups with CACOVID as the glass screen.
CACOVID is a private sector-led coalition of corporate entities in Nigeria launched in March 2020 to support the government’s effort in combating the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Coordinated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the coalition has the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, as Chairman, with Dangote Group and Aliko Dangote Foundation as some of the prominent members, apart from banks and other corporate organizations, including BUA Group.
On Monday, CACOVID triggered a controversy with a statement in the media disowning reports that BUA Group singlehandedly purchased one million COVID-19 vaccine doses for Nigeria.
In the statement which went viral online, CACOVID said BUA Group Chairman, Abdulsamad Rabiu, must have been misquoted to have claimed to have made the purchase.
Describing the report as “not factual … as CACOVID operates a collegiate fund contribution model”, the coalition denied any agreement between BUA Group, CACOVID and AFREXIMBANK that could have allowed such a transaction to happen.
CACOVID recalled the briefing to the group by the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, about a conversation last Sunday involving the Chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; Managing Director of Access Bank Group, Herbert Wigwe and AFREXIMBANK President, Benedict Oramah.
The conversation, CACOVID said, was about a $2billion facility set up by AFREXIMBANK with the African Union Vaccine Task Force for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines for the African continent.
Under the arrangement, CACOVID said the CBN governor told the group that the allocation of the vaccines to Nigeria was capped at 42 million doses.
However, Mr Emefiele quoted Mr Oramah as saying that one million doses of the vaccines could be ready for shipment to Nigeria within the next two weeks as the first tranche of the consignment if a down payment of $3.45million was made latest by February 8.
On the basis of that information, CACOVID in its statement said its leadership had agreed that members should contribute $100million each to enable it procure vaccines for Nigeria based on the AFREXINBABK arrangement.
This was outside other arrangements the coalition said it has with credible pharmaceutical manufacturing companies like COVAX to procurement vaccines at subsidized rates.
CACOVID said the understanding of members was that whatever vaccines were procured would be delivered to Nigeria and distributed through the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHCDA) channels.
In the statement, CACOVID operations committee clarified that vaccine purchase was only possible through the Nigerian government, as no individual or company can purchase vaccine directly from any legitimate and recognized drugs manufacturer on its behalf.
BUA Group reacts
In its reaction BUA Group described as “very petty and unbecoming” the statement by CACOVID disowning its payment through CACOVID for one million AstraZeneca doses of vaccines for Nigeria via the AFREXIMBANK vaccine platform, saying it was “tantamount to playing politics with the lives of Nigerians.”
“This is no time for politics and it does not matter who is helping or paying for vaccines. This is no time for politics. It is time for us to come together to help Nigerians and it does not matter who is helping or paying,” the Group said.
BUA Group said during the CACOVID steering committee meeting of February 8 referenced by the CBN governor, members were given the opportunity to pay for one million doses of vaccines to be delivered to Nigeria through the AFREXIMBANK vaccine platform provided payment was made latest by February 8.
BUA said there was neither any agreement reached by members, nor was there any offer by them to donate funds towards the procurement of the vaccines, despite being told of the risk of missing the opportunity if payment was not made immediately.
The company said it decided to take up the payment for the vaccines at the agreed rate of $3.45 per dose totaling $3.45million or N1.311billion to ensure Nigeria did not miss the opportunity.
BUA Group said its Chairman had also requested through the CBN governor that the Naira equivalent of the amount be paid to the relevant account with the CBN, for onward remittance to the dollar payment to AFREXIMBANK on CACOVID’s behalf.
“This payment was made immediately after the meeting and BUA transferred the money to the CBN in order to meet the deadline,” the company said.
Mixing politics with vaccines
BUA said from the statement by CACOVID, it has cause to believe that “some members of CACOVID were not happy that BUA took this initiative in the interest of Nigeria and to ensure that the deadline was met to receive the 1 million doses of the vaccine next week.”
“BUA did this gesture in good faith as it has done throughout the pandemic. We will however like to state clearly that we are aware that a prominent member of CACOVID is not happy that BUA took the initiative to pay for the vaccines – fulfilling our pledge just as we said
during the meeting.
“Now they want to scuttle it by this action because they were unable to take the initiative.
Regardless, BUA said as a demonstration of its commitment to continue supporting the effort by CACOVID during the pandemic, it has decided to allow the money released for the vaccines to remain in the CACOVID Account with the CBN pending when they are ready to utilize it for Nigerians to access the vaccines.
Close watchers of the controversy say the disagreement may not be unconnected with a shadow boxing between the Dangote Group President, Aliko Dangote and his long-time bitter business rival and Chairman of BUA Group, Abdulsamad Rabiu.
Both men, whose group of companies belong to the CACOVID coalition, have been locked in a lingering bitter feud that has gone for several years fueled by their rivalry on who holds the ace in controlling the commodities, energy and logistics market in Nigeria and beyond.
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