Labour raises the alarm over FG’s plan to retrench workers [Sun]

Organised labour, yesterday, raised the alarm over plans to lay-off workers through the merger of Federal Government’s ministries, parastatals and agencies (MDAs).

Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) said the decision of the Federal Government to commence the process of merging some MDAs and scrap others was geared at sending thousands of public service employees into the labour market.

ASCSN Secretary General, Alade Bashir Lawal, expressed the shock that the Federal Government had chosen a time when the world, including Nigeria, was mourning the death of thousands of people killed, daily, by coronavirus to implement the Steve Oronsaye report which recommended the merger of some MDAs and the scrapping of others.

“The reality is that if some MDAs are merged and others scrapped, thousands of public servants will surely lose their jobs.

“We cannot understand the logic behind government’s decision at this material time when Nigerians are losing their loved ones while thousands of others are being afflicted by coronavirus,” the union said.

According to the ASCSN, the impression created before the public since this news broke out was that the government had no empathy and insensitive to the suffering of millions of Nigerians.

It added that Nigeria was already rated the poorest country in the world and if government carried out its plan to throw thousands of workers into the market, it would lead to monumental social crisis, the end result of which no one could predict.

The union enjoined President Muhammadu Buhari to direct relevant organs of government plotting to implement the Oronsaye report to desist forthwith so as not to trigger off industrial and social unrest in the country.

It alleged that the fifth columnists in government are pushing for the implementation of the Oronsaye report in order to mislead the president to enter into collision course with millions of Nigerian workers and thereby disrupt the prevailing cordial relationship existing between his administration and labour.

ASCSN urged labour unions, civil society groups, religious leaders, traditional rulers and eminent citizens to prevail on the government to put a halt to the ill-advised policy in the interest of industrial peace and harmony.

COVID-19: FG begins evacuation of 4,000 Nigerians abroad [Sun]

  • Admits signing up for drug trials

The Federal Government will tomorrow begin to evacuate at least 4,000 Nigerians outside the country.

This is even as it said it was still striving to secure enough spaces to accommodate that number for the mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, made this disclosure at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

According to Onyeama, evacuation flights for Nigerians will commence with an Emirates flight from Dubai to Lagos tomorrow and would be followed by a BA flight on Friday, from London to Lagos, and Ethiopian Airlines from the United States, adding that the evacuees will be mandatorily quarantined in hotels and monitored for 14 days.

According  to him, the biggest challenge in bringing Nigerians back was where to quarantine them on arrival.

While noting that there was a large number of Nigerians in China who needed to come back, Onyeama said: “We want to do it as quickly as possible, but it hasn’t been easy. Within two weeks, we hope we can do that.”

The Federal Government had said interested persons would be responsible for the cost of logistics to return to the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had also stated that the financial implications would be borne by the prospective evacuees, who would be compulsorily quarantined when they returned.

Onyeama said the change in date for evacuation of Nigerians from different parts of the world originally scheduled to commence Monday May 4 was caused by the constraints in resources.

The Nigerians waiting to be evacuated are mainly in China, which has become controversial as reports have alleged that some Nigerians were being maltreated in the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Other countries include the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, and India, among others.

Onyeama said: “By God’s grace, on Wednesday, we would start the process of repatriating our nationals from outside the country.  There are about almost 4,000 Nigerians wishing to come back home. If we had our way, we would bring them all back immediately and all at once, but there are various constraints and the biggest constraints is where to quarantine them, the beds.

“We have done everything we can to get beds here in Abuja and in Lagos. In Lagos, we have almost 300 beds available, and I would like to take some time out to again express our gratitude to the governor of Lagos State because, without his personal engagement, it would have been more difficult for us. So, the first flight (Emirates) on Wednesday will be to Lagos.”

The minister added that the country was also making arrangements for a British Airways flight coming to Nigeria on Friday to evacuate some British nationals in Nigeria, since the plane would be coming empty, Nigeri had negotiated with the British government to bring Nigerians from the United Kingdom (UK) on Friday. He, however, regretted that the plane would not be coming to Abuja, where the government has made available over 1,000 hotel rooms for the evacuees.

“So, we are hoping that, on Friday, we will be able to evacuate from the UK anything up to 300 Nigerians from the UK. Ideally, we would have liked that flight to be coming to Abuja because we have been able to secure more hotel rooms (almost 1,000) in Abuja than we have in Lagos but, unfortunately, that plane cannot come to Abuja but only Lagos.

“So, it is going to put quite a strain on our capacity in Lagos because, in addition to just getting the rooms, the Port Health Authority, the NCDC will have to monitor every one of the evacuees on regular basis and, of course, the security elements have to be in place and all their other support services have to be in place and they are not all available for the evacuees because the numbers are going up in the country and resources, human and material, are the real challenges that we are facing,” Onyeama said.

For Nigerians in the US, the minister noted that the Nigerian missions in New York, Washington and Atlanta were trying to strike a deal with the US authorities for any flight available to bring back Nigerians. He added that government was making arrangements with an Ethiopian Airlines flight that does regular commercial operations in the US to bring back Nigerians on Monday next week.

He added that Nigeria’s Air Peace plane chartered for a medical evacuation of a Nigerian couple to take a family member to London would also be engaged to evacuate Nigerians, since the plane will be coming back from London empty: “So we are hoping to strike a deal with Air peace on Saturday to bring our people.”

On Nigerians who in China, Onyeama said, “China is a huge crisis and we are trying to see if we can get a plane quickly to go and evacuate our people who are in large numbers in China, who also have additional challenges. We are trying to source funds to also support these compatriots of ours, but there are capacity issues.

“It has not been easy sourcing a plane but we are making arrangements with one of the carriers and we are hoping that, within two weeks, we will be able to move to China and bring back our people and those who are in South Africa, India in France,” he said.

Similarly, government has admitted indicating interest to be part of the global solidarity trial of medicines being used to tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The country representative of WHO Nigeria and member of the PTF on COVID-19, Dr. Fiona Braka, had last week said Nigeria had signed up for drug trials.

According to her, the four drugs that will be monitored in the trial are Remdesivir, chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, Lopinavir, and Ritonavir.

This is even as she disclosed that over 100 countries have joined the solidarity trial and, till date, over 1,200 patients have been randomised from the first five countries to evaluate the safety and efficacy of full drug and drug combinations.

Braka had also said that 89 vaccines were being developed globally, including seven in clinical evaluation and several therapeutics in clinical trials to tackle COVID-19.

On Nigeria taking part in the drug trials, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said: “We have indicated interest to the WHO to be part of the global solidarity trial of medicines being tried to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts on to also conduct research here in Nigeria. Other drugs can be added to the trials, based on emerging evidence. In all this, we shall ensure the maintenance of ethical standards and safety of our people.”

The minister, while speaking on the cases of the virus, noted that Nigeria was currently in community transmission mode, adding that the strategy was to take all persons who test positive to isolation, whether they exhibit symptoms or not, to prevent the risk of them infecting others who may be more vulnerable due to underlying diseases.

“We need to protect not only ourselves but each other and our loved ones and make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. As we begin a new week and the prospects of gradual easing of the lockdown, I wish to remind citizens that this phase comes with added responsibility to be extra vigilant and compliant with the accompanying measures and guidelines that are meant to assure that we do not lose the health gains we have made so far.

“Since our COVID-19 statistics are of considerable concern, attention has also been drawn to the observation that countries who eased or lifted restrictions, suffered an increase in new cases,” the minister said.

On the situation in Kano State, Ehanire said the Federal Ministry of Health was strengthening its support for the state’s ministry of health with service delivery and training, in consultation with the state governor.

“With regard to Kano, the teams dispatched from Abuja have continued to work with the state structure and appreciable achievements have been recorded in improving manpower support, deploying appropriate equipment, increased testing capacity and treatment centres,” he said.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation, chairman of the PTF, Boss Mustapha, confirmed that efforts were also on to upscale the training of medical personnel in Kano and neighboring states on the management of infectious diseases and provide them with PPEs.

Jonathan Foundation blames scourge in Africa on governance failure

The Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) has attributed the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging Africa on the long history of failure of governance.

It warned that, if not addressed promptly, COVID-19 might lead to the collapse of many African states.

The foundation stated this during the first edition of its flagship programme, Policy Dialogue Series, held at the weekend, with the theme “COVID-19, Peace and Security in Africa: Impact, Risk and Mitigation.”

The foundation said in a communiqué yesterday that the rationale for the series was to create awareness on some of the effects the African continent faced in the wake of the global pandemic.

The communiqué was signed by Mrs. Ann Iyonu, executive director of the GJF. The dialogue attracted participants from many nations, including Kenya, Gabon, Uganda, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Nigeria and was used to examine the impacts and risks associated with the pandemic on peace and security in Africa.

The online dialogue was also used to seek approaches and strategies for mitigating such impacts in the light of current realities and the fragile nature of some African states. It called on African leaders to look inward and develop country-specific, original and organic solutions that spoke to peace and security issues, taking advantage of the talents, skills and experiences that abound within the continent.

It urged African states and the continent to go beyond rhetoric and start collaborating and leveraging on their comparative advantage.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the vulnerability of many communities, placing citizens at a high risk of recruitment by extremist groups.

“There is tendency for African leaders in their attempt to ending the cycle of infection of the virus to shift focus or be blind to the peace and security issues facing the continent.

“Shutting down tertiary institutions during this period of crisis is counterproductive to the growth and development of the continent, as the pandemic presents an opportunity for African leaders to leverage on technology and ensure that learning continues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the long history of failure of governance in the continent and if this is not addressed it may lead to the collapse of many African states.

“Economic concerns are beginning to take priority over the health, peace and security of citizens.”

Health workers fault govt’s decision to ease lockdown [Sun]

Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) has expressed mixed feelings on the decision of the Federal Government to ease the lockdown declared some weeks ago, as part of measures to contain community transmission of dreaded Coronavirus.

It agreed that the relaxation will reduce the hardship being faced by Nigerians, but was concerned that the decision may bring about dramatic increase in the number of new confirmed cases.

MHWUN President, Biobelemoye Josiah, in a statement, said: “Our fear is premised on the experience of other countries where after the lockdown was relaxed, the spread of the disease was unimaginable.”

He gave thumps up to Federal Government on steps so far taken in the fight against the disease, but suggested additional stringent measures to ensure that the decision to ease the lock down does not erode the gains made during the lockdown.

He advised federal and states government to make available more testing (including rapid test kits) and isolation centres to accommodate more people in case of upsurge in number of cases.

“Government also need to provide large quantities of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other consumables to health workers at all levels to enable them do their work professionally,” he requested.

He, however, called on the government to further demonstrate compassion, commitments and appreciation of the sacrifice of the health workers by ordering the release of all withheld salaries and entitlements of health workers.


Mercy Johnson welcomes baby number 4 in US [Sun]

Popular Nollywood actress Mercy Johnson has just welcomed a baby girl at the St Joseph Medical Center in Texas.

The little bundle of joy who is her third daughter and fourth child has been christened Divine-Mercy Ehinomen Okojie.

Mercy’s husband, Prince Okojie, broke the good news moments ago on Twitter, sharing photos of Mercy with her hands lifted to God in appreciation with tears of joy while on the hospital bed.

“Every Good and Perfect gift is from God. The wait is finally Over, Please share in Our Joy as we announce the arrival of Our Daughter. Divine-Mercy Ehinomen Okojie,” he wrote.

Since then, lots of her colleagues in the entertainment industry have been flooding her Twitter timeline with congratulatory messages and good wishes.


Buhari seeks debt cancellation for Nigeria, others [Nation]

President Muhammadu Buhari has called on international financial institutions to cancel Nigeria’s debt obligations and those of members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The pardon, if granted, will help member states to withstand the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking during a meeting with other Heads of State from the Non-Aligned Movement, the President urged official lenders to help cushion the pandemic fallout with “outright debt cancellation,” according to a report by Bloomberg, quoting a statement from the President’s office.

Nearly half of Nigeria’s outstanding external debt is with multilateral lenders, led by the World Bank Group ($10.1 billion); Beijing-based Export-Import Bank of China as the second-biggest creditor ($3.2 billion) and Eurobonds, which accounts for $10.86 billion (about 39 per cent) of the debt.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Federal Government has engaged in funds sourcing to address the fallout.

Last month, Finance Minister Mrs. Zainab Ahmed said the government was seeking a temporary suspension from multilateral and bilateral creditors to unlock funds to battle the COVID-19 pandemic threatening lives across the country and the world at large.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), last week approved $3.4 billion for the country, although Nigeria currently holds no outstanding debt with the global lender.

The facilities for which Buhari is asking for relief include; the World Bank Group (IDA) International Development Association loan of $9.692 billion and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) $409.51 million facility.

From the African Development Bank Group there is the: ADB $1.359 billion; ADF $926.14 million; BADEA $5.88 million; EDF $55.17 million; IDB $14.26 million; and IFAD $197.84 million  for which Nigeria is seeking  cancellation.

Nigeria’s bilateral debt obligations for which President Buhari is seeking debt pardon include the China (Exim Bank of China) facility valued at $3.175 billion; France (AFD) $361.75 million; Japan (JICA) $76.13 million loan; India (Exim Bank of India) $32.14 million loan; and Germany (KFW) $202.27 million loan.

The World Bank is helping to fight poverty and improve living standards for the people of Nigeria with more than 130 IBRD loans and IDA credits.

Some of the projects currently being financed with World Bank loans are: Nigeria Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project valued at $575.00 million; Innovation Development and Effectiveness in the Acquisition of Skills (IDEAS) Project US$ 200 million; Nigeria Improved Child Survival Program for Human Capital MPA $650 million and the Sustainable Procurement, Environmental and Social Standards Enhancement Project (SPESSE) for which $80 million is committed.

The Board of Directors of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group has approved a financing package comprising $150 million ADB loan, $100 ADF loan and the five million Euro RWSSI grant facility, to finance the Inclusive Basic Service Delivery and Livelihood Empowerment Integrated Programme (IBSDLEIP), in support of ope-rationalising the “Buhari Plan” for Emergency Transition, Recovery and Peace-building for North East states in Nigeria.

There is also the $22.7 billion loan from China Exim Bank mostly for infrastructure provision.

At the end of the G20 meeting in Saudi Arabia on the April 16, member countries endorsed a time-bound suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries (including Nigeria) that requested forbearance.


Dangers of virus spread are now more serious, says PTF [Nation]

The Federal Government has warned Nigerians not to let their guards down against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu spoke on Monday during the daily press briefing by the task force in Abuja. He said all previous measures issued for public safety still remained in force.

According to Aliyu, easing the lockdown was not a license to jettison protective measures.

He said all religious, academic, leisure and travel activities remain suspended, adding that the dangers of COVID-19 had become more real now as the process of unlocking socioeconomic activities had begun.

“The easing of the lockdown is certainly in no way a license to relax our self-protecting measures against this infection. It is also not a plan to return to business as usual.

“I’ll like to reiterate the guidelines that we have produced as a result of the easing process, to remind the public that no inter-state travel is allowed except for transportation of essential commodities and services. No passenger flights. Churches, mosques and schools will remain closed. Clubs, bars, parks, sporting and gaming centres will also remain closed.

“It is absolutely necessary that we continue to maintain those measures that will protect us. Those measures should be implemented as a bundle because with COVID-19 infection, you can have transmission from more than just droplets.

“For instance, if you are wearing a mask and somebody is not wearing a mask and he’s standing very close to you, the droplets he will produce can land in your eyes and you can get infected.

“If you are wearing a mask and you do not wash your hands, those surfaces that are contaminated with the virus, you could end up touching your face and you can get the infection. What I’m trying to say, basically, is those measures that we recommend need to be done as a bundle for you to have protection that you need to protect yourself from having this infection.

“So I’m appealing once again that we must wear our masks to protect ourselves and the others at all times. We must keep washing our hands, we must maintain the same physical distance of two metres to comply with the eased lockdown.

“The danger of acquiring COVID-19 is even more clear and present now that we are all slowly going back to work,” he said.


Kano under special focus, says Fed Govt [Nation]

The Federal Government has disclosed that its focus right now is on Kano State because of the emerging issues of increased infections of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state.

It will now be channeling its energy and resources to beefing up the response apparatuses – testing and treatment of infected persons in the state, even as it monitors the response activities in other states of the federation.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, made this known on Monday at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja.

He said: “Earlier when we started this work we gave a lot of briefings on what we were doing in Lagos because that was really where the burden of infection was at that time. Now we are focusing a lot of our energy on Kano.

“This is not because Lagos State is no longer important; we still have the largest number of cases reported from Lagos every day, and it has about 50 percent of all the cases in Nigeria. So they need constant support and we will continue to give Lagos State that constant support.

“However, we have an emerging issue in Kano, and therefore some of our thinking and resources have to focus on Kano.

“We have now reactivated the two laboratories in Kano State – Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital Lab and the Bayero University Lab located literally a few meters from each other.

“The other thing we did was that we haven’t just activated the labs and left. Because of what happened the last time, we have actually left a number of our colleagues to stay there and mentor their colleagues to make sure that things are working well and that they are able to do the tests. This will ensure that we do not end up with the situation we ended up the last time.

“Therefore, the speed of testing is a little bit slower than you would expect but that is the price that we will have to pay in order to get this up and running and I am very confident that we will leave that lab not only better for now but also better for the future.”

The NCDC boss added: “We have a long-term plan for the Aminu Kano University Teaching Hospital Lab to become the Centre of Excellence for molecular laboratory testing in the country.

“The other thing we did was support the delivery of a new lab altogether; a new lab that was funded by the Aliko Dangote Foundation and delivered by a Nigerian company called 54gene. The entire conceptualization and delivery happened in 7 days. We will over the weeks build up its capacity to 400 tests per day and plan to expand more.

“We are not only mobilising the Federal Government funds but also from the private sector; all channeled through one response to support the government of Kano State and the Emergency Operations Center set up there.

“The focus right now is getting Kano State up and running but our eyes are on every other state. We have Rapid Response teams right now deployed in 34 of the 36+1 states in Nigeria, supporting every state to build up their own response, department of public health, and the state epidemiologist.”

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in his address said: “The Federal Ministry of Health is strengthening its support for Kano with service delivery and training, in consultation with His Excellency, the Governor.


Return to lockdown likely, Fed Govt warns Nigerians [Nation]

             PTF raises concern over overcrowding in public places

             House-to-house search for virus carriers begins in Kano

             30 doctors, 3 policemen test positive in Lagos, Katsina

A lockdown of the country again is likely.

This follows Monday’s gross disobedience of the protocols as Nigerians got some relief after weeks of restrictions.

It was the first day after the easing of the shutdown to contain the spread of coronavirus in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states.

Before the four-week stay-at-home imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari, Lagos and Abuja had been under some forms of restriction for at least one week.

Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 is not pleased that there was a breach of social distancing with overcrowding in public places, interstate movement and shunning of face masks.

“Today, we might forgive a little bit because it was the first day. However, we will have infections because of what happened today (yesterday), no doubt about that.

“But what is more important is how we can learn from the mistakes of today (yesterday) into tomorrow and into next tomorrow, so that by Friday, hopefully they will have normalised some of these things.

“The challenge for us as a society is how we now organise ourselves to mitigate this risk to limit transmission from each other. We don’t want an explosion of new infections.

“But if we do have that explosion, there will be almost no choice left for the leadership of the country than to ask all of us to go back into our homes.

“For the benefits of having a few hours a day of coming out and reopening parts of the economy, there is a price to pay and that price is that we organise ourselves to do this strictly,” Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said. He spoke during the daily briefing of the task force in Abuja yesterday.

Dr. Ihekweazu said although the PTF expected some lapses in compliance with safety precautions by some people, corporate organisations, especially banks, flouted the NCDC guidelines for infection prevention and control.

He said the panel noted that only a few bank branches   opened a development that led to the high number of customers seen in them.

The NCDC boss explained that the Federal Government expected a few extra infections as a result of the lapses on Monday.

“Initial reports are not too pleasing across the country. When we say take responsibility this time,   we really needed to address corporate Nigeria. One of the biggest groups that we have allowed to restart business today were banks,” he said, adding: “When you limit the number of branches that open, everybody goes to the one branch that is open; that becomes counter-productive.

“We can produce all the guidelines in the world, but if organisations fail to support the implementation of these measures and   focus on a risk-based approach, then our efforts might amount to little or nothing.

National Coordinator of the task force,  Dr. Aliyu Sani, also clarified that “the easing of the lockdown is in no way a license to relax our self-protection measures.

”It is also not …to return to business as usual. The danger of acquiring COVID -19 is even more clear and present now that we are all slowly going back to work.”

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, enjoined Nigerians to be more cautious” countries who eased or lifted restrictions, suffered an increase in new cases.”

”We need to protect, not only ourselves, but each other and our loved ones. We need to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow,” he advised.

PTF chairman, Boss Mustapha lamented that crowds at the banks milled around without giving a hoot to possible spread of COVID-19.

He charged banks to help in solving the crowd problem by ensuring that their online platforms were set right and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) loaded with cash.

Mustapha also noted that state governments and security agencies had been advised to ensure strict compliance by corporate organisations to the regulations for the current phase of national response.

He appealed to Nigerians to continue being   responsible citizens, adding that easing the lockdown   did not mean danger had already been averted.

He said, “The PTF has been monitoring the level of compliance with some of the measures and early observations showed lack of compliance with social distancing and wearing of masks.

“We note particularly the chaotic scenes around the banks and other financial institutions. We must reiterate that the danger of infection is not over and that individual actions will contribute to the success or failure of our measures.

“We urge citizens to minimize the risk of getting infected while   in the banks. We similarly urge the banks to ensure that their ATMs and online banking systems are in good order and stocked regularly to avoid convergence of customers in their premises.

“The PTF fully understands the desire of Nigerians to come out to continue their lives after five weeks of lockdown.

“State governments and security agencies have however been advised to enforce the measures rigidly and violators will be prosecuted.”

On inter-state travels, Mustapha said the PTF was not pleased at the rate of movements across the states, including recent transfer of Almajiris.

He noted that with the new phase of the national response,   such movements would be regarded as violation of regulations.

“The PTF has also received reports on the level of compliance with the nationwide ban on inter-state movements. The objective of the ban is to slow down the spread of virus across state boundaries.

“The determination of government to enforce this policy is not in doubt and as we progress, we believe that proper alignment with the directives of Mr. President would be pursued.

“There has been very noticeable relocation of Almajiris from one state to another, up until yesterday (Sunday). With the ban on interstate movement, the continuation of this exercise will not be in alignment with the guidelines issued.

“The PTF shall engage the respective state governments on how to achieve their objectives.”

The task force also lamented that some states involved in ‘deportation’ Almajiris were helping in the breach of the ban on interstate movement.


Prepare for fresh total lockdown if COVID-19 cases rise, says PTF [Punch]

  • Bank customers, transport workers, commuters shun social distancing
  • 17 Katsina, Ondo health workers among new infection cases
  • Face mask hawkers storm federal secretariat as workers resume

The Federal Government, on Monday, decried the nationwide non-compliance with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19’s guidelines for gradual reopening of the economy.

The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who stated this during the task force press briefing in Abuja, warned that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), could restore the lockdown if the guidelines were not observed and there was a surge in coronavirus cases.

The President had, on March 30,  imposed a two-week lockdown on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states, but at the expiration of the first lockdown on April 13, he extended it by another  14 days.

In his broadcast to the nation on April 27, Buhari said phased and gradual easing of the lockdown would begin on May 4 (yesterday). He also imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on the nation.

Besides banning interstate movements, the President imposed a total lockdown on Kano State, which had witnessed a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Guidelines on gradual reopening of the economy issued by the PTF a few days after the presidential address mandate anyone in public spaces to use non-medical face masks.

They also prohibit interstate travels, apart from for essential services. The guidelines ban gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace.

Commercial vehicles are only allowed to operate outside the curfew hours and should practise social distancing in the number of their passengers.

But our correspondents, who monitored activities in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states on Monday observed that people did not observe the PTF guidelines, including social distancing.

Although banks limited the number of people that entered their premises, customers ignored social distancing as they crowded at bank gates.

Pedestrians and motorists from Ogun State crossed over to Lagos in violation of the ban on interstate movements.

‘Easing lockdown: There will be new infections’

The NCDC boss, at the PTF’s press briefing on Monday, reviewed compliance with the guidelines across the country and concluded that it was not satisfactory.

He said the President could restore the lockdown if the task force guidelines were not observed.

Ihekweazu stated, “Today (Monday), some of the measures are being eased. Initial reports are not too pleasing across the country. Now that we have seen the sunlight again, the challenge for us as a society is, how do we organise ourselves to mitigate these risks and limit transmissions from each other?

“Though we might have a few extra infections today and tomorrow, what we don’t want is an explosion of new infections? If we do have that explosion, there will be almost no choice left for the leadership of the country but to ask all of us to go back to our homes.”

NCDC boss faults banks, fears new infections

Ihekweazu noted that banks were among business groups that were allowed to open on Monday.

He, however, lamented that many banks limited the number of their branches that opened, adding that there would be a spike in infections due to the way people mingled.

The NCDC boss said, “When we say take responsibility this time, yes, we are addressing individuals, but we really need to address corporate Nigeria. There is benefit of the doubt, but when you limit the number of branches opened, everyone goes to the one branch that is opened and that becomes counterproductive.

“Today, we might forgive a little bit because it was the first day. We will have infections because of what happened today, no doubt about that. Everybody here (on the PTF) knew today would be a problem because, for the first time, people were let out of their homes.

“We can produce all the guidelines in the world. We can preach and do press conferences, but how can we learn from the mistakes of today,  tomorrow and the day after, so that, by Friday, hopefully, we have normalised some of these things?”

He stated that organisations must support the implementation of the preventive measures, help manage the risk and focus on a risk-based approach.

Why markets are opened, places of worship shut —PTF

Ihekweazu, while fielding questions from journalists, noted that the decision to open markets  and close places of worship was because “food is an existential issue.”

He added, “We are not even saying we are happy with the markets across the country. But we are really still appealing to everyone in those markets to help us make it (curb in transmission) work.

“We know that many of our markets were not built for an era of COVID-19. We’re sure about that. Our markets are historically very congested places with many ports of entry, very difficult to control access; in fact, a perfect place for transmission.

“So, by no means are we saying the marketplaces are the examples of perfect locations for managing transmission. We have to allow markets to continue because people have to eat.”

Speaking on the efforts of the PTF’s in Kano State, Ihekweazu said experts deployed by the Federal Government were working to guide the ministry of health in the state.

‘Kano testing is slow’

According to him, the NCDC team and the Kano State officials are working to improve the laboratories in the state.

He said,  “The speed of testing (in Kano) is a little bit slower than you would expect. But that is the price we have to pay in order to get this up and running. I’m confident that we will leave that lab better.”

The NCDC boss also said the task force supported the delivery of a new lab funded by the Aliko Dangote Foundation, delivered by a Nigerian company, 54 Gene.

Continued interstate movements  of almajiris violating protocols —PTF

The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, in his remarks, said there had been “very noticeable” relocation of almajiris from one state to another.

Mustapha said, “With the ban on interstate movement, the continuation of this exercise will not be in alignment with the guidelines issued. The PTF shall engage with  state governments on how to achieve their objectives.”

Don’t neglect treatment of other ailments, minister tells hospitals

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in his address, urged all health care facilities not to reject persons seeking medical help, especially in emergencies.

He said it was unethical not to attend to persons in distress.

“I also urge citizens to go to  hospitals when not feeling well and to cooperate by giving accurate information especially with regard to travel history,” he said.

Nigeria to take part in COVID-19 medicine trials, says FG

Ehanire also noted that the country had informed the World Health Organisation that it would take part in trials of medicines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to him, efforts are ongoing to also conduct research in Nigeria.

He said, “Other drugs can be added based on emerging evidence. We shall ensure the maintenance of ethical standards and safety of our people.”

The National Coordinator of the  PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, in his remarks, decried non-compliance with the task force protocols, saying the easing of the lockdown was in, no way, a licence to relax self-protection against the infection.

He restated the PTF guidelines, saying, “No interstate travel is allowed except for transportation of essential commodities and services. No passenger flights. Churches, mosques and schools remain closed.

“Clubs, bars, parks, sporting and gaming centres will also remain closed. It is absolutely necessary to continue to maintain those measures that will continue to protect us.

“We must wear our masks to protect ourselves and one another at all times. We must keep washing our hands. We must maintain the safe physical distance of two metres and comply with the eases lockdown measures.”

89 COVID-19 vaccines being developed —WHO

The WHO Country Representative, Fiona Braka, while fielding questions, stated that research was going on globally for a COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Braka, no fewer than 89 products are undergoing development.

He stated, “Research is going on globally to study the genetics of the virus. This helps us to develop a vaccine. Thanks to rapid sharing of genetics data from countries, we are able to advance the production of vaccines.

“We do acknowledge the contributions of countries in sharing their genetic sequencing data, including Nigeria. So, the first vaccine trial started as early as 60 days just after the genetic sequencing information of the virus was shared by China.

“We have about 89 products that are currently under vaccine development. The numbers keep getting updated because there is an accelerated process going on globally to try and find a vaccine.”

Nigerians shun social distancing, storm banks, bus stops

Meanwhile, on Monday, Nigerians, who trooped to banks, bus stops and other public places,  disregarded measures introduced by the Federal Government.

Our correspondents, who monitored activities in Lagos and Ogun states, as well as the Federal Capital, observed that motorists failed to observe social distancing.

The PUNCH correspondent, who went round Sokoto, the Sokoto State capital, observed that social distancing was not adhered to by most people in the city.

Customers, who thronged most of the banks, located on Kano Road, were struggling to enter their premises

Lagos bank customers, transporters  violate social distancing

In the Berger and  Ikorodu areas of Lagos State, it was observed that commercial transport workers and passengers were partially complying with the use of face masks, but ignored social distancing as most buses were filled with the regular number of passengers.

Also, the influx of people into various banks and to board the Bus Rapid Transit attested to the lack of compliance with the social distancing directives.

An eyewitness in Ikorodu, Shukurat Adebayo, said she aborted the transaction she wanted to do in a bank because of the large crowd, adding that bank customers and commuters were not observing social distancing.

She said, “Currently, I am at the Ikorodu Garage, I wanted to do a transaction at the GT Bank  but the branch at Ayangburen road did not open.  We were directed to another branch at Agric, but I did not go. I left for Polaris Bank to do another transaction, but on getting there, it was crowded.  There was nothing like social distancing because I saw a lot of people trying to gain access into the bank. They were not orderly and efforts by the bank officials to talk to people didn’t work.

“Also, the situation is the same at BRT Park. Although, I can confirm to you that the drivers conveyed only 20 passengers because I boarded a bus this morning from Lagos Island to Ikorodu. The queue was crowded as usual and commuters were not observing social distancing.”

Motorists plying Sango/Tollgate to Oshodi were seen carrying passengers, while the bus stops at Meiran, Ijaiye, U-turn and Abule Egba were overcrowded.

The majority of the passengers were seen wearing face masks but disregarded the social distancing order of the federal and state governments.

At Agege, a driver, Abbas Ramon, told The PUNCH that it was not possible for commercial vehicles to load   60 per cent of their capacity because the National Union of Road Transport Workers was still collecting normal levy from them.

Rivers commercial vehicle operators flout social distancing order

In Rivers State, commercial bus operators still loaded their vehicles with passengers without observing social distancing.

While the state government had insisted that only two passengers should be on a row, the commercial bus drivers still allowed four passengers.

Recall that the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, had threatened to ban the operation of commercial vehicles in some parts of the state should commercial drivers continue to flout the order on social distancing.

A commercial bus driver, who identified himself as Godswill, said he would not be able to make profit if he adhered to the order of having only two passengers per row.

“How can I have only two passengers where I am supposed to be carrying four passengers? If I try that, I will not make profit,” Godswill, who plies Ikwerre to Choba, said.

FCT residents besiege banks

In the FCT, hundreds of people on Monday besieged commercial banks.

The banks in Garki Area One, Adetokunbo Ademola Wuse 2, Central Business District, and other parts of the city were thronged by customers, many of whom wore no face masks.

At the Ecobank branch beside AP Plaza, Wuse 2, scores of customers were locked outside the bank and only a few were allowed to enter in line with the social distancing guidelines.

The same situation was observed at a GTB branch located beside a popular eatery where tens of customers waited impatiently outside the bank.

A customer, Stanley Wosu, said he had an urgent transaction to make in the bank hence his visit, adding that he would not have come to the bank on account of the pandemic.

14 more Lagos patients discharged

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government on Monday announced the discharge of 14 more COVID-19 patients who had recovered from the virus.

The state Ministry of Health, via its twitter handle, @LSMOH, said 261 patients had been discharged in Lagos.

It tweeted, “14 more COVID-19 Lagos patients; six females and eight males, all Nigerians were today (Monday) discharged from our isolation facilities at Yaba, Onikan, LUTH and Eti-Osa (Landmark) to reunite with the society.

“The patients; seven from Onikan, two from IDH, Yaba, four from @LUTHofficial and one from the Eti-Osa (LandMark) isolation centres have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively to COVID-19.

“With this, the number of patients successfully managed and discharged in Lagos is now 261.”

Nigerians’ll pay higher electricity tariffs, FG promises IMF [Punch]

Nigerians will pay much higher tariff for power in 2021, going by promises made by the Federal Government to the International Monetary Fund while seeking the $3.4bn emergency financial assistance recently approved for Nigeria.

The Executive Board of the IMF approved the Rapid Financing Instrument, which the Federal Government plans to use to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, on April 28.

A Letter of Intent, jointly signed by the Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, and the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, and addressed to the IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, indicated that the Federal Government made a number of promises to the fund in order to secure the financial assistance.

One of the promises, or commitments, which the government made in a bid to assure the executive board of the IMF of its readiness to reposition the Nigerian economy after the pandemic, is that Nigerians would pay full cost-reflective tariff for power in 2021.

The Federal Government also told the IMF it intends to cap electricity tariff shortfalls to N380bn in 2020.

“We are also advancing in our power sector reforms – with technical assistance and financial support from the World Bank – including through capping electricity tariff shortfalls this year to N380bn and moving to full cost-reflective tariffs in 2021,” the Federal Government said in the letter.

On January 4, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission approved an increase in electricity tariff for the 11 electricity distribution companies in Nigeria.

It, however, could not implement the tariff increase after labour unions, lawmakers and other Nigerians kicked against the move, which would have commenced on April 1, 2020.

Although the NERC-reviewed tariff was not cost-reflective enough as required by power distributors, it showed that Nigerians would definitely pay more for electricity if it had been implemented.

This, therefore, implies that once the government enforces the payment of full cost-reflective tariff, in line with the promise to the IMF, power users might pay far higher than what was projected in NERC’s recent tariff review.

The commission had explained that its directive on the January 2020 tariff regime for different Discos superseded the earlier one issued on the subject matter.

According to details of the review published by the commission in January, for the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, residential customers in R3 category who were paying N27.20 per unit would have been paying N47.09, had the regime started on April 1, 2020.

The customers would have paid N19.89 more per unit.

The NERC review also showed that for Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, customers on the R3 category who were paying N26.50 per unit would have paid N36.92 per unit from April 1.

The new rate amounted to an additional N10.02 per unit.

In the same vein, going by the NERC’s stalled tariff plan, Enugu Electricity Distribution Company residential (R3) customers who were paying N27.11 per unit in 2015 would have paid N48.12 per unit from April 1, 2020.

The new rates were, however, put on hold after customers kicked vehemently against the development.

But going by the Federal Government’s promise to the IMF, an implementation of cost-reflective tariffs in 2021 means that Nigerians would pay even much higher for power than the rates which NERC had planned to charge from April 1.

Also, in the Letter of Intent, which was dated April 21, the Federal Government also hinted at further increment in Value Added Tax as part of plan to increase its revenue to 15 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

The planned revenue drive also includes hike of excise fees and removal of tax exemptions.

“First and foremost, we will revert to our government’s planned medium-term fiscal consolidation path – which includes increasing revenue to 15 per cent of GDP through further VAT reforms, rise in excises, and removal of tax exemptions – once the crisis passes,” the letter said.

The Federal Government also assured the IMF that it was working to reduce its budget deficit to under three per cent of GDP in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The Federal Government also assured the fund that it was committed to eliminating recourse to central bank financing of budget deficits by 2025.


60 Lagos-bound men intercepted in truck conveying cows [Punch]

…sent back to Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi

Some security personnel, on Monday, intercepted about 60 men hiding in a truck that was conveying cows to Lagos State at the Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

It was gathered that the travellers, who reportedly came from Zamfara and neighbouring states, were heading for the Agege area of Lagos.

PUNCH Metro learnt that some of the men jumped down from the truck and fled on sighting the personnel of the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences (Enforcement Unit), the Rapid Respond Squad, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Lagos State Neighbourhood Safety Corps, Vehicle Inspection Officers and the Ogun State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps at the boundary between both states.

However, 42 of them, who could not escape, were unable to give convincing reason for coming into Lagos when they were interrogated by the security agents.

The security personnel, however, denied them access into the state and turned them back.

The motor boy, who accompanied the truck from Zamfara State, Kabiru Haruna, said the cows were meant to be delivered to an abattoir in Agege and expressed surprise that the security agents stopped them.

He said, “We left Zamfara around 6pm on Sunday, but not all of us here are from Zamfara State. Some are from Sokoto, Kano and Kebbi states. I am the motor boy for the truck and I followed it from Zamfara down to where we are currently.

“We want to deliver the cows to an abattoir in Agege. I can’t really say the exact time we were stopped, because I did not take note of the time. I don’t know why we were stopped.”

The truck driver was asked to go back to the point of take off after most of the fleeing men had regrouped at the pin down point in Berger.

Confirming the incident to one of our correspondents, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Bala Elkana, said the men could not be allowed into the state.

He stated, “Forty-two men from Zamfara State hid in a truck and were intercepted at the Berger end of the expressway. The law is very clear; if you’re escorting a vehicle conveying food items, you must not be more than seven, but these people violated the law and they were turned back.

“We have been searching all vehicles and all food items thoroughly to be sure that nobody is being smuggled into the state and this has helped us. We have sent the truck back; it cannot come into the state.”

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