President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) not to give a dime of the country’s reserves for the importation of food items and fertilizer.
The president’s directive to remove food and fertilizer from the list of import items classified as valid for foreign exchange’ in the Nigerian forex market is part of federal government’s economic sustainability plan and sets goal for national food security.
Buhari reiterated his earlier verbal directive to the apex bank, saying he will pass it down in writing that ”nobody importing food should be given money.”
Speaking at meeting of the National Food Security Council at the presidential villa, the president emphasised the need to boost local agriculture.
”From only three operating in the country, we have 33 fertilizer blending plants now working. We will not pay a kobo of our foreign reserves to import fertilizer. We will empower local producers,” a statement by presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, quoted the president as saying.
President Buhari also directed that blenders of fertilizer should convey products directly to state governments so as to skip the cartel of transporters undermining the efforts to successfully deliver the products to users at reasonable costs.
Advising private businesses bent on food importation to source their foreign exchange independently, he said, ”Use your money to compete with our farmers instead of using foreign reserves to bring in compromised food items to divest the efforts of our farmers.
”We have a lot of able-bodied young people willing to work and agriculture is the answer. We have a lot to do to support our farmers”.
President Buhari also said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the level of preparedness of nations to shocks of food security, explaining that the federal government’s wisdom in promoting self-sufficiency over the years helped significantly in averting a food crisis.
Buhari noted that there was need for more effort to increase food production and self-sufficiency, assuring that the Federal Government will continue to promote policies that favour investments in the agricultural sector.
He stated: “The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated more than any event in recent history how countries must strive harder to protect food systems. It has also exposed the limits of dependency on other countries.
“In the last five years we have recorded notable achievements. Despite the decline in GDP by 6.1 per cent in Q2 of 2020 as a direct result of coronavirus, the agricultural sector continued to grow because of government targeted policies.’’
President Buhari, who commended Nigerian farmers for contributing to the stability in food security, said the favourable rainy seasons should serve as encouragement for many to take up farming as a vocation.
“I am pleased to note that most Nigerians are taking advantage of the opportunities in the agriculture and agric-business sector. I want to assure you that this government will continue to support these initiatives and many more to come,” he noted.
The president also said efforts will be channeled to innovative ways of farming that will guarantee maximum output.
At the meeting which had other key members of the council in attendance, the president was briefed on the food security situation prevailing in the country.
Vice chairman of the council and Kebi State governor, Atiku Bagudu; chief of staff to the president, Prof Ibrahim Gambari and one governor from each of the six geo-political zones – Jigawa, Plateau, Taraba, Ebonyi, Lagos and Kebbi, made presentations at the meeting.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr Zainab Ahmed, outlined measures introduced by the Buhari administration to tackle the unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation as contained in the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP).
The minister noted that the government will facilitate the cultivation of 20,000 to 100,000 hectares of new farmland in every state as well as support off-take of agro-processing to create millions of direct and indirect job opportunities.
She also listed the creation of 774,000 direct jobs for a minimum of 1,000 young Nigerians in each local government, the construction of 300,000 homes every year to give a boost to jobs through the construction industry, and the connection of 25 million new users of electricity with the installation of Solar Home System (SHS) targeting 5 million households.
Ahmed also briefed on the joint investment with the World Bank to provide intervention fund to States to improve health infrastructure.
She said to ease existing financial hardships among the people, the government is also coming up with low-interest loans for mechanics, tailors, artisans, petty traders and other informal business operators.
The minister added that the federal government will equally provide support to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) to help them keep their employees and boost local manufacturing.
Ahmed explained that from the recently approved N2.3trillion stimulus recommended by the NESP, there will be expansion of broadband connectivity to boost job opportunities in the digital economy, a planned expansion of the National Social Investment Programmes, including increase in the number of beneficiaries such as the cash transfer beneficiaries, N-Power Volunteers, the Market Moni and Trader Moni schemes.
In his presentation, the minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, told the Council that the nation expects a bumper harvest of food items despite floods in the north and drought in the south.
He quoted the latest market surveys to show that the recent hike in the price of commodities is being reversed.
On his part, secretary to the government of the federation and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, reported the negative impact of the pandemic on the lives and livelihood of citizens, while the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (Rtd) expressed hope of an early reopening of the partially closed borders given the progress made with neighbouring states in joint border patrols, one of the key conditions by Nigeria for reopening of the borders.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Kebbi State governor and vice chairman of the council, Atiku Bagudu, said the setting up of a national council on food security was a good move by President Buhari because the country was already yielding dividends from the initiative.
The gvernor, who is the Vice Chairman of the Council, said the country is also setting up food processing plants that will preserve some food items that are perishable in nature.
In his opening remark at the council meeting, chief of staff to the president, Prof Gambari, observed that the general concerns over rising prices of food grains had been allayed by operators of the markets, who had informed the Council that the prices were declining already.
According to him, the most prevailing concern among the market leaders are the need for better coordination, synergy and cooperation across the sector, the lack of which that had claimed were responsible for the widespread misinformation and nationwide speculation.
He said, “Yesterday, my office as the secretariat of National Food Security Council, met with the all agricultural commodity association, to ascertain the root causes of the recent spike in food prices and craft mitigating strategies to what could be a potential crisis.
“Although various concerns were raised of the root cause of increase in commodity cost, we have been informed that prices are actually on the decline as new grains have been introduced to the market.
“For example, new maize which was previously sold for N25,000 per bag is now being sold between N12,000 and N17,000 and it’s expected to fall between N7,000 and N8,000 per bag by November 2020, according to the various leaders of agricultural commodity association. The price decline has also been experienced in millet, beans and sorghum. The hike therefore is to be seen as a transient situation”.
PMB Approves N8.9bn Hazard Allowance for Health Workers
Meanwhile, President Buhari has approved N8.9bn Covid -19 hazard allowance for health workers in the country.
Secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, disclosed this yesterday during the briefing of the presidential task force on COVID-19.
Mustapha, who is also the chairman of the PTF, added that the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospitals and isolation centres will be given priority.
He said, “I am pleased to announce that Mr. President has graciously approved additional N8.9bn for COVID-19 hazard allowance to all medical health workers.
In addition, the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for hospitals and isolation centres will be given priority.
As part of the efforts to promote community engagement, Mustapha said the PTF met with the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Polio and Primary Health Care, to discuss how they can all control community spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the royal fathers pledged their commitment and continued support as custodians of Nigeria’s rich history and cultures.
For emphasis, the SGF said it was expected that all travelers arriving in Nigeria must have tested negative for COVID-19 by PCR in country of departure pre-boarding and the PCR test must be done within 72-96 hours before departure.
Resident Doctors Suspend Strike
The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) yesterday suspended its nationwide strike which commenced on Monday.
“Following our meeting yesterday with the government, we had a NEC meeting and resolved to once again suspend our strike to allow government time to address our demands”, NARD’s national president, Dr Sokomba Aliyu, said.
The resident doctors had embarked on the nationwide indefinite strike on Monday over failure of the government to meet their demands made in June.
In June, the doctors embarked on a week strike over unpaid salaries, non-payment of hazard allowance, and a dearth of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals, among other reasons.
The association had issued a 21-day ultimatum to the federal government to fulfill its demands, but when the ultimatum elapsed, NARD said a strike was imminent to press home its demands.
On Wednesday, the federal government and the doctors reached an agreement to end the industrial action.
Northern Govs Meet On Pandemic, Reintegration Of Almajirai
Meanwhile, the Northern Governors’ Forum met yesterday to further discuss issues relating to the development of the region and Covid-19.
In a virtual meeting presided over by the chairman of the forum and governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, the northern governors said they were satisfied with the level of awareness and testing, particularly as all the states of the region now have testing centres.
They however resolved to sustain community engagement to prevent further spread of the disease particularly in rural areas.
According to a statement issued by Plateau State director of press and public affairs, Simon Makut Macham, the governors were also briefed on the order for mobile testing vans which they made, saying once they are supplied, they will help in diagnosing about 30 clinical conditions including HIV, TB, HEPATITIS, EBOLA among others.
The Economic Blueprint Committee headed by the governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, briefed the forum that a document had been developed encompassing the present economic situation of the region and highlighting how to harness its many potentials, particularly during the post-COVID era.
The governors also reviewed the success of the ban on Almajiri phenomenon in the North and concluded that it was a success as the children were evacuated to their States of origin to reunite with their families and guardians.
The statement noted: “To further consolidate on this success and ensure that the children are given proper education and care, the Northern Governors received briefing from Mariam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments who explained that the Federal Government was willing to partner with the Northern Governors in the process of ensuring that the children are given a smooth transition from the Almajiri system to formal education.”
Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Paullen Tallen, also addressed the northern governors on the girl child in Northern Nigeria where she stressed that educating the girl child is the best way to reduce the burden of the region be it poverty, illiteracy or disease.
Private Polytechnics Proprietors Call For Reopening Of Schools
Meanwhile, the Association of Proprietors of Private Polytechnics in Nigeria (APPPN) yesterday called on the federal government to reopen polytechnics in the country.
The association’s president, Chief MS Adeyemi made the call while reacting to the position of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) which backed the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that schools in the country should not be reopened.
ASUP and ASUU had argued that the population of students in public tertiary institutions was too large to allow for social distancing in line with COVID-19 management protocols.
But the APPPN said it doubted the sincerity of ASSU and ASUP in this regard.
It said COVID-19 had exposed admission fraud in public tertiary institutions, adding that the regulatory bodies, National University Commission (NUC) and National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) access facilities before granting approval to offer a programme and do not also authorise admission above the carrying capacity of the Institutions based of its facilities.
But the federal government yesterday said it will use the whole of this week and next week to do a proper evaluation of schools for a possible reopening.
The minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, who stated this at a meeting of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 said it has not come to a point where it is convinced that schools should be re-opened for academic exercise after their closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
10% Of Positive Cases Are Children – Minister
Meanwhile, renewing the warning of the PTF on COVID 19 against reopening of schools, the minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has said that 10 per cent of positive cases are children and adolescents.
Ehanire who stated this during the PTF briefing yesterday noted that more than half of the children and adolescents are in the age bracket of 10-18 years.
He said, “It is therefore pertinent at this point to renew the warning of the PTF on the reopening of schools so as not to expose our children to the risk of infection.”
Manufacturers Donate N8bn Cash, N300million Palliatives
Meanwhile, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) has said its members made donations worth N8billion in cash and N300million worth of palliative materials to both federal and states governments during the outbreak of COVID-19.
President of MAN, Mr Mansur Ahmed, made this known at the 48th annual general meeting of the association in Lagos.
Ahmed told journalists that indicators revealed that the nation was not immune to the challenges as world manufacturing also experienced inconsistency in production growth, indicating an overall economic slowdown.