‘If not face to face, at least mask to mask’ , Antony Blinken leaves Nigerians with new expression amid COVID-19 social disruption

Blinken made Nigerian leaders smile on Thursday when he told Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama that he was glad to be in Nigeria in person following a virtual summit in April, adding that "If not face to face, at least mask to mask."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Thursday left Nigerians with a new expression – “mask to mask” – at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted social interactions.

Blinken made Nigerian leaders smile on Thursday when he told Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama that he was glad to be in Nigeria in person following a virtual summit in April, adding that “If not face to face, at least mask to mask.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria, on Thursday, November 18, 2021. 
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Nigeria, on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

He said, “Well, thank you very much, and I don’t want to take too much time other than to say how wonderful it is to be here, to be back in Nigeria.  Mr. Vice President, it’s very good to be with you, and always good to see my friend and colleague Geoffrey, the foreign minister.  You’re right; one of the very first things that I was able to do as Secretary of State was a virtual visit to Nigeria, which we very much appreciated.  But to your point, Geoffrey, nothing is a substitute for being here in person – and as I like to say, if not face to face, at least mask to mask.”

Nigerian Vice President Osinbajo adopted Blinken’s expression, telling the audience, “Thank you very much, Your Excellency Secretary of State, Your Excellency Ambassador, and all our friends and colleagues on the delegation of His Excellency the Secretary of State:  Thank you very much again for making the time to visit.  And again, just as our minister of foreign affairs has said, we are pleased that we are getting this much attention, first virtual and now, to use your expression, mask to mask at least.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama sign a five-year
U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama sign a five-year $2.17 billion development assistance agreement between U.S.and Nigeria in the presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja, Nigeria, on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

After Osinbajo welcomed Blinken to Nigeria, he used the expression again, saying, “So just to say welcome again to Nigeria, and we hope to see you very soon again.”

Blinken said, “Maybe really face to face.”, “Yes, face to face this time,” added Osinbajo.

COVID-19 has disrupted social interactions with the use of face masks and limited physical contacts, triggering new expressions like ‘mask to mask’.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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