COVID-19: Madagascar drug to get quick lab analysis, says NAFDAC [Punch]

Following the arrival of the Madagascar herbal cure for COVID-19 in Nigeria on Saturday, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control has promised to fast-track the laboratory examination of the drug, named Covid Organics.

The agency, which regulates and controls the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, advertisement, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, packaged water, chemicals and detergents, noted that the product would be subjected to the normal procedure but that the process would be fast-tracked.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had while receiving the samples of the product, also known as CVO, from the visiting President of Guinea Bissau, Umaro Embalo, at the presidential villa noted that he would first “listen to science” before allowing the product or any new medicines to be used in Nigeria.

The President told his guest that the relevant regulatory institutions in the country would need to endorse the product before it could be used by Nigerians.

“We have our institutions, systems and processes in the country. Any such formulations should be sent to them for verification. I will not put it to use without the endorsement of our institutions,” Buhari told Embalo.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, NAFDAC’s Director of Public Relations, Dr Abubakar Jimoh, who spoke on behalf of the agency’s director-general, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, noted that the agency would prioritise the laboratory examination of the product once it received it from the authorities.

He said, “When the drug arrives, it will go to the Minister of Health who will in turn hand it over to NAFDAC through the PTF. It is after that we would start our laboratory examination. It will be subjected to the normal procedure.

“We would expedite action on this because everyone is anxiously waiting for the result. We would speed it up but it will still have to go through the normal laboratory analysis and medical evaluation.

“Unlike the orthodox medicine, with the herbal medicine, it is given linctus status, it is not given full registration and that means it has a life span of two years, unlike normal drug that has a life span of five years. So, this is what will be applicable to the Madagascar drug. We would ensure that the claims being made are true.”

When asked how long it could take for the laboratory examination to be concluded, he said the normal procedure was three months but that given the situation at hand, the process would be prioritised without compromising the efficiency of the process.

He said, “The normal mandatory procedure is three months, but under this emergency, we would give it a top priority to come out with urgent results. In the process of the evaluation, if NAFDAC needs to get in touch with the manufacturers we will. It all depends on the analysis in the lab.

“This kind of drug does not go through a clinical trial at this stage; it is only when it wants to go through registration that it will be subjected to clinical trial. We are only going to determine its safety and efficacy now.”

Embalo had during the visit said his main reason for visiting Buhari was to thank him and seek his fatherly counsel after the tussles that attended the general elections in Guinea Bissau, which he won.

He disclosed his plan to form a government of national unity and follow in the footsteps of Buhari to begin a war against corruption.

Embalo added that his new government inherited myriads of challenges and would require the “big brother” support of Nigeria to pull through, adding, “The problems of Guinea Bissau are problems of Nigeria. I have come to you as your son.

“I need your help and assistance to make the people happy. I will not let you down; neither will I put you in any difficult situation.”

Buhari, who commended Embalo on his victory and for being able to stabilise his country, noted that Nigeria was determined to keep West Africa politically stable, promising to support the new government in Guinea Bissau.

He said, “I commend your political dexterity in getting the opposition to join the proposed unity government. I will cooperate and help in every way possible.”

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, said in a statement that Buhari seized the opportunity to praise the President of Niger Republic, Mahamadou Issoufou, for the “good work” he had done in the West African sub-region.

Issoufou is the current Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States.

Following the criticisms that greeted the planned importation of the Madagascar drug into Nigeria, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, said on Thursday that Nigeria did not request the herbal medicine from Madagascar.

He explained it was a gesture from Madagascar to all African countries, including Nigeria. He noted that the quantities meant for each African country were airlifted to Guinea Bissau from where respective African countries would airlift theirs.

Mustapha stressed that the President had given a clear instruction that he should subject the product to the same validation process any internally manufactured product would be taken through and that he should make arrangements to “freight it home.”

Meanwhile, the President of Guinea Bissau personally delivered the products to Nigeria on Saturday.

The Regional Director of World Health Organisation office in Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said at a media briefing on Thursday that the WHO was “in touch with the government of Madagascar.”

There is an ongoing search for a vaccine for the raging virus, which has infected 4,706,088 persons across the world, out of which 311,899 persons have died while 1,802,555 persons have recovered.

176 new cases, 9 new deaths recorded

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced 176 new cases on Saturday, pushing the total cases to 5,621. There were nine new deaths while 292 persons were discharged.

The cases were Lagos (95); Oyo (31); FCT (11); Niger (8); Borno (8); jigawa (6); Kaduna (4); Anambra (3) while Edo, Rivers, Nasarawa and Bauchi had two cases each. Also, Benue and Zamfara had one case each.

In Oyo State, however, Governor Seyi Makinde tweeted that 30 out of the 31 new cases in the state were from the same company, which had already been shut down while the remaining one case was from Egbeda Local Government Area of the state.

Lagos begins chloroquine clinical trial this week, discharges 67 patients

Meanwhile, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso, has said the state will this week commence the clinical trial treatment of COVID-19 using chloroquine as approved by NAFDAC.

The state, which is the epicentre of the virus in the country, had previously disclosed plans to carry out the chloroquine clinical trial.

Omotoso, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, said, “We are ready for the chloroquine clinical trial because we have just secured all the approvals. The documentation has also been completed. Those that will be used for the trials are ready too. By next week we should be ready for the trial.

“Also, Lagos got a supply of additional 20,000 testing kits, although we were expecting 40,000. It means that the testing will increase now.”

In a related development, a COVID-19 patient was successfully delivered of a baby boy at the Gbagada Isolation Centre in Lagos on Saturday.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, said the delivery of the baby through a caesarean was another pointer that the state’s strategy in combating the virus was working and yielding the desired results. “Both mother and baby are doing well,” he added.

The governor also announced that 67 more patients, comprising 22 females and 45 males including three foreign nationals; two Indians and a Chinese were discharged from four isolation centres in the state on Saturday.

“The patients; 24 from the Mainland Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba; 22 from Onikan; 11 from Agidingbi; two from Lekki and eight from Lagos University Teaching Hospital isolation centres were discharged having tested negative for COVID-19 in two consecutive readings.”

While commending the dedication of health workers in the state, he said the number of patients successfully managed and discharged from isolation facilities in the state had increased to 608.

He urged the populace to adhere strictly to all safety advisories being the only way to break the chain of the transmission.

Bayelsa discharges two COVID-19 patients

Two COVID-19 patients in Bayelsa State were also discharged on Saturday.

The two patients, who were in the isolation centre at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital in Okolobiri, were linked to the index case that was discharged about a week ago.

A statement signed by the deputy chairman of the state COVID-19 task force and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr Inodu Apoku, said the repeat tests of the remaining cases linked to the index case returned negative.

He said, “These patients have also met all other guidelines of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control for discharge. Consequently, they have been discharged on Saturday.

“Therefore, there is only one active COVID-19 case in the state after discharging the index case and the other four linked cases.”

Osinbajo lauds NAFDAC for expedited approval of sanitisers, others

Meanwhile, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Saturday commended NAFDAC for its expedited approval of locally manufactured alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

Osinbajo spoke during the virtual launch of the NAFDAC Automated Product Administration and Monitoring System, an electronic-registration assistance for micro, small and medium enterprises in Abuja.

According to him, the Buhari regime having regard for the role of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises as the powerhouse of the economy and the prime vehicle for job creation feels the economic downturn “very keenly” and is determined to assist in every way possible.

Osinbajo said, “I must therefore thank the Director-General and all the staff members of NAFDAC for this laudable initiative which qualifies, to use the language of the times, as a veritable COVID-19 palliative for micro, small and medium enterprises.

“Permit me to also recognise other ongoing efforts of NAFDAC in the implementation of regulatory measures and interventions to support the fight against the novel coronavirus.

“These include the conditional emergency-use approval for medical devices, expedited approval for local manufacture of alcohol-based hand sanitisers as well as approval of clinical trial protocols for the most promising anti-COVID drugs.”

Osinbajo stated that the event was aimed at assisting and addressing some of the challenges identified during the national MSME clinics.

…announces 80 per cent discount for MSMEs product registration with NAFDAC

The vice-president also announced an 80 per cent discount on the registration of MSMEs products for the next three months.

He said, “In the spirit of these times and as an example of the way business should be done in Nigeria henceforth, MSMEs can now process the registration of their products with NAFDAC in the comfort of their homes at an 80 per cent discounted rate over a period of three months period.

“Apart from the obvious cost-saving it brings, I believe that e-registration will serve our MSMEs especially well at this time of travel restrictions and social distancing. It is a time when we must find new ways of addressing old problems.”

He said now was the time to jettison the culture of reliance on imported products.

States still have very low capacity for isolation –PTF

The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, has hinted that states still have very low capacity for isolation. He, therefore, advised that instead of opting for tents that could be too expensive, they should consider using halls of residence in schools to augment what they have.

Aliyu spoke on Thursday during a webinar hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, with the theme, ‘Combating COVID-19: The Nigerian story’.

Other speakers were the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila; Governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, and the Chief Executive Officer, Aliko Dangote Foundation and Secretariat Coordinator, Private Sector-led Coalition Against COVID-19, known as CACOVID, Ms Zouera Youssoufou.

When asked the crux of Nigeria’s strategy to combat the raging COVID-19, Aliyu explained that even though Nigeria was going into the exponential phase of the pandemic, testing, isolation and case management were the measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus.

He said, “Our first part of the response really is to test. Unless you are going to be able to take steps to mitigate further transmission, then there is no point in testing, and we are seeing that across the country, isolation facilities are limited.

“Our states still have very low capacity for isolation. Yes we know we are all financially challenged as a government, whether at federal or state levels, but we have got to think outside the box.

“At some point, we will probably be overwhelmed if the trajectory continues, but the only way we can stop the transmission is to move people that are infectious out of those communities and put them in places where they are safe, where they can be monitored and be kept away from the rest of the public so that the pandemic doesn’t continue to spread.

“We are already working quite closely with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. We have already identified states that continue to have a huge gap in their isolation capacity. We are not saying create temporary structures that are very expensive, no. Make use of what you already have. Open up dormitories, schools, identify buildings that can be used, use the philanthropy spirit of Nigerians and get more buildings to set up more centres where you can put people, look after them, feed them properly and you can make them comfortable for the two weeks or so that they need to be isolated until they are no longer infectious.”

Also speaking, Gbajabiamila said there was a need to reduce the cost of governance, adding, “I’m hopeful that whatever we take away from this in terms of social changes will be for the best and we will drop some old habits that were inimical to our development as a nation.”

Fayemi, when responding to a question on what worried him most since the pandemic started, said the sheer uncertainty around livelihoods brought about by the pandemic, especially in a society that is largely informal like Nigeria. He, however, expressed optimism that there would be some opportunities in the adversity.

Also, Youssoufou said there was a need to take advantage of the pandemic to make durable investments in the health sector. “This (health sector) is one area where I think we under-invested so much and the consequence is that today we are scrambling to set up isolation centres and import things we shouldn’t have to import.”

 

Foreign airlines may resume flights to Lagos, Abuja airports June [Punch]

Some foreign airlines are allegedly planning to resume flights to Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports despite the ban on international commercial flights by the Federal Government in a bid to halt  COVID-19 spread.

Although some of the airlines said their plans could change, it was learnt on Saturday that some of the international carriers had already scheduled some flights to Nigeria from June.

But the Federal Ministry of Aviation declared that such plans would not work until the flight ban was lifted.

Also, the Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria said no foreign or local carrier could take decision to fly to or within Nigeria if the government had not opened the airspace.

It was learnt on Saturday that Lufthansa Airlines had included Abuja and Port Harcourt among its 20 long-haul routes to begin flight operations in June.

It was learnt that the carrier had made its first batch of flight reservation available in its booking system.

The company plans to resume long-haul flights in June from Frankfurt to Abuja, Port Harcourt, Toronto, Mexico City, Tel Aviv, Riyadh, Bahrain, Johannesburg, Dubai and  Mumbai, among others.

Virgin Atlantic recently announced that beginning from May 16, services for its summer schedule flights from March 28, 2021 would be on sale, as it had scheduled flights from London Heathrow to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.

But senior  Ministry of Aviation officials said although it was nice to hear that airlines were making plans to resume operations, such would not happen until the ban was lifted.

The FG  on May 6 extended the suspension of both local and international flights by four weeks.

The government had earlier halted commercial flights by two weeks before it announced the four-week extension.

The Director, Public Affairs, FMA, James Odaudu, said the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had not lifted the ban on commercial flights, whether local or foreign.

He said, “They (foreign airlines) can’t operate scheduled passenger flights as long as the ban remains. The PTF on COVID-19 has the final say on when flights can resume, based on the level of control of the pandemic.

“Of course, we in the sector can’t wait for activities to resume at the airports to forestall further loss of jobs and revenue. Aviation has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and it will be a great relief to have flights resume.”

The President, ATSSSAN, Ilitrus Ahmadu, said no airlines could take decisions for Nigeria on when flights would start.

“It is not the foreign carriers that will decide for our country. So it is their business and they cannot say they can fly into the country without government opening the airspace.”

 

Nigeria to save N241bn from implementing Oronsanye report – Investigation [Punch]

The Federal Government of Nigeria could save over N241bn if the Stephen Oronsaye report on public sector reforms is implemented, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.

The Oronsaye report, which was submitted in 2011, states that there are 541 Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory). The report adds that 263 of the statutory agencies should be reduced to 161; 38 agencies should be abolished while 52 agencies should be merged.

It further recommends that 14 agencies should revert back to departments in ministries.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had last month ordered that a committee be set up to look into the report and implement it in order to reduce the cost of governance in the face of a looming economic crisis occasioned by the drop in global oil prices.

The Federal Government, however, said workers would not be sacked. This implies that the federal personnel budget which stands at N2.8tn will not be expected to drop after the report is implemented except in the event of privatisation or changing its method of funding.

However, the capital budget which stands at N2.6tn as well as the N252bn in overheads (as amended) will be expected to drop significantly.

For instance, the report recommends the abolition of the Federal Character Commission. The PUNCH estimates that the government will save at least N604m in overheads and capital budget if this is implemented.

About N352m will be saved if the same action is taken on the Fiscal Responsibility Commission.

The report further recommended that the law establishing the National Salaries and Wages Commission be repealed and its functions taken over by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Responsibility Commission. This is expected to save the government N321m in overheads and capital.

The Oronsaye report advised the government to merge the nation’s top three anti-corruption agencies- the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau.

The average the government is expected to save from capital and overheads after the merger amounts to at least N2.9bn.

The Infrastructure Concessionary and Regulatory Commission is expected to be subsumed under the Bureau of Public Enterprise, saving the government N408m.

The Border Communities Development Agency is to be brought under the National Boundary Commission, saving the government N4bn.

The government was advised to stop funding recurrent expenditure of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies but maintain its capital funding. This will save the government N1.55bn.

The report recommended that the National Emergency Management Agency and the National Refugees Commission be merged. This is expected to save the government N789m.

The Nigerian Institute of Social Economic Research is to stop receiving government funding but from a proposed National Research Development Fund. This is expected to save the government N1.1bn.

The National Directorate of Employment is expected to be amalgamated with the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria to form the National Agency for Job Creation and Empowerment. This should save the government N6.4bn on average.

The law establishing the Federal Road Safety Corps is expected to be repealed and the agency reverting to the Highways Department of the Federal Ministry of Works while the personnel are to be absorbed by the Police Service Commission and Vehicle Inspection Office. This would save the government N7.4bn based on budget estimates.

The National Agency for the Control of AIDS will no longer be a standalone agency but is expected to be subsumed by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. This will save the government N1.4bn.

The committee recommended that both the Hajj and Christian commissions be abolished and government should stop sponsoring pilgrimages. Also, the government was advised to stop granting concessionary foreign exchange to pilgrims.

This could save the government N1.8bn and another N7bn going by the cost incurred by the Federal Government through Forex concessions in 2016.

Nigeria is expected to save N347m if the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria and the Public Service Institute of Nigeria are merged.

The committee recommended that the Nigerian Communications Commission, National Broadcasting Commission and Nigerian Postal Service be merged into one entity known as the Communications Regulatory Authority of Nigeria.

These agencies, like many other revenue generating agencies, usually operate a dual budget. The first is the statutory federal budget, which is embedded in the ministry’s annual budget proposal and a second one which is the Internally Generated Revenue budget.

Sunday PUNCH could not immediately ascertain how much would be saved if these three agencies are merged since the NCC and NIPOST do not make their budgets public. However, at least N142m will be saved if the overhead and capital budgets of NBC alone are scrapped.

Similarly, the committee recommended that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the Nigerian Air Space Management Agency and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency be merged into a body known as Federal Civil Aviation Authority.

However, of the three agencies, only the budget estimates of NIMET was made public. Should the capital and overhead budgets of NIMET be stopped, Nigeria will be expected to save at least N1.8bn.

The committee recommended that the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria be fully privatised. This will save Nigeria of at least N101bn in recurrent and capital expenditure going by FAAN’s 2019 budget.

The Nigerian Communication Satellite is expected to be fully privatised, thereby saving the government N3.4bn.

National Examinations Council is expected to be brought under the West African Examination Council.  NECO’s budget could not be immediately accessed by Sunday PUNCH.

The committee recommended a merger between the National Universities Commission, the National Board for Technical Education and the National Commission for Colleges of Education to form the Tertiary Education Commission. This should save the government N3.89bn.

The government was asked to stop bearing the recurrent cost of the National Open University of Nigeria. This ought to save the government N3.7bn but since the government insists on no job cuts, only N419m will be saved.

The National Council for Nomadic Education is expected to be abolished and the Universal Basic Education Commission takes over its responsibilities. This will save the government N545m.

Similarly, the law establishing the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education is expected to be repealed and its functions taken over by UBEC. This will save the government N1.1bn.

The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency is expected to be scrapped and its functions taken over by the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Department of Petroleum Resources. This is expected to reduce the cost of governance by N511.5m.

The committee recommended that the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency be scrapped and its duties transferred to the ministry of environment which could save the Federal Government N510m.

The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution should be scrapped and its functions should be transferred to the Department of Strategic Studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. This should save Nigeria of N365m.

The same recommendation was made for the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa. This should reduce the cost of governance by N180m based on budget estimates.

The Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Voice of Nigeria and the Nigerian Television Authority are expected to merge to form the Federal Broadcasting Corporation of Nigeria. This is expected to reduce the capital and overhead budget by N1.9bn.

The committee advised the government to abolish the Civil Defence, Immigration, Prisons Services Board while its functions relating to appointment, promotion and discipline be transferred to a proposed Federal Public Service Commission. This is expected to save the government N462m in overheads and capital budgets.

The law establishing the Nigeria Copyright Commission is expected to be repealed and its functions taken over by the Commercial Law Department of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment saving the government N188m in overheads and capital.

The committee recommended that the National Productivity Centre be scrapped. It will reduce the cost of governance by N7.3bn in overheads and capital.

The law establishing the National Steel Raw Materials Exploration Agency is expected to be scrapped thereby saving the government N803m. The functions of the NSRMEA are expected to be taken over by the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency.

The government was advised to scrap the National Metallurgical Development Centre, Jos, and Metallurgical Training Institute, Onitsha which would jointly reduce the cost of governance by N952m.

The committee recommended that the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund be merged. Sunday PUNCH could not estimate how much could be saved since their budgets are not public.

Also recommended was the repeal of the law establishing the Petroleum Technology Development Fund while the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board is expected to take over its functions.

The Federal Ministry of Police Affairs is expected to be scrapped and its functions taken over by the Ministry of Special Duties. This is expected to save the government N500m in overheads.

The committee called for the scrapping of the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria. This should save the country N549m in overheads based on the 2020 budget estimates.

Similarly, the government was advised to abolish the National Rural Electrification Agency. This should save the government N15.3bn.

The National Centre for Technology Management is expected to be abolished, saving the government N894m.

The National Council for Arts and Culture is expected to be merged with the National Troupe of Nigeria and the National Theatre. This would reduce the cost of governance by N189m.

The committee recommended that the National Commission for Museums and Monuments be merged with the National Gallery of Art to form the National Commission for Museums, Monuments and Arts. This will save the government N374m in overheads and capital.

The Nigeria Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies is to be abolished and its functions taken over by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation. About N207m is expected to be saved from this action.

The government was advised to close down all 774 offices of the National Orientation Agency and the functions of the NOA be taken over by the Public Communications Department in the Ministry of Information and Culture. This should reduce the cost of governance by at least N523m.

The National Institute for Cultural Orientation is to be abolished, saving the government N349m.

The committee recommended that the Standards Organisation of Nigeria and the Consumer Protection Council as well as the Department of Weights and Measures be merged into a new agency known as the Nigerian Standards and Consumer Protection Agency. This should reduce the cost of governance by N532m.

The Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission are to be merged to form the Nigerian Import-Export Promotion Commission. This will save the government N446.6m.

The Centre for Automotive Design and Development Council is to be scrapped, saving the N5.2m in overheads and capital expenditure.

The Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority is expected to take over the functions of the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority, reducing the cost of governance by N926.5m.

The government was advised to stop funding the recurrent expenditure of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron and limit itself to capital projects. This should save the government N1bn.

The committee asked the government to stop funding the Nigerian Football Federation as recommended by FIFA. This should save the government N1bn.

The committee recommended that the National Inland Waterways’ functions be taken over by the Nigerian Ports Authority. This should save the government N5.9bn in capital and overheads.

The committee recommended that 12 professional health bodies should stop receiving government funding but should rather depend on subscription from members.

Some of them include: the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, Health Records Registration Board and Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria. This should save tax payers N4.5bn.

Another 20 professional and regulatory agencies were asked to stop receiving government funding. They include: Council for Regulation of Engineers; Surveyors Registration Council; Veterinary Council of Nigeria, Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria.

Sunday PUNCH estimates that if this recommendation is implemented, the government will save approximately N8.6bn which was budgeted for some of them in the 2020 budget.

The report recommended that about 23 research institutes should draw funding from a proposed National Research and Development Fund and grants. This is expected to save the government at least N38bn.

 

COVID-19: Buhari receives Madagascar cure sample [Nation]

  • Says drug won’t be administered until subjected to validation process
  • Reopening religious centres totally irresponsible – Health experts
  • Uzodinma threatens total lock down as state records four new cases
  • FCTA taskforce arrests 27 Kogi, Edo-bound travellers hidden in trucks

The Madagascar solution, prepared for the treatment of COVID-19, made its way to the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Friday but President Muhammadu Buhari said it would not be administered on any Nigerian until it was scientifically confirmed to be safe for use.

Samples of the solution were presented to him by President Umaro Sissoco Embalo of Guinea Bissau who was on a visit to Nigeria.

Medical experts remained worried yesterday by the decision of some state governors to reopen worship centres despite the increasing rate of coronavirus infection in the country.

They branded the governors’ action irresponsible.

Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State threatened on Saturday to lockdown the state following the discovery of four fresh cases of COVID-19.

Buhari told his guest that his position on all non-conventional medicines, including the one from Madagascar, is that they must all go through standard validation procedures.

“We have our institutions, systems and processes in the country. Any such formulations should be sent to them for verification. I will not put it to use without the endorsement of our institutions,” the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu quoted him as saying.

On the main reason for his visit, President Embalo said having stabilized his country after the tussles that attended the general elections won by him, he had come to seek counsel from his “father,” President Buhari on his plan for a “government of national unity” and a proposed war against corruption in his country.

He also said that his new government met a country embroiled in a number of issues and problems, the resolution of which would require tremendous assistance from “big brother,” Nigeria.

“Problems of Guinea Bissau are problems of Nigeria. I have come to you as your son. I need your help and assistance to make the people happy. I will not let you down, neither will I put you in any difficult situation,” the visiting leader said.

Reopening religious centres totally irresponsible – Health Experts

The state governors who have  reopened worship centres in their states regardless of the increasing rate of coronavirus infection on Saturday came under more attacks from health experts who described such action as irresponsible.

The health stakeholders said that the lockdown was supposed to be a critical measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as the country is yet to experience the peak of the disease.

The Chairman of the COVID-19 Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee in Abuja, Dr. Ejike Orji said the reopening of the worship centres was not in the best interest of anyone.

“If there is anything that the religious bodies can do if they truly love their flock, it is to keep them from mingling,” Orji told The Nation.

He added: “the pastor that is telling people to congregate in his house is looking for trouble. Anybody talking about gatherings for religious purposes must be a very stupid person because spirituality can be done anywhere.

“Science tells you that the virus can only survive for not more than 72 hours on hard surfaces maximum. So, if you want to end the transmission you are to isolate people who have the sickness and keep them in one place until they are cured of the disease. The disease will burn itself off.”

“Remember a country like Iran. Iran suffered so much because their mosque was the epi-centre of the disease spread. They realised this and shut down their mosque.

“The disease will most likely get to 60 percent to 80 percent of the population in the world before it is over. Therefore, the only thing to do that is sensible is to make sure that any point in time you slow down the rate of transmission.”

The President of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Faduyile differed a bit saying: “The state Governors have the right to make their own laws based on their special situation. Many states have allowed their people to go to markets and banks where they freely flout all the regulations given. So it will be very inimical to say that in churches and mosques people cannot take care of their spiritual interests.

“The peculiarity in each state will determine the actions that they are taking. However it is better to err on the side of caution by ensuring that all the regulations are enforced, which may also include banning large gatherings.”

The President of the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria (NARD), Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, said: “From a medical point of view, we’ve continued to advocate that it will be appropriate that social gatherings be suspended for now. But beyond the medical point of view I am sure that there are other perspectives that are being considered – political perspective being one of the reasons for opening those religious centres.

“As far as we are concerned it will continue to be in the interest of the country if these religious centres remain closed for now until such a time when it will be appropriate for religious activities to resume. As long as people will continue to mingle among themselves, the disease will continue to spread. We will continue to advise on the need to temporize opening doors at religious centres now.”

Professor of Public Health Parasitology and Director of McCarthy Study Centre of National Open University Nigeria, Mba Okoronkwo, said: “As a matter of fact the decision by some clergymen is dangerous in the face of what is happening. If the number of new cases continues to rise every day given the lockdown, you can imagine what will happen when a lot of people congregate in various churches and mosques.

“Nobody knows who is infected because there are symptomatic and asymptomatic patients who are moving around in the community. The lockdown has not affected the psyche of our people. You find that even people who know that they are sick and infected by COVID-19 do not allow others to know their status to avoid stigmatization.

“These categories of people will now tell you that going to the house of faith is the only hope they have for healing and for the relief of their stress. In the process, even if some observe the social and physical distancing, a handful of people will disobey.”

 

Galadima: Why Abacha stashed billions of dollars [Nation]

Buba Galadima was a member of Board of Trustees, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1978. He was at some point, the National Secretary, defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). That party, in the run-up to the 2015 general election, went into alliance with other parties which formed what is now known as All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with OMOLARA AKINTOYE, Galadima talks on why he is proud to be referred to as ‘Abacha boy’, among other issues. Excerpts

Donations towards Covid-19 appears to be coming from all angles, including from abroad, how do you think they can be properly put to use.

I have a different opinion and approach. I was quoted to have said that every Nigerian that wants to donate should please donate in kind, not in cash. I still stand by that.  By this, I mean that if you are giving N100m, go to a rice mill, buy at market price, then carry the rice to the authorities or better still, take it directly to the needy.  But if you give a cash donation, they would use the money as contract and purchase things four times their cost. By doing that, the people the money is meant for are the ultimate losers. If you are donating money from outside, please don’t give these people cash because nobody believes them. They were accusing the PDP as rogues then, with what they are doing now, they no longer call PDP rogues. Tell me the last time the APC government calls PDP rogues? From top to bottom, when last did they accuse PDP of being rogues because all the rogues in PDP have migrated into their fold. They were talking about corruption at the initial stage, but now, the energy and enthusiasm to fight the so-called rogues have gone. It is no longer there. Anybody or organisation that really wants to help Nigeria, either here or outside the country I beg them, they should send us testing equipment equivalent of the cash they want to give us. Our rulers, not leaders, in successive governments, don’t believe there is going to be another day called tomorrow. They forget that there was yesterday. They only believe in today and that is why they do things with impunity without minding what will happen tomorrow. They forgot that they are ordinary human beings, created by God, being opportuned to act as leaders, not rulers.

You were reported to have called the late Abba Kyari wicked and heartless shortly after he was pronounced dead…

I am one person who never hides his feelings. I say it the way they are. I am entitled to it. In the said publication, when you read it, and knowing me, you would know that it couldn’t have emanated from me. It’s not my language. And you know it. They said I tried to cast aspersions on the late General Sanni Abacha and that he arrested and detained me. I was a Principal Officer of the Abacha government. I think some people just wanted to use my outwardness to express their views. And I would have no grudge if they had not brought my name into it. That was why I issued a retraction that in my culture and religion, it is abomination to speak ill of the dead. I never had any personal grudge or jealousy with the late Abba Kyari. And in all my utterances in public discuss, I have never mentioned his name or any person’s name close to this government. But if you dare mention my name, no matter who you are, and you saw how I dealt with Oshiomhole and Garba Shehu, they have since refrained from mentioning my name again because once you say Buba Galadima says this, I know your history, I will wash you completely and take you to the cleaners and deal with you. I have no quarrel because I know Abba Kyari never appointed himself. Somebody else appointed him. So, any action he must have taken in public office, he must have done it on behalf of his principal.

Talking about the late General Sanni Abacha, the Federal Government just recovered another money stashed away by the Abacha Government; $311 million which the government plans to use on the economy.

I have a completely different idea about what you called Abacha loot. I know as a fact that at that time, Abacha with knowledge of key members of his government, who knew about this money being stacked out, he was rightly adviced by some of his colleague presidents around the world

Like…

Saddam Hussein was one of them. Muammar Gaddafi was one of them. They adviced him that there was the likelihood that the US could sanction Nigeria and as such he should save money outside that could last the country, at least, six months, even Nigeria’s account was blocked by the US, there won’t be panic. I was a key figure in that government. I was one of the so-called Abacha boys if you must know. I was the Director General, National Maritime Authority, whereby export and import to Nigeria, including crude, were directly coming under my desk. So, am in position to talk about Abacha and the so-called loot. Now regarding the repatriation of the money, I fault the government in two areas about the action taken so far. At a point, one of the spokesperson of the government said they were going to use the money for palliative. At another time, the Attorney-General has come to say that the monies are going to be used for the construction of Abuja-Kano road, 2nd Niger Bridge and the Ibadan Lagos expressway. That is double-speak. And they should know, no matter who speaks for the government, Nigerians do not trust this government. Besides, whatever they want to use the money for, they have no power, under the Nigerian Constitution, to just spend the money without proper appropriation by the National Assembly. Whatever they want to do, they have to go to the National Assembly, for the proposal to be scrutinized by the entire country as represented by the members of the National Assembly and they get approval. The government is not Alpha and Omega to determine any expenditure. It is the sole prerogative of the National Assembly to determine how money is to be spent. Whatever they want to do with the money, let them know that it would be unconstitutional to sit in their offices and allocate money to their friends and say they are distributing palliatives. Unless the National Assembly appropriates, they should know that they are breaching the law and it is an impeachable offence for the president.

You said Abacha stashed the monies abroad because of an impending US sanction, but a lot of Nigerians believe otherwise.

It is true that some Nigerians believe Abacha was a monster and you cannot fault their ignorance.

So their views are based on ignorance

Yes of course. It is based on ignorance. But the truth of the matter is that we are running a constitutional government called democracy. People can hold different opinion provided it does not encroach on another’s liberty. What I have said to you now is my own opinion based on what I knew of the government and the man at that time. I am pretty sure that if the late Professor Sam Aluko was alive, the genius who wrote Abacha economic policy; he ran perfectly the Abacha economic policy; Aluko was a man of intelligence and integrity, he managed the economy well at that time that naira was going for 9/11 dollars. Credit must be given to him. The crude is selling for 20 dollars per barrel and everybody is crying and that is because there was no good economic plan in place. Aluko acknowledged the presence of these monies before he passed on. If they say Abacha was a monster, my answer is, at least he held the country together and everybody knew you could not trample on our laws without being dealt with.

The two weeks relaxation by the federal government regarding the coronavirus lockdown had been criticized because the action could further endanger the lives of the citizens.

Let me acknowledge something, the fact that there are a lot of ignorant Nigerians, including those in the academia. Most of you are not informed. We have to strike a balance between the two. There are lots of people who thought it was the responsibility of the Federal Government to free them since they locked them up.  I think the issue is first and foremost self- preservation. We have to be alive before we can eat. If we are not alive, there is no way we can eat. There are a lot of people in the intensive care unit (ICU) who cannot eat. But we must still strike a balance. The problem is that nobody believes this government; if not, they could have commissioned some people, respectable people in the country. And they are everywhere, to educate the masses, the common man, that what we are doing is not for the government, it is for your common good, so that you will not lose your life. Once they do that and the people key into this, it becomes easier to manage them. Again, whatever palliatives they have, they honestly and truthfully distribute it to the needy.

Again, let it be clear, especially to the donors that we don’t want money from them but equipment. Let them provide isolation centres, provide ventilators, hand gloves, sanitizers, face masks. We don’t need money. Or more importantly, let them provide food. If you say for example, Buba Galadima, you have little, why not provide for five people in your area. Tell another person like that and spread it so that they can let you sleep well in the night. The most important, I think the government should suspend the budget completely. After all, the Nigerian budget is being stolen. How many people are working? In every ministry, not more than 15 people are working: The Director of Finance, Director of Procurement, the Cashier, the Permanent Secretary who approved the budget and the minister who directs. Apart from all those, who else, so suspend the budget, especially the current budget. When you suspend the budget; pay attention to some key ministries that are essential to everyday life: Ministry of Health, Power Ministry and Internal Affairs Ministry. Cut the salaries by 50% and inject the cuts into the palliatives. We don’t need capital budget for now.

 

How I blew N38.8b security votes in eight years, by Ex-Governor Orji [Nation]

  • All payments made in cash
  • Gave N5.760b to Abia lawmakers, N7.2b to informants
  • Made payments to traditional rulers, others

A former Governor of Abia State, Senator Theodore Orji has furnished the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) with details of how he spent his N38.8billion security votes during his eight years in office.

Orji who was in charge of the state between 2007 and 2015 is being investigated by the anti-graft commission  for corruption.

He said he collected N38.8billion as security votes during the period and not N48billion as alleged by the EFCC.

Orji who is currently representing Abia Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly said he shared much of the N38billion with members of the state House of Assembly, his security informants and traditional rulers.

He claimed to have also given part of the money to military units,the police,the  Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC)  and security agencies as what he called  statutory  allocations.

In a tell-it-all statement to his interrogators, the former governor said he gave successive members of the State House of Assembly N5. 760billion, at N60million per month, in the eight years.

He also claimed to have paid N75million monthly to security informants in 15 of the 17 local government areas of the state within the same period.

The yet-to-be identified informants allegedly pocketed a total of N7.200billion between 2007 and 2015.

Some of the security agencies, according to him, received N2million per month.

However, he told the interrogators that he  does not have a comprehensive list of all the beneficiaries of the largesse because the Government House staff who used to disburse the cash is no more.

He gave the man’s name simply as Felix.

Orji said he did not ask for the list from Felix at the expiration of his tenure as governor.

He only issued directives to Felix on how to share the security votes.

He also said he never collected cash either from the Director of Finance or the Cashier in Government House.

The EFCC insists that  Orji collected  N48billion in eight years.

It has retrieved five huge bags of documents from the relevant desks in Abia State on the ex-governor’s financial transactions.

Based on Orji’s confessions, the EFCC is expected to  arraign him  in court soon being in what a source described as  “a straightforward case.”

The Nation gathered that the former governor made the revelations during a session on oath in the presence of his lawyer, who he referred to as Edmund.

It was the first time Orji would  open up after many years of trying to make him respond to allegations against him.

Orji said he received N370million monthly as security votes in 2007 and N410million monthly from 2008 to 2015.

He said that from his assumption of office up to his exit the funds were distributed in cash. “There were also statutory funds to the security agencies,” he was quoted as saying.

He said the first Speaker in 2007 and the last Speaker in his second term confirmed the receipt of N60million monthly from his security votes.

He said the Majority Leader also attested to the receipt of the monthly cash although he claimed he did not know “ how they shared the money.”

He could not explain what the monthly cash to the lawmakers was meant for or remember the exact amount he was giving the traditional rulers monthly.

Orji admitted that all disbursements by the late Felix were based on his directives.

Usually, according to him, the funds were brought by the Director of Finance (DF)in batches.

The DF would then inform the ex-governor on how much had come and would then be kept in the accounts.

Orji would, in turn, issue directive to the late Felix on what to disburse and to whom.

He was quoted as saying “Felix comes to show me how disbursement is made. After disbursement, Felix keeps the list for safety. As I was leaving the Government House, I didn’t ask him for the list.”

He claimed that he   never  personally collected  any cash from the votes whether from the Director of Finance or Government House cashier.

The funds were channelled through Felix “on my directives,” he said.

The EFCC is still working on the charges against Orji.

But a reliable source told The Nation that investigation had “reached an appreciable stage for trial.”

Continuing, the source said: “We have been on this case since March 2017. Our operatives were painstaking in cracking this case.

“We will arraign ex-governor in court any time from now because the charges are ready. The only challenge is COVID-19 but we won’t allow it to affect the arraignment.

“In the face of the law, he is  presumed innocent until proven guilty by the court. The onus is on him to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he did not commit the financial recklessness.”

The source said the use of security votes was the first leg of the ongoing probe of Senator Theodore Orji.

The former governor has been under investigation since November 22, 2018 following a petition from a group, Fight Corruption: Save Nigeria Group

In the  March 17, 2017 petition, the group alleged  that Orji received and diverted various sums of monies that accrued to Abia State while in office.

The breakdown of the amounts allegedly received by him are as follows:

             N383 billion revenue from federation accounts

             N55 billion Excess Crude Revenue

             N2.3 billion Sure – P

             N1.8 billion Ecological funds

             N10.5 billion loan from First Bank of Nigeria through the Ministry of Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs.

             N4 billion Loan from Diamond Bank

             N12 billion Paris Club refund

             N2 billion Agricultural loan for farmers

             N55 billion ASOPADEC.

 

R-e-v-e-a-l-e-d: Why many are dying in Kano, Bauchi, Yobe [Sun]

■ Bereaved families, community leaders open up on mysterious deaths

For some weeks now, the people of Kano, Bauchi, and Yobe states have been in turmoil following mysterious deaths that been ravaging the northern states.

While many believe this may not be connected with the Coronavirus pandemic, Sunday Sun investigation revealed that this belief may not be entirely true.

A visit to some of the bereaved families and leaders of the high hit communities in the states showed that they believe that the majority of their people who died were of natural occurrences, saying that mass deaths were not alien to them.

However, there are some who expressed fear, saying that the magnitude of deaths in this period appears to be unprecedented, suspecting that it may have been aggravated by COVID-19.

 

Bauchi

Residents of Azare town in Katagum Local Government Area of Bauchi State described the mysterious deaths of over 170 in the last three weeks in the area as an act of God.

While some of the bereaved families admitted that the unexpected and sudden deaths of their loved ones were painful, they said all the same they have accepted it as inevitable act of God.

They also do not believe that it is the novel Coronavirus that has been the cause of the mysterious deaths.

Our correspondent who was in Azare, on Tuesday, spoke to a cross section of bereaved families on the mysterious  deaths of their loved one in the area.

The Head of Azare community, Abdulador Ali Shira, believes that the noise being raised about the deaths was unnecessary.

“Yes there have been deaths of recent, but it is not unusual. It is common to have between 10 to 14 deaths per day in Azare, or nine before. I think the fear is heightened by the Coronavirus pandemic,” he stated.

Shira said that most deaths in Azare were caused by common ailments such as hypertension, and malaria.

“It is not coming to us as a surprise and so far only one person, a female is confirmed killed by COVID-19. People who are not from Azare have been carrying rumours. I am aware of the deaths and l usually pay condolence visit to most of the bereaved families so this is not something that should disturb us,” he said.

Ibrahim Umar, son of Yakubu, the Dan Iyan Azare, one of the kingmakers, who died some days ago, said that his father, an octogenarian, had complained of headache.

“He asked me to take him to the hospital. His blood sample was taken and he was told he had typhoid. Since then he has been weak and didn’t recover,” he told Sunday Sun.

The prominent title holder was taken to the Intensive Care Unit of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Teaching Hospital where he gave up the ghost on Tuesday, May 12.

“No information has been given to us about his cause of death whether it was typhoid.  His death left a big vacuum because he left 23 children and 26 grand-children and many great grand-children,” he said.

The Dan Iyan also believed that COVID-19 pandemic is a test from God.

“No one is sure whether it is COVID-19 that is killing people in Azare now. But l feel it is severe fever that is killing most of our people,” he said.

For him, though it is destiny, he appealed to the state government to strengthen its relationship with the people by giving them palliatives to cushion the effects, as well as to reduce the deaths, especially with the lockdown.

Auwalu Dahiru Saleh said that by the time he arrived Azare from Kaduna where he is based, his father, Justice Dahiru Saleh, a former judge who became infamous for annulling the June 12 election, was in coma.

“I am not a doctor, but before coming to Azare, I was in Zamfara for two weeks and the deaths there is also real, not rumour.

“We thought it is because of the heat and by virtue of that it could contribute to the deaths because in the last two years, Meningitis, people who have passed on are mostly elderly. We can’t say it is Coronavirus because they have not been tested. Inasmuch as COVID-19 kills, the virus seems to behave differently when it comes to Africa,” he said.

Abdullahi Mohammed, whose father Mohammed Isa , died within the period under review, said that his father’s illness began with typhoid.

“Results showed that his viral load was high. He was treated at the General Hospital Azare. He was given medication and asked to go home.

“After sometime his condition worsened and we used egg and lemon. He was better, but lost appetite. He could only take malt and milk. We took him back to the hospital and was given vitamin drugs to boost his appetite. Failure to eat worsened his condition and he developed ulcer. There was no cough or flu,” he disclosed, adding that his father died at the age of 67 years.

“People have been saying Coronavirus has entered Azare because elderly people are mostly the ones dying. Well, I am not well informed to know. But l believe my governor said that only one person died from Coronavirus. So, l believe it is a strange disease that is killing our people,” he said.

Son of Alhaji Ibrahim Naibi, head of Izala in Azare, Sani, is still bitter with medical officials for allegedly neglecting his 84-year-old father to die.

He believed with good care and attention, his father would have been alive.

“He was never sick. No sign of any illness. He complained of fever and was taken to hospital. Two days later he died,” he said.

Ahmed Sani, whose father was a successful businessman based in Azare recalled that his father attempted to take himself to hospital on the day he died.

Sani said that as soon as his father took a step, he collapsed. “We first took him to a private clinic, but there was no bed. We were told to go to FMC, but they said they too had no bed. He died in the hospital. My father did not die of Coronavirus, he had ulcer,” he said.

Kano

Samira Sulieman, a dark, chubby female activist in the ancient city of Kano, appears to have lost her glow of late. She, like several others, is troubled by the spike in the number of deaths recorded in Kano.

Several familiar names and people have passed away within the last few weeks, said the ex-media queen, who, however, added that like several others in the state, she could not say precisely what was responsible for their deaths.

“I will look at it in two ways. One way is to attest that these deaths are somehow unusual. But seen differently, one could also say that given the number of people that we have in Kano State, the figure is not as alarming as it has been sounded.”

Semira who is a native of the state and a former staff of Freedom Radio,  told Sunday Sun that many of the people dying are old people and the reasons for their deaths could be  old-age related ailments like  diabetes, hypertension, meningitis etc.

“But looking at it from the Coronavirus pandemic, maybe too, some of the deaths could be linked to COVID-19.

“We have been told that this pandemic affects mostly the elderly and if you look at the people who had died in the state, they are within this category. They are mostly aged,” she told Sunday Sun.

Semira also highlighted the fact that the areas that had recorded these deaths were very congested, adding that a lot of people resident in these places do less of social distancing

“My final take is that it could be as a result of the pandemic, it could just be a normal situation that we found ourselves in at the moment, it could be Meningitis because of the heat and it could be that their bodies were already weak and ready to go. We don’t know…”

She advised the people of the state to treat seriously the rules of social distancing, wash their hands and wear their face masks while adding that, “we should try and avoid crowded places…. We all need to be very, very careful”.

Seventy-five-year-old Mallam Musa Abubakar, a gravedigger at Kofar Mazugal cemetery in the metropolitan area of Kano, confessed that there has been a sharp climb in the number of dead bodies they bury in the past few weeks.

Speaking, he disclosed that in the past, they usually dig a maximum of three to four graves in the cemetery on a single day” ‘ but added that, “from the beginning of the month of Ramadan to date, so many people had died and had been buried at the graveyard”.

He confessed that they as gravediggers are already getting tired of digging, given the huge number of the deceased persons.

He said that given the years of experience on the job, he had assumed that he was immune to fear, adding, however, that with the number of people being buried daily, some of his fears had returned.

“Let me tell you that this unusual death has claimed five of our colleagues. They all died after a brief illness. The situation is terrible and needs God’s Intervention,” he said.

A leading health experts currently working in support of Kano State in the fight against COVID- 19 in the state who spoke under condition of anonymity insisted that there is nothing like mystery or strange deaths in Kano State, saying that in the absence of any effective scientific investigation, the media cannot claim that there is a jump in the number of people dying in the state.

“When you say a figure is increasing, it means that you have a baseline from where you can measure. You can only talk or write of a “noticeable incident” and not a “significant increase.”

He agreed that there are incidents of deaths in the state, but said that only a scientific investigation can say whether the numbers are increasing or are not increasing as well as the nature of these deaths.

He agreed that although the causes of the deaths were not established at the time of death, it could be indicative of the presence of Coronavirus in the state.

“Like we have seen elsewhere, the virus affects the most vulnerable members of the society, and some of these deaths we are talking about are older people, who have been sick.

“The way forward is what we are doing; we are trying to find out the link between the nature of these deaths and COVID-19. That is why we are doing verbal autopsy,” he said.

Since the outbreak of the unusual deaths in the state and the media reportage, one institution that has not known sleep, not for a second, is the government of Kano State.

The government, following the scary reports, promptly ordered a probe into the nature of the “strange”deaths as well as to establish the actual number of the people who had died .

As a follow up, the government directed  the state Ministry of Health to carry out verbal autopsy of all those who had lost their lives to various strange ailments in the state.

A statement, signed by the state Commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, said that a combined team from the state Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), have been drafted to eight local government areas within the Kano Emirate Council to perform the autopsy exercise.

Sunday Sun gathered that investigation into the causes of deaths in the state was making steady progress. Only on Sunday, the team leader of the Ministerial Task Team on COVID-19 in the state, Dr Nasir Gwarzo said that all is set for the laboratory test of samples of some of the dead persons in the state in the recent times.

He explained that four medical consultants have been enlisted to organize and supervise the exercise.

“Four hospitals have been identified as the centres and four consultants, all of them – one from our side and three mobilized from within the state. The various teams are on the verge of doing the work,” he stated.

Yobe

In Yobe, the move to contain the spread of the new Coronavirus in the state started in early March. The government constituted a state Committee on COVID-19 pandemic led by the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Idi Barde Gubana. The government immediately announced restriction of entry into and out of the state. It was not long when the state recorded its index case of the disease on April 29.

Gubana had disclosed at a press breifing in Damaturu that the 29-year-old index case developed symptoms of the virus on April 23 after which he presented himself to the state General Hospital in the capital with complaints of fever, cough and sore throat.

“The patient is single and resides with his parents in Damaturu. He has no history of contact with suspected or confirmed case of Coronavirus and no history of travel to high risk states,” the deputy governor disclosed.

Death on the prowl

Few days after the state reported its first COVID-19 case, residents said that they were inundated with tragic news of deaths of scores of people in different parts of the state. Some residents described the mass deaths as strange and a mystery.

“We have not experienced such thing before,” 65-year-old Aliyu Mohammed told Sunday Sun. He dismissed the claim that it could have been caused by the heat wave and severe heat in the Northeast.

“We witnssed similar weather condition over 10 years ago and people didnt die like this. It is scary,” he said.

For some of the natives, the state may be grappling with community transmission of Coronavirus since the index case has no travel history to high risk states like Borno, about 120 kilometres away on the northern side; Bauchi, over 300 kilometres, Kano and Jigawa states as well, all with COVID-19 cases.

From the first few deaths recorded in Potiskum, Yobe commercial hub and Damaturu, the capital, the figure soared higher and rose to 471 in three weeks, according to the state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Mohammed Gana. The mass deaths were also recorded at Nguru and Gashu’a.

Gana, who is also the vice chairman of the state COVID-19 Committee, traced only three of the deaths to COVID-19.

The commissioner while analyzing the mass deaths in the state, said that 90 per cent of the 471 persons that died within three weeks did not manifest symptoms of Coronavirus.

He said that investigation showed that more than half of the deaths had “underlying chronic illnesses” including, fever, hypertension, diabetes, renal disease, maternal mortality and accident victims.

He said that the deaths did not occur together either in the same place or same time. “Geospatial map shows no clustering of mortality,” he said. He disclosed that the victims who were mostly artisans and businessmen, did not have travel history which may facilitate their contact with COVID-19 patients.

“Approximate 90 per cent had no multiple symptoms consistent with case definitions of COVID-19. Male accounts for 58.5 per cent of mortality and 96 per cent had no travel history outside the state,” he said.

He explained that 16 of the 471 deceased relatives revealed that the deceased exhibited symptoms which necessitated investigation.

Three of the 16 met case definition for COVID-19, indicating three of the 16 investigated deceased tested positive for Coronavirus.

on phone from Damaturu that his uncle died of diabetics and not Coronavirus. “My uncle has been sick for some time. His time to die has come and Allah took him,” he said. He, however, said many of the deaths may be traced to the virus.

A medical personnel working in the state hospital who preferred anonymity maintained that more than half of the deaths could be “complications triggered by Coronavirus.”

“There is a link between underlying illness and Coronavirus. The problem is that many of them didn’t come to the hospitals. They died at home from conditions raging from high fever to respiratory issue, diabetics, renal problem and others, and they were buried at home. Significantly, some of the cases could be COVID-19 related,” the health worker said.

Some of the relations of the deceased contacted declined to comment while most medical experts in the state were unwilling to say anything.

Yobe is among states in the North with few cases of Coronavirus, having 20 confirmed cases and one death, according to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) update on Tuesday. Neighbouring Adamawa State had 21; Plateau, 19; Taraba, 17; Bauchi 190; while Borno recorded 188 cases as at Tuesday.

 

Anambra PDP vows to build COVID-19 testing centre in 21 days [Sun]

…As party commits N125M to battle pandemic in state

Anambra State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP], yesterday, announced that it would build a COVID-19 testing centre in the state within 21 days as soon as the federal or state government approves a space or location for that purpose.

Chairman of the Anambra PDP Palliative Committee, Mrs Chidi Onyemelukwe, who made this closure while briefing newsmen at the party’s secretariat in Awka, the state capital, added that the party would commit a total of N125 million to assist the federal and state governments in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

It said that from the money, the party would also give the sum of N300,000 to each of the 179 communities in the state and other packages as part of their contributions to cushion the harsh economic effects arising from the COVID-19 lockdown.

Onyemelukwe, who was also the deputy governorship candidate in the 2017 governorship election in the state, said that the party was touched by the challenges confronting the less privileged ones in the state and therefore decided to reach out to them.

She said: “While we know that the federal and the Anambra State governments will, and have been doing a lot to help the people restart their lives, we in PDP Anambra deem it imperative as a party and as a people to, once again, rise up and support our people, especially the most vulnerable ones, to get back on their feet.

 

Almajiri: Why northern youths are fleeing to South [Sun]

Recently, there have been apprehensions over the claims of influx of displaced Almajirai from the northern states into states in the South despite the subsisting inter-state lockdown announced by the Federal Government.

The governments of Cross River, Lagos, Edo, Ebonyi and few other states in the South had recently raised the alarm over exodus of northern migrants into their states with the interception of vehicles bringing northerners suspected to be Almajirai into their respective states, while security operatives at state borders are getting the knocks for allegedly compromising government’s efforts to contain the spread of the Coronavirus by aiding inter-state movement of people.

The Cross River State government on Saturday, May 9, reportedly intercepted and sent back trucks carrying no fewer than 30 Almajirai at the Gakem-Benue border in Cross River.

Dr Betta Edu, chairperson, Cross River COVID-19 Taskforce, told newsmen in Calabar that the trucks were intercepted by the Commissioner for Youths and Skills Acquisitions, Mr Signor Idiege, with a team of security operatives enforcing the directive on inter-state lockdown at the border.

She said that Idiege also sent an escort to move with the trucks to ensure that they did not divert through any other route to the state. The state government had on Wednesday, May 6 intercepted and sent back five trucks with goods and suspected Almajirai at the same Gakem-Benue border.

A similar scenario played out at the border between Lagos and Ogun in the penultimate week when security operatives arrested about 60 Lagos-bound northerners, who hid in a truck conveying cows to Lagos at the Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The travellers were reportedly coming from Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, and Kano states.  Some of them were reported to have jumped down from the truck and ran away upon sighting security operatives at the border.

Similarly in Edo, police intercepted a trailer conveying 84 persons from Kaduna at Irrua along Benin-Auchi Road with another 26 suspects arrested in Benin, the state capital. Three of the travellers were said to have tested positive for COVID-19. The state government, it was gathered, ordered that they be escorted out of the state to the Southwest where they claimed they were going at the time of their arrest.

In Ebonyi State, 700 persons were said to have been arrested for entering the state illegally despite the ban on inter-state travel. The violators were being quarantined at the Pa Oruta Ngele Township Stadium in Abakaliki.

Curiously, the influx of people from the northern part of the country became more noticeable since the governors of the 19 northern states resolved to repatriate Almajirai to their states of origin. However, rather than return to their states of origin, a good number of them are bent on travelling southwards, thus fueling speculations over the motive of their choice of destination.

So many opinions have been expressed by concerned Nigerians with some adducing it to socio-political and economic reasons. Not a few are, however, of the opinion that the exodus of northerners to the South is not without a secret motive.

Chief Executive Officer, Women Connect Initiative (WCI), Hajiya Murjanatu Suleiman Shika, believes many reasons may have led to the mass migration from the North.

“Many reasons can be ascribed to why they are fleeing the North. One of them is the fact that there are more COVID-19 infections in the North now and the southern part of the country appears to be safer for them.

“These are children who are exposed to hardship and all of the safety measures, lockdown, social distancing, are affecting their survival in the North. They are now going elsewhere to look for other means of survival. The painful thing is that the North allowed the Almajiri system to get to this point. The practice is old and is injustice to the rights of children. That they are now rejected by their own in the North is something that is painful!

“They are fleeing the North because they have been rejected by their own – some of the people they worked and won election for.

“Well, this is Nigeria with porous borders and corruption. Even with the inter-state lockdown, people are still travelling; they are having their way with the situation and the Almajarai know that if others are travelling they too can,” she said.

In his contribution, Country Director, Global Peace Foundation (GPF), Rev. John Hayab, said that the whole idea of sending Almajiriai to their states of origin during this pandemic was a bad decision.

To him, what the northern governors should have done was to agree that every state government should gather Almajirai within their states in one place where they can be controlled and catered for.

“The time they will spend in that camp and during this lockdown period can be used to properly sensitize them as well as to come up with better plans on how to return them to their states of origin after the pandemic.

“Governments have built many schools for Almajirai in Northern Nigeria which they have not yet started utilising. These schools can serve a useful purpose at this period.

“Tracing the parents of some of these Almajirai may take a long time. If you send them to a place where though you say is their state of origin, but some of them had left that town when they were little children and may not know their way back home now.

“What our governors did was to expose these children to greater risk and also export the virus to many places thinking they are fighting to stop the spread of the virus. Let us stop using wrong tactics to fight wrong actions. It only complicates matters,” Hayab cautioned

President, Northern Youth Council of Nigeria, Isah Abubakar, on his part, blamed the northern state governments for failing to seriously enforce Federal Government’s directive on inter-state lockdown.

His words: “In the first place, inter-state borders are not closed as directed by the Federal Government. We understand it is just the normal attitude of our governors to lie and take credit for nothing. People travel every day. We are not serious people as a country.

“Coming back to the issue of Almajiri, it’s time we tell ourselves the truth. The Almajiri issue is the result of carelessness and attitudinal problem of not taking responsibility by a section of the northern tribe. You hardly see other tribes from the North, for example, Fulani children moving on the streets as Almajiri.

“In my opinion, states in the North should have a law that will discipline any parent who allows his child to be adopted as Almajiri in any part of the region. Parents must take responsibility for their children.

“There is no community in Nigeria that does not have Islamic scholars. Every child must stay and learn in his immediate environment. Parents found guilty of this should face the consequence of their actions.”

But a renowned Islamic scholar in Minna, Niger State, Mallam Yauza Mohammed, disagreed with the report that northerners fleeing to the southern part of the country are Almajirai.

“First of all, are we sure that those people moving in large numbers to the southern parts of the country are actually Almajiri, who I have known in my 22 years of teaching in Quranic schools.

“If the answer is yes, which I am sure it is not, who gave them transport fare? Who organized the journey for them because these are underaged children who don’t work and, therefore, have no money, they beg to eat.

“Secondly, they don’t know anywhere apart from where they have been all their lives. So, the question is this: how do they arrive at the decision about their destinations in the South? How do they know the motor parks to their destinations? If nobody can provide answers to all these questions, then I want to say that those people moving in their large numbers to the southern states are not Almajirai, but adults seeking greener pastures because of the present economic reality”, he submitted.

Meanwhile, the Zamfara State government has dismissed insinuations that Almajirai from the North, including the state are fleeing to other regions of the country despite the lockdown imposed on states.

Governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle said that the state has not expelled any Almajiri from the state. “No Almajiri has been sent out of Zamfara State, so we don’t have Almajirai fleeing our state to neighbouring state not to talk of the Southeast and other parts of the South,” he said.

Matawalle who spoke through the Director General (Media), Government House, Gusau, Alhaji Yusuf Idris Gusau, said that there are a lot of misconceptions about the Almajiri in the society.

He said though the northern governors have agreed to repatriate the Almajirai in their various domains to their respective home states where they would be properly sheltered and taken care of by their parents, Zamfara State is yet to receive or send Almajirai from the state to anywhere. According to him, his administration is working on a modality and would soon come out with its elaborate plan about the Almajirai.

Also the chairman, Zamfara State Hisbah Commission, Dr Atiku Balarebe Zawiyya, said the concept of Almajiranchi (studentship) is being misunderstood by people.

He explained that most of those people from Zamfara and other northern states going down to southern states are menial job seekers and not Almajirai.

“If an Almajiri goes to the Southeast or South-south, which tsangaya school will he attend when there are no tsangaya schools there? An Almajiri does not have any reason to go to a place where he cannot study,” he said.

Similarly, managers of tsangaya (Almajiri) schools in Gombe State have debunked news making the rounds about Almajirai fleeing to southern parts of the country.

Goni Shuaibu Danbolawa of Madaki quarters in Gombe metropolis dismissed the report as untrue. He told Sunday Sun that though there could be a number of Almajirai travelling to the South. “Even though we don’t have such thing happening in Gombe, I believe those going to the South could be travelling back to their parents who are northerners but reside in the South”.

“There was a time we had a number of Almajirai brought by their parents from Lagos to Gombe. But following the recent stance of the 19 northern governors to repatriate Almajirai to their states of origin, we have returned about 3,000 Almajirai to their states, but no one is from the South,” Danbolawa stated.

He explained that the about 3,000 Almajirai were those returned by their malamai (teachers). “That is after the about 700 officially returned by the government of Gombe.”

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