FG asks churches, mosques, others to submit guidelines for reopening [Punch]

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire,  on Thursday, said COVID-19 patients, who spent a long period at isolation centres were at the risk of depression.

Ehanire, who stated this in Abuja at the press conference of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said the government planned to deploy psychologists in isolation centres to take care of such patients.

At the press conference, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu,  said the task force was reluctant to adopt home treatment it once proposed because of conditions under which Nigerians live.

He also asked professional groups and faith-based organisations, including churches and mosques, to submit guidelines for reopening to the NCDC to review and advise.

But explaining effects of long treatment on some patients, the health minister stated, “On the mental health issue of those in isolation, who have stayed a little bit longer, some people do get a little bit of mental depression. This mental health issue is under consideration. It (a policy) is also being developed in states to have  psychologists  create things to engage those in isolation.”

He also said  the  Federal Government had intervened in the  sit-at-home protest embarked upon on Wednesday by the Lagos State chapter of the Nigerian Medical Association, following harassments  by the  police, who were enforcing a nationwide  curfew imposed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)

The minister stated, “With regard to the  industrial action by doctors in Lagos, I spoke with the NMA Chairman of the Lagos Chapter on Wednesday to dissuade the doctors from the planned sit-at-home protest in the state, and I listened to their complaints too on harassment at security checkpoints.”

The health minister said the Federal Government’s team sent to Cross River State on  Monday had returned and its report stated that there was no confirmed case yet in the state.

Besides Cross River State, Kogi State has not recorded any COVID-19 case, but the NCDC  officials, who were sent to the North-Central state went back to Abuja without accomplishing their mission following the insistence of the state government that they must be in isolation for 14 days.

On Thursday, the minister  noted that an analysis of the 200 COVID-19 deaths recorded so far in the country revealed a 70-30 per cent ratio for males and females.

Ehanire said, “A finding from our analysis of deaths shows the ratio is 70 to 30 for men and women respectively. About 70 per cent were over 60 years of age, while the majority of positive cases were between 29 and 49 years of age, being the most outgoing segment of any society. I also advise all who have taken the test and are awaiting result to self-isolate at home, wear face masks and observe hand and respiratory hygiene until the result is out.

“The fact-finding team to Calabar is back to Abuja with a report. We have identified areas in need of an upgrade to include laboratory facilities. No case of COVID-19 was reported by the state as of May 20. Also, 16 suspected cases have been tested, with all being negative.”

Don’t disobey 14-day compulsory quarantine agreement, minister warns returnees

He said Nigerians who were being evacuated from other countries should not disobey the 14-day compulsory quarantine agreement they signed as a condition for their evacuation.

He said, “On the issue of evacuees, there are issues with compliance. Although part of the conversation we have had with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that those who are leaving the foreign countries must understand that they are going to be in quarantine for 14 days.

“It is a requirement for the country and it is something they signed for. It is part of the agreement.”

The PTF Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, at the press briefing, advised state governments to ensure restriction of movements between local government areas except for healthcare.

Nigerians purchasing  chloroquine in large quantities, PTF says

The PTF chairman  also  raised the alarm that the government had received  reports of abuse and misuse of chloroquine as a  cure for  coronavirus.

He said, “Through the surveillance system set up by the PTF, we have received reports that Nigerians have been purchasing hydrxoychloroquine in large quantities.

“We wish to reiterate that this drug has not been certified for use in treating COVID-19 in Nigeria by the relevant health and pharmaceutical authorities. Self-medication of any kind is fraught with the danger of increasing risks of avoidable casualties.

“We, therefore strongly warn against self-medication. If you are sick, please seek medical advice and if you are confirmed positive, kindly self-isolate in an approved facility. The COVID-19 is highly infectious and dangerous.”

Calls for caution during Eidel-Fitri celebration

Mustapha urged Nigerians to be cautious during the celebration of the Eidel-Fitri in order to avoid the spread of the virus.

He said, “The foregoing admonition becomes critical as we prepare for celebrations at the end of the month of Ramadan.

“It is the prayer of the PTF that we shall all celebrate this Sallah and many more in good health and beseech the Almighty to accept our supplication and look upon our nation and the world, with mercy.

PTF cautions police, security agencies against harassing journalists, doctors

The SGF also cautioned the police and other security agencies against harassing  journalists, health workers and other essential workers.

He expressed concerns that they were still being daily harassed despite clear guidelines issued on essential workers.

He said, “For the avoidance of doubt, essential workers, including our indefatigable medical personnel, diligent journalists, courageous fire service personnel, telecommunications workers, are all exempted.

“The Inspector General of Police has further clarified the categories of essential workers in alignment with the guidelines and has issued instructions to security agents to work on the approved exemptions.

“With this clarification, we sincerely hope that the persistent complaints of harassment by these categories of essential workers, especially medical personnel and journalists would be put to rest so that we can harmoniously work in battling this pandemic.

“The PTF COVID-19 urges all essential workers to go about their legitimate duties carrying with them valid means of identification and to exercise courtesy in approaching security personnel.”

The National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, urged states to create mobile courts for the prosecution of offenders of the protocols and to enforce restriction of interstates  movement.

He said, “People may go out to buy necessary food and for exercise. Movement between local government areas is strongly discouraged unless for critical reasons such as healthcare.”

According to him, interstates movements remain banned except for essential services while schools, bars, pubs, clubs remain closed until further notice.

Aliyu asked banks and offices to prepare for life after post COVID-19.

He added, “For banks and other financial institutions as well as offices, now is the opportunity to start adjusting to a new  life post- COVID-19 as we lift restrictions over the next two weeks.”

He asked them to maintain physical distancing, provide hand washing facilities and to ensure staff working in the office were not more than 50 per cent.

The House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on COVID-19  at the press conference  urged loyalists of the President, the  National Assembly members, governors and chairmen of local government areas to obey rules on COVID-19.

The Chairman of the committee, Mr Haruna Mshelia, noted that the majority of those infected with coronavirus  were asymptomatic.

The lawmaker referred to the comments earlier made by the NCDC boss and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, about preventive measures.

Transporters send COVID-19 guidelines to PTF

On his part, the NCDC boss said the centre had received a draft of guidelines by the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association to reopen interstate transportation while preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

He urged other organisations and communities to come up with similar guidelines to expedite the process of safely reopening the economy.

Ihekweazu said, “I was happy yesterday to receive a new set of draft guidelines by the Public Transport Owners of Nigeria Association. Those are people that manage the long distance buses that travel across the country, what we call ‘luxury’ buses.

“They had drafted their own guidelines for reopening safely and sent it to us for review and to advise them on the measures they are now recommending on how to manage their loading centres, buses and engagements with their customers at the point when we may allow them to reopen.

NCDC asks churches, mosques, others to submit guidelines for reopening

“This is what we’ve been advising every society, organisation, community, be it faith-based, cultural based, professionally based, to come up with guidelines for themselves. We are happy to advise and engage, but this needs to be led and owned by the leaders of those organisations.”

The NCDC DG added that every stakeholder in society needed to take responsibility of the part it owned and managed.

On testing in the country, he said the Federal Government would deploy 17 Gene Xpert machines next week.

The device, which is one of the most widely-used tuberculosis diagnostic tools in the world, has been deployed in some countries for conducting rapid COVID-19 tests.

Ihekweazu said, “We have about 400 Gene Xpert machines across the country. Not all of them are appropriate for COVID. We need those that have a safety cabinet where they are located. We also need those that are functional. Some of them have been around for quite a while.

“We have to prioritise, so we continue to do this. Seventeen of them are immediately ready for deployment in the first phase, which will start next week. I’m happy to announce that our first set of Gene Xpert cartridges will arrive in Nigeria on May 25.”

He added that there were criteria for deciding which state would get the machines first.

According to him, the primary recipients will be states without any laboratory at all, followed by states with high numbers of cases.

On the criteria for discharge of COVID-19 patients, Ihekweazu stated that the policy had been reviewed from two negative tests to one.

The NCDC DG also addressed concerns that the agency’s national database on COVID-19 cases and deaths did not reflect the mysterious deaths in Kano State, which are still under investigation.

Last month, hundreds were said to have died in strange circumstances within two weeks.

Ihekweazu said, “In terms of adding the deaths in Kano to our national database, our national database, at the moment, is based on biologically confirmed cases, that is, cases confirmed on PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

“Once the results of the Kano study are completely verified, we will note them but we will not include them in our database because of the difference in methods in estimating the number of people infected and have died in that particular context.”

He also advised Nigerians to accept the fact that COVID-19 is real.

He said, “An issue that has led to a bit of conversation and consternation in some places are visuals of people in treatment centres in relative comfort, and the anxiety that has led to discussions, comparing those images to the images we also see on TV of very severe cases in different parts of the world.

“This is an imagery we don’t want to see in Nigeria, but if we have to, we will deal with it. It’s always important to remind people of the full spectrum of clinical presentation we see with this new virus.

“We see a new disease that, in 80 per cent of cases, people are mildly or completely asymptomatic, i.e. they don’t have any symptoms at all. Under normal circumstances, there won’t be any reason for these people to be in hospitals and isolated.”

While explaining that isolation was to prevent transmission to others, the NCDC boss noted that many countries carried out a similar policy when the outbreak first started.

He stated, “They treated all the severe cases in hospitals and isolated every single person that was infected in temporary isolation centres, some of which you saw being built in two weeks.

“In other countries in the world, in Germany, Western Europe, the US, they’ve made a decision to treat all asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people at home. That’s a decision they have made in that context.

We are reluctant to adopt home treatment, says FG

Ihekweazu explained  why  the PTF could not go ahead with home treatment of COVID-19 patients it once proposed,

He said, “We have struggled with these decisions in Nigeria because we are struggling with the realities of where we live and the contexts that we live in. We want to prevent transmission, therefore we want to institutionalise the treatment of everyone,

“We recognise that the circumstances that many Nigerians live in make home isolation difficult and, sometimes, an impossible option for many people who live in very tight accommodation in family groups and communities.”

Lagos  releases  COVID-19 home treatment guidelines next week

But while the Federal Government said it was reluctant to adopt home treatment, the Lagos State Government on Thursday promised to release the parameters for home treatment of coronavirus cases next week.

The state Commissioner for Health, Professor Akin Abayomi, said the development became necessary because many residents who tested positive for the COVID-19 refused to go to the state isolation centres.

He spoke while fielding questions from journalists during a press briefing at the Lagos House, Alausa.

The commissioner said the state isolation centres were filled to 60 per cent capacity, adding that the facilities had yet to fill up because as the government admitted patients, it also discharged others.

Some positive patients cannot be found – Lagos commissioner

He, however, noted that another reason the facilities were not filled was because some positive cases could not be found.

Abayomi, who blamed this on stigmatisation, wondered why coronavirus patients were discriminated against in society.

The health boss compared COVID-19 to malaria, cold and flu, saying there was no reason for stigmatisation.

He stated, “So, there are people who are already practising self-isolation on their own, because we can’t find them, and the numbers they give us maybe they are false numbers. When we go to visit them in their homes, they had absconded from their residences. They are isolating themselves in different places.

“In effect, the concept of home isolation is being practised by many Nigerians even though it is not a national policy, but the people of Lagos are practising home isolation, which is one of the reasons as a government we are trying to transit to home care because it is happening anyway. So, we might as well regularise it and make it an official option for some people who are mild or asymptomatic to isolate themselves at home.

“We are spending a lot of time working around parameters of what home isolation will look like. In another week or so, we will give definitive parameters on how the state will integrate home care with our isolation strategy.”

He explained that due to the global scarcity of reagents, the government contacted local scientists to produce alternatives.

Abayomi said two of the three reagents needed for COVID-19 tests had been manufactured locally, thereby reducing the pressure to import the product. He added that efforts were on for the local production of the third reagent.

LASG spends N720m to test 16,000 patients

The commissioner explained that as of now, it cost the government between N40,000 to N50,000 to conduct a COVID-19 test, saying 16,000 tests had been done so far.

At an average cost of N45,000 per test, it meant Lagos had spent N720m on coronavirus tests.

Abayomi noted that the state government in a week planned to ramp up testing from 800 to 1,000 per day.

He said, “Well for now, the government is providing testing free of charge. And the government pays about N40,000 to N50,000 per test. But as we ramp up our testing, we will have to use some means of subsidising those tests either through insurance or some contributions from donors or developmental partners to help us subsiside the tests.”

The health commissioner said the country was at the stage of active community spread and appealed to those who had the infection to go public with their results.

He said sooner or later, most residents would catch the virus.

“This issue of stigma is what we must get rid of. If you have COVID, tell people you have it. COVID catches everybody. There is nobody that is immune to it. Stop hiding,” he added.

The health commissioner maintained that the state was on course to register up to 90,000 confirmed cases by the end of July.

 

Stop acting like Obaseki’s mouthpiece, Oshiomhole’s loyalists tell Oyegun [Punch]

Loyalists of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, in the Edo State chapter of the party, have urged Chief John Odigie-Oyegun to stop acting like the mouthpiece of the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki.

The advice was contained in a statement signed by the spokesperson for the group, Chris Azebamwan, on Thursday.

Odigie-Oyegun, who is the immediate past national chairman of the APC, had while charging the party to hold credible primaries in both Edo and Ondo states, also expressed delight that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, (retd.), had endorsed a gentlemen’s agreement to allow Obaseki and his Ondo State counterpart, Rotimi Akerodolu, enjoy the right of first refusal.

Odigie-Oyegun said, “I also welcome most warmly the news that Mr President has firmly endorsed the agreement reached to settle the disruptive leadership crisis at the national level that was threatening the very existence of the APC.

“The immediately relevant part of the agreement was that both  governors – Mr Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of Edo State and Mr Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN of Ondo State, have performed creditably and should be returned unless they do not so wish.

“This means that the party, in unity, should organise to support the return of both governors.”

He further said among other things that “the nature of the primary election in Edo State will determine the shape and survival of the APC as a political party.

“It will show Nigerians, and indeed the world whether the APC is a party of truth, change and progress driven by the principles of fairness, social justice and equity, or if it has become a party that believes and promotes business as usual.”

The former APC national chairman warned of a possible “political consequences” should fairness and justice be jettisoned in the handling of the primaries.

However, in response, Oshiomhole’s loyalists dismissed the former national chairman’s claims that an agreement had been reached to grant automatic tickets to the two incumbent governors.

The group said it was not in its character to take “an elder to task’’ especially an elder who recently turned 80 and paraded several credentials including being a former federal super -permanent secretary and national chairman of a major political party.

It also said it was at a loss “to understand why Chief Odigie-Oyegun would make utterances that portray  him as a mouthpiece or hireling of Godwin Obaseki.”

While assuring that the forthcoming primaries in Edo State would be credible because it would not serve anyone’s interest to compromise the process, “and in so doing, give room for the courts to intervene and upturn the results.”

The group stressed that the leadership of the APC was determined to conduct credible primaries.

It challenged the former Edo State governor to name those he claimed were contriving a crisis in the state.

Azebamwan said, “The more worrisome part of Pa Odigie-Oyegun’s outburst is his claim that as part of the reconciliation process, an automatic ticket was promised Godwin Obaseki.

“To the best of my knowledge, Chief Odigie-Oyegun was not at the meeting where reconciliation was discussed. He is no longer a principal officer of the APC, and is in no position therefore, to lay claims to the inner workings of the party.

“One wonders why the National Reconciliation Committee headed by Chief Bisi Akande would have needed to be set up, if positions had been taken on crucial issues like the ticket for the Edo State governorship election.

“We operate a democratic dispensation and Pa Odigie-Oyegun should allow the process throw up the best man for the job instead of attempting to throw a spanner in the works by promoting his personal opinion and the desperate ambition of Godwin Obaseki as decisions or resolutions of our party leadership.

“He is an elder statesman and should not allow himself to be dragged into the fray. That would be a tragic fall from the high pedestal to which we are accustomed to place him.”

 

Nigerians evading tax on foreign properties risk prosecution –FG [Punch]

The Federal Government has threatened to prosecute citizens refusing to pay tax on their properties in foreign countries.

The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), further stated that any bank or intermediary that helped a Nigerian citizen to shield such properties would pay a fine which is the equivalent of the cost of the property.

Malami said this in a statement signed by his Spokesman, Umar Gwandu, on Thursday.

The statement read, “For defaulters who may be tempted to continue concealment of their offshore assets, Executive Order 008 as amended stipulates that any domestic or foreign bank, asset manager or intermediary that cooperates with defaulters, enabling them to conceal offshore assets and obligations pertaining to them shall, upon discovery, be liable to pay to the Federal Government a penalty on the total of such offshore assets, in addition to other penalties provided for under Nigerian laws or laws of foreign countries from which Nigeria can benefit.”

The order, which operates through the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme, is targeted at Nigerian citizens resident in Nigeria but own properties in foreign jurisdictions.

The AGF said that in order to ensure seamless exchange of information, the scheme would work closely with the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit.

The statement added, “Executive Order 008 as amended mandates the AGF to set up and implement a Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme referred to as ‘VOARS. VOARS gives all relevant persons and their intermediaries who have defaulted in declaration of their offshore assets the opportunity to voluntarily declare and regularise their offshore assets.

“The Federal Government hopes that relevant persons amongst Nigerians, Nigerian entities and their intermediaries will seize the opportunity provided by VOARS to declare and regularise their offshore assets before it is too late.

“Relevant persons who voluntarily declare their offshore assets and pay the stipulated levy to the Federal Government will receive compliance certificates which allow them to use their residual assets freely without hindrance.”

 

Kano youth who abducted, impregnated Ese Oruru jailed 26 years [Punch]

A Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, has convicted Yunusa Dahiru for abducting Ese Oruru.

Justice Jane Inyang sentenced Dahiru to 26 years in prison in a judgment she delivered on Thursday.

The abduction of Ese, the youngest child of Charles Oruru and Rose Oruru, occurred on August 12, 2015 at her mother’s shop in the Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

Ese, who was 13 years old at the time, was abducted by a man named Yunusa (alias Yellow) and taken to Kano, where she was allegedly raped, forcibly converted into Islam and married off without her parents’ consent.

On February 29, 2016, Ese was reportedly rescued by the Kano State Police and placed in the custody of the government. She was later revealed to be five months’ pregnant with her abductor’s child after being released.

Dahiru was arraigned on March 8, 2016 before the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, on charges of criminal abduction, illicit sex, sexual exploitation and unlawful carnal knowledge of the minor.

 

Challenges of home treatment, by NCDC [Nation]

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has advised Nigerians to brace for tough and challenging times ahead as the Federal Government is reviewing its policy on institutional isolation, especially of asymptomatic persons without symptoms.

The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, spoke on Thursday on a TV programme.

He said: “We have already started thinking about reviewing our protocol so that our isolation and treatment centres are not overwhelmed. This is why with this virus there is no easy solution.

“Some schools of thought believe that home isolation in some states like Lagos, Kano is not possible because of the living condition of people. On the other hand, our treatment centres are full and we don’t want to keep filling them up with people that are asymptomatic.

“In the case when you now have patients that are ill and require hospitalisation, you can’t find the bed space because they are occupied by people that are asymptomatic, who you are admitting for public health purposes.

“In an ideal world, we are to admit everyone, which is what China did. But, we don’t live in an ideal world by every stretch of our imagination in Nigeria. So, these are the decisions that we have to make at the Presidential Task Force every single day.

“So, if we are forced to do home isolation and you come to a home where there are two bedroom or one bedroom, how do you do that home isolation? It means everyone else has to sacrifice by leaving the home for some time to live somewhere else.

“We cannot force that to happen; the family will have to make that sacrifice and they will have to do it on their own because we cannot go around evicting people from their homes.”

He implored Nigerians to be their brothers’ keeper by accommodating those who may have to vacate their houses because their loved ones were being isolated and treated at home.

Also speaking during the Presidential Task Force daily briefing on COVID-19, in Abuja, the NCDC boss added: “In other countries like Germany and the United States of America, they have made a decision to treat all asymptomatic people at home. That is the decision that they have made in that context.

“We have struggled with this decision in Nigeria because we are struggling with the realities of where we live and the context that we live in.

“We have held back on advocating for home treatment and isolation because we recognise that the circumstances in which many Nigerians live makes home isolation very difficult and sometimes an impossible option for many people who live in tight accommodation in family groups and communities.

“Lagos State, this morning had to come up with 199 isolation space for new cases. This is not possible in our reality. It is a simple fact and you can look at the numbers and as the number increases we will struggle with this.”

The Federal Government on Thursday urged citizens to hold state governments responsible for the number of tests being carried out daily across the country.

It said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is poised to test 2,000 samples daily, however, the major challenge lies in states’ capacity to collect and send in the right samples for testing in time.

The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, made this known during a television programme.

According to him, “Right now we are testing 2,000 samples a day in all the laboratories in our network. In the national reference lab, for example, no samples stay till the next day; every single sample comes out the same day or very early the next morning.”

 

Fed Govt overrules governors on worship centres opening [Nation]

PTF warns as Nigerians buy up Chloroquine drug

THE Federal Government has accused governors of wilfully breaching the protocols designed to guide the country out of Coronavirus spread.

Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 control Chairman Boss Mustapha warned on Thursday of the danger in allowing large gatherings.

He reiterated that the ban on gatherings of more than 20 people remained banned.

Mustapha, who spoke at the daily briefing by the PTF in Abuja, emphasised the “need for states to diligently implement and enforce compliance. Particularly, I underscore the need for the governors to provide personal and strong leadership, carry the policy of community ownership to the grass-roots and create deeper awareness.

“Governors are also advised on the decision taken by some of their colleagues to permit large gatherings as such decisions could inadvertently endanger the elderly, the sick and those with underlying factors during such gatherings. The strong advisory from the PTF is that large gatherings beyond 20 persons remain prohibited and should be adhered to”.

The SGF also announced that the PTF would work with the National Assembly. The House of Representatives has  inaugurated an Ad-Hoc Committee on COVID-19.

“The PTF on COVID-19 is pleased to inform you that in order to underscore the seriousness attached to this COVID-19 pandemic, the House of Representatives has set up an Ad-Hoc COVID-19 Committee.

“In deepening the existing collaborative spirit, we shall work together with the legislature to be more productive and add value to the overall delivery of service to Nigerians on behalf of whom we hold our responsibility in trust”.

Many governors have opened up their states for religious gatherings. These include Cross River, Ebonyi, Kano, Borno, Zamfara and Bauchi, among others.

But, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has advised Muslims to observe the Edi-el-Fitr prayers at home in accordance with the PTF-issued guidelines.

Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mohammed Bello has resisted pressure to open worship centres in Abuja.

Apart from Cross River State which has no virus case yet. The active cases in some of the states reopening the worship centres are: Ebonyi (12), Borno (122) and 24 deaths, Zamfara (8), Kano (690) with 36 deaths and Gombe (41) and three deaths.

Defending the governors’ position, Jigawa State Governor Badaru Abubakar, told State House reporters at the end of the National Economic Council meeting at the Presidential Villa that “the issue has been resolved because, at our last meeting with Mr President, the President was clear that the Governors’ Forum and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 should meet and agree on steps to be taken, and it has been discussed today and commitment has been taken by today’s NEC that the Governors’ Forum, the Presidential Task Force would work hand -in -hand to see to the end of COVID-19.

“A committee was formed today that will look up to the eventual opening up of the economy. Sometimes you will see a different approach by different states, that doesn’t mean that there is loggerhead between the states and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

“Some peculiar situations require some peculiar solutions and that is why at times you see such and it will always be discussed with the Presidential Task Force so that we will always be on the same page”.

The PTF has also raised the alarm that Nigerians have started stockpiling chloroquine in large quantities.

Mustapha said: “Through the surveillance system set up by the PTF, we have received reports that Nigerians have been purchasing Hydrxoychloroquine in large quantities. We wish to reiterate that this drug has not being certified for use in treating COVID-19 in Nigeria by the relevant health and pharmaceutical authorities.

“Self-medication of any kind, is fraught with the danger of increasing risks of avoidable casualties. We, therefore strongly warn against self-medication. If you are sick, please seek medical advice and if you are confirmed positive, kindly self-isolate in an approved facility. The COVID-19 is highly infectious and dangerous”, he said.

He noted that the PTF had consistently answered questions and provided explanations on the categories of persons and services exempted from some aspects of these guidelines particularly as it relates to restrictions on inter- state movement and curfew.

According to him, for the avoidance of doubt, essential workers including medical personnel, journalists, fire service personnel, telecommunications workers, are all exempted.

He said the Inspector General of Police has further clarified the categories of essential workers in alignment with the guidelines and has issued instructions to security agents to work on the approved exemptions.

“With this clarification, we sincerely hope that the persistent complaints of harassment by these categories of essential workers, especially medical personnel and journalists would be put to rest so that we can harmoniously work in battling this pandemic.

“The PTF COVID-19 urges all essential workers to go about their legitimate businesses carrying with them valid means of identification and to exercise courtesy in approaching security personnel. I sincerely apologise for the inconveniences”, he said.

 

JNI, others back Sultan’s pray-at-home directive [Nation]

THE Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) has backed the position of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), asking Muslims to observe their eid prayer at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, on Wednesday, said the Eid-el-Fitr is not a compulsory religious activity (fard), if observing it would undermine the fundamental purpose of Shari’ah.

He listed security, a multifaceted concept which includes personal, community, national, environmental and health components, among others, as reasons for avoiding congregational prayers.

JNI’s Fatwa Committee, in a statement by its Secretary General, Sheikh Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, noted that the restriction will be in states where there is lockdown on eid day, while in the states where movement is relaxed, Muslims can say their prayer at the eid ground.

Also, the Chief Imam of Lagos State, Sheikh Sulaimon Abou-Nolla, and Muslim leaders in Delta State have thrown their weight behind the call for Muslims to observe the eid prayers at home.

This, they said, would flatten the curve of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Sheikh Abou-Nolla, at a briefing on Thursday in Lagos, said the present situation does not warrant congregation prayers.

Delta State Information Commissioner Charles Aniagwu said Muslim leaders agreed to celebrate the Sallah at home because of the huge crowd being expected at the eid praying ground.

 

Federation Account lost N125 billion revenue in Q1 [Nation]

NIGERIA’s massive revenue loss as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic was topped discussions at yesterday’s National Economic Council (NEC) meeting.

Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister Hajia Zainab Ahmed warned that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP), might shrink this year to -8.94 per cent unless there is economic stimulus.

Speaking with State House Correspondents after the meeting, Mrs Ahmed, said with 40 per cent of Nigeria’s population classified as poor, the looming economic crisis would worsen their misery.

According to her, the global economy would also be dealing with the sharpest reversal since the Great Depression, as a result of the health crisis.

She added that the projected oil and gas revenue for the country, in the first quarter of 2020 suffered a 31% shortfall, representing about N125.52 billion.

“It is not news any more that these are very difficult and challenging times. We are facing a very significant economic downturn; a time that we have not seen in the history of our country.

“On the economy, COVID-19 has resulted in the collapse in oil prices.  This will impact negatively, and the impact has already started showing on the federation’s revenues and on the foreign exchange earnings.

“Net oil and gas revenue and influx to the federation account in the first quarter of 2020 amounted to N940.91billion. This represented a shortfall of N125. 52billion or 31% of the prorated amount that is supposed to have been realized by the end of that first quarter.

“The economic growth in Nigeria, that is the GDP, could in the worst case scenario, contract by  as much as –8.94% in 2020.

“But, in the best case,  which is the case we are working on, it could be a contraction of –4.4%, if there is no fiscal stimulus.  But with the fiscal stimulus plan that we are working on, this contraction can be mitigated and we might end up with a negative –0.59%”, she said.

“The Federal Government is committed to supporting the financial viability of states, including the suspension of payments in respect of commitments, debts that have been secured with ISPOs by the states at the federal levels.

“So, we have already implemented suspension of deductions of a number of loans that have been taken by the states from April and also in May.

“The Economic Sustainability Committee is responsible for providing overall strategic vision, policy direction and general oversight of the implementation amongst others”, she said.

Mrs. Ahmed assorted that the World Bank view is that the impact of the COVID-19 on Nigeria will lead to severe amplified human and economic cost, which will move the country into a recession.

“The World Bank planned a proposed package for immediate fiscal relief for the federal government.  This will also involve policy-based policy budget support for the FG, focusing on measures to maintain macro financial stability and create fiscal space for proposed stimulus.

“The World Bank package has also got a proposal of $1.5billion for the states and this package will be dedicated to the states.  And it will be a programme for results which the states are already used to implementing.

“So, the immediate fiscal relief for the states, as stated in the presentation, will include the acceleration of an existing programme to enable disbursement by end of September.

“So, the proposed $1.5billion plan will by end of September it would have been disbursed to the states. We are looking at an average of between N150billion to N200billion based on the plan to the 36 states. These are states that have already made some particular commitments and achievements so that they will be able to get immediate disbursements of parts of these funds”, she said.

Giving details of the balances in the various national accounts, the Minister disclosed “in the Excess Crude Account, as at 21 of May, 2020, we reported a balance $72.04 million.

“We also reported to Council that in the Stabilization Account, as at today, we have a balance of N39.337 billion. In the Natural Resource Development Fund Account, as at today, we have a balance N125.19 billion”.

Jigawa State Governor Badaru Abubakar told reporters that council received an update on Polio Eradication and support to Community Transmission of COVID-19(CTA) presented by the Minister of Health.

He said: “updates indicated that Nigeria is moving towards polio eradication and on course to be certified as Wild Polio Free by the World Health Organistion(WHO) African Region next month.

“It also indicated that no wild polio cases were reported in Nigeria for 44 months.

“The NPHCDA adopted the Polio structure which is the Incident Management System to tackle the COVID-19 at the PHCs and community levels in all the states and FCT.

“States governments, governors are urged to facilitate the establishment of structures to coordinate efforts to stop community transmission of COVID-19.

“The report of NEC’s Adhoc committee to Review Status of Ownership of Structure of Electricity Power Distribution Company(DISCOs) headed by the Kaduna State Governor was received.

“The report was delivered, adopted and now being implemented but due to the lockdown not all members have signed the report.

“We also discussed COVID-19;  Council set a NEC Committee to work with the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 to work out modalities for the reopening of the national economy.

“The committee comprises governors of Ekiti, Lagos, Anambra, Kano, Bauchi, Plateau and FCT Minister as members and chaired by the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa.

Asked if the states can pay salaries as at when due is the Federal Government has suspended deductions from bailout fund, he said, “I think most of the states are paying salaries already. But we have not seen the worst yet, I may not be able to answer this question correctly until we see what comes up in the next part, that is when we expect the worst-case scenario on the fallen oil prices.

“And at that time we will do the calculation and all the scenarios will come up and that will determine whether we will be able to pay salaries or not”, he said.

 

Govs frustrating COVID-19 fight –FG [Sun]

  • Faults reopening of worship centres

The Federal Government has cautioned governors to rethink their decision to lift the ban on congregational, adding that the Coronavirus pandemic was still much with us.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman of PTF on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, said this at the daily briefing one the task force, while reacting to Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, announcing lifting of the ban on congregational and ‘Eid’ prayers while insisting that congregants must continue to obey the physical distancing rule.

The governor’s directive came moments after the SGF announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s extension of the lockdown in Kano by additional two weeks.

Mustapha said: “I’m particular about congregational gatherings. Large gatherings will exposed even the 20 persons that we want to protect.  We want our sub-nationals government to really reconsider their decisions on allowing large gatherings to take place until when we have been fully prepared and we can adjudge that the moment has come for that to be allowed.”

Mustapha, who shared stories of people he knows who have lost their lives to drive home the point that COVID-19 is real, said in the virtual meeting of the National Economic Council with Vice President and all the governors earlier yesterday, the issue of alignment of their state level actions with the guidelines issued was emphasised.

“Similarly emphasised is the need for states to diligently implement and enforce compliance. Particularly, I underscored the need for the governors to provide personal and strong leadership, carry the policy of community ownership to the grass roots and create deeper awareness.

“The governors were also advised on the decision taken by some of their colleagues to permit large gatherings as such decisions could inadvertently endanger the elderly, the sick and those with underlying factors during such gatherings. The strong advisory from the PTF is that large gatherings beyond 20 persons remains prohibited and should be adhered to.”

PTF National Coordinator, Sani Aliyu said governors will henceforth own the response as the centre will not continue to drive the process.

“First of all, I will like to say that the continuous measures that we advise, always take into cognisance the social, economic, religious, cultural implications of these measures. In addition to that, we know that the effectiveness of the measures really depends on the acceptability, the owning by the communities. Whenever the PTF puts out guidelines, it is never done in isolation to state governments. We always tell them in advance what the likely recommendations will be. If we get approval from Mr. President, we go back to them and tell them what part of their recommendations have been agreed on or not.

“We will continue to work with the state governments to make sure that whatever is put in place is in the best interest of their citizens.

“We are in the business of saving lives. When it comes to restrictions, I will like to give you an example. Saudi Arabia for instance, I’m sure you are aware, they had about 240 deaths, they have had over 40,000 infections. So, their case fatality rate is much lower than Nigeria’s. But what have they done? They are planning to actually lockdown the country, 24 hours lockdown for five days during the period of the eid. Have we had any umrah this year? No. Are we likely to have hajj? We probably wouldn’t. So we are living in an usual situations, we are living in an usual times.  As far as we are concerned, the role of government is to protect the lives of the citizens and ensure their well being.

Avoid self-medication

Meanwhile, the SGF has warned against self-medication, noting that it is fraught with danger of increasing risks of avoidable casualties.

“Through the surveillance system set up by the PTF, we have received reports that Nigerians have been purchasing Hydrxoychloroquine in large quantities. We wish to reiterate that this drug has not been certified for use in treating COVID-19 in Nigeria by the relevant health and pharmaceutical authorities…If you’re sick, please seek medical advice and if you are confirmed positive, kindly self-isolate in an approved facility. The COVID-19 is highly infectious and dangerous.”

Early discharge of positive patients

Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, has announced plans to discharge patients earlier than their required treatment and isolation period at the different centres, even though they were still positive.

Ihekweazu said in a bid to decongest isolation centres, the Centre has begun testing people for COVID-19 only once as against its earlier stance on second testing before discharge. This is also done to

“Up till now, we have kept patients in care or advised that patients be kept in care until they turn out to be negative on the test that we are using the PCR tests. New evidence is emerging that even when the test is still positive, in certain circumstances, after that patient have been in care for a certain amount of time.

“It is possible and safe to discharge that patient to home isolation. So we are looking at the evidence and we might change our guidelines over time,” he said.

Oil revenues fall by N125bn

The Federal Government said oil revenue target earlier put at N940.91 billion has crashed to N125 billion in the first quarter of 2020.

Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, attributed it to the raving impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

According to her, the fall represented 31 per cent of the projected oil revenue target.

She also said the government would suspend debt reductions from states’ allocations to support their economies.

Ahmed, said with Nigeria’s poverty rate put at 40 percent, this drastic fall in oil revenue would only exacerbate Nigeria’s state of squalor, pointing out that economic situation will be worsened with the gross domestic product (GDP) growth expected to contract by 8.94 per cent this year.

She, however, said if the measures being put in place to ameliorate the state of the economy works as planned, the contraction might only be by 4.4 per cent without fiscal stimulus.

Ahmed also explained that with effective fiscal stimulus in place during this pandemic, the situation might bring the contraction down to as low as 0.5 per cent.

 

Sallah: Sultan suspends congregations at Eid prayer ground over COVID-19 [Sun]

  • FG declares Monday, Tuesday public holidays

Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of Jama’atu Nasril  Islam  (JNI), Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, suspended Eid prayer in towns and cities across the country in accordance with the guidelines of COVID-19 by observing Eid prayer at home as Muslims mark end of Ramadan fasting this weekend.

He said this becsme necessary in view of serious threat the pandemic posed to life, adding that Ulama should guide against their utterances in the interest of Islam.

A statement issued on behalf of the JNI President-General by its Secretary-General,  Sheikh Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, however, advised that states where Muslims were allowed  to go to prayer ground, should ensure proper social distancing while praying.

“Eid-el-Fitr  congregation  in  the  outskirts  of  towns  and  cities  should  be  temporarily suspended. Ulama  should  fear  Allah,  the  Most  High  and  be  matured  enough  in  guarding  their utterances and actions for the overall interest of the DEEN and the Ummah. Nigerian  Muslims  are  therefore  called  upon  to  reflect  their  minds  to  the  good  virtues  of  the month of Ramadan and keep to its teachings all through their respective lives, as the Lord of Ramadan, is still and shall remain The Lord of other months, above all keeps the records of our actions and inactions.

“More so, Muslims are reminded to keep to the ordinances of the Glorious Qur’an, for the prestige of the Muslim Ummah. JNI  wishes  all  Muslim  faithful  an  accepted  Ramadan  Fast  and  successful ‘Eid-el-Fitr.

“In  the same vein, Muslims are urged not to forget the Sitta-Shawwal, i.e the six-days recommended fasting,  that  follows  Ramadan  Fasting  as  recommended  by  the  Prophet  Muhammad (SAW). While wishing  us all  Allah’s pardon in these sacred days and after,  we pray fervently for  an accepted Ramadan Fasting as well as the Eid.

“Jama’atu Nasril  Islam  (JNI),  under  the  leadership  of  His  Eminence,  Alhaji  Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto and President-General JNI, in a mandate to the JNI  Fatwa Committee, under the leadership of Sheikh  Sheriff Ibrahim Saleh Alhusainy, CON, to come up with FATWA  regarding the year 2020 ‘Eid-el-Fitr Prayer, and the committee after due consultations,  as  well  as  considerations  of  the  current  state  –  COVID-19  pandemic  and  the serious threat it poses to life, reached the following decisions

“Eid-el-Fitr  congregation  in  the  outskirts  of  towns  and  cities  should  be  temporarily suspended.

“That the said ‘Eid-el-Fitr Prayer be observed at home with family members or alone in case there isn’t anyone with him or her, at home.

“However, in states where governments have reached concrete decisions to observe the ‘Eid-el-Fitr  prayer,  based  on  their  medical  experts  advice,  strictest  measures  of distancing,  face  masks  and  sanitizers  be  taken  to  protect  worshipers.  In  this  case neighbourhood mosques can be utilised if it becomes necessary,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Federal Government has declared Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 May, 2020 as public holidays to mark 2020 Eid-el-Fitr celebration.

Minister of Interior, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, made the declaration on behalf of the Federal Government,  through a statement by the Director Press and Public Relations of the Ministry, Mohammed Manga in Abuja, yesterday.

 

Buhari signs amended order for voluntary declaration of offshore assets [Sun]

President Muhammadu Buhari has signed an amendment to the Executive Order 008 of 2018 on Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme (VOARS).

The review followed input made by stakeholders and also the need to strengthen the implementation mechanism and structure of the order.

VOARS provides an opportunity to all relevant persons and their intermediaries, who have defaulted in declaration of their offshore assets, to voluntarily declare and regularize their offshore assets, subject to the fulfilment of the terms and conditions stipulated in the order and other subsequent regulations.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami, in a statement by his media aide, Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu, said President Buhari signed the amendment on May 20.

“President Muhammadu Buhari of the Federal Republic of Nigeria signed the Executive Order 008 on Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme (VOARS) in October 2018. As a result of stakeholders’ input and need to strengthen the implementation mechanisms and structures, the Order was reviewed. Consequently, the amendment to Executive Order 2008 was signed on 20th May, 2020 by President Buhari. The Executive Order 008 (as amended) mandated the Attorney General of the Federation to set up and implement a Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularisation Scheme (hereinafter referred to as VOARS).”

 

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