Apparently wary of the impending danger the global pandemic poses to the country’s economy and social life, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday directed the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to double efforts to flatten the curve on Coronavirus as quick as possible in order to break the chain of a looming community transmission.
He gave the directive from his office in Aso Rock during a video conference with members of the taskforce.
Since coronavirus spreads on an exponential level, the president had ordered a two-week lockdown in Abuja Lagos and Ogun States, which he again extended for another 14 days, to ensure social distancing with a view to slowing the acceleration of the spread of the virus.
The lockdown in these parts of the country as well as other states where the governors had adopted the measures put in place by the federal government is impacting negatively on the country’s economy, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicting on Tuesday that Nigeria’s economy this year will witness the worst recession in 30 years.
Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who is chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, gave the hint of the president’s directive while speaking with State House correspondents yesterday.
He said, “In the last two weeks we have been able to go to where we are now and the president is conscious of the fact that we need to flatten the curve as quickly as possible and be able to trace, find the people, conduct as numerous tests as we can and try as much as possible to break the chain of any community transmission.
“I can’t assure you that there won’t be transmission; there will definitely be transmission but if we are able to get ahead of it then we can deal with it decisively.
“Some of the new measures that the President has introduced include asking a committee to look at how the economy will operate within the context of COVID-19 and the other one is for the Presidential Task Force to work hand in hand with the minister of Agriculture and the committees on food security and fertilizer to ensure that the adverse effect of COVID-19 on farming is reduced to the barest minimum.
“This is because the truth about it is that our people need to go back to their farms so that we are able to raise sufficient food for the people of the country. The strength of a nation is in its ability to feed itself.”
The SGF appealed to Nigerians to be more patient as government adopts measures that would help contain the virus and ensure their safety.
FG Reviews Palliative Distribution, Targets 25% Urban Poor
The federal government has said it will now focus on poor Nigerians in urban areas as it carries out President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive on the distribution of palliatives to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on Nigerians.
Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, who disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents noted that her ministry has three options in terms of methods to be adopted in selecting the beneficiaries of the scheme.
She said, “You are aware that the president, in his broadcast of Monday 13th April, directed that we expand the beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer by one million and in this regard, we are going to focus more now on the urban poor.
“These are people who depend on the informal sector to earn their livelihood. They are daily wage earners and these are the people that we are really going to focus more on as well as people living with disabilities.
“Well, we have three options. One, we are going to use the national social register that we already have; two, we are also going to focus on the urban poor as I mentioned by using their verified BVN accounts to get them. That is people who have account balance of N5,000 and below.
“We are also using the mobile networks to know people that top up the credit units for their phones with may be N100 or less. These are also people that we consider to be poor and vulnerable. So, these are the three options that we are exploring and I am sure that by the time we get this data we will be able to give this intervention.”
The minister however said only 25 per cent of the population would benefit for now, adding that the scope might be expanded later.
“Let me also say that we have a standard. 25 percent of the total population of is what we will take out. It cannot go round everywhere but we are starting from somewhere. 25 per cent of let’s say the location of Lagos State for example is what is going to benefit from this intervention that we are doing. Going forward, we might expand it but this is what is obtainable for now,” she explained.
She further said the ministry was planning to handover the distribution of food items to state governments so as to address the challenges associated with distribution faced in the past.
Farouq continued: “On the issue of palliatives in terms of food relief, we have an emergency response plan in place. In the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, we have different functional groups.
“One of such groups is that which deals with mass care, logistics and security to be led by the National Emergency Management Agency under the ministry and they have a structure; from national, states, down to local governments where the various state emergency agencies and other security agencies are involved in this distribution.
“So far, we have already done the distribution together with the state authorities in these two states affected by the lockdown, together with the FCT but going forward, when we are going to give these food items we are going to hand them over to the states because issues have come up. As at yesterday our people were mobbed; some of them were attacked in the course of carrying out this assignment. So, the general conclusion is that we give this food relief directly to the state governments for them to distribute to the beneficiaries”.
Shedding more light on the N21billion support given to Nigeria by the European Union to fight COVID-19, the minister said the donation is coming in form of medical equipment and provision of structures that will help Nigeria fight the deadly disease.
She said, “This donation is coming in kind basically by way of medical equipment and also some structure to be put in place as a response to this COVID-19 pandemic.
“In that intervention, there are also humanitarian issues that would be addressed. As you are aware, this is a health emergency but at the same time it is also a humanitarian emergency. So, the ministry is going to come in here because we are to coordinate all humanitarian interventions coming into the country by way of making sure that such interventions get to the poor and vulnerable in our society”.
Gov Ayade, Etsu Nupe Distribute Relief Items
Cross River state governor, Sir Ben Ayade, yesterday distributed stimulus package to vulnerable persons as well as citizens who cannot fend for themselves due to age or incapacitation across the 18 local government areas of the state.
Speaking at CROSPIL in Calabar during the distribution of the stimulus package, Ayade declared that he had already approved N30,000 as monthly stipend for beneficiaries of the automatic employement given to 8000 youths between the ages of 18 to 35 in the state starting from Tuesday next week.
He said, „Distributing food is not the real palliative; the real pallia tive is in giving people jobs .Palliative which is temporal is for poor and vulnerable who cannot fend for themselves.
„We are starting the real palliative on Tuesday. Whether you are a gardener or cleaner, whatever you can do, we will give you a job but we can only pay you N30,000. If you know you need it and want to earn that amount please put down your names and phone numbers; you will be contacted.
„The food will be shared through our traditional rulers to all the 18 local government areas. We want it to get to the grassroots. This is not about political party; it is about governance. We will also give to churches and various religious organisations to distribute because they know the people well.
„This is a time to show humanity. Humanity does not know colour or ethnicity. We need to stop spreading fear about the pandemic. What we need is to show the people love, especially at this critical time. Fear and hunger is killing people even more than the pandemic”.
Governor Ayade also thanked President Buhari and the Central Bank of Nigeria for approving and facilitating the distribution of rice seedlings from the Cross River seedlings factory to other states
He said, „We want to thank President Buhari and the Central Bank of Nigeria for granting us clearance to our rice seedlings to states.
„We have built industries and made serious investments. Federal government support is key; we need more of their support so that we can achieve more growth and development in our economy and even more“.
In the same vein, the Etsu Nupe and chairman, Niger State Council of Traditional Rulers, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, yesterday distributed assorted food items and undisclosed amount of cash to indigent persons in his domain.
The Etsu Nupe who flagged off the distribution at his Wadata Palace, Bida, yesterday said the gesture was part of efforts to alleviate the suffering of the people of his kingdom as a result of hardship caused by the lockdown to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The royal father said that the items and cash were donated by philanthropic individuals within and outside his domain.
Etsu Nupe therefore announced the formation of a five-man committee to take charge of the distribution of the food items and money to the deserving beneficiaries across the local government areas in his domain.
He charged the members of the committee to live above board and ensure fairness and ensure that the food items and money get to the needy subjects in his domain.
The royal father also appealed to wealthy Nigerians to assist the less privileged in the society with food items and money to cushion the economic effects of the lock down.
„I want to appeal to wealthy individuals in my kingdom and beyond to assist the less privileged during these trying times as a result of COVID-19 pandemic“, he stated, even as he commended all those who have contributed to his domain, the state and Nigeria to mitigate the suffering of the people .
The chairman of the distribution committee, Barayan Nupe and District Head of Edokota, Alhaji Abubakar Shaba, assured that the items would be distributed to the targeted people through respective wards in the area.
Tinubu Seeks Cash Payments Via BVN, Debt Relief For Nigeria
To assuage the pains of the coronavirus pandemic, the national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, has said that the situation presents a historic chance for the federal government to establish a more beneficial social contract with Nigerians.
The former Lagos State governor canvassed the payment of the cash palliatives through the Bank Verification Number (BVN) while the government embarks on international diplomacy to get debt relief.
In a statement he issued yesterday on appropriate economic stimulus for Nigerians and the revamping of the nation’s economy at this challenging time, Tinubu emphasised that if the country utilises the gains of the moment, it will be recorded as a pivotal one in its national history.
Tinubu in the statement tagged, “Coronavirus Economic Stimulus Programme”, said that the world has gone into self-induced economic contraction in a bid to stop the viral spread of the disease, noting that most recessions have their roots in crisis borne first in the financial sector.
According to him, most businesses have been roughly battered by the crisis, adding that without relief, many of the small businesses will permanently close even when things return to normal.
He said, “The financial sector too has suffered. Foreign investment has shrunk as has domestic borrowing. Large businesses also struggle because aggregate demand for their products and services has fallen. Yet, help to banks and large business is relatively simple. Such aid can be rapidly provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The CBN can lend large amounts of virtually non-interest loans to these firms with the proviso that the companies maintain their existing payrolls.’’
Tinubu pointed out that activation of Trader-moni and other programmes may help many small-scale traders but not the average wage earner who just lost his job.
“Resort to the strategic grain reserves will blunt hunger but the finite reserve cannot cover all who are in danger. If we do not take additional steps to stimulate the economy and answer the demand for food, we risk a deep economic contraction that will prove difficult to cure. The worst of this dark potential can be avoided if government is prepared to act in ways that not only feeds people but protect the basic contours of our private-sector economy so that it can more quickly revive once normal conditions return”.
Tinubu argued that at a time recessionary forces outweigh inflationary one, the agricultural sector hurts in part and the service and manufacturing sectors weakened in the face of urban employment now severely battered, the economy is bound to suffer palpable contraction unless government enacts countervailing measures.
To this end, he recommended the suspension or amendment of five per cent deficit limit of fiscal, saying that the “Fiscal Responsibility Act was first passed in 2007 has already experienced three abnormal periods”.
He continued: “The 2009 financial and banking crisis heavily affected us. The 2015-16 oil price recession heavily affected us. The present crisis is now heavily affecting us. In normal times, the provision constitutes a handcuff on the federal government’s ability to stimulate economic growth. In the current situation, the provision is a mean straitjacket blocking the federal government from taking the steps required to salvage the economy at a time when only the federal government can do so.
“The best step would be to suspend the five per cent budgetary limit for this fiscal year. Alternatively, the limit should be raised to 25-30 per cent to allow the federal government more room to make the minimum expenditures necessary to save the economy and the people”.
With the fiscal latitude provided by lifting the budgetary limit, Tinubu said that the government can render emergency sustenance relief to most Nigerian households, especially the recently unemployed, via cash payments.
He said: “This will blunt hunger, maintain aggregate demand in the domestic economy and help sustain private-sector markets to the extent possible. Directed towards needy and modest households, such expenditure must be heavily weighted to local produce, not to imports. This will help mute inflation.
“Such payments can be done in either one or in a combination of three ways. First, we can designate a stipend for every household. The amount should be enough to pay for the monthly needs of an ‘average’ household for food and other basics. While this may somewhat penalise larger families, perfection cannot be had at this time.
“Second, the stipends could be given as a form of emergency unemployment insurance to those who can prove they were relieved of employment due to the crisis. This would be more targeted at the actual victims of the crisis but harder to administer. This stipend would also have to be extended to owners of small and medium- sized businesses.
“Third, we could render some form of payroll support to companies and businesses that seek to retain workers albeit they may not be fully employed. The stipend could help companies stay in operation while maintaining workers on their payroll. By maintaining workers, the company can more swiftly return to full operation when normalcy returns.
“Payment of these stipends will require hiring additional government workers to augment the existing bureaucracies to implement this program. This administrative requirement will help boost employment and aggregate consumer demand”.
38 Discharged In 4 States, Abuja
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State yesterday announced the recovery and discharge of 16 COVID-19 patients, including three foreigners in the state.
Sanwo-Olu, through his Twitter account, said that the patients, 14 males and two females, including three foreigners- British, Chinese and Polish citizens- were discharged to join the society.
According to him, 14 of the discharged patients were from the Mainland Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, and two from Onikan Isolation Centre.
He said that the patients had fully recovered and tested negative twice consecutively to the virus.
“This brings the number of patients successfully managed and discharged from our facilities to 85”, he added.
Also, six of the nine patients who tested positive to CORVID-19 in Akwa Ibom State and earlier identified by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were yesterday discharged at the Ibom Specialist Hospital in Uyo, the state capital.
Addressing journalists while discharging the patients, the state commissioner for Health, Dr Dominic Ukpong, said out of the initial nine patients that tested positive to the virus, one of them having been well treated was discharged after testing negative.
“I am happy to announce to you today that six out the remaining eight are now cured and free to go home,” he said.
18 Nigerians Killed In Lockdown Enforcement, NHRC Alleges
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has received and documented a total of 105 complaints of cases of human rights violations allegedly perpetuated by law enforcement agencies and sexual gender-based violence (SGBV).
The human rights violations were said to have been committed within the period of March 30 to April 13, 2020, which was the period of the initial lockdown by both the federal and state governments.
In a report released in Abuja yesterday, the commission said that the complaints were monitored and received from 24 of the 36 states of the federation.
The statement signed by signed by NHRC executive secretary, Tony Ojukwu, listed states covered to include Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Benue , Cross rivers , Ebonyi , Edo , Enugu, Ekiti. Other states include; Delta, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kogi, kwara, Lagos, Nassarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun, plateau, Rivers and Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Of the 105 complaints/incidents of human rights violations documented within the initial two weeks lockdown, Lagos State reportedly recorded the highest number with 28 complaints.
The report noted that FCT followed with10 cases, Enugu State nine cases, Abia, Delta and Nassarawa States recorded seven, six and five cases respectively, while Rivers and Imo States had five and four incidents of human rights violations respectively.
Similarly, Ekiti, Akwa Ibom, Gombe Kaduna and Ebonyi States recorded three incidence each, while Kwara, Osun, Benue and Niger States recorded two each.
Edo, Adamawa, Ogun, Cross River, Kogi, Bayelsa, Katsina and Plateau States recorded one each.
According to the report, complaints of human rights violations were received and documented by the commission in the following thematic areas: extra judicial killings, violation of rights to freedom on of movement, unlawful arrest and detention, seizure/confiscation of properties, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), discrimination, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as extortion.
There were eight documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths.
Of this number, the report said 12 deaths were recorded in Kaduna State alone; Abia State recorded two deaths arising from two incidents, while Delta, Niger, Ebonyi and Katsina States recorded one death each.
The report noted that whereas COVID-19 led to the death of 11 victims, law enforcement agents extra-judicially executed 18 persons in the course of the enforcement regulation.
The Nigerian Correctional Service was responsible for eight of the 18 deaths recorded, the Nigerian Police Force seven, the Nigerian Army two, while the Ebonyi Task Force on COVID-19 in Aikton South local government was held responsible for one death.
The report noted that most of the violations witnessed during the period arose as a result of excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption and non-adherence to national and international laws, best practices and rules of engagement.
„The National Human Rights Commission in collaboration with OSIWA, UK DFD, The Shehu Yar ‚Adua Foundation and the Switzerland Embassy have developed an app for the electronic monitoring, documentation and reporting of human rights violations and SGBV and this will be used on weekly bases throughout the period of the lockdown,“ the report said.
We have Told The World What Happened – NCoS
But contrary to the claim by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that eight inmates died during an attempted jailbreak at the Kaduna Custodial Centre on March 31, the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) yesterday insisted that only four lives were lost.
The Service’s image maker, DCC A.C Njoku who faulted the report by NHRC in a telephone chat told LEADERSHIP: „We had issued a press statement to address this issue. All the same, they can write whatever they want to write but we don‘t care.
„We have told the world what happened and we are waiting for the final report. The truth remains that we cannot manufacture death report or certificates for the additional four inmates they are claiming to have lost their lives.
„Contrary to what they are saying, we lost four inmates in that crisis. I don‘t know where they got eight from. They can write whatever they want but we still stand by our press release.
„Sadly, 10 of our officers were severely injured wounded. Surprisingly, nobody is talking about that. It‘s saddening that attention is on people who want to escape and who may likely go and cause mayhem if they had escaped and possibly cause misfortune which may in turn claim their lives and that of other innocent Nigerians.
„Again, if they had successfully escaped, the same people will write and raise the alarm. They would have even accused us of carelessness. But with all said and done, our position is that only four, not eight inmates, died in all. So, whatever story they are making, they are free”.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the attempted jailbreak occurred when some inmates demanded their release over fears of contracting coronavirus in the cell.
The attempted jailbreak was carried out by a section of the condemned convict cell in the custodial centre.
Police Kill Man, Injure Another Over Lockdown Breach
Meanwhile, tragedy struck yesterday in Nkpor, Idemili-North local government area of Anambra State as a team of policemen deployed by the state police command to enforce compliance with the lockdown killed a middle-aged man and injured another.
But the commissioner of police, Mr John Abang, in a swift reaction told journalists at the police headquarters, Amawbia, that the incident occurred when the police team reacted in self-defence.
He stated that the dead man, whose name was given as Ebuka Agbaja, and his injured colleague whose identity was not ascertained at the time of filing this report were among a team of ‘hoodlums’ who attacked the police team with acid.
He said that one of the police personnel, Corporal Christopher Ozor, was bathed with acid and was rushed to police hospital in Onitsha.
He further stated that they even attempted to snatch Corporal Ozor‘s rifle from him and it was the successful self-defence tactic employed by the policemen that saved the day.
Abang expressed dismay that despite the order by both the state and federal governments for people to stay in their various homes, people were still trooping to the roads.