COVID-19 battle: ‘UN will not leave any country behind’ [Nation]

 

United Nations (UN) General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, a Nigerian diplomat and political scientist, in this virtual interview from New York, United States (U.S.) with ASSISTANT EDITOR BOLA OLAJUWON, says the global body, member-states and World Health Organisation (WHO) are razor-sharp focused for solutions that fit all without leaving anyone behind despite the controversies surrounding the origin and transmission of the virus. Excerpts:

 

Finding common solutions to the pandemic

I think the point to be emphasised is this; we have some doubts and furies expressed around the origin of the pandemic, but our goal as a global polity is to focus on finding welcome solutions that affect all. For the record, regardless of the disputes around certain questions relating to origin or efficacy of the World Health Organisation (WHO), there have been remarkable efforts around the world multilaterally, in the regions and beyond regions, within the pandemic.

Obviously, funding for projections and for urgency has been provided. But first of all, the global call to actions of United Nations expressed by the secretary-general has been clear; funds have been put into it to support countries, including our own country Nigeria, that desired some supports. Some support is technical and some support is financial. There is such a thing as sharing of ideas, which is going on almost every day. The WHO has continued to issue guidelines to all countries, and there is not a single country in the world that is not listening to the WHO, even where there are disputes concerning whether it has acted fast enough to provide information.

The explanation of the WHO director-general has been very clear as to what information they are giving out in a timely manner. But, that is not our focus now. Our focus is not to do a post-mortem of why we are battling to solve the problem and have some kind of normalcy. Back to the question, regardless of disputes that are normal in a world of close to 200 nations, where sensitivities and understandings differ, we can say that the global polity is still acting as one, though we could have acted a bit faster. This is where I stand and this is my view.

Coordinating UN activities from home

The United Nations headquarters have been a beehive of activities in New York, Geneva, Nairobi and beyond. The issue is that offices are closed on the advice of health authorities. Of course, the United Nations follows what WHO says. But work is going on to the extent possible, and my officials are coming to meeting virtually. When we have meetings in regions and certain offices, we arrange to help them virtually, including consultations on specific issues.

However, certain negotiations are tough to conduct virtually, for example, in our situations, where formal negotiations are necessary, and languages issue in terms of translations is a bit challenging. We hold meetings in UN simultaneous in six languages. But in some informal meetings that we have called, we can agree to conduct them in one language. We do have meetings, but some of the activities that necessarily required in-house meetings that can be shifted, have been shifted.

But certain decisions that must be taken, we talk to ourselves to see whether we can have consensus to reach them. So, work is going on, but not like the case before. Because if you are going to have negotiations involving countries or officials have to come from different headquarters around the world, this cannot happen under lockdown because social distancing required as par advice of WHO cannot be achieved. Also, many restaurants and hotels and businesses have closed down. So, these are the issues. But for now, what can happen have been happening. We have meetings with the secretary-general and other relevant organs to coordinate our activities. Focus is not only in the headquarters; the UN is everywhere.

So in Nigeria, there is an arrangement by a coordinate who coordinate activities of the UN. The coordinator is connected with Nigerian authorities in relations with all the issues that ordinarily the Nigerian authorities connect to the UN. The headquarters officials with a responsibility to connect with relevant coordinators are also doing the same to see where we need to come in and what issues are urgent for the headquarters’ attention.

Protecting poor and vulnerable countries

No organisation is razor-sharp focused like the UN and in bringing everybody on board. The motto of the UN has lately been the battle cry of not leaving anyone behind. This battle cry presupposes a concern to reduce inequalities between countries and within countries to allow for the development of human beings. You can recall the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed to by the UN member-states in 2015 as targets, which are to be met by 2030.

We have the challenges even before the Coronavirus pandemic as to how many countries are not on target to achieve the goals. Several factors are involved, including financing. There have been several reviews on how to support countries in needs and countries in special circumstances, including developing countries, landlocked developing states and those vulnerable because of conflicts. On each of these elements, there are dedicated officials of the UN, who are daily dealing with those issues and are being coordinated by officials at the UN headquarters. Where regulations are needed, the assembly also comes in.

So, in terms of this, the resolutions passed during the pandemic may come on board to focus on the necessity to help countries in the course of the pandemic and in the immediate as a health issue. But connected to that is the obvious fact and reality of the fallout of social and economic factors around the globe, particularly in countries that are heavily impacted. In the case of the lockdown relating to travel, just remember there are many countries, whose major revenue is through tourism and without tourism, they are really in difficulty.

Look at countries that are dependent on the importation of food and if there is a lockdown, transportation and logistics are affected. This can lead to dire situations for them. All these are issues that are discussed not only by the UN but other bodies that help to civilise the system, including the World Bank, African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). All these bodies are also having meetings. Nobody is simply sitting. There are a lot of activities that are going on to help to solve the common danger and to think through what will happen after. We as a community is well-positioned to do so, understanding that if any country is having a problem with the pandemic, other countries are not safe as well.

Assessment of the UN at 75

Well, let me just take it at what I can see in the next 10 years. The UN has since its establishment 75 years ago meant what the founders want it to be like today in terms of a place to ensure that we have a world that is safe, that can allow for human development and people can live at peace. And since 1945, the body has seen to the development of norms for human beings as human beings in terms of their rights and duties and responsibilities as well as the interaction of states where everyone counts – big or small. If you imagine a world without the UN, I can see that it is a world with anarchy.

The UN has been a force for good. Look at its contributions in relations to ending of apartheid. Look at its development of issues relating to the vulnerable; look at its contributions to peace-keeping. If you have not seen how people struggle under the ghosts of various oppressors around the world, you will not appreciate why peace-keeping is key and it becomes all of the emblems of the United Nations. Many people from afar also care over situations of those people that are really in dare situations.

However, there have been failures in the system. Rwanda is one and there could be several others that have been mentioned. But in each case thereafter, the UN has because of these mistakes done proper reviews in the affected areas and organisations and some reviews are also ongoing. Some have succeeded far more than others and others are continuing. It is the commitment of the UN as a system to constantly review its work to guarantee delivery of its duties to the people of the world. I think the pandemic that we are currently battling against only reminds us of the critical importance of the UN and its institutions to guarantee some order. The UN has been striving even against all odds. Going forward, we are more likely to be more sensitive to the need of our neighbours, than previously done. This is really the focus of the UN to move peace and prosperity around the globe.

Challenges as President of General Assembly

Let me say that nobody comes to this type of position deluded that it was going to be easy; far from it. I am a Nigerian, who knows what the public needs are on a daily basis; many of these issues are issues that make sense at this global level, I was also very fortunate that in the undertakings to take on these challenges, I got one hundred per cent support from the President of the republic and his lieutenants and till these days, there was nothing that we required to get the job done, that hasn’t been done. That is why I am always conscious that we must give an account of ourselves personally and as a nation. It is also a privilege and every day, I remember I complete this work the best ways possible.

Choice of priorities

All of these are elements the global world itself appreciated as key to having a safer world for all. And each of these elements features prominently in the 17 goals of the SDGs. I decided that we should put a lot of attention to those elements because they are important. First of all, the eradication of poverty; I agreed that if you remove poverty, in societies, among individuals, definitely one-half of the problems of the world would be solved. This is when people are not poor and they are able to educate their children, able to eat, look after their health and cultural needs.

Now, education is the second most important element because there is nothing that happens outside the purview of education and I think this is something that is absolutely critical for me. To your question, because I am a teacher, I cannot say no. But even those who are not teachers can see why education is important. Without education, nothing really can happen.

And in terms of inclusion, I think inclusion is key. It’s also an issue that is close to the hearts of member-states, women, the girl-child, the disabled, the minority and others. When you exclude people, you cannot provide equal service. These are issues that connect. This is why we thought, and not just me, all member-states agreed to the policies we rolled out. I am glad that till this day, even during the lockdown, these are issues that will continue to feature in our discussions and till the end of my presidency.

 

Buhari extols Yar’adua’s transparent qualities [Nation]

  • He died for Nigeria, says Jonathan

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has described the late President Umaru Musa-Yar’adua as a honest and sincere public servant.

Buhari, in his message to commemorate the 10th year remembrance anniversary of the former President’s death, also described him as a patriot, whose primary focus as a leader was easing the pains of ordinary Nigerians.

According to President Buhari, the political differences he had with the late President Musa-Ya’adua notwithstanding, he would always give him his regards as an outstanding leader in the history of Nigeria.

While extending his prayers to the family of the late President and the government of Katsina State, he urged all Nigerian politicians to emulate his rare gentle nature and avert character features that would corrupt political opposition, making enemies out of political opponents.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday described his late boss, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, as a president like no other who lived and died for the sake of the country.

The one-time Katsina State governor was described by many as the best leader of Nigeria since the return to multi-party democracy in 1999.

He was the second civilian president under Nigeria’s current constitution.

Yar’Adua assumed office in 2007 and led for three years.

He died at 58 in Saudi Arabia in 2010 (10 years ago) and was flown back for burial.

His known cause of death was said to be pericarditis – inflammation of a membrane around the heart.

Yar’Adu was succeeded by the then Vice-President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Jonathan, who completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and won a substantive term in 2011, was among the first to post a message of remembrance of his former boss on his Facebook page.

He said Yar’Adua built strong bridges of hope, love and understanding for which he became a force for national unity and positive change across the country.

 

34 more doctors positive [Nation]

– Nigeria won’t rule out local herbs for Coronavirus treatment, says minister

DOCTORS have continued to be at the receiving end of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirty four doctors have tested positive to the virus in Kano within the last two weeks.

One of them has died, the doctors’ association said on Tuesday.

No fewer than 30 doctors in Lagos and Katsina states were reported on Monday to have tested positive to the virus.

Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Kano State chapter, Dr. Sanusi Bala said many of the victims were the doctors working at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH).

The others work with  private clinics in the state.

According to him, many of them were infected through normal clinical routines while attending to unsuspected COVID-19 cases.

He said the association would protect its members and appealed to the authorities to provide more protection for doctors through procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“We have doctors who are positive and one of them is dead in Kano. We are still compiling the data but as at now, we have 34 positive cases within the last two weeks,” Dr. Bala said.

He said the body had developed a feedback mechanism to access each facility for information and report to the relevant authorities.

“But what we all agreed is that, doctors don’t have PPEs, they shouldn’t risk their lives,” he said.

The AKTH spokesperson Mrs. Hauwa Muhammed, said the hospital had procured and distributed PPE to frontline health workers.

She said the hospital management had ordered all consultants and heads of department to train their staff on proper use of the PPE.

Thirty doctors and three policemen were reported on Monday to have tested positive for Coronavirus.

Sixteen of the infected doctors are members of the in Medical Guild in Lagos State and 14 others are in Katsina State, according to Governor Bello Masari. The three policemen are serving in the Ondo State Command.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria, Medical Guild Chairman Dr. Oluwajimi Sodipo told news conference in Lagos on Monday that the doctors were engaged in training, contact tracing, surveillance, enlightening of the public and providing clinical care at the isolation centres and hospitals.

He said: “This has unfortunately led to several healthcare workers being infected with COVID-19 and over 16 doctors are isolated so far in the state’s workforce.

“There may be more doctors who are infected, but from the information available to us, 16 of our members are infected with COVID-19.”

Confirming that no fewer than 14 doctors have tested positive for the dreaded virus in his state, Governor Masari, said the government was waging two wars – against coronavirus and unrelenting attacks by bandits.

He told reporters at the Government House that the state has been overwhelmed by the two-pronged fight.

In Ondo, three policemen attached to Yaba Police Division, Ondo town, have tested positive for COVID-19.

They were said to have contracted the disease from a female senior colleague who refused to go for testing despite showing symptoms.

The policemen have been admitted at the state Infectious Disease Hospital, Akure, the state capital.

Sources said the female senior police officer resorted to herbs for treatment rather than go for a test to know her COVID-19 status.

She was exposed by a relative who posted on a WhatsApp platform that her sister has been taking herbs at home to treat herself rather than go to the hospital.

The relative said she cried out so that innocent people around her would not be infected in case she tested positive.

The post reads: “I’m ready to give all information needed. It’s my blood sister. The family members did not know. Neighbourhood people don’t know (about her health condition) and she is drinking herbs.

“Who knows what is happening to other officers too? She is not the only one in Yaba police station, Yaba is a big police station in Ondo town.”

Ondo police spokesman, Tee-Leo Ikoro, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) confirmed that there was an officer, infected with the disease at Yaba Police Division but was not a senior police officer.

Ikoro said: “When I learnt about the matter yesterday, and we investigated it, we discovered that it was the Federal SARS officer in the division that they were referring to and he had been quarantined.”

 

CAN writes Gbajabiamila, demands Infectious Disease Bill’s withdrawal [Nation]

The Christian Association of Nigeria has protested against the proposed bill on Infectious Disease Control in Nigeria by the House of Representatives, warning that it should not be passed into law in national interest.

CAN’s protest was contained in a letter by its General Secretary, Joseph Daramola, to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. It was dated May 4, 2020, and obtained by The PUNCH on Tuesday.

The letter read, “We urge the House to discontinue discussion on this Bill forthwith in the overall interest of the Nigerian citizens. However, should you insist that there is merit in this unacceptable bill, we insist that this bill should pass through public hearing.”

CAN reminded the legislators that courts on numerous occasions struck out Acts of Parliaments and legislations including Executive Orders of Governments, which do violence to any of the Fundamental Human Rights provided for in the Constitution.

The organisation also queried the intention behind the bill, which seeks to prohibit and control infectious diseases, “to be passed by the House of Representatives into law with jet speed.”

Daramola said, “CAN hereby advise the leadership and honourable members of the House of Representatives to immediately allow the spirit of God to prevail over the primordial intentions and ambition, not to pass this controversial, nebulous and obnoxious bill into law in the overall interest of Nigerians.

“This bill is not what is currently being expected from the House of Representatives, but rather, the development of the vaccines that will stop this COVID -19 pandemic from further killing of our citizens.”

 

COVID-19: Lagos battles shortage of reagents, FCT runs out of test kits [Punch]

  • Merchants now treat chemical as if it’s gold, says state government
  • Kano lacks adequate manpower for surveillance, contact tracing – PTF

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 at  the House of Representatives on Tuesday said Kano State had become the epicentre  of coronavirus in the North.

The  PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; who led other members of the task force, including the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and  the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed this while briefing the House on the war against the virus in the country.

He said Kano State lacked adequate manpower for surveillance and contact tracing.

Also on Tuesday, the Lagos State Government said it was battling with a shortage of reagents. The Federal Capital Territory on its part said it was facing a shortage of test kits.

In March, there was no COVID-19 case in Kano State, but since April 11 when it recorded its index case,  there has been a surge in the number of persons infected with the virus.

Currently, the state with 365 cases is second only  to Lagos State with 1,183 cases as of 5pm on Tuesday.

Mustapha expressed concern over the spread of the disease in Kano State. “Kano is fast emerging as the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the North, which necessitated Mr President’s specific directives in his broadcast of Monday, 27th April, 2020,” he said.

The President, Major General  Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in the broadcast,  imposed a total lockdown on the state and also dispatched a team of experts to help curb COVID-19 spread.

Kano lacks adequate manpower for surveillance, contact tracing – PTF

The SGF on Tuesday, said,  “A key weakness of the Kano COVID-19 response is the lack of adequate manpower for surveillance and contact tracing. The PTF has mobilised resources from across the health sector, including multilaterals, bilaterals, the MDAs and the private sector, to push through an accelerated expansion of the rapid response team from 21 to 50.”

“Working with partners, we are establishing at least one sample collection centre and two facilitators per local government area. In addition to a seven-day motorised campaign across major urban areas in Kano. We have mobilised about 3300 informants through the WHO (World Health Organisation)/polio programme for house-to-house search and reporting of suspected cases.

“The Federal government will in due course announce significant additional material and technical resources to complement the state government’s efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic in Kano.”

PTF seeks updating of Quarantine Act

He also called for updating of Quarantine Act.

“The current Quarantine Act needs to be updated due to the unique nature of emerging infections such as COVID-19, the dramatic impact this has on sectors beyond just health and the urgency required to deal with such pandemic,” he stated.

…Social distancing abuse due to indiscipline – SGF

Mustapha  urged Nigerians to ‘own’the fight against COVID-19, saying countries where the citizens were disciplined obey rules on social distancing and the face mask use.

He said, “Truly, we have got to the level or stage of personal responsibility. This is where we have got to now. We must take personal responsibility for our safety, our lives and those of our loved ones. This is not the time to expect government or the National Assembly to take responsibility for us. At individual level, this is the time that we must own up.

“What happens subsequently will be dependent on what we do as a people and as a nation. The issue of social distancing should not be imposed by police, there are other countries disciplined enough. Taiwan didn’t lock down for even one day. But gradually they flattened the curve as a result of social distancing and the wearing of mask.

…Gbajabiamila tackles NCDC boss over criticism of Reps bill

The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, tackled the NCDC boss, Chikwe Ihekweazu, asking him to explain his criticism of the the controversial Quarantine Act (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2020, popularly referred to as ‘NCDC Bill.’

The speaker, who urged the lawmakers to allow him to pose the first “burning questions” to the NCDC boss.

He said, “You also purportedly said that no one consulted you. I will like a clarification on those two statements.”

Gbajabiamila made reference to the points made by Mustapha in his earlier speech that the parliament was needed to review the Quarantine Act and create legal frameworks for disease control and management.

…Present a new infectious disease bill, NCDC boss tells lawmakers

Responding, Ihekweazu admitted that he said he was not consulted on the bill, adding that he was looking forward for a new infectious disease bill

“I think that I speak for the PTF, my honourable minister and every member of our team – that we look forward to a new infectious disease bill, in fact a new public health bill that brings together the functions of all the agencies.”

Not satisfied with the response, Gbajabiamila asked if the amendments should be done after the pandemic. The NCDC boss said, “It is not a question that I can answer  right now.”

The Minister of Health, Ehanire, while responding to a question on clinical trial of drugs and vaccines, said the government had already begun application of drugs in the treatment of patients in Lagos and Abuja.

He said, “Yes, we are participating in clinical trials and these trials involve pharmaceuticals. In Lagos and Abuja, we are using things, which the WHO set up, a system called solidaity, to study the efficacy of certain drugs in treating COVID-19. Among them are hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which were said to have been successful in some countries, though we didn’t see the impact. Chloroquine and artemether, I’m sure, will be among them.

“We are not doing vaccine tests. We are not enrolled in any vaccine trials because the processes have not been developed enough for them to be safe. Once they are developed well enough, we may consider taking part.”

The health minister also noted that some of the patients kept in isolation centres did not require medications.

Ehanire also said the government had not ruled out the possibility of using local herbs to fight the disease. He, however, stated that the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development must first certify the efficacy of such local drugs.

He said while government was not ruling out the possibility of using local herbs for the disease, those who claim to have found cures should subject their drugs to test by the NIPRD.

Nigeria uses Remdesivir in Lagos

Ehanire, while responding to a question on whether Kano now had enough testing centres, said, “For now, three of them, yes. The testing capacity is probably less than 50 per cent but as the need arises, it will increase everywhere else in Nigeria because we are getting more access to testing kits and machines.”

He disclosed that the government has already used an anti retroviral drug (Remdesivir)recommended by the United States Government for the fight against the pandemic, but was silent on the outcome of such trial in Lagos.

The minister said, “The other new trial is an anti-retroviral drug, which the United States just wanted to start using. We have tried that in Lagos too. So, we are trying the anti-retroviral drug to see what effects it has.”

He said most of the infection in some states of the north was a result of people travelling to such states from Kano.

The Minister  of Foreign Affairs, Onyeama said about 4000 Nigerians had indicated interest in returning home from different parts of the world. He, however, said the government  lacked capacity to isolate them for the required period of 14 days.

While saying the government could only isolate 400 of them at a time, the minister said the first batch of returnees from the United Arab Emirate would arrive in  country on Wednesday (today).

He disclosed that the returnees had been asked to pay to for their ticket back home and also take care of their upkeep while in isolation.

Lagos battles shortage of reagents, FCT needs more test kits

The Lagos State Government on Tuesday said it was facing a shortage of reagents for COVID-19 tests.

The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH, as the Federal Capital Territory disclosed that it was battling a shortage of test kits.

Omotosho in an interview with one of our correspondents said the state only received personal protective equipment and other materials donated by a Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma

He said, “The state got things from Jack Ma, but not test kits. The PPE and some other materials, not test kits.

“The governor said that the shortage of reagents is a global problem, it is not a Lagos problem. The kind of tests we are conducting in Lagos and in Nigeria is called molecular testing, which experts say is 99.9 per cent correct. The people selling the reagents are now doing as if it is gold. Lagos is looking for ways of working directly with suppliers outside the country.

“The truth is that Lagos is battling with shortage of reagents, but we will keep on collecting samples.”

The governors had on Monday said 3,000 samples were waiting to be tested in Lagos.

FCT faces shortage of test kits

The FCT Administration also said that it was facing a shortage of test kits for COVID-19.

According to the NCDC, Abuja has 254 persons on admission, 40 discharged and three deaths.

The Special Assistant (Media) to the FCT minister, Abubakar Sani, explained on Tuesday that “The FCT is facing the global challenge of a shortage of test kits.”

He added,” The more kits we get, the more FCTA will perform tests to identify those infected and isolate them.”

Jigawa records 32 fresh cases

The Jigawa State Governor, Badaru Abubakar, has set up a five-man committee to investigate alleged death of 100 people  in the last 10 days.

The state Chairman, COVID 19 Task force, Dr Abba Zakari, who is also the Commissioner of Health,  told journalist in Dutse, the state capital, that this followed a community report over the increasing number of deaths in the area.

Also, 32  new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Jigawa, bringing the total number of infected persons in the state to 72.

While giving an update on the COVID-19 cases in the state on Tuesday, the state governor said 57 samples were taken from contacts of infected persons in five local government areas out of which 32 tested positive.

Gombe COVID-19 patients leave isolation, protest inadequate food, medical attention

Coronavirus patients  at the isolation centre in Kwadon,  Gombe State  on Tuesday protested what they referred to as their abandonment by the state government.

One of our correspondents observed that the protesters who blocked the federal road leading to the Dadinkowa-Biu Expressway,   demanded the transfer of a  female patient in the centre because of  the odour from her wound.

The patients protested against government’s negligence, inadequate food and medical attention in the isolation centre.

Confirming the incident the Commissioner for Information and  spokesperson of the state task force, Alhassan Ibrahim, said the task force would make life bearable for the patients.

He said, “It is really unfortunate that there was disquiet at the Kwadon  isolation centre. It was was caused by the patients there.  They predicated their grievances on three premises, one that they were not given drugs, or medication. It will interest all of us to know that all of them there are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t have symptoms.

“The second is that they were isolated at the centre and their families are not taken care of and I think they are going too far and thirdly that there is an inmate with an ailment that they are not comfortable  sharing a bathroom with. The premises that their protest is predicated on are not really too reasonable.”

We’re being starved, Bauchi COVID-19 patients cry out

There was a similar protest in Bauchi State, where patients  in some isolation centres complained that they were being starved.

The  state government, which confirmed the development, said it was not deliberate. It said appropriate actions had been taken.

Relations of some of the patients, who spoke in confidence The PUNCH, decried the situation which  showed that their loved ones were being stigmatised.

A COVID-19 patient at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital Isolation center in Bauchi, on his twitter handle on Monday, said that he had yet to get any food from the government.

The user with the account @Suhailbuhari said that was his first day at the isolation centre wondering if he was supposed to be taking care of his meals.

The Special Assistant to the Governor  on New Media, Lawal Muazu, in a statement on Tuesday,  “The attention of Bauchi State Government has been drawn to delay in providing meals for coronavirus patients at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa  University Teaching Hospital Bauchi. The government has since taken actions and addressed the issue immediately.”

Lagos discharges 60 COVID-19 patients

The Lagos State Government on Tuesday announced the discharge of 60 more COVID-19 patients who had recovered from the virus.

The state Ministry of Health, via its twitter handle, @LSMOH, said the number of discharged COVID-19 patients in the state was now 321.

It tweeted, “60 more COVID-19 Lagos patients; 20 females and 40 males, all Nigerians were today discharged from our isolation facilities at Yaba, Ibeju-Lekki and Eti-Osa (Landmark) to reunite with the society.

“The patients; 31 from IDH, Yaba, 19 from Ibeju-Lekki and 10 from the Eti-Osa (LandMark)isolation centres have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively to COVID-19.

Kano doctor dies of COVID-19,   33 others infected – Chairman

The Kano State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association says it has so  far lost one of its members to the coronavirus pandemic while 33 others have also been infected with the virus in the state.

The state Chairman of the NMA, Dr Sanusi Bala, who disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH  on Tuesday in Kano, said that all the 33 other doctors were receiving   treatment and  would soon be discharged.

 

COVID-19: Lagos battles shortage of reagents, FCT runs out of test kits [Punch]

  • Merchants now treat chemical as if it’s gold, says state government
  • Kano lacks adequate manpower for surveillance, contact tracing – PTF

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 at  the House of Representatives on Tuesday said Kano State had become the epicentre  of coronavirus in the North.

The  PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; who led other members of the task force, including the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and  the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed this while briefing the House on the war against the virus in the country.

He said Kano State lacked adequate manpower for surveillance and contact tracing.

Also on Tuesday, the Lagos State Government said it was battling with a shortage of reagents. The Federal Capital Territory on its part said it was facing a shortage of test kits.

In March, there was no COVID-19 case in Kano State, but since April 11 when it recorded its index case,  there has been a surge in the number of persons infected with the virus.

Currently, the state with 365 cases is second only  to Lagos State with 1,183 cases as of 5pm on Tuesday.

Mustapha expressed concern over the spread of the disease in Kano State. “Kano is fast emerging as the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in the North, which necessitated Mr President’s specific directives in his broadcast of Monday, 27th April, 2020,” he said.

The President, Major General  Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in the broadcast,  imposed a total lockdown on the state and also dispatched a team of experts to help curb COVID-19 spread.

Kano lacks adequate manpower for surveillance, contact tracing – PTF

The SGF on Tuesday, said,  “A key weakness of the Kano COVID-19 response is the lack of adequate manpower for surveillance and contact tracing. The PTF has mobilised resources from across the health sector, including multilaterals, bilaterals, the MDAs and the private sector, to push through an accelerated expansion of the rapid response team from 21 to 50.”

“Working with partners, we are establishing at least one sample collection centre and two facilitators per local government area. In addition to a seven-day motorised campaign across major urban areas in Kano. We have mobilised about 3300 informants through the WHO (World Health Organisation)/polio programme for house-to-house search and reporting of suspected cases.

“The Federal government will in due course announce significant additional material and technical resources to complement the state government’s efforts in combating the COVID-19 pandemic in Kano.”

PTF seeks updating of Quarantine Act

He also called for updating of Quarantine Act.

“The current Quarantine Act needs to be updated due to the unique nature of emerging infections such as COVID-19, the dramatic impact this has on sectors beyond just health and the urgency required to deal with such pandemic,” he stated.

…Social distancing abuse due to indiscipline – SGF

Mustapha  urged Nigerians to ‘own’the fight against COVID-19, saying countries where the citizens were disciplined obey rules on social distancing and the face mask use.

He said, “Truly, we have got to the level or stage of personal responsibility. This is where we have got to now. We must take personal responsibility for our safety, our lives and those of our loved ones. This is not the time to expect government or the National Assembly to take responsibility for us. At individual level, this is the time that we must own up.

“What happens subsequently will be dependent on what we do as a people and as a nation. The issue of social distancing should not be imposed by police, there are other countries disciplined enough. Taiwan didn’t lock down for even one day. But gradually they flattened the curve as a result of social distancing and the wearing of mask.

…Gbajabiamila tackles NCDC boss over criticism of Reps bill

The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, tackled the NCDC boss, Chikwe Ihekweazu, asking him to explain his criticism of the the controversial Quarantine Act (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2020, popularly referred to as ‘NCDC Bill.’

The speaker, who urged the lawmakers to allow him to pose the first “burning questions” to the NCDC boss.

He said, “You also purportedly said that no one consulted you. I will like a clarification on those two statements.”

Gbajabiamila made reference to the points made by Mustapha in his earlier speech that the parliament was needed to review the Quarantine Act and create legal frameworks for disease control and management.

…Present a new infectious disease bill, NCDC boss tells lawmakers

Responding, Ihekweazu admitted that he said he was not consulted on the bill, adding that he was looking forward for a new infectious disease bill

“I think that I speak for the PTF, my honourable minister and every member of our team – that we look forward to a new infectious disease bill, in fact a new public health bill that brings together the functions of all the agencies.”

Not satisfied with the response, Gbajabiamila asked if the amendments should be done after the pandemic. The NCDC boss said, “It is not a question that I can answer  right now.”

The Minister of Health, Ehanire, while responding to a question on clinical trial of drugs and vaccines, said the government had already begun application of drugs in the treatment of patients in Lagos and Abuja.

He said, “Yes, we are participating in clinical trials and these trials involve pharmaceuticals. In Lagos and Abuja, we are using things, which the WHO set up, a system called solidaity, to study the efficacy of certain drugs in treating COVID-19. Among them are hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which were said to have been successful in some countries, though we didn’t see the impact. Chloroquine and artemether, I’m sure, will be among them.

“We are not doing vaccine tests. We are not enrolled in any vaccine trials because the processes have not been developed enough for them to be safe. Once they are developed well enough, we may consider taking part.”

The health minister also noted that some of the patients kept in isolation centres did not require medications.

Ehanire also said the government had not ruled out the possibility of using local herbs to fight the disease. He, however, stated that the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development must first certify the efficacy of such local drugs.

He said while government was not ruling out the possibility of using local herbs for the disease, those who claim to have found cures should subject their drugs to test by the NIPRD.

Nigeria uses Remdesivir in Lagos

Ehanire, while responding to a question on whether Kano now had enough testing centres, said, “For now, three of them, yes. The testing capacity is probably less than 50 per cent but as the need arises, it will increase everywhere else in Nigeria because we are getting more access to testing kits and machines.”

He disclosed that the government has already used an anti retroviral drug (Remdesivir)recommended by the United States Government for the fight against the pandemic, but was silent on the outcome of such trial in Lagos.

The minister said, “The other new trial is an anti-retroviral drug, which the United States just wanted to start using. We have tried that in Lagos too. So, we are trying the anti-retroviral drug to see what effects it has.”

He said most of the infection in some states of the north was a result of people travelling to such states from Kano.

The Minister  of Foreign Affairs, Onyeama said about 4000 Nigerians had indicated interest in returning home from different parts of the world. He, however, said the government  lacked capacity to isolate them for the required period of 14 days.

While saying the government could only isolate 400 of them at a time, the minister said the first batch of returnees from the United Arab Emirate would arrive in  country on Wednesday (today).

He disclosed that the returnees had been asked to pay to for their ticket back home and also take care of their upkeep while in isolation.

Lagos battles shortage of reagents, FCT needs more test kits

The Lagos State Government on Tuesday said it was facing a shortage of reagents for COVID-19 tests.

The state Commissioner for Information, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH, as the Federal Capital Territory disclosed that it was battling a shortage of test kits.

Omotosho in an interview with one of our correspondents said the state only received personal protective equipment and other materials donated by a Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma

He said, “The state got things from Jack Ma, but not test kits. The PPE and some other materials, not test kits.

“The governor said that the shortage of reagents is a global problem, it is not a Lagos problem. The kind of tests we are conducting in Lagos and in Nigeria is called molecular testing, which experts say is 99.9 per cent correct. The people selling the reagents are now doing as if it is gold. Lagos is looking for ways of working directly with suppliers outside the country.

“The truth is that Lagos is battling with shortage of reagents, but we will keep on collecting samples.”

The governors had on Monday said 3,000 samples were waiting to be tested in Lagos.

FCT faces shortage of test kits

The FCT Administration also said that it was facing a shortage of test kits for COVID-19.

According to the NCDC, Abuja has 254 persons on admission, 40 discharged and three deaths.

The Special Assistant (Media) to the FCT minister, Abubakar Sani, explained on Tuesday that “The FCT is facing the global challenge of a shortage of test kits.”

He added,” The more kits we get, the more FCTA will perform tests to identify those infected and isolate them.”

Jigawa records 32 fresh cases

The Jigawa State Governor, Badaru Abubakar, has set up a five-man committee to investigate alleged death of 100 people  in the last 10 days.

The state Chairman, COVID 19 Task force, Dr Abba Zakari, who is also the Commissioner of Health,  told journalist in Dutse, the state capital, that this followed a community report over the increasing number of deaths in the area.

Also, 32  new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Jigawa, bringing the total number of infected persons in the state to 72.

While giving an update on the COVID-19 cases in the state on Tuesday, the state governor said 57 samples were taken from contacts of infected persons in five local government areas out of which 32 tested positive.

Gombe COVID-19 patients leave isolation, protest inadequate food, medical attention

Coronavirus patients  at the isolation centre in Kwadon,  Gombe State  on Tuesday protested what they referred to as their abandonment by the state government.

One of our correspondents observed that the protesters who blocked the federal road leading to the Dadinkowa-Biu Expressway,   demanded the transfer of a  female patient in the centre because of  the odour from her wound.

The patients protested against government’s negligence, inadequate food and medical attention in the isolation centre.

Confirming the incident the Commissioner for Information and  spokesperson of the state task force, Alhassan Ibrahim, said the task force would make life bearable for the patients.

He said, “It is really unfortunate that there was disquiet at the Kwadon  isolation centre. It was was caused by the patients there.  They predicated their grievances on three premises, one that they were not given drugs, or medication. It will interest all of us to know that all of them there are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t have symptoms.

“The second is that they were isolated at the centre and their families are not taken care of and I think they are going too far and thirdly that there is an inmate with an ailment that they are not comfortable  sharing a bathroom with. The premises that their protest is predicated on are not really too reasonable.”

We’re being starved, Bauchi COVID-19 patients cry out

There was a similar protest in Bauchi State, where patients  in some isolation centres complained that they were being starved.

The  state government, which confirmed the development, said it was not deliberate. It said appropriate actions had been taken.

Relations of some of the patients, who spoke in confidence The PUNCH, decried the situation which  showed that their loved ones were being stigmatised.

A COVID-19 patient at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital Isolation center in Bauchi, on his twitter handle on Monday, said that he had yet to get any food from the government.

The user with the account @Suhailbuhari said that was his first day at the isolation centre wondering if he was supposed to be taking care of his meals.

The Special Assistant to the Governor  on New Media, Lawal Muazu, in a statement on Tuesday,  “The attention of Bauchi State Government has been drawn to delay in providing meals for coronavirus patients at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa  University Teaching Hospital Bauchi. The government has since taken actions and addressed the issue immediately.”

Lagos discharges 60 COVID-19 patients

The Lagos State Government on Tuesday announced the discharge of 60 more COVID-19 patients who had recovered from the virus.

The state Ministry of Health, via its twitter handle, @LSMOH, said the number of discharged COVID-19 patients in the state was now 321.

It tweeted, “60 more COVID-19 Lagos patients; 20 females and 40 males, all Nigerians were today discharged from our isolation facilities at Yaba, Ibeju-Lekki and Eti-Osa (Landmark) to reunite with the society.

“The patients; 31 from IDH, Yaba, 19 from Ibeju-Lekki and 10 from the Eti-Osa (LandMark)isolation centres have fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively to COVID-19.

Kano doctor dies of COVID-19,   33 others infected – Chairman

The Kano State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association says it has so  far lost one of its members to the coronavirus pandemic while 33 others have also been infected with the virus in the state.

The state Chairman of the NMA, Dr Sanusi Bala, who disclosed this in an interview with The PUNCH  on Tuesday in Kano, said that all the 33 other doctors were receiving   treatment and  would soon be discharged.

 

Malami knocked for calling Abacha loot late dictator’s assets [Punch]

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, has come under criticism on Twitter for describing the just-repatriated $311m  looted by the late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, as “Abacha assets”.

The minister’s tweet announcing the repatriation of the money from the United States  and Bailiwick of Jersey on his timeline at 6.32pm on Monday  garnered about 1,000 comments as of 3.26pm on Tuesday.

Most of the commentators, including the publisher of Sahara Reporters and convener of #RevolutionNow protests, Omoyele Sowore, were furious about what they considered as an improper labelling of the recovered loot.

Malami’s tweet through his Twitter handle, @MalamiSan, read, “I am happy to confirm that the Federal Republic of Nigeria on  4th May, 2020 received $311,797,866.11 of the Abacha assets repatriated from the United States and the Bailiwick of Jersey.”

The tweet came a few hours after his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr Umar Gwandu, issued a statement in which the repatriated fund was also referred to as “Abacha assets”.

In a six-paragraph statement released by Gwandu on February 2 announcing Malami’s trip to the US to represent Nigeria in the signing of the tripartite agreement between the governments of Nigeria, the US and Bailiwick of Jersey for the repatriation of the fund, there was no mention of Abacha’s name in the statement as the fund was repeatedly referred to as “looted assets”.

And many have taken to Twitter to express their displeasure  at the minister’s tweet, see it as tallying with the view held by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), who has often justified his working as the head of the Petroleum Trust Fund under the Abacha regime.

Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, in 2018 urged Buhari, who rode to power in 2015 on the promise to fight corruption headlong, to desist from praising Abacha.

Tweeting through his handle, @YeleSowore, Sowore  said, “Attorney General Abubakar Malami, woke up one day, labelled Nigerian wealth looted by the late Gen. Sani Abacha “Abacha assets” and  people think he is stupid. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Just telling you all that we are just warehousing these assets for  Abachas.  #RevolutionNow.”

Another Twitter user tweeting via @ayemojubar, stated, “This statement has been written in the sands of time and engraved on the granite of eternity, and each time people mention Abacha now or in future, you’ll always be remembered for tagging  stolen money “Abacha assets”.

Another tweet via @adegokegalaxy, stated, “I commend your efforts at repatriating the money. It will be very useful in the present economic challenge. Kudos Sir.

“However, Abacha assets, Sir, may not be the best choice of words. You may want to discuss with experts in finance and control.”

Another statement by a  presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, late   Tuesday described the  loot as “return of the Abacha stolen millions from the United States and Jersey”.

And Sowore, who noted that the “appropriate” labelling by Shehu followed  the pressure mounted by Nigerians on social media, acknowledged the presidential spokesman’s statement in a later tweet, He said, “Why we must not relent, now they’ve appropriately labelled it ‘Abacha Stolen Millions’ but ensure the new thieves don’t steal the loot! #RevolutionNow.”

Asked by our correspondent on the telephone on Tuesday if the reference to the “Abacha loot” as “Abacha assets” was a matter of policy, Gwandu said, “You an intelligent person yourself, you can decided whether it was deliberate or not.”

 

Senators split over planned probe of NDDC [Sun]

Senators, yesterday, were divided over plans to investigate alleged mismanagement of the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC) by the Interim Management Committee (IMC).

The senate is seeking to probe allegations of the mismanagement of N40 billion by the IMC of the Commission within the last three months contained in a motion sponsored by Senator George Sekibo.

While some senators agreed that the probe should be carried out, others argued that a position had been taken by the sponsor of the motion even when no one had been indicted.

During the debate on the motion, Bala Ibn Na’Allah and Ajibola Basiru, through different constitutional point of orders, tried to stop the motion from sailing through, on the grounds that it was driven by mere allegations.

Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, however, ruled in favour of the probe, as he said  said at the level of investigation, the veracity or otherwise of the allegations would be established.

The Senate, therefore, set up an Ad- hoc committee to be headed by Olubunmi Adetunbi to look into the financial transactions carried out by IMC on behalf of the Commission within the  last three months and report back in four weeks.

Senator Thompson George Sekibo in the motion titled: ‘Urgent Need to Investigate Alleged Financial Recklessness in the  NDDC’ had said “while President Buhari’s action of setting up an IMC and the forensic audit may have been conceived to forestall the financial recklessness of the commission and reposition it for fast-tracking of the development of the region, the IMC has been more bedevilled with the same financial misuse, misapplication, misappropriation or outright fraud in the management of the funds of the commission. Within the last three months, the commission has spent over N40 billion of the commission ‘s fund without recourse to established processes of funds disbursements, which has open up further suspicion among stakeholders of the Niger Delta Region.”

 

Abacha loot to fund Lagos-Ibadan road, 2nd Niger Bridge, others –Presidency [Sun]

The Presidency Tuesday reiterated that the latest Abacha loot will be deployed to facilitate construction works on Lagos to Ibadan Expressway in the South-West, Abuja to Kano road in the north and second Niger Bridge in the eastern part of the country.

It also said part of the funds will be invested in the Mambilla Power Project.

Nigeria and the Island of Jersey had sign an agreement with United Statesgovernment for the repatriation of $321 million looted by former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha.

The Island of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, is self-governed and has its own financial and legal systems and courts of law.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement said: “On Monday, May 4, 2020, some $311 million – stolen from the citizens of Nigeria during the Abacha regime – were safely returned to our country from the United States.

These funds have already been allocated, and will be used in full, for vital and decades-overdue infrastructure development: The second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressways – creating tens of thousands of Nigerian construction jobs and local skills, which can then be useful in future projects.

Part of the funds will also be invested in the Mambilla Power Project which, when completed, will provide electricity to some three million homes for over ten million citizens – in our country.

The receipt of these stolen monies – and the hundreds of millions more that have already been returned from the United Kingdom and Switzerland – an opportunity for the development of our nation, made far harder for those decades the country was robbed of these funds.

Indeed, previous monies returned last year from Switzerland – some $320 million US dollars – are already being used for the government’s free school feeding scheme, a stipend for millions of disadvantaged citizens, and grain grants for those in severe food hardship.

Without these funds, the fight against COVID-19 would have been even tougher.

The latest return is a testament to the growing and deepening relationship between the government of Nigeria and the government of the United States.

Without the cooperation both from the UK Government, the US Executive branch and US Congress, we would not have achieved the return of these funds at all.

For years, many countries deemed successive Nigerian administrations as too corrupt, too venal and too likely to squander and re-steal the stolen monies – so they did not return the funds.

Today, US, UK and other jurisdictions have found the partnership with the nation of Nigeria they can finally trust.

The Buhari administration is committed to – and is enacting – total and zero tolerance to corruption in politics and public administration.

The days when government was seen and used by the political class as their personal ATM to empty are over.

The time of better governance and clean hands in the affairs of state is here to stay.

 

FG rejigs 2020 budget, reduces oil benchmark to $20/barrel [Sun]

  • Economy to contract by 3.4% … Oil climbs to $30.28pb

In reaction to falling oil prices in the global market, the Federal Government has again slashed the crude benchmark for 2020 budget to $20/barrel from $30. The figure shows a $37/barrel cut from the initial $57/barrel which the 2020 budget was benchmarked on in the original appropriation bill.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, who made the disclosure on Tuesday in a web conference to deliberate on the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and how the government was tackling it said Nigeria has had its fair  share of the COVID-19 trauma, noting the economy may contract by up to 3.4 per cent this year.

With Nigerian oil vessels stranded on international waters in search of buyers, the Minister said all pending oil and gas projects will be “delivered much later than originally planned” due to upstream budget cuts.

She added: “We are in the process of an amendment to reduce the revenue indicator to $20 per barrel”.

On Nigeria debt service obligations, she said talks were at advanced stages to push it to 2021 and beyond.

“It’s not debt forgiveness, it’s just rescheduling of our obligations,” she noted. With scant details on talks with the lenders, the Minister reiterated that the Federal Government was channeling between 58 per cent and 60 per cent of its revenues to debt servicing.  But as recession bell tolls for the nation, economic experts said it was time for Nigeria to diversify its economy or perish in the aftermath of COVID-19.

According to them the only way to avoid a collapsed nation was to urgently end government’s culture of profligacy in order to diversify the economy, especially now that quarantines and lockdowns have put the global economy on ventilators..

Eze Onyekpere, Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice said; “We need to be looking inwards for strategies to grow our economy by boosting local production and service deliveries that increase employment, corporate tax and reduces the pressure on the Naira.  We must enforce the “Buy-Nigeria” policy. It should no longer be an option”.

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s 2020 budget implementation prospects brightened further yesterday  as Brent crude, the international oil benchmark hit $30.28 (5.0pm) yesterday.

The $30.28 oil price is 28cents higher that Nigeria’s amended $30 per barrel oil price benchmark for the 2020 budget.

The international oil market witnessed one of its worst setback in over one month with crude selling for less than $30. Worst hit was the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) which recorded -$0 last April. The current rise in oil price was a fallout of the April 12, 2020, agreement by the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) to cut members’ production by about 4.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in a bid to shore up falling oil prices. The 4.9 million bpd oil output cut which took effect last Friday(May 1, 2020) will see Nigeria cut about 400,000 bpd.

Nigeria’s economy which accounts for about 80 per cent of its revenue from oil has been largely battered in recent months with Government forced to review its budget estimates downward in order to cope with market realities.

 

Task force probes strange deaths in Hadejia as tension mounts over 32 new cases in Jigawa [Sun]

  • Lagos discharges 60, hunger sparks protest in Gombe isolation centre

The decision of Governor Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar Badaru to impose total lockdown in Dutse, the state capital, as confirmed cases soared to 32, has sparked tension.

The governor, who at a press briefing declared that 60 per cent of newly recorded 23 cases were in Dutse, extended lockdown by another two weeks for civil servants.

He said there will be serious enforcement of the use of face masks and hand sanitises in public places.

He said he had received the community report from Hadejia over the increasing number of deaths in the area declaring that government has established a five-man committee to investigate the issue and recommend appropriate actions.

The Committee chaired by Dr Mahmud Abdulwahab  with Shehu Mohd, Yusif Hakimi, Shehu Sule, and representative  of WHO as members, would submit its reports within three days.

Meanwhile, Lagos Government, yesterday, discharged 60 patients, describing it as the largest number of recovered patients to be so discharged by the state at a go.

The discharge came after similar discharged 14 patients, who  tested negative twice for the virus

The state Ministry of Health, on its twitter handle, said those discharged included 40 male and 20 female and that they were all Nigerians.

The government said 31 of the patients were discharged from the Infectious Disease Hospital, IDH, Yaba; 19 from Ibeju-Lekki and 10 from Eti-Osa (Landmark) Isolation Centres.

“60 more #COVID19 Lagos patients; 20 females and 40 males, all Nigerians were today discharged from our Isolation facilities in Yaba, Ibeju-Lekki & Eti-Osa (Landmark) to reunite with the society.”

It put the number of patients successfully managed and discharged in Lagos at 321.  However, some COVID-19 patients, yesterday, staged a protest at the Federal Teaching Hospital in Gombe, destroying some equipment in their ward.

The patients, who were under quarantine, were said to have complained of ill-treatment. Some officials in the hospital pacified them, promising that there would be improvement in their welfare. The state has 96 COVID-19 cases.

It was gathered that while the protest at the hospital was ongoing, some COVID-19 patients at Kwadon Isolation Centre in Yamaltu Deba council also took to the streets lamenting poor treatment.

They were said to have blocked the Gombe/Biu road, chanting anti-government songs. Some of them reportedly went to unknown locations after the protest while others returned to the centre.

One of the patients was heard saying he had been abandoned since officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) brought him to the hospital three days ago.

He said he had not been given drugs and was left on his own alongside some patients admitted to the hospital over COVID-19.

Another claimed only vitamin C drug had been given to him since he got to the centre earlier in the week.

 

Health experts outline 3 priorities for Nigeria in Covid-19 fight [Business Day]

Health experts have recommended three priorities for the Federal Government and private sector in Nigeria’s quest to curtail the coronavirus pandemic which has exposed the nation’s frail healthcare system and brought the economy to its knees.

Focusing on these priorities, the experts say, will prove decisive for Nigeria in the coming weeks if the country is to avoid a wide outbreak of the virus which Dalberg, a leading international development advisory group, predicts could see the economy contract by as much as 23 percent this year.

Leading the way on the top priorities for Nigeria is testing.

Nigeria is doing far too little testing compared to its African peers despite being the most populated. Africa’s largest economy has only managed 90 tests per one million people, according to Worldometers data.

Only Mozambique (79), Malawi (47) and Burundi (24) of the African countries conducting tests for the virus have done less tests. In contrast, South Africa which is the second largest economy in Africa, has done 4,342 tests per 1 million people, 48 times more than Nigeria.

Egypt, Morocco and Algeria who, alongside South Africa in first place and Nigeria in fifth, make up the list of the top five African countries with the highest number of reported cases, have done 879, 1,296 and 148 tests per 1 million population respectively, all more than Nigeria.

“The data clearly shows Nigeria needs to increase testing in order to better manage the spread of the virus,” one private sector health expert said.

The second priority for Nigeria is to identify the people most vulnerable to fatal illnesses from the virus and isolate them, while efforts to ramp up testing on a large scale continues.

Based on currently available information and clinical expertise, older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) provides a more specific description of those at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and they include people 65 years and older, people with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma and people who have serious heart conditions.

People with diabetes, severe obesity (body mass index of 40 or higher), and chronic kidney or liver disease disease are also deemed high risk as well as people who are immunocompromised.

Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications.

“Some countries are already trying to isolate these vulnerable persons. What that does is it reduces the number of elderly getting the infection and so reduces the mortality rate of the virus and buys time for finding a vaccine,” another health expert told BusinessDay.

Nigeria had recorded 93 deaths as of May 4th according to the NCDC. That’s lower than South Africa’s 138 but higher than Ghana’s 18. Algeria has the highest deaths in Africa at 436.

Paul Hunter, a Professor in Medicine, at the University of East Anglia, shares similar thoughts.

“We know that the chance of someone dying if they get the infection is higher in older people and increases steeply over age 70,” Hunter said in an article published by the Science Media Centre.

“If we can delay infections of the most vulnerable people till next year by asking these people to self-isolate for a while then hopefully a vaccine will have become available.”

The third priority for Nigeria is to develop a critical care protocol and putting out more information on how to manage the more severe cases.

Previously there was limited guidance on acute management of critically ill patients with COVID-19, although the World Health Organization and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued preliminary guidance on infection control, screening and diagnosis in the general population.

Nigeria should do same and work towards making it public knowledge, the health experts said.

 

Covid-19: LCCI recommends 1-year tax break for manufacturers, suspension of 50% VAT [Business Day]

Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has asked the Federal Government to grant a one-year tax break to manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms, agro processors, airlines, small businesses and hospitality players to enable them navigate through Covid-19-induced economic crisis.

In a statement on state of the Nigerian economy released on Tuesday to BusinessDay, Toki Mabogunje, president of the LCCI, says the global economy will likely become stiffer, with supply chains getting more complex and countries being more protectionist in the coming months.

Mabogunje projects that countries across the world may place technical embargo on exports of essential goods in a bid to meet local demand, and as way of managing disruption to global supply chain, and urges Nigeria to react rightly by placing a temporary suspension on 50 percent increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate till the end of 2020.

She wants the government to suspend the Pay As You Earn (P.A.Y.E) for the next six months to boost the purchasing power and aggregate demand of Nigerians, thereby stimulating the economy.

The novel Covid-19 has dislocated all the markets across the world as countries are caught between saving their citizens’ lives and repairing economies undone by lockdowns.

The Nigerian economy had been in a bad shape before the pandemic, with over 80 million citizens living in extreme poverty and the country ranking as sixth most miserable country in the 2019 Hanke’s Annual Misery Index.

The LCCI president says the chamber has found that 83 percent of business owners plan to cut down salaries, downsize workforce or do a combination of both, which is worrisome.

She discloses that 54 percent of business owners want banks to reduce interest rate and give moratorium on loans, while 17 percent seeks waivers on import duties and demurrages.

“Businesses therefore request adequate stimulus and intervention to preserve investments and save jobs,” she says.

She further recommends that agro-processing companies enjoy import waivers for the next one year in order to support food security and agricultural supplies, saying, “Commercial banks are implored to offer reprieve to businesses and corporates indebted to them.

“The reprieve could be in form of loan moratorium and restructuring. We urge the CBN to review the cash reserve ratio downwards to 20 percent from the current 27.5 percent, to enable commercial banks have more liquidity to support businesses.”

For the aviation industry, she recommends support towards augmenting insurance premiums that are dollar-denominated, as covers were mostly underwritten abroad due to lack of local capacity.

She also urges support to pay for operational cost, including international lease rental on grounded aircraft and maintenance (C& D-checks), and recommends, “There should be full implementation of the Executive Order on Removal of VAT from air transportation.”

She says the chamber is concerned that the current approaches used in implementing some of these measures targeted at cushioning the effects of the pandemic will not yield the desired result, stressing that there is a need to re-strategise and ensure proper coordination both at the states and federal levels.

“We urge the government to focus on the completion of critical infrastructure projects nationwide such as the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Lagos-Ibadan rail project, Enugu Airport, the Second Niger Bridge, East-West Road, among others,” she says.

“Also, there should be an upgrade of power and broadband infrastructure across the country in order to support ICT and digital economy.”

She explains that these public goods will have significant positive impact on commercial activities and businesses as they reduce cost of doing business and boost productivity.

 

FG plans N2 trillion stimulus for the economy [Business Day]

…mulls bailout for aviation sector to mitigate Covid-19 losses

The federal government is considering some bailout support for the aviation sector, projected to suffer severely from the Covid-19 losses, and also hopes to inject at least some N2trillion into the economy near term.

Following a free-fall in global oil prices and demand, authorities also plan to further cut 2020 oil benchmark to $20 per barrel in this year’s budget now undergoing some adjustments.

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed had announced in March that this year’s N10.59 trillion budget would be cut by about 15%, and that the oil benchmark price at $57 per barrel was no longer realizable and would be slashed to $30 per barrel.

But speaking Tuesday at the Web conference on Government Fiscal Policy Response to COVID-19 Pandemic and Oil Price Fall, Ahmed said government is reviewing revenue projections to conform to current reality, “with a slash in oil benchmark from $57 to $20 per barrel.

“We have had to scale down our auction volumes because globally the crude oil market is very slow and we are not able to sell as much crude like before.”

According to her, while government reviews the 2020-2022 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework/Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) and the budget, it also galvanizing fiscal stimulus as it works out investment incentives that will help to push the effect on some key sectors of the economy.

“We also had to review a number of things that we had planned including, scaling back on investments in the upstream sector of the Nigerian oil and gas economy, which means projects will be delayed much longer than was originally planned,” Ahmed noted.

Read also: Why Buharis call for debt forgiveness would be a tough sell

She confirmed that the blanket duty waiver granted by President Buhari for the pharmaceutical and health sector to allow for seamless import of medical equipment and supplies needed to respond to Covid-19 pandemic had taken effect since May 1, 2020.

She assured government will implement low tax regime for Small, Medium Enterprises and is committed to ensuring that the provisions in the finance Act is implemented.

“In the finance Act 2019, we had reduced taxes from 30 percent to zero for small businesses that have turnover of N25m and below, for medium enterprises that have turnover of N25m to N100m, we reduced their taxes to 20%.

“We want to make sure that those benefits are implemented, even though we increased the VAT, we had heightened the threshold for stamp duties and also expanded exemption so that the small enterprises and Nigerians of lower means are not burdened by the increase.

She said debt to revenue ratio in the planned budget is 58%-60% but that as revenues crash, government is in talks with relevant bodies on possible debt extension, deferment of some of the debt service obligations to 2021 and beyond, when revenues are projected to pick.

“This not a debt forgiveness but a rescheduling of our obligations to expand the fiscal space till next year when we will be able to resume regular repayment of these debts,” the minister clarified.

She raised concerns that the larger chunk of the budget was going into overheads and personnel costs, but reiterated plans to cut the over 1,500 Ministries, Agencies and Departments by implementing of the Oronsanye report.

Some of the recommendations in the report include taking some agencies which have the capacity to fund themselves off the national budget and also collapsing agencies with duplicated functions.

“We have not been able to make an assessment of how much savings from this implementation, but the committee that will be working on it will come up with what is required,” she stated.

Director General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, corroborated that the 2020 Appropriation Act was based on certain fiscal assumptions, which government is now compelled to revisit given emerging economic realities.

“In this regard, the Budget Office is currently finalizing the revised 2020-2022 MTEF/FSP, as well as an Amendment to the 2020 budget, which will provide for Covid-19 crisis intervention fund as well as other adjustments,” Akabueze stated.

He said the proposed budget will cut MDA’s capital expenditure by 20% as well as reduce overheads -except for health and security – by 16.7%.

The proposed adjustments, will however push up projected budget deficit (inclusive of the expenditures funded by project-tied loans) from N2.175trillion to N5.36 trillion.

Akabueze said this will be financed through privatization proceeds of N126bn, down from N252bn previously projected; N263.63bn to be borrowed from FGN special accounts; draw-downs on multilateral/bilateral project-tied loans of N387.3bn; and new borrowings -foreign and domestic – totaling N4.59 trillion.

Government projects that the impact of Covid-19 and oil price slump will also see net oil and gas revenues decline by 80% from N5.47trillion to N1.12trillion, slash in customs revenue from projected N1.5trillion to N1.156trillion; VAT incomes decline by N60.42billion to N2.029trillion; which would then result in total revenues accruable to Federation Account to decrease to N3.890trillion from N8.572trillion earlier projected.

Clem Agba, minister of state for National Planning who is also a member of the government Economic Sustainability Committee said they had looked at some broad objectives, including how to stabilize response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including a possible funding support for the aviation industry.

“We are also looking at how to support the aviation sector, like you know a lot of planes are packed, and this is costing almost N21bn monthly.

“So, we are looking at how to provide some form of bailout support to ensure that the industry does not crumble,” Agba noted.

He said a critical consideration of the sustainability committee is on how to boost economic activities, ease transportation of goods and persons. He said to this end government would be releasing additional funds to FERMA to undertake interventions in major roads nationwide and that they will also be working along major agro-industrial processing zone corridors.

He said the committee is also working on delivering Buhari’s 1,000 jobs projection per Local Government Areas across the country for 3 months in the dry season, beginning October this year.

He said Government projects a possible cash crunch in states from June, and may not be able to meet their obligations.

Consequently, out of the $2.5 billion concessionary facility expected from the World Bank, about $1bn will be going to states, Agba said, as he recalled the already approved $150m to be sourced from the sovereign wealth account to fund FAAC.

“If we put all these together, including government funding, the funds we expect to get from CBN, Bank of Industry and other multilateral agencies as well as grants that are being received, we expect to have about N2trillion going into the economy,” the planning minister noted.

 

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