COVID-19: Madagascar demands 170,000 Euros from Fed Govt for herbal drugs [Nation]

REPUBLIC of Madagascar has asked Nigeria to pay 170,000 Euros for the quantity of its COVID-19 cure drugs sent to the Federal Government, it was learnt at the weekend.

The quantity of the consignment sent to Nigeria through Guinea Bissau could not be ascertained yesterday.

Guinea Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, who visited President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House in Abuja on Saturday, brought the drugs allocated to Nigeria by Madagascar.

President Buhari said Nigeria would take the drug through intensive test to determine its suitability.

A source on Sunday said: “For our consignments in Guinea Bissau, Madagascar has asked Nigeria to pay over €170,000 (N78, 200,000). We have received the invoice because the African country has made us to realise that the drugs are not being given out free.

“We are being asked to pay for the drugs yet to be validated. Since the AU directed the supply of the drugs to African countries, we may have no choice than to pay for it.

“This payment may, however, be one-off because mass importation of the drugs from Madagascar will not be cost effective. By the time we take into account the cost of freight, the amount will be too high.

“This is why we are looking at local options available to us as a nation.

“Some researchers have told us that we have richer herbs to contain COVID-19. In fact, a shop in Wuse 2, Abuja has been discovered to be selling Artemisia Tea with high potency than COV drugs.

“As a nation, we will leave all options open and look inwards. But, we will subject Madagascar herbal drugs to verification or validation.

“The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 is also thinking of asking the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)  and  the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD)  to relax the protocols  and hasten the validation of local drugs for COVID-19.:

The NAFDAC and NIPRD are awaiting the samples from Madagascar for validation.

A highly-placed source in NIPRD said: “We are yet to get the samples for testing and validation. We are hopeful that this week, we might receive them. Our team is on the alert.”

The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, said many researchers and practitioners have responded to its call for expression of interest for the COVID-19 related medicines.

In a statement on NAFDAC website, Adeyeye said:”The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), as at the time of this press release, has only received application from one company for a product the company is presenting (for approval) to the Agency for the treatment of the symptoms of Covid-19, and not for the cure of Covid-19 as a disease.

“Call for expression of interest for the COVID-19 related medicines was made; several researchers and practitioners have responded and are being guided to submit such medicines to NAFDAC for expedited review.  The agency continues to encourage all stakeholders to present the products of their research findings and allow these remedies go through internationally recognised process of approval through pre-clinical and where applicable, clinical trials.

“Finally, as the body with the mandate to regulate the conduct of clinical trials in the country, NAFDAC is committed to encouraging and supporting sponsors with appropriate guidance to expedite the development of effective interventions to treat or prevent COVID-19.”

 

Banks reject payment to foreign business partners [Nation]

DEPOSIT Money Banks (DMBs) are turning down payment requests from customers seeking to pay business partners abroad with naira debit cards.

Banks are asking customers paying clients abroad to do so in the currency of the beneficiary’s country, as against the previous practice where lenders debited the naira accounts of customers at the prevailing exchange rate and remitted dollar equivalent to the offshore beneficiary’s account.

It was gathered that the old practice was depleting foreign reserves and putting pressure on the naira – dollar exchange rate at a time Nigeria’s dollar earnings are on the decline due to low oil prices caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many banks are not only insisting that customers pay in the currency of the recipient’s country, but also that it must be through inflows from abroad in line with CBN’s domiciliary account policy, which directed that only electronic fund transfers into domiciliary accounts can be transferred from such accounts to third parties, while cash deposits into such accounts can only be withdrawn in cash.

GTBank Card Services Team emailed one of its customers paying for online advert placement on Facebook with her naira debit card, saying her transaction request was declined, based on a temporary restriction it placed on Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) on all banks’ cards.

It said: “Dear Valued Customer, Declined Card Transaction: DCC Restriction. Thank you for using your GTBank Naira MasterCard. Please be informed that your transaction with the details below could not be completed because you have selected the DCC payment option (Dynamic Currency Conversion) that allows you to pay in Naira, which has been temporarily restricted on all our cards. Please reattempt the transaction and select the currency of the country you are transacting in.”

The Head of Research, Afrinvest West Africa Limited, Abiodun Keripe, explained that it is the CBN that makes dollar payment for customers after their naira accounts are debited for transactions. He however said  the CBN’s ability to pay dollar on customers’ behalf is dependent on Nigeria’s available dollar reserves, which he added have been on decline even before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in December leading to drop in crude oil prices. Brent crude fell to $32.50 per barrel as at Sunday evening.

The naira like the reserves, has received serious beating in the last few months. In the foreign exchange market, the CBN spot rate traded flat last week at N361/$, while the rate at the parallel market depreciated  N10  to N455/$.  At the Investors’ & Exporters’ (I&E) Window, the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange Rate Fixing (NAFEX)  rate appreciated 94 kobo to close at N386 to the dollar. The foreign reserves stood at $35.03 billion on May 14, data from the CBN website showed.

However, activity level in the I&E Window moderated last week as total turnover declined three per cent to $163.3 million from $168.3 million recorded in the previous week.

CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele has rolled out policies to conserve foreign exchange and protect the naira. The new domiciliary account policy that sets limits on dollar transactions, restriction of importers’ access to dollars and sale of high-yielding debt to foreign portfolio investors are some of the policies.

The CBN also restricted importers of milk from accessing foreign exchange from he official window and limited the importation of milk and other dairy products to six firms- FrieslandCampina WAMCO Nigeria; Chi Limited; TG Arla Dairy Products Limited; Promasidor Nigeria Limited; Nestle Nigeria PLC (MSK only), and Integrated Dairies Limited.

Emefiele has also assured foreign investors that repatriating of their funds from the country was secured, despite forex related revenue shortages. He said the apex bank has put measures in place to ensure an orderly exit for those that might be interested in doing so and also urged investors to be patient as such repatriations are processed, owing to the bank’s policy of orderly exit of investments.

 

Lagos lists conditions to reopen businesses, worship centres [Nation]

LCCI survey: Lockdown severely hit state’s economy

THE CONDITIONS

             Register-to-Open must be filled

             Inspection of business facilities

             Visitation to religious centres to determine compliance

             Hospitality, Events, Entertainment, Malls to re-register

             LASEPA and LSSC to communicate with all businesses

             Banks to give the elderly preference between 9am and 1030am

 

LAGOS State, the nation’s commercial city, will soon be reopened for businesses and other endeavors, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, raised the hope on Sunday.

But business owners and religious centres must meet conditions set by the government.

Sanwo-Olu said pending when those conditions are met, “the status quo will remain.”

The state, which is the epicenter of the virus in the country, has been under lockdown and lately restrictions and curfew, to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

The governor spoke at the Government House in Marina during an update on the state of affairs with the management of COVID-19.

He said: “We are reviewing and considering how the phased unlocking will happen. If we see huge level of compliance, then it can happen in the next two to three weeks. If not, it could take a month or two months. It is until we are sure all of these players are ready to conform to our guidelines,” the governor said

From this week, he added, work would proceed fast towards reopening of the state’s economy adding that the government would embark on what he described as “Register to open.”

As the government is weighing the options, on the next line of action, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries, (LCCI), unveiled the report of a survey it conducted on the effect of the lockdown on the economy of the state.

The report indicates that 81per cent of businesses have been “severely affected” by the COVID-19 lockdown with a mere 17 per cent indicating moderate impact on their business.

Sanwo-Olu, who announced that the 10 Government House workers who tested positive for Coronavirus had all been discharged and back at their duty posts, further explained how the reopening process would be.

“We are at a level where we are reviewing the other arms of the economy. In the coming days, we will be starting what we call Register-to-Open, which means all players in the restaurant business, event centres, entertaiment, malls and cinemas will go through a form of re-registration and space management.

“There is a regulation that will be introduced to supervise this move. We will be coming to their facilities to assess their level of readiness for a future opening. I don’t know when that opening will happen in the weeks ahead, but we want these businesses to begin to tune themselves to the reality of COVID-19 with respect to how their work spaces need to look like.

“For us, it is not to say they should re-open fully tomorrow or any time; there has been a process guiding the re-opening. We will be mandating Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) to begin the enumeration process and the agencies will be communicating with all relevant businesses and houses in the days ahead. I must, however, caution that this should not be misinterpreted as a licence for full opening; it is certainly not. The State’s economy is not ready for that now.

“Similarly, places of worship we would be going and working with them as much as possible to see their level of preparedness ensuring that we keep as much space, in the event that we will be unlocking them in future”

Although the governor did not give specific time for the lifting of the lockdown, he however said it could be two, three weeks to one month time.

He said there would be a gradual phasing off of the lockdown because the economy of the state cannot be shut down for too long; but that “there has to be a process towards unlocking the whole place.”

Business hitherto excluded from the easing of the lockdown in the past one week, like hospitality, events, entertainment, malls etc, will re-register to open, a process that will enable the government to ascertain their level of preparedness for reopening in a few weeks.

The government, he said, will visit religious houses to determine their level of preparedness and compliance with social distancing regulation and use of facemask and other precautionary measures as the lockdown is being gradually phased out.

Sanwo-Olu said officials from the LSSCLASEPA will be visiting restaurants, companies, religious houses to assess their level of readiness.

“There is a regulation that will be introduced to supervise this move. We will be coming to their facilities to assess their level of readiness for a future opening. I don’t know when that opening will happen in the weeks ahead, but we want these businesses to begin to tune themselves to the reality of COVID-19 with respect to how their work spaces need to look like. “For us, it is not to say they should re-open fully tomorrow or any time; there has been a process guiding the re-opening.

According to him, the government had seen some encouraging levels of compliance at the open and food markets which needs to be improved upon while the contrary is the case with the yellow buses and interstate movements which he said the government would be looking into.

Sanwo-Olu said his government has approved special preference for the elderly of 60 years and above, beginning from this week, to be attended to in the banking halls, shopping malls and open shop between the hours of 9am to 10.30am before others will be allowed in to transact their businesses.

 

Buhari okays suspension of deductions from states’ cash [Nation]

Governors get one year relief to free up money for salary payment, others

THERE is reprieve for state governments following President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the suspension of deductions of loans and bailout funds from their monthly allocation.

The Coronavirus pandemic has virtually destroyed the world’s economy – draining Nigeria’s oil revenue to the bottom.

The Federation Account projected revenue has dropped by more than half, a situation that will make it impossible for states to meet up with their obligations, including payment of workers’ salaries from next month.

The Federal Government has slashed Budget 2020 as a result of the economy crunch. Many states have also downgraded their financial projections.

It was learnt that the President acceded to the request of the governors to suspend the deductions for one year. This will enable them to cope with the financial challenges posed by COVID-19.

Each state will, however, go to its lenders to renegotiate the interest rates on their credit facilities.

The Federal Government adjusted its 2020 budget benchmark from $57 to $30 per barrel.

It is further considering a realistic template of $20 per barrel.

Although N606.196billion was available as Federation Account allocation for April, the distributed Statutory Revenue of N370.411billion received for the month was lower than the N597.676 billion for the previous month by N227.265 billion.

A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “After series of talks between Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed and other relevant agencies, it was agreed that the suspension of payment of all debt obligations will serve as a breather for states and the FCT.

“Before the conclusion of negotiation, it was obvious to all stakeholders that about 15 states won’t be able to pay salaries as from the end of June. With all indices at his disposal, the President has granted our demands to suspend domestic debt servicing obligations for one year.”

The Federal Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will issue appropriate directives to financial institutions.”

A governor from the North-Central said: “This is a big relief to avert industrial crisis because it will be difficult for many states to henceforth, pay workers’ salaries.

“The fact that the resolution is taking effect from the end of May will ease the tension building up in some states. Some of our colleagues have resorted to pay cut, including payment of 70 per cent to 50 per cent salaries to workers.

“There are threats of industrial action in some states

Chairman of the NGF, Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi said: “It is true that the President has approved the suspension of these obligations for one year.”

As at December 2019, the Debt Management Office (DMO) put the domestic debts of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory at N4.106trillion.

About 10 states have accumulated biggest debt profiles of above N100 billion each.

The external and domestic debts of the 10 states collectively is about N2.74 trillion.

 

OVID 19: Buhari to address the nation today [Sun]

  • Receives report from PTF

President Muhammadu Buhari will again address the nation today following the end of the first phase of the gradual easing of the lockdown.

The National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force in COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu made this disclosure when he appeared on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics.

According to him, the President is to decide on whether or not the country should go ahead with the second phase of the easing of the lockdown.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Presidential Task Force in COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, has warned those flouting the guidelines of the relaxed lockdown, that the virus is going no where at least for the next two months.

This is even as he said the next phase of the taskforce responsibility has moved to the community level for them to take ownership, reduce transmission if the country is to flatten the curve.

He spoke after he led members of the team to submit report to President Buhari at the State House, Abuja.

Mustapha who reiterated that  COVID-19 is a marathon race and not 100 meters dash, added that no vaccine is in the horizon, saying that it will take about 18 months to two years before vaccines would be confirm for human use.

Mustapha was responding to a question on if the PTF was still worried about the response of Nigerians to the pandemic.

According to him, “That is one of the set backs that I can say. There was a poll that was conducted over the last two weeks covering all facets of segments and demography of people, 99 percent of Nigerians said they are aware of COVID-19, they have listened to publicity materials, jingles and the information that has been put out there by the ministry of information and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. But different percentages that have different perspective, some 26 percent said that they are immune, with that kind of a mindset, when someone said he is immune, it means that he will not use the face mask, he will not observe social distancing, he will not stay at home when he is supposed to stay at home. And different percentages have ascribed different levels of understanding of what COVID-19 is. But the most important thing is for us to drive home community ownership, let the community understand that there is a COVID-19 that is deadly, that can ravage their health and their wealth and the most important thing for them to do is for them to take personal responsibility in dealing with it. And how do they take responsibility? All of them should be overseers of their communities, watch out for people who have symptoms and urged them to report at the nearest health facility and get tested and if they are confirmed positive, their contacts can be traced and they will be taken into care, that is the most important thing to do.

“COVID-19 is not going to go away in the next one or two months, whoever tells you that is not being realistic. No vaccine is in the horizon, we are talking about 18 months to two years before vaccines would be confirm for human use as far as COVID-19. And unless we get there, it means is that it will remain.

“It might have cycles, after the first cycle of pandemic, they might be a relief, there can be a resurgence and that is evidenced all over the world. It has happened before as is the nature of infections. So, I believe that what we are going to do now as a taskforce is to come down to the level of having the communities take ownership of the response.”

 

FG impounds UK carrier for breach of lockdown regulation on commercial flights to Nigeria [Sun]

  • As domestic airlines prepare for June resumption

The Federal Government yesterday impounded an Embraer 135 jet belonging to Flairjet, a UK-based operator for flouting its  restriction order for commercial flights entering the country contrary to the humanitarian operations approval given to it.

The Minister of Aviation Minister, Captain Hadi Sirika, who confirmed the development on his official twitter handle said the flight crew were also being interrogated for possible maximum penalty for the offence.

“Flair Aviation, a UK company, was given approval for humanitarian operations but regrettably we caught them conducting commercial flights. This is callous! The craft is impounded, crew being interrogated. There shall be maximum penalty. Wrong time to try our resolve!” Sirika said.

Aviation sources revealed to Daily Sun that an Embraer 135 jet with registration number G-ERFX belonging to Flairjet, an airline that operates from Birmingham airport, UK, came in from Cotonou and landed in Lagos at 12.13pm on Sunday, May 17, 2020 carrying three passengers. The airline with flight number 3611 was given humanitarian/essential flight approval by the Federal Government early this month but upon landing, it was discovered that the jet was carrying out commercial operations instead of the humanitarian operations that was approved for it.

The crew was arrested and aircraft was immediately impounded and was towed to the Execujet hanger where it currently is pending the conclusion of investigation by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

The Federal Government had extended the local and international flight restrictions for four weeks in an effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic but domestic airlines are already making preparations for resumption of operations, hopeful that restrictions would be lifted in June. The corporate affairs manager of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa, said domestic carriers have been meeting with regulatory agencies and service providers on the modalities for flight resumptions and the need to avert a total collapse of the industry as they await further directive from the Ministry of Aviation.

He said: “The regulators have spelt out the guidelines. We will follow same and resume when directed. There are ongoing meetings, discussions on the need to avert a total collapse of the industry and the dangers of continued restriction on flights. Even as IATA confirmed that based on evidence, the possibility of contracting COVID-19 in-flight is very low. All of that is going on and hopefully we would have a date when these discussions are concluded.

“We are preparing seriously. Our engineers and maintenance team have been working for the past two months to keep our aircraft in shape so even if asked to resume tomorrow we are fine and our guests are safe.  Like I said earlier, we are ready, but we await further directive as a law abiding corporate entity.”

On May 7, 2020, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) directed all airlines operators in the country to notify it of their intentions to resume operations and also make themselves available for a Post Covid-19 restart plan assessment. The agency noted that airlines will only be granted approval to resume operations if they have satisfactorily passed the Post Covid-19 Assessment.

This development was contained in a circular on Post COVID-19 Lockdown Restart Plan Guidelines signed by the NCAA Director General, Captain Musa Nuhu and addressed to airline operators in the country.

According to the circular, ‘’all AOC Holders are required to review, demonstrate and or submit evidence of compliance with the provisions of Advisory Circular NCAA-AC-FSG-001 and its associated appendices before resumption of flight operations.

 

Lagos considers lifting ban on churches, mosques, hotels, total economy re-opening [Sun]

  • Assesses readiness of those involved

Lagos residents will soon heave a sigh of relieve as the state government is considering re-opening of the critical sectors of the state’s economy.

The state Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who disclosed this yesterday hinted that religious activities may be re-opened. He however, said the decision would not be taken hurriedly.

He explained that in the coming days, his government would be rolling out Register-to-Open initiative as part of the plans that would enable it assess the level of readiness of the players in the identified sectors for supervised operations.

Saw o-Olu spoke at a briefing after the State’s Security Council meeting held at the State House in Marina.

Sanwo-Olu said officials from the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) will be visiting restaurants, companies, religious houses to assess their level of readiness.

With the size of the State’s economy and numbers of businesses that operate in its domain, the Governor said the Government could not afford to keep people and businesses on lockdown permanently.

He said: “We are at a level where we are reviewing the other arms of the economy. In the coming days, we will be starting what we call Register-to-Open, which means all players in the restaurant business, event centres, entertaiment, malls and cinemas will go through a form of re-registration and space management.

“There is a regulation that will be introduced to supervise this move. We will be coming to their facilities to assess their level of readiness for a future opening. I don’t know when that opening will happen in the weeks ahead, but we want these businesses to begin to tune themselves to the reality of COVID-19 with respect to how their work spaces need to look like.

“For us, it is not to say they should re-open fully tomorrow or any time; there has be a process guiding the re-opening. We will be mandating LASEPA and Safety Commission to begin the enumeration process and the agencies will be communicating with all relevant businesses and houses in the days ahead. I must, however, caution that this should not be misinterpreted as a licence for full opening; it is certainly not. The State’s economy is not ready for that now.”

Sanwo-Olu said the Government agencies also would be visiting places of worship to evaluate their level of preparedness ahead of full reopening. He stressed that social distancing and hygiene would be fully considered in determining whether mosques and churches can re-open in the future.

“We are reviewing and considering how the phased unlocking will happen. If we see huge level of compliance, then it can happen in the next two to three weeks. If not, it could take a month or two months. It is until we are sure all of these players are ready to conform to our guidelines,” the Governor asserted.

Sanwo-Olu urged businesses, religious houses and residents to maintain the status quo while the State works out modalities for full re-opening.

The Governor disclosed that all the 10 staff of the Government House who tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) have fully recovered and returned to their beats. He said the disclosure was necessary to further promote transparency in the reporting and management of coronavirus cases by the State Government.

Sanwo-Olu enjoined banks and markets to strictly enforce orderliness in their premises. He directed that elderly people must be given the priority to transact their businesses in bank and markets between 9am and 10:30am, after which other younger customers should be allowed to transact.

Lagos residents, the Governor charged, must not take the easing of lockdown for granted, saying everyone residing in the State must collectively.

 

Police lament absence of COVID-19 job allowance, face masks, others [Punch]

Policemen deployed in the enforcement of the ban on interstate movements and other COVID-19-related assignments have cried out over non-provision of a special allowance and face masks for them.

The policemen, who spoke to The PUNCH on Sunday on condition of anonymity because of the nature of their job, said since their deployment in state boundaries and intrastate patrol duties, no mention had been made of a special allowance despite the fact that they were at the risk of contracting  COVID-19.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in his first broadcast on COVID-19 pandemic on March 29, ordered  a lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun states.

Although the  enforcement of the lockdown is being carried out by all security agencies, the police, who are mainly responsible for  the internal security of the country, have been deployed in all parts of the country to ensure compliance with the presidential order.

But some policemen have  fallen victim of the deadly virus. For example, a deputy commissioner of police attached to the Zone 5 headquarters in Benin, Francis Bissong, died of COVID-19 on April 21.

On May 10, the Public Relations Officer of the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Olusegun Orisajo, said a policeman died of COVID-19 complications at the FMC.

In Edo State, police officers, who were manning the state boundaries, told The PUNCH that they had yet to get a special allowance despite the fact that they could easily be infected with the virus because they mingled with people when enforcing government’s order.

Some of them stated that they bought face masks to protect themselves from being infected with COVID-19.

A top police officer in the state, who confided in The PUNCH, stated, “Actually, we don’t have any form of protection. Doctors on duty have their own protection, but not our men. We have some face masks and hand gloves we made ourselves and others donated by one organisation. That’s all. But for the general insurance, there is no insurance or a special pay package like the one provided by the ministry of health for health personnel.

“We  have our men who send those coming into the state back. Some of the people our men mingle with are already infected with COVID-19.”

In the Federal Capital Territory, The PUNCH gathered that face masks had not been provided for police personnel enforcing the interstate travel ban and the  curfew in the FCT,  despite the risks and exposure they faced daily in the course of interacting with members of the public.

It was also learnt  that the men had not been paid any allowance for COVID-19 lockdown  and curfew enforcement duties.

It was gathered  that only a few senior officers were given  face masks while the rank and file bought theirs.

On Sunday, it was observed that the majority of the policemen did not wear masks even as they enforced the directives on use of face masks in public by residents.

Some of them told one of our correspondents that they had to buy the masks with their own money, noting that no personal protection equipment was provided by the authorities.

A sergeant stated, “We had to buy the face masks because the command did not provide for us. We expected the command or government to provide face masks, gloves, hand sanitiser for security operatives as we face the risk of contracting coronavirus daily.”

The FCT police spokesman, Anjuguri Manzah, did not respond to calls and the SMS requesting comments on the failure of the command to issue the PPE to the police personnel.

It was, however, gathered that the force headquarters had shared face masks for officers in various departments but the number of masks provided was insufficient and many rank and file did not receive them.

One of our correspondents, however, gathered that the force headquarters had reached out to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19  on the need to provide the PPE and special allowances for policemen.

The Director of Information in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Willie Bassey, did not respond to inquiries sent to him on Sunday.

He was asked to explain what the PTF was doing to address the complaint by the policemen that they had not received any special allowance and the PPE.

In Enugu State, The PUNCH also learnt that  policemen and women enforcing interstate lockdown had not received any special allowance and the PPE.

Other security agents like the men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, it was gathered, had not been given an allowance and the PPE.

A senior police officer, who did not want his name mentioned, told one of our correspondents that they had not received any special allowance since the enforcement of the interstate ban started.

The NSCDC State Public Relations Officer, Manuel Iwuchukwu, confirmed that no special allowance was provided for the agency’s personnel  on lockdown enforcement operations in the state.

He said “There is no any kind of allowance because of the pandemic.In my command, Enugu State,  the  management provided hand sanitisers, buckets and soap, but no special allowance.”

Efforts to get the reaction of the state Police Command failed as neither the Commissioner, Ahmad Abdurrahma nor the Public Relations Officer, Daniel Ndukwe, answered  calls and replied text messages sent to their mobile phones.

In Ogun State,  policemen and women, who spoke to  The PUNCH on anonymity, lamented that unlike other professionals involved in the war against COVID-19, they had not been given any special allowance and face masks.

They also complained that most of them had no personal   vehicles and that they  were always stranded when going back home after  finishing  their work.

But  the  state police command said it  was expecting funds from the police  headquarters for a special allowance for its men on COVID-19 duties.

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Abimbola Oyeyemi, stated this in an interview with The PUNCH.

We are expecting special allowance from police high command – Ogun PPRO

When asked if there was a provision for any special allowance for police officers on COVID-19 duties, Oyeyemi said “I cannot say we  have been totally forgotten.  If there is going to be, the police high command will make it known to us. We are expecting.”

The PPRO, however, said  the command had received some palliatives from the state government and some prominent politicians including a former governor of the state, Ibikunle Amosun .

But the Ondo State Police Command said  it had done what was expected of it  in terms of welfare of its officers and men  on COVID-19 duties.

The command Public Relations Officer, Mr Tee-Leo Ikoro, said, “Every policeman  posted for COVID-19 assignments  is being given every necessary thing to work with.  We have provided for every one of them.”

In Rivers, the state police command said that policemen manning the borders were always supplied with face masks, insisting that none of its men could honestly say that he was not given a face mask to protect himself from COVID-19.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni, explained that more face masks would be distributed to the men at the borders.

On the complaint about a special allowance, Omoni stated that the command would not be able to comment on that and referred The PUNCH to the Force Public Relations Officer in Abuja.

Nigerians await Buhari as first phase of gradual reopening of economy ends today

Meanwhile, as the first phase of the eased lockdown as directed by the Federal Government ends on Monday (today),  Nigerians expect the President to make a pronouncement.

Buhari has been addressing Nigerians on efforts by the government to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

He had, on March 30, ordered a total lockdown for an initial period of 14 days in Lagos and Ogun states as well as the FCT.

Two weeks after, he ordered  a  14-day extension which ended at 11.59 pm on April 27.

The President, on April 27, announced a “phased and gradual easing” of the lockdown, while declaring a nationwide curfew with effect from May 4.

On the three instances, Buhari made the positions of government known during nationwide broadcasts.

The Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, had, on May 4, said Buhari could restore the lockdown if the guidelines for gradual reopening of the economy were not observed and there was a surge in coronavirus cases.

PTF submits proposals to Buhari, says Nigeria  in a marathon

The President and members of the PTF held a meeting on Sunday, preparatory to Monday’s (today) announcement of the next phase of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Chairman of the committee and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, led members to the meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Recall that on April 27, Buhari had in a nationwide broadcast, announced the phased easing of the lockdown of the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states effective from May 4.

After the completion of two weeks, the President is expected to speak on the next phase today.

Speaking to reporters after Sunday’s meeting, Mustapha said the committee came to submit proposals to Buhari on the next phase of the lockdown.

He explained that the proposals would help him to take a decision on the next step forward.

Mustapha said, “We have supplied him with all the materials that are required to enable him to look at the issues…

“We are in for a long haul. This is a marathon and not a short-distance race, and we have to keep everything in perspective…

“Tomorrow, we should expect new processes to be put in place. That’s  why we had to give him all the materials that will help us to prepare for the future.”

Mustapha declined to give specifics of what the committee proposed to Buhari, as he insisted that they were meant for Buhari to take a decision.

Asked what was Buhari’s response, the SGF replied that the President “expressed satisfaction” over the measures so far put in place and the efforts of agencies such as the NCDC.

However, Mustapha admitted that a major concern was the failure of many  Nigerians to comply with COVID – 19 safety regulations, adding that some even believed that they had immunity against the infection.

He disclosed that while a recent survey indicated that “99 per cent of Nigerians were aware of COVID-19, there were those in many “percentages”, who did not believe that they could be infected.

Mustapha said the next target was how to contain community spread by making sure that communities took control of the prevention processes.

The SGF stated, “The proposals we brought to Mr President today, looking at them holistically, will prepare us for the future…

“We want the communities to take ownership of the response to COVID-19. That is what we really want to do now because we have got to the stage of community transmission.”

Buhari had on May 4, relaxed the lockdown and replaced it with a ban on interstate movements and the imposition of an 8pm to 6am curfew across the country.

Civil servants at grade level 14 and above have also resumed work to go to office on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the week.

 

FIRS chair ignores Buhari’s directive, retires nine directors [Punch]

The Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Muhammad Nami, has been accused of unlawful retirement of nine directors of the agency to pave the way for his allies.

Our correspondent was told that Nami relied on an old civil service rule, which had been suspended to remove the directors.

The PUNCH gathered that the government of late President Umaru Yar’Adua had instituted a civil service rule which made it compulsory for directors to retire after serving for eight years.

However, the regime of the President, Maj. Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd), rescinded that directive.

According to new regulations, civil servants are to leave service after attaining the retirement age of 60 or spending 35 years in service.

A circular was said to have been issued to indicate the suspension of the earlier order.

A copy of the document, obtained by our correspondent and dated June 20, 2016, was also addressed to the FIRS.

“With reference to letter No. SH/COS/100/A/1462 dated June 17, 2016, I write to convey Mr. President’s directive that the tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service is suspended with immediate effect. This notice is for the attention of all concerned for compliance,” the letter, signed by a former Head of Service, Mrs Winifred Oyo-Ita, said.

The new regulation was reportedly upheld by the former Chairman of the FIRS, Mr Babatunde Fowler, as no director was retired as long as they had not crossed the retirement benchmark.

However, after Nami assumed office in November 2019, he was said to have instructed that directors who had served for eight years be retired.

Nine directors received retirement letters in March 2020.

A copy of the letter, signed by Nami read in part, “The board of the Federal Inland Revenue Service at its emergency meeting No.2 held on March, 20, 2020, approved the retirement of all directors who have served eight years and above as directors in the service in line with Para 10: 1(a)(iii) of HRPP. Accordingly, you are hereby notified of your compulsory retirement from the service with immediate effect.”

The affected directors were Victor Ekundayo (Career and Skills Development); Mrs Kemi Odusanya (Facility); Emmanuel Obeta (Chairman’s Office); Chiaka Okoye (Programme Office Non-Tax); Mr Kola Okunola (ICT); Dr Asheik Maidugu (Planning and Statistics); Mr Innocent Ohagwa (Human Capital Development); Mr Ezra Zubair (Programmes and Policy Monitoring) and Mr Olufemi Faniyi (Team Lead Tax Operations Group).

A few days later, the FIRS chairman issued another memo to announce the appointment of new directors and a special assistant.

The new appointees included Director, Finance and Accounts, Ahmed Musa; Special Assistant Technical to the Executive Chairman, Mustapha Ndajumo; Director, Internal Affairs and Efficiency, Ahmed Ndannusa; Director, Communication and Liaison Department, Abdulahi Ismaila; and Acting Director, Executive Chairman’s Office, Aisha Mohammed.

Aside from the new appointees not being members of staff of the FIRS, they were reported to be Nupes, the same ethnic group with the Niger-State born Nami.

The PUNCH observed that Paragraph 10:1(a)(iii) of the FIRS Human Resources Policies and Processes (HRPP) on which the retirement decision was based stated that directors who had attained eight years in the position should be retired.

However, Paragraph 1.8.1 of the HRPP said whatever was written in the book was subject to the amendment of extant circulars.

“All extant circulars, directives, notices, orders and other documents amending, giving further details and/or explanation to the provisions of this policy document hereto shall form an integral part of the HRPP and shall be binding,” it added.

One of the retired directors alleged that the chairman had a plan hence his decision not to comply with the government circular which had already suspended the paragraph 10.

“Without taking recognition of the circular, the chairman just asked all the nine directors to retire. He quoted Paragraph 10, but ignored the Paragraph 1,” he added.

Our correspondent learnt that there was disquiet among some of the senior staff members who were sidelined for the contract staff.

The PUNCH was told that the HRPP forbade appointment of contract workers where the available slots could be filled by experienced workers in the system.

Paragraph 2.22 of the rule stated that contract appointment should only be made “where the required skills and competence are not available within the service.”

Another retired director claimed that there were 750 chartered accountants in the FIRS.

“You are bringing in a contract worker as an internal auditor, when there are a lot of qualified people in the system? You are bringing somebody from outside as the director of finance and account, when there are many chartered accountants? You are bringing in people as directors of communication and chairman’s office, when there are people with the skills.

“The danger is that you are the executive chairman and you brought in your friends to man critical positions. You want to control the entire financial transactions of the organisation. They will take direct instruction from you without questions. They could collude with you to defraud the organisation. Where is transparency, accountability, integrity in these appointments?” he queried.

A retired director said the appointments also negated the federal character policy.

“He appointed four directors as contract staff; no advertisement of the positions, nothing. No other ethnic group was represented in violation of the federal character policy. They are all his allies,” he added.

The directors lamented that they were retired “unceremoniously and illegally” despite having several years before attaining 35 years in service.

They demanded that the FIRS chairman acknowledge his wrongs and remedy the situation.

The FIRS, however, said its actions were not in defiance of the presidential directives suspending tenure policy in the Federal Civil Service.

The Director of Communications and Liaison Department, Abdullahi Ismaila, in a statement, said the government parastatal acted within its powers.

He said, “The FIRS is not part of the civil service, but part of public service. The FIRS, Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, are part of public service, not civil service. This informs, for instance, NNPC, CAC, whenever there is a leadership change, most of the senior officers are usually retired to pave way for their subordinates because they have separate boards to authorise such actions.

“The FIRS is governed under the FIRS Establishment Act 2007, which has given it autonomy to hire and fire without recourse to Civil Service Rules, but to its own rule and therefore not part of civil service.”

Ismaila said the FIRS was only accountable to its board, adding that the retirement of the directors was approved by the board.

He noted that the board was also kind enough not to recover the salaries and allowances earned by directors who had spent above the legal eight years.

According to him, the FIRS will only be bound by the Public Services Rule for any matter not covered by the FIRS Human Resource Policies and Processes.

“The retirement of the directors by the FIRS board is in accordance with the HRPP and in public interest and to create vacancies for the existing staff of the service who have remained stagnated,” he added.

On the appointment of the new directors and special assistants, Ismaila said due process was followed, adding that they were contract officers engaged for two years to carry out specific assignments.

“The four directors are employed on contract basis in line with Section 2.22 of the FIRS HRPP and approved by the FIRS board.

Ismaila, however, declined comment on the ethnic group of the new appointees and did not respond to enquiry on it.

A former director said the FIRS was a Federal Government parastatal and circulars by the government remained binding on it, hence Eyo-Ita’s decision to copy the FIRS in the 2016 memo.

The Director of Communications, Head of Service, Mrs Olawunmi Ogunmosule, said she had not joined the unit when the memo was issued.

According to her, whenever ministries, departments and agencies are copied in memos, it means the document is for their “information or action.”

She referred our correspondent to the overseeing ministry.

The Director of Information, Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mr Hassan Dodo, asked our correspondent to write a letter and bring it to his office in Abuja.

“I hope to see the permanent secretary with the questions. At his discretion, he either answers them or he refers the questions to a director to do that,” he wrote in a text message.

 

LASG gives conditions to reopen churches, mosques, others [Punch]

The Governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has said government officials will be visiting churches, mosques, companies to evaluate their preparedness to fully reopen.

According to him, social distancing and hygiene will be prerequisites to reopening religious places of worship in the state.

Sanwo-Olu stated these at a briefing on Sunday after the State Security Council meeting at the Lagos House, Marina.

He noted that with the size of the state’s economy and numbers of businesses operating in its domain, the government could not afford to keep people and businesses on lockdown permanently.

The governor said in the coming days, officials from the Lagos State Safety Commission and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency would be assessing the readiness of the players in identified sectors for supervised operations.

He said, “We are at a level where we are reviewing the other arms of the economy. In the coming days, we will be starting what we call Register-to-Open, which means all players in the restaurant business, event centres, entertainment, malls and cinemas, will go through a form of re-registration and space management.

“There is a regulation that will be introduced to supervise this move. We will be coming to their facilities to assess their level of readiness for a future opening. I don’t know when that opening will happen in the weeks ahead, but we want these businesses to begin to tune themselves to the reality of COVID-19 with respect to how their work spaces need to look like.

“For us, it is not to say they should re-open fully tomorrow or any time; there has been a process guiding the re-opening.

“We will be mandating LASEPA and safety commission to begin the enumeration process and the agencies will be communicating with all relevant businesses and houses in the days ahead. I must, however, caution that this should not be misinterpreted as a licence for full opening; it is certainly not. The state’s economy is not ready for that now.”

Sanwo-Olu said the government agencies would also be visiting places of worship ahead of full reopening.

He stressed that social distancing and hygiene would be fully considered in determining whether mosques and churches could re-open.

“We are reviewing and considering how the phased unlocking will happen. If we see huge level of compliance, then it can happen in the next two to three weeks. If not, it could take a month or two months. It is until we are sure all these players are ready to conform to our guidelines,” the governor said.

Sanwo-Olu urged businesses, religious houses and residents to maintain the status quo, while the state worked out modalities for full re-opening.

He also disclosed that all the 10 members of staff of the Government House who tested positive for the coronavirus had fully recovered and returned to their beats.

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