Revised budget: Buhari retains N100bn for National Assembly’s constituency projects [Punch]

The Federal Government has insisted on the N100bn Zonal Intervention Projects (constituency projects) for the 469 senatorial districts and federal constituencies across the country.

This is contained in the 2020 revised federal budget which has been forwarded to the National Assembly for approval.

This is despite the negative impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

Following the drop in the price of crude oil and a fall in the projected government revenue, it was learnt that the Federal Government decided to reduce the budget by N318bn.

However, the budget for the National Assembly’s constituency project, which is under the service wide vote, remained untouched.

Ironically, the President, Maj.Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd), had last year complained about the N100bn allocated yearly for the National Assembly’s constituency projects, adding that it usually had no impact on the masses.

“It is on record that in the past 10 years, N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen.”

Sunday PUNCH, however, reports that although the fund is tied to projects of lawmakers, they are often implemented by Federal Government agencies.

Also, the release of the funds in the last 10 years has not exceeded 70 per cent yearly.

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, the Founder, Dataphyte, Mr Joshua Olufemi, said it was sad that the health and education budgets were cut while that of the constituency project remained untouched.

Meanwhile, the President and his Deputy, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, have budgeted the sum of N2.2bn for local and foreign travel amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is despite the Covid-19 pandemic which has limited both local and international travel in 2020.

The item was tagged Travel and Transport (General) under State House (President) and State House (Vice-President) in the revised 2020 budget which has been forwarded to the National Assembly for approval.

While Buhari set aside N1.7bn for local and foreign travel, Osinbajo budgeted N548m for the same purpose.

Both Buhari and Osinbajo cut down their original travel budgets by 0.684 per cent each, according to the document.

The sum is different from the N124m set aside by the Presidency for travel.

About N2.8bn was also budgeted for the overhead cost and travel cost of the Presidential fleet.

Sunday PUNCH reports that Buhari has been known to travel frequently as he spent 404 days abroad between May 29, 2015 and April 20, 2019.

In 2020, however, Buhari has not left Abuja since Nigeria recorded its first Covid-19 case on March 9, 2020.

Meanwhile, the Budget Office has explained the cuts in the budget for Universal Basic Education and Basic Health Care Provision Fund.

The Director-General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, said the funds were tied to statutory transfers which were dependent on the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

Akabueze further stated that with government’s projected revenue dropping, it was only normal for the statutory releases to drop.

He further stated that the budget for the National Assembly’s renovation had been cut by N27bn to bring it to N9bn.

He said, “The statutory transfers to UBEC (Basic Education) and BHCPF (Basic Health) are set by law at two per cent and one per cent respectively of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Therefore, when the Covid-19 pandemic eroded the CRF, the budgetary provisions were automatically adjusted in accordance with the applicable laws.

“The provision for renovation/retrofitting of the National Assembly complex in the revised budget is N9.25bn, not N27bn as being bandied around. The initial provision of N37bn in the 2020 Appropriation Act for this was cut by 75 per cent due to the impact of Covid-19 on government revenues.”

 

 

Police recruitment: Malami orders PSC chair, Smith, to withdraw appeal against IGP [Punch]

  • Reprimands commission for flouting Buhari’s directives, engaging external lawyers

ADELANI ADEPEGBA

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has reprimanded the Chairman of the Police Service Commission, Musiliu Smith, for appealing a judgment of the Federal High Court which upheld the power of the Inspector-General of Police to recruit police constables.

He also knocked the commission for allegedly flouting the presidential directives on the recruitment, noting that the PSC’s decision to subject the matter to a judicial review portrayed the government in a bad light.

Malami, in a letter with reference number SGF/PS/MIA/90/II dated March 3, 2020, directed Smith, a retired IG, to discontinue the appeal immediately.

The letter was copied to the Chief of Staff to the President, Minister of Police Affairs and the IG.

The recruitment of 10,000 constables had been enmeshed in crisis following the takeover of the exercise by the current IG, Mohammed Adamu, a move that did not go down well with the commission which challenged the development in court.

Dissatisfied with the December 2 ruling by Justice Inyang Ekwo dismissing its suit for lacking in merit, the PSC board through its lawyer, Kanu Agabi (SAN), asked the Court of Appeal to set aside the judgment on the grounds that the trial judge erred in law on 11 grounds.

In a notice of appeal filed on January 23, the commission also argued that the judge erred when he held that the Nigeria Police Force was not bound by the civil service rules.

Joined as respondents are the NPF, the IG, Minister of Police Affairs and the AGF.

But the AGF, in his letter obtained by our correspondent on Friday, said he was shocked by the appeal filed by the commission, describing the action as a waste of scarce resources.

He further pointed out that the commission was in breach of extant Federal Government circulars which mandated all Ministries, Departments and Agencies to obtain the prior consent of the AGF before engaging external solicitors.

Malami referred to two letters from the late Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, dated October 11, 2019, and February 3, 2020, “wherein Mr President endorsed the legal opinion by my office and gave further directives on the roles of the NPF and PSC on the ongoing recruitment exercise into the NPF.”

He said, “Despite being duly notified of Mr President’s directives, your commission chose to further subject this sensitive matter to judicial review. You will recall that the Federal High Court has now judicially endorsed the legal opinion given by my office and subsequently approved by Mr President.”

The letter read, “In line with the provision of Section 150 (I) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the unambiguous contents of the above letters mandating the Police Service Commission to ensure full and immediate compliance with the presidential directives on this subject matter, you are hereby directed to discontinue forthwith, the appeal commenced by your commission against the judgment of the Federal High Court in suit number: FHC/ABJ/1124/2019 delivered on December 2, 2019, and revert to my office on compliance, accordingly.”

Sunday PUNCH could not confirm whether the commission had complied with the directive.

The Head, Press and Public Relations, PSC, Ikechukwu Ani, said he had no information on the issue.

 

Edo primaries: INEC backs Oshiomhole [Punch]

  • Direct primary won’t hold in my state, Obaseki insists
  • We settled for direct primary to prevent crisis –APC
  • Ruling party, Edo gov lawyers renew battle in court Monday

Amid the raging crisis rocking the Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress over the mode of primary to be used in the conduct of its June 22 governorship primary, the Independent National Electoral Commission has said it will only honour the mode of primary submitted to it by the national chairman of the party.

The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told Sunday PUNCH in Abuja that the commission’s rules, regulations and laws allowed it to only relate with the national chairman and national secretary of political parties.

He stressed that regardless of what was happening in state branches of parties, the commission would only recognise the date, venue and mode of primary submitted to it by the two national officers.

The two factions of APC in the state had been at each other’s throat over the mode of primary to be adopted to pick the party’s candidate for the September 19 governorship election.

The National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, said to be in the same camp with the factional chairman of the party in the state, David Imuse, had insisted that the party would use direct primary to select its candidate.

Oshiomhole, believed to be opposed to the reelection of Governor Godwin Obaseki, had also gone ahead to write INEC via a letter dated May 19, 2020, stating that the party had chosen direct primary for the selection of its candidate for the election.

But the state chairman of the party, Anselm Ojezua, said to be supporting Obaseki, had said the party’s State Working Committee chose indirect primary. He explained that the National Executive Council of the party had said each state was at liberty to adopt any method of preference. Ojezua accused the NWC, headed by Oshiomhole, of imposing the direct primary on the state as a means to oust Obaseki from the race.

Meanwhile, to counter the letter written by Oshiomhole to INEC that the party would do direct primary, the governor, in a gazette signed on May 28 and published on Friday, banned political gatherings that could make direct primary possible in the state. Obaseki insisted that by virtue of the gazette, only direct primary could be held in the state and in only one location.

However, following the altercation and rising tension over which mode of primary INEC would recognise for the APC in the state, Okoye told Sunday PUNCH that the law only allowed the commission to relate with the national chairman and national secretary when it pertained to party primaries.

He said, “INEC does not deal with state branches of political parties in matters relating to or connected with the conduct of party primaries. Section 85(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) makes it mandatory for political parties intending to nominate candidates for elective offices to give the commission 21 days’ notice of its intention to conduct party primaries.

“In our rules and regulations, the letter to this effect is signed by the National Chairman and National Secretary of political parties indicating the date, time and venue for the conduct of party primaries and the mode of the primaries.

“The mode of primaries to be adopted by political parties is a function of their constitution, the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the regulations and guidelines issued by INEC.

“So, we don’t have business with state branches of political parties because our rules, regulations and laws say we should relate with the national chairman and the national secretary in terms of fixing party primaries, whether direct or indirect.

“The commission will not dictate to political parties the mode of primaries to adopt as it is a purely legal and party affair. What is certain is that the commission will monitor the primaries and provide protective equipment for its staff that will be involved in the process.”

Out of the 18 political parties in the country, Okoye said 15 parties had indicated their intention to conduct primaries, out of which 14 opted for indirect primary while only the APC opted for direct primary.

He said, “Fifteen political parties have indicated their intention to conduct primary and out of that, 14 said they would conduct indirect primary, while the APC said it would conduct direct primary. It’s the business of political parties what mode of primary they want to adopt, so long as they follow their own constitution.”

Asked if the outcome of any of the court cases over the APC’s mode of primary changed anything about the forthcoming primary, Okoye said, “We don’t speculate; we obey judgements of courts of competent jurisdiction.”

Already, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, on Friday during the first virtual consultative meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, expressed fears about looming acrimony in the primaries of the political parties in Edo and Ondo states. Ondo governorship election is scheduled to hold on October 10 2020.

Yakubu had said, “The primaries for the nomination of candidates for the Edo governorship election have commenced. As you are aware, the conduct of primaries by political parties tends to be very acrimonious. The acrimony is carried forward into the electioneering campaigns and Election Day activities. Already, there are warning signals.”

Direct primary can’t hold in my state, Obaseki insists

Meanwhile, Obaseki has insisted that there would be no direct primary in the state, stressing that only indirect primary could hold in the state in accordance with the rule gazetted in newspapers on Friday.

The new rule partly reads, “That in respect of political gatherings for the purpose of conducting primaries for any of the parties desiring to field candidates in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, gatherings of more than 20 persons may be allowed, subject to the written approval of the Governor, if such gatherings do not exceed 5,000 persons; hold in Benin City and in a single facility with a large seating capacity of not less than 10,000 persons; are provided with adequate health, safety and sanitary facilities and are COVID-19 response compliant with social distancing policy, hand-washing and proper use of face masks fully observed.”

The governor, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr Crusoe Osagie, told one of our correspondents on Saturday, “The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has said in its briefings that states should manage the pandemic through measures unique to their states. On the basis of that, we have deployed this measure in Edo State, the rule has been gazetted and so direct primaries cannot hold here as far as that regulation is concerned. So, it has to be indirect, in order to be working in line with the extant rule in the state.

“The only mode of primary that is permissible according to that law is indirect primaries, and we believe it is correct to do so because for that option, it is just one location and you can deploy all agencies of government responsible for ensuring compliance with the protocols.

“The location is so large that you could have a space for about 15,000 people but it would be occupied by about 3,000 people. There will be enough social distancing and spacing in that one location as opposed to having that primary election in 192 wards across 18 local governments and you could have about 200 to 300 persons at each ward. That would be a recipe for disaster in this period of COVID-19.

“Our experts did an epidemiological study in March and a curve was drawn. That curve indicated that we would reach the climax on June 28. That was long before APC released the timetable for primary election in March and it fixed it for June 22.”

When reminded that the national chairman of the party already wrote to INEC that the party would use direct mode of primary, Osagie said, “He can write, and the fact that he wrote doesn’t mean that is what is going to happen. The rules have to be followed.

“Don’t forget that the first responsibility of the governor is to protect the lives and property of the people.”

INEC suspends PVC, CVR till after Edo, Ondo elections

INEC also said it had suspended the collection of permanent voter cards and the continuous voter registration exercise in Edo and Ondo states because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Okoye added, “The commission is working hard to procure PPE and things required to conduct the elections in safety as the health of our people is fundamental to the conduct of the elections. The commission will therefore take a decision on when to resume nationwide collection of PVCs but certainly it will be after the conduct of these elections.

“So, CVR and the collection of PVCs are suspended till the two elections are concluded. Proceeding with both will entail enormous challenges in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.”

He noted that the commission had not fixed the deadline for the submission of the voter register and delegates list by political parties. He, however, cautioned that parties were required to stick to the mode of primary submitted to the commission.

“The commission expects all political parties nominating candidates to comply with the submission of the register of their members,” he added.

Commission gives reasons why elections can’t be postponed

Okoye also said the commission had not discussed and was not likely to discuss the issue of postponing the two end-of-tenure governorship elections due to constitutionally circumscribed timeframe and schedule.

He said while Section 178(1) of the constitution gives the commission the power to fix dates for governorship elections, Section 178(2) stipulates that that the election should be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the term of office of the last holder of the office.

Obaseki’s tenure will expire on November 11, 2020 while the tenure of his counterpart in Ondo State will expire on February 23, 2021.

“The dates set out in section 178(2) of the constitution are sacrosanct. The commission is not vested with the power to vary the dates or rewrite them or postpone the election to a date outside the constitutionally prescribed period,” he added.

We chose direct primary to avoid crisis –APC

The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Lanre Issa-Onilu, has explained that lessons drawn from mistakes made during the 2018 governorship primary in Rivers State influenced the decision of its NWC to choose direct primary in Edo State. He added that the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the party’s decision.

He added, “Even if there was no crisis in Edo, the direct primary will still be the safest mode for this election for us to avoid any booby trap from past shocking experiences.

“The last time we did primary in Edo, it was direct primary. We don’t have to start something new.”

He said if the party had held direct primary in Rivers State, it would have avoided what befell it after. “The same foundation has been laid for a repeat of this situation in Edo State with a disputed executive and they are in court with multiple cases. It is in the best interest of our party to do that which cannot be affected by any litigation,” he added.

He said it would not make much sense now to bring together over 5,000 delegates into a single venue which the indirect method would require.

Asked why the NWC chose the direct mode contrary to the choice made by the state chapter of the party, he said, “The courtesy to allow the local players make input is part of our way of ensuring the smooth participation of everyone. At the end of the day, the buck stops at our desk to ensure that we do what is in the best interest of the party. As it is now, direct primary is what is best for the party in Edo.”

We have strategy to win Edo gov election, says PDP

The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prince Uche Secondus, has said the party has the strategy that will enable it to win the Edo governorship election.

He said a committee was being set up to harmonise  different strategies to enable them to win the election.

Secondus, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said his party was popular in the state and would capitalise on the crisis rocking the APC to build on the performance of the PDP in the last general election.

He said, “We have the strategy that will give us victory in the election. We are already putting good heads together to harmonise the many strategies we have on the election.

“Out of the three senators from the state, we have two and we have four out of the nine members of the House of Representatives. Yet, the state had a sitting governor who was a member of the APC then. At that time, there was no crisis or division within the APC. Now, the centre cannot hold as both the national chairman and the governor do not see eye-to-eye.”

He said the party had set up a five-member committee headed by the Governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Fintiri, to handle the election of three ad hoc ward delegates in the 192 wards in the state. Other committee members are Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State; Mrs Mobolaji Lamuye, Chukwwuma Onyema and Senator Samuel Anyanwu.

The exercise holds in the state on Tuesday.

APC, Obaseki’s lawyers storm court Monday

The legal battle between Obaseki and Oshiomhole over the mode of primary begins on Monday (tomorrow) at the Federal High Court, Benin.

The court sitting in Benin had on Tuesday last week adjourned legal arguments on the ex parte motion seeking to prevent the NWC and Oshiomhole from using direct primaries to elect the governorship candidate of the party till Monday.

In a suit filed by the factional state deputy chairman of the party, Pastor Kenneth Asemokhai, and a governorship aspirant of the party, Matthew Iduoriyekemwen, the duo are seeking to restrain the APC from adopting the direct mode of primaries. Also joined in the suit is INEC.

The presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed Umar, declined to grant the ex parte motion. He gave the defendants three days to file their papers to show why the injunction should not be granted and adjourned the case till Monday (tomorrow).

 

Buhari to bandits: Surrender now or face ‘disgraceful end’ [Nation]

FROM President Muhammadu Buhari has come a warning to the bandits terrorising the Northwest: surrender now or face a fatal and disgraceful end.

Receiving Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State at the State House, Abuja, on Thursday, Buhari vowed that no bandit, having committed crimes against the people, would be spared.

Bandits have scaled up attacks on villages and residents in many parts of Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara and Katsina states in the last few weeks, killing and maiming.

The President, according to his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, assured the people of the affected states of renewed efforts by government to secure their lives and property as military operations had been reviewed to effectively root out bandits.

Shehu said: “President Buhari warned bandits to surrender their weapons or face ‘disgraceful and violent ends.

“The President said more decisive military operations against bandits in Zamfara, Sokoto, Niger, Katsina and Kaduna States will be undertaken.

“President Buhari commiserated with Governor Masari over the loss of lives from attacks by bandits, which include District Head of Yantumaki, Alhaji Atiku Maidabino, and APC Chairman in Batsari Local Government Council, Alhaji Abdulhamid Sani Duburawa.”

 

No fixed date for reopening of schools – FG [Nation]

THERE is no fixed date for reopening of schools shut over the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Government has declared.

It said despite the agitations for reopening of schools, it would continue to monitor situations with a view to preventing a spike in the infection rate.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, stated this in Abuja during the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 100th day briefing.

According to him, “There is no fixed date on schools’ resumption. The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 is studying the situation, carrying out reviews every two and four weeks to access the situation and judge when it is safe.

“The Federal Government is taking very seriously the balance between safety and preventing disease explosion, and the opening of schools.

“We are encouraging schools to embrace online training and education as much as possible.

“As soon as the details are established and the risk of transmission is measured and established, then, schools will reopen.

“We are aware of what is happening in neighbouring countries through the organ known as the West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO).

“Few days ago, we held an inter-ministerial meeting of the Ministers of health of the West African region to compare notes, review strategies, understand how others are tackling their problems, and reach a common ground on how to protect our region.

“We also consider how to do procurement together to reduce cost and how to share materials that we get from donations to the region.

“The protocol for border activities is also being studied. We have, through WAHO, worked out protocols on how border crossings will be conducted, particularly passenger transport.

“It has not been opened but we are working out the opening protocols and the measures that need to be taken for countries to protect themselves.”

He added: “Interstate travel is still prohibited but travels within the states are allowed. Non-essential travels should be postponed, delayed or cancelled for now.

“We also encourage local governments with high burden (called hot spots) to strictly follow the advisories, stay indoors, use masks, and also ensure that movements to those hotspots are restricted.”

 

COVID-19: Death rate alarming, says FG  [Nation]

 

  • 342 dead already
  • ’We won’t take eye off other diseases’
  • Nigeria records 389 new cases;total infections now 12233
  • More infectious disease laboratories coming

 

 

THE Federal Government warned on Saturday that the fatality rate from COVID-19 related diseases  in the  country was  too high for comfort.

The death rate currently stands at three percent, but Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said the figure was bad enough.

The Minister spoke in Abuja during the Presidential Task Force (PFT) on COVID-19 100th day briefing.

With him at the briefing were the PTF Chairman Boss Mustapha and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director General  Chikwe Ihekweazu.

The death toll arising from coronavirus was put at 342 last night.

Ehanire said: “because of the large numbers involved, even the three percent fatality rate is very high.

“In some countries that have been taken by surprise, the health system has been overwhelmed and they have lost hundreds and thousands of citizens to COVID-19.

“We in Nigeria are striving to make sure that our health system does not get overwhelmed  by the number of cases.

“We are doing all the testing as rapidly as possible by identifying cases, putting the ones that are positive in quarantine, and those that are positive and have severe symptoms are being treated.

“We continue to monitor the situation. We are also looking at what happens in other African and West African countries, to see the steps that they are taking and learn from them.

“We are looking at our own strengths and weaknesses, health systems, lives and livelihoods, so that the economy does not suffer.”

Government, he stressed, was also  working  to “make sure that other diseases which routinely occur in our country are not neglected, especially the treatment of malaria and the provision of basic services like immunization, maternal, post-natal and child health, nutrition etc.”

He added: ”We want to make sure that the fear or too much focus on COVID-19 will not cause the abandonment of other diseases. The neglect of other diseases causes more fatality than COVID-19.

“We also look to make sure that farmers can go to work; making sure that fertilisers are available so that harvest this year will not be compromised or reduced. This is to ensure that food shortages will not be added to the problem of CVOID-19.”

On the use of hydroxychloroquine and analysis of the herbal remedy from Madagascar, Ehanire said: “The Madagascar cure has been received by the Federal Ministry of Health and we have given samples to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), and the Ministry of Science and Technology, which also conducts experiments and validations. It is still being evaluated in Nigeria.

“Hydroxychloroquine has not been established as a cure; it is one of the drugs being used for clinical trials.

“The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set up a solidarity trial which allows treatment centres to use a certain number of drugs to see how they work, if they work and what the efficacy is.”

FG to establish more infectious disease labs

Also speaking at the briefing, Mr. Mustapha said Nigeria was targeting having at least one standard infectious disease laboratory in each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

He said: “the Federal Ministry of Health has activated an NCDC-led national COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the national public health response.

“At state-level, preparedness and response activities are being coordinated through Public Health EOCs in each State.”

Continuing, he said: “Before now, Nigeria only has about three testing laboratories nationwide for testing of infectious diseases.

“Hundred days of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the country can now boast of having 30 testing centers.”

“The government is targeting having at least one standard infectious disease labouratory in each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal capital Territory.”

In his remarks,  Dr. Ihekweazu, said that in the coming months, the center would continue to work with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Medical Laboratory and Science Council of Nigeria and other partners to carry out laboratory related research and validation, as Nigeria scales up its testing capacity.

His words: “as Nigeria’s Public Health Institute, NCDC continues to work alongside other agencies under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Health, in leading the public health response to the outbreak.

“Prior to the confirmation of the first case, NCDC supported four laboratories within its molecular laboratory network to activate testing for COVID-19. Since then, the number of laboratories has increased to 30, with a combined minimum capacity of 10,000 tests daily.

“The goal is to expand to at least 10 more laboratories by the end of June, leveraging on Gene-Xpert capacity for Tuberculocis diagnosis.

“The safety of health workers has been at the forefront of Nigeria’s response strategy to COVID-19. Since the first case was confirmed, NCDC has supported the training of 13,000 health workers in infection prevention and control (IPC) as well as case management.

“In collaboration with the Departments of Hospital Services and Food and Drugs of the Federal Ministry of Health, NCDC has also ensured that health workers are provided with the required personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce the risk of health workers’ Infection.

“With the support of Nigeria’s telecommunication companies, over 100 million text messages have been sent out since February 2020 reminding Nigerians about measures that can be taken to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“In the absence of a vaccine, Nigeria and the rest of the world must depend on public health, social measures and supportive management of confirmed cases.”

Nigeria’s first confirmed case was a 44-year old Italian citizen recorded in Lagos on February 27.

He had flown to Lagos aboard a Turkish airline plane from Milan, Italy on February 24.

He later traveled to his company site in Ogun state on 25th February.

On 26th February, he went to the company’s  staff clinic in Ogun  from where he was referred to Lagos.

He was subsequently confirmed as carrying the virus on February 27.

Nigeria records 389 new cases

Three hundred and eighty-nine new cases  were recorded nationwide yesterday by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to bring the country’s total cases to 12233 .

Sixty six of the fresh infections were in Lagos State,50 in the FCT,32 in Delta,31 in Oyo,26 in Borno and and 24 in Rivers.

The rest are : Edo-23 ;Ebonyi-23; Anambra-17 ;Gombe-17 ;Nasarawa-14; Imo-12 ;Kano-12; Sokoto-12; Jigawa-8; Ogun-7 ;Bauchi-5 ;Kebbi-2 ;Kaduna-2;Katsina-2; Ondo-2; Abia-1; and  Niger-1.

Three thousand, eight hundred and twenty six cases have been discharged so far while three hundred and forty-two deaths have been recorded.

 

Kalu: Senate Chief Whip office thanks Lawan, Gbajabiamila, other legislators for support [Sun]

…As his supporters in Ohafia celebrate

The office of Senate Chief Whip, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, has thanked the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan; Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and other distinguished Senators, as well as the Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila and other members for standing by one of their own, Senator Kalu during his trying times.

An appreciation letter signed by the Special Assistant/Head of Administration, Office of the Senate Chief Whip, National Assembly, Abuja, Emeka Nwala, said the office was “delighted to convey our most sincere gratitude to the Almighty God for bringing to an end this protracted legal battle that has culminated in the eventual release of our principal. This followed the Federal High Court ruling to effect the judgment of Supreme Court of May 8, 2020, which had quashed the judgment of the same Federal High Court that had convicted him in error.

“We, therefore, use this medium to handsomely appreciate all persons who through prayers, goodwill and legal services contributed to today’s victory.”

The office also expressed “appreciation to the executive and hierarchy of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at the national and state levels, as well as all party faithful who believed in the rule of law and hope that God would answer our prayers at His own time.”

They also thanked the constituents of Senator Kalu, pointing out that they shared in the collective victory.

“Our legal team deserves our gratitude for a dogged legal fireworks that have paid off at the end.

“And to all others, we still say a big thank you for believing in the judiciary being the last hope of the common man. We assure everyone that this opportunity of re-alignment will produce more positive impact that will manifest in the polity.”

The office pledged to give every support to their principal to succeed in the delivery of dividends of democracy using the 9th Assembly as a fulcrum.

Meanwhile, business activities were on Thursday grounded in Ohafia, the headquarters of Abia North Senatorial District as scores of supporters of the representative of the district in Senate, Dr Kalu celebrated his release from incarceration.

Kalu’s supporters who drove in a convoy of over 100 motorcycles, tricycles, and vehicles displayed various sizes of his photographs and flexes through the major communities of the 11 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wards of the headquarters of the district.

Singing songs and expressing their appreciation to God for the release of the former governor of Abia State, they pledged their unalloyed support for Kalu’s present position and for his future political ambitions.

Addressing the crowd at the playground of Coronata Secondary School, Asaga Ohafia, the Convener of the rally, Hon. Kalu Mba Nwoke said they would stand with him until the logical conclusion of the matter.

“The Almighty God has by His own intervention when it seemed as if all hopes have been lost showed mercy on him. It is our prayer that at the end of the matter, our Senator, mentor, and hero will be vindicated,” he said.

Nwoke, who represented Ohafor Ward 1 (Asaga Ukwu) and was also the deputy leader of Ohafia Local Government Council, explained that the rally was a tip of the iceberg of what will happen when the Senator will visit the area.

He said: “The Ikenga 1 of Ohafia has been a long time friend of Ohafia and even a registered member of one of the age grades in this community. We will never abandon him as our beloved son come rain, come shine.”

Similarly, a member of the APC and a former chairman of the council, Chief Emeka Uduma Kalu, said that the high turn out of the supporters of Kalu was a clear indication of their love for the Senator, expressing the hope that the matter would end in his favour.

Another Chieftain of APC in the area, Chief Leonard Umezuruike, said that the Senator remains one of the best leaders Ndigbo have had since the advent of the present democratic dispensation in the country, saying that “Kalu has dreams for us all and, therefore, needs our support.”

 

2023 presidency: Why I want Buhari’s job –Tunde Bakare [Sun]

…‘I’m keeping my powder dry’ ■ Speaks on: ■ Buhari’s 5 years in office ■ Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition ■ Zoning ■ Coronavirus pandemic ■ Churches and lockdown ■ B’Haram war

The Serving Overseer, the Citadel Global Community Church, Pastor Tunde Bakare, has said that there is no going back in his vision to take over the Presidency from President Muhammadu Buhari.

Bakare who earlier said that he would be the 16th president after Buhari, maintained his stance in this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun.

He also said that irrespective of his quest for the presidency, he wishes former Lagos State governor and APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu well in his rumoured presidential ambition.

Amongst other issues, Bakare dwelt on the the zoning of presidency, the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world even as he assessed the five years administration of President Buhari. Excerpts:

 

The influx of Almajiri to the South, some are saying that they are not ordinary almajiri, that they are agents of Boko Haram. What is your take on this?

Well, only the intelligence agencies can say that. Security and intelligence agencies, if they have such information at their disposal that some of these so called Almajirai are agents of Boko Haram, then it is a different ball game. And it must be investigated and then, there must be checkmating. In that way, nobody wants violence in our lives and nobody wants anything that will disturb our peace. My issue is, if they are just helpless Nigerians whose parents have not taken care of and government has not provided for in terms of education or training or skill acquisition, then, we have a time bomb in our hands. If indeed they have the proof or they have the information that these have become agents of Boko Haram, then, by all means, they must be checkmated and dealt with according to law.

What do you think the government should do to put an end to the issue of Almajiri in the North?

Did the government create Almajiri in the North? Because they put everything on the government; the bulk is on the government, the bulk is on the government. Self-government is a fundamental principle of an orderly society. Family life is already disrupted in Nigeria. Those children did not get here by themselves. Where are their fathers? Where are their mothers? Whatever system that is encouraging production of children without training, without raising them properly, that is where they should lay the axe to the root of trees. It begins from there. The first institution and the only so-called institution in the Bible is the institution of the holy matrimony. You find that in Malachi, Chapter two. That is the only time the word ‘institution’ is used in the New King James Version of the Bible. And the moment you tamper or destroy that institution of society, then there is problem. Because those in the government, those in the Church or Mosque or anywhere; in the civil service, in the corporate world, they are from families. If our family values have gone down the drain, let’s look within and begin to review the foundations that are already destroyed.

The Coronavirus ravaging the world, is there any spiritual angle to the pandemic?

If you read Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, it says “if you obey and hearken to the voice of the Lord your God and obey His commandments, these blessings shall pursue you and overtake you.” And in verse 15 downward, up to verse 58, “if you would not obey me, I would add extraordinary plagues, sickness and diseases upon you.” God has proved to the whole world He is the owner of the planet. With one virus, He has gotten the attention of the whole world. Now is the time to look within and say, have we violated God’s commandments or have we been destroying the earth so that the owner is resetting it? Coronavirus is real. You can see the devastation even in western world where they have adequate or near adequate infrastructure. When this one hits, it caught everyone unawares and the Nigerian government is trying its hardest. The years of diverting resources meant for the healthcare sector, meant for infrastructure and development are now caught up with us because we just do not have enough resources. It is about power or hospitals or other infrastructure to combat. Neither all! Everybody is staying at home. The earth is having a vacation.

Some are also saying the world is coming to an end. Is it true?

Those who say so should be ready for it. The world will definitely come to an end one day, but what end are they thinking of because the Bible talks about world without end. It will simply be renovated with fire. We are still coming back to this planet. God did not intend to destroy the work up to the point of going to extinction. No! It is the wicked that shall be taken out of the earth. There is going to be a new heaven and new earth where there is God’s righteousness. We must explain these things when we say them. Did that not happen in the days of Noah? The whole earth was flooded. God preserved the family of eight: Noah, his wife, his three sons, their three wives and then, a season of grace began. And they said just as He flooded the earth, in like manner, He will renovate this one with fire. And thereafter, there will be the new heaven and the new earth where there is God’s righteousness and then, He will tabernacle among us, as the new Jerusalem descend from heaven to earth. That is the truth of the Scripture and no one should panic. Gospel of the kingdom shall be praised unto all nations as a witness and then, the end will come.

Another issue that featured prominently during the lockdown was pastors asking church members to send in their tithe. What is your take on that?

You should ask those pastors who asked. I don’t know why they did ask. I do not know the governing structure of their churches, I don’t know if they always ask them to pay before they pay or if the people have persuaded themselves as something right to do. The first time tithe was paid in the Bible, it was paid by Abram. And Melchizedek did not demand it. It is not something you forcefully demand from anyone. It is an act of worship from the heart of a believer to his God. So, it must be governed by the kind of government structure that they have. So, direct your questions to such people because we have not compelled anyone to give us anything, either when we were congregating or now. We only ask people to honour the Lord and it is not compulsory. We don’t put compulsion or put a gun on anybody’s head. And those who complained that they are being asked, it is a stupid thing to say so because the way you carry yourself, that is the way you will be dealt with. It depends on where you go to and what kind of church you go to. You should direct those questions to those who are demanding tithe. Tithe is holy, it is recommended by the Bible in both the Old and the New Testament and it is something that is voluntarily done by a believer in honour and appreciation of God Almighty. But we do not put a demand on anyone that you must do this in order for you to get that. No!

How do you assess President Muhammadu Buhari five years after?

What parameters do you want me to use?

In terms of poverty indices, a look at education, health infrastructure, power and the rest…

If you have driven into the woods, into the jungle and you have gone into the wrong direction for 16 years and you want to fix it back in five years, no! When a tree falls on a tree, you start removing the one at the top. I think he is doing his honest best. This thing did not start yesterday and it cannot be fixed overnight. But we must see evidence of getting solutions to our problems instead of compounding the problems. He indicated before he came in that he would fight corruption to a standstill and he would diversify the economy and then, he would deal with the problem of insecurity. The problem of insecurity existed before he came. At a point in time, Boko Haram was holding unto some local governments in this nation that were under their grip. But that is no longer. That has been broken. They now use some other tactics and strategies like suicide bombers, attacking the vulnerable. The usual combat ready, grabbing territories, putting their flags on, that has been dealt with. It is not over yet and they should not rest on their oars. My considered opinion is that some people, whether within the military or the civil society are benefitting from this because Boko Haram cannot survive if they don’t have human collaborators. They are eating food, who is supplying the food? What market are they buying from? They are having ammunition, where are they getting it from? And I have said it before and I am saying it again, this lockdown, they should ask everybody to stay home for seven days and say it is compulsory and then turn fire on Sambisa forest or wherever they are and rout them out. It is a shame that foreign countries will be entering our territory to checkmate Boko Haram. That is one.

On the economy, he has tried and diversified the economy. Our mono economy that is based on oil which has remained the mainstay of our economy instead of agriculture that used to be, that is no longer going to be the situation. We may not get results overnight, but there is a lot of diversification, even involving directly the Central Bank to ensure that by diversifying, we can have food security. We are not there yet, but there is improvement. Government is a continuum. As far as corruption is concerned, you will see that a lot of what was happening with the funds of ministries that were not returned, all that has been checkmated beginning from the time that President Jonathan set it up and now, it has been formally entrenched that you have to return what is in your ministry. It is not over until we win. It is not over until it is over. He is doing his best and government is a continuum. The responsibility of preachers like me and pastors and Christians is to pray for men in authority. They inherited onerous problems and little by little, that will give us solutions to those problems.

Pastor, this your assessment does not reflect the minds of majority of Nigerians. Don’t you think you will be accused of bias because of your affiliation with President Muhammadu Buhari?

Well, the question you are asking me is your own question because no Nigerian has asked me and said I am biased. Was I biased when I was matching the streets to support President Jonathan who I never met when I passed the streets? I say it the way it is. Those in government, are they foreigners? Are they not Nigerians? Are Nigerians not the ones patronising them if you say there is corruption? Can a ministry, permanent secretary steal just all the money there without awarding contract? Are the contractors not collaborators? They are blaming about less than one per cent of the population of Nigerians called government. I am not saying the government has done everything well, I am not saying they have fulfilled all their promises. I am saying look, let us look within together. If the citizens say no to a thing, there is no way it will continue. But except someone rises up and starts going to the streets, Nigerians will sit and everybody looking at you. They do not know that it is part of their responsibility to hold government accountable. Those who can hold government accountable are those who pay taxes, not those who benefit from whatever they can get from those in authority. If your uncle now becomes a local government chairman and he dedicates three houses in four years, you will be among those who will be congratulating him and you will be there to cover him and put it on the front page of the The Sun Newspaper. Do you celebrate villains or do you celebrate heroes? I am not saying this is a perfect government. We are not where we have wanted to be. Look, until right is might in our nation as against might being right, who you know and your contact and connection; until right is might, until we celebrate excellence and we have meritocracy in place, until they rule of law underlines everything we have, we do not have democracy yet, we have civil rule. Let’s make the best use of what we have.

If you were to be in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, are there things the government has done that you would have opposed?

The truth of the matter is that I am not in that government, so I don’t know everything they have done that I will oppose or will not oppose. Let me be in there first before you ask that question. It is an unfair question because I am not there. I don’t have all the facts.

What is your present relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari?

We spoke yesterday (Sunday, May 31, 2020).

Did he tell you his further plans for the country?

Whatever he tells me is private conversation between us. He gives address to the nation from time to time. I am not his spokesperson.

Most pastors are clamouring for the reopening of churches, while others are saying those making the call are driven by hunger. What is your opinion on this?

I am a law abiding citizen. Romans Chapter 13 says we must obey those who are in authority. I support fully, whatever the government thinks is in our best interest, especially in collaboration with the health workers. I am not desperate to open our Church and if anyone goes to sign that 50 people should come, I won’t even subscribe to that. The reason is simple: It is a waste of time and resources. We are not affected by that in anyway. The Church in the clout is strong and powerful, we are reaching our people where they are and that is why ministry of churches, paradigm should shift from just congregational worship and to be able to do things wherever you are unlike in the world because technology that added to our strategy can only lead to multiplier effect.

Do you still nurse the ambition to become president in 2023?

I have never had any ambition to be president. I have a vision. They are two different things. A companion of ambition is anxiety, while a companion of vision is peace. If that is my destiny, you will see it happen.

In 2023?

As soon as possible.

There were media reports sometime ago that you will be the next president after President Buhari. How true is that?

Media reports from who, by you or by who?

It was all over on the Internet…

Yes, I said so in the Church. I am a free citizen, my desire can be expressed and anyone who is angry about that can express their own. I said he is number 15 and I will be number 16.

Is your vision realisable considering the clamour for Igbo presidency by the easterners who believe it is their turn in 2023?

There is nothing called turn by turn. It is who the cap fits that wears it. I support Igbo people to express their own political aspirations. It is the right of every citizen. A day will come when it will not matter the ethnic nationality, but it will be who can deliver. Whether it is Yoruba or Hausa or Igbo or Kalabari or Fulani, that will not be the issue on that day. But right now, they have every right to express their political aspiration. They are citizens of this country. But turn by turn, I don’t understand why that will be an issue. May that position go to the best and the fittest in our land.

So, you are directly saying no to zoning in 2023, that power should remain in the North?

I have never clamoured for zoning or no zoning. I am saying may the best candidate win. There are two major political parties and if we can’t get our acts together, it will be a sad one. But apart from that, I don’t see any other forceful party who can just come out and have that widespread across the nation. So, if the fight is between PDP and APC in 2023, may the best candidate wins, may the best party win.  It will be better of the two.

Which party will your vision be realised? Is it APC or PDP?

A good general does not put all his battle plans to the open because they are only known to those who are in the engine room or the war room of that general. So, I am keeping my powders dry. When the time comes, you will see how it will come into reality.

There are insinuations that your kinsman, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu will also contest during the 2023 presidential election. What is your take on that?

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a formidable politician; Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has been in the trenches, fighting for democracy in this country. He is entitled to everything that he plans to do. He has not spoken to me personally, but he doesn’t even need to tell me. I can only wish him the best and that God will help him with his aspirations. But that does not mean that the horses that are ready for battle, every one of them will win. The Bible says the horses may be ready for the battle, victory is of the Lord. I wish him all the best. He is entitled to it, he has paid the price and if God grants him life and he throws his hat into the ring, our own desire is that whoever will do Nigeria good and move this country away from doldrums, may God assemble the best of the North and the best of the South, the most competent and the fittest to be the ones that will run the affairs of our nation and not the dregs of society.

 

Uncertain times: Anxiety, fear grip Nigerians as economy show weak signs [Sun]

■ OPS leaders, others proffer solutions

It is indeed uncertain times. Nobody is spared. No organisation is the same again. Most companies have crumbled; those that are still alive will have the big scar of Coronavirus with them for a very long time.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Nigerian economy below the belt thereby worsening the already deteriorating bad situation before the global outbreak of the virus in late December last year.

Today, Nigeria’s economy has been hard hit by the pandemic that it is sliding into another recession.

The pandemic despite being a health issue, has continued to have dangerous impact on the economy, businesses and the lifestyle of citizens.

It has, indeed, caused disruptions, and consequently reshaped the ways of doing things in the bid to achieve  a “new normal.”

Already, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has set the tone of what to expect, when she disclosed during the week in Abuja, at a session with the Senate Committee on Finance, that with the deficit financing of the revised N10.509 trillion 2020 budget rising from N1.847 trillion to N4.563 trillion, the economy might be heading for another recession.

Therefore,  there is no doubt that the country is in for difficult  times. This has equally presented the leadership with the herculean task of devising practical and workable ways to lift the citizenry out of despair and poverty.

While Nigerians are losing their jobs by the day with hunger biting harder, inflation is also on the increase as the value of the naira continues to go down.

Analysts have continually lamented Nigeria’s sluggish growth in the second half of last year, but the scenario has deteriorated this year amid the twin shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global oil price crash.

The lockdown measures imposed across the nation, especially in the commercial nerve centre, Lagos, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, worsened the hit on the economy as the services sector is reeling from the massive reduction in consumption.

With the drive to stem the spread and flatten the curve of the Coronavirus from getting into high gear, the continued disruptions to productive activities undoubtedly further darken the nation’s economic outlook.

Economic analyst and university teacher, Dr Obong Nkak, told Sunday Sun that there are sufficient indications already that the economy may contract again this year and bring things close to where they were during the 2016/2017 recession.

He said one such indicator aside the menace of COVID-19 is the collapse in crude prices, which may hinder domestic production, batter forex and fiscal revenues, and add pressure to the nation’s international reserves and the currency.

Sunday Sun investigation shows that there is the challenge of unemployment in the land as most workers continue to lose their jobs, resulting in rising poverty.

Against the background of the recent report which stated that Nigeria had overtaken India as the nation with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty across the world with an estimated 86.9 million people adjudged to be living on less than $1.25 (N381.25) a day, there seems to be great danger ahead.

The revelation was part of findings by the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation based in Washington DC, the United States of America.

Although the Federal Government was quick to dismiss the Brookings report, analysts linked rising incidents of crime in the country to widespread unemployment and asked President Muhammadu Buhari to prioritise job creation in his second term.

The Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes government must move to salvage investments across all levels to be able to rescue the nation’s economy from collapse.

Director-General of LCCI, Dr Muda Yusuf, who made this known to Sunday Sun, said that the Nigerian government must assume the role of the main driver to propel the stimulus process as seen in other countries in the world.

“To save the economy from collapse, we need to salvage investments across all levels – micro, small, medium and large enterprises.  Without investments, we cannot have jobs; aggregate demand would remain weak; government revenue would be in jeopardy as tax revenue plummets and economic sustainability will be at risk.  This underscores the imperative of an urgent rescue package for businesses to enable investors ride out of the storms,” Yusuf said.

The LCCI boss noted that the activation of the stimulus process could be done through the injection of liquidity, depending on the fiscal space or through policy measures that offer some accommodation that facilitates economic and business recovery.

He, therefore, called for tax breaks and concessions for aviation, hospitality, health sector investors, agriculture and agro-processing, for at least one year as well as the suspension of PAYE for employees for a period of six months.

This, according to him, would put some money back in the hands of the employees during this period to strengthen the purchasing power of citizens and stimulate output within the economy.

Other recommendations, according to the DG of the LCCI include: fiscal policy palliatives for the real sector and the aviation industry; debt reprieve to commercial bank customers in the private sector as well as windows of opportunities for loan moratorium, restructuring of facilities, refinancing and interest rate concessions in the light of the unprecedented downturn in the economy, among others.

On its part, the Nigeria Employers Consultative Forum, NECA, called for synergy between the fiscal and monetary policies in order to rescue the nation’s economy from total collapse.

NECA’s position is contained in a statement by the Director-General of the body, Timothy Olawale.

NECA called on the government to open up the non-oil economy for more productivity, as well as to reduce the anticipated shocks from the crash in global oil prices.

The employers’ association commended the decision of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at its May 2020 meeting, to reduce the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR) from 13.5 per cent to 12.5per cent.

The association stated that the MPC decision “signals a pro-growth response that could lead to reduction in the cost of credit, increase investments and impact positively on output growth in order to address the current global challenges, adding that the MPC held other key parameters unchanged. Cash Reserve Requirement (CRR) remained at 22.7 per cent, while the liquidity ratio was kept at 30 per cent. It retained the asymmetric corridor around the MPR at +200/-500bps.”

NECA stated: “With the negative effects of COVID-19, the twin challenge of the low global oil prices and over-exposure of our economy to external shocks, this decision is a welcome development that the monetary authority, by easing its policy in order to protect the economy.

“We applaud the current decision of the Monetary Policy Committee, which aligned perfectly with the association’s earlier recommendation.

“It is our belief that the committee understands that high interest rate is a risk to the economy at this time. We, therefore, call for synergy between the fiscal and monetary policy in order to move the economy, which is already in bleeding stage. Development of more robust and coordinated stimulus packages for the sectors that are worst hit by the pandemic, and opening up the non-oil economy for more productivity, to reduce the shock expected from falling global oil prices, would be a welcome development in pulling the economy from nose-diving into recession.”

Some experts say the Federal Government’s move to roll out new set of palliatives for Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) is a commendable one as millions of such businesses have no support in any form despite being the bedrock of the economy.

The execution plan they contend is the challenge at the moment just as they argue that the palliatives which appear to be piecemeal should not be so.

Notable banker, Nnamdi Korie, told Sunday Sun that the nation’s economy has always been sustained by small and medium business operators and as a result the government must be sure they are given attention in terms of ensuring they get non-interest loans and financial stimulus.

His words: “Nigeria’s wobbly economy has been sustained by the small business, even at the most trying times so they must be captured and given serious attention. Consider the contributions of market women, hairdressers, barbers, vulcanizers, mechanics, tailors and a host of other similar businesses at the grassroots level of the economy. These people are at their corners doing their own things.

“They constitute the invisible hands holding the economy at all times. And their contributions should not be discounted. Besides, a robust economic recovery plan to deal with post-COVID-19 economic downturn should be the starting point, and the government stimulus should target the entire economy if it must be meaningful.

“Unfortunately, the formal financial sector comprising commercial banks and other non-banking institutions like insurance companies, deposit takers and building societies have no place for SMEs in their credit lending scheme. The SMEs can’t meet the credit conditions set by these institutions.

“Whereas the MFBs are supposed to advance credit to the poor on easily affordable terms, experience has shown that the banks seem to have even more stringent conditions than the commercial banks. Some businessmen and women who have attempted to access credit from the MFBs have been disappointed. So the government must find a way to financially empower SMEs given their relevance to the economy.”

Niyi Soleye in his analysis of the situation told Sunday Sun that it might be a miracle for Nigeria to escape a recession, but urged the government to do the needful so as to salvage the situation fast.

“There is a possibility that we are gradually moving into a recession, but of course it has not been officially declared, but when you look at the economy you will discover that a lot of things are going wrong which is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

“Look at the aviation industry, for instance, that has been grounded, and people are finding it very difficult to eat; some of these things are not officially reported. The truth is that the economy is not in its best shape at the moment, which can be directly attributable to the COVID-19 issue and the oil crash.

“Officially, we cannot say we are in a recession because there are a number of empirical indices you have to put into consideration before you can say that a country has gone into a recession. But definitely if things don’t pick up it is not unlikely that we are on the road there soonest,” Soleye said.

His advice is that the government should start to ease up the economy and embrace diversification to the agricultural sector.

“As much as possible it is commendable that the government is easing up the economy and things are gradually coming back to shape. So, the government should continue to do the gradual and calculated easing of the economy because we can’t continue this way.

“Before the COVID-19, the economy was not really buoyant and now COVID-19 has made the situation worse. The economy should be re-opened as quickly as possible and also taking into cognizance that the COVID- 19 issue too is also a plague, so it is about choosing between life and survival.

“I said life because COVID-19 is a killer and survival because people need to eat, they need to feed and people need to do business, so the economy should be re-opened on time. Another thing is that government should reduce deficit financing, they should stop accumulating debt.

“You can see that the president has requested for another amount, over US$5 billion debt from the House of Representatives members, all of these things have a way that it impacts on the economy because at the end of the day when you are joining up the budget a particular part of the budget will still be tied to debt servicing and how are we sure that even the money that was borrowed will be used for the purpose it was borrowed.

“Trust itself is really low on the side of the government. Of course, cost of governance is high in Nigeria so these are some of the things that can be done to ensure that the country does not go under. There is also the issue of overhead, administrative capital item when parastatals adjoin their budgets, when you look at overhead alone it is a large chunk that still needs to be reduced.

“Generally, we need more transparent people in government. The cost of corruption is really high in this country and it is frightening , but in all there is urgent need for diversification, not on lip service. The simple fact is that diversification is the key to growth.  We should see agriculture as a business because there is a lot of potential in the agriculture sector,” he said.

Observers contend that President Buhari should not lose focus on improving infrastructure such as building the transportation network (roads and railway), improve other wide-ranging infrastructure and fix the electricity grid as a prop for economic growth.

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