ECOWAS Appoints Buhari to Lead COVID-19 Debt-forgiveness Campaign

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  • 108 more COVID-19 cases push tally to 981
  • FG accuses China of racism
  • Studying govs’ call for lockdown on interstate movement
  • Says 40 health workers infected with virus
  • NCDC, WHO redeploy 17 officials to Kano
  • ANAP seeks lockdown review to save economy

Omololu Ogunmade, Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja,  Peter Uzoho and Martin Ifijeh in Lagos

West African leaders under the aegis of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments, yesterday appointed President Muhammadu Buhari as Champion of the COVID-19 Response to, among others, lead the region’s campaign for debt forgiveness.

Buhari’s appointment, according to Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, took place at the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on COVID-19 held through teleconferencing and chaired by the President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.

African leaders have been forceful in their demand for a debt relief in view of the economic disruptions triggered  by the pandemic, which  have undermined the income streams of many countries.

However,  with the uncertainty surrounding how soon the virus would be defeated,  many blocs within the continent have  stepped up their preparations to rally support  for the clarion campaign for a debt relief.

In Nigeria, the pandemic has maintained its upward rise with 108 COVID-19 cases confirmed yesterday to bring the total to 981.

The federal government has also accused China of racism and discriminatory practices against Nigerians and black people in the country following the outbreak of COVID- 19 in some parts of China.

The government,  however,  said it was yet to take a position on the proposal by the 36 state governors for an interstate lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.

It also said no fewer than 40 health workers had tested positive for the virus.

Analysing the import of Buhari’s appointment as Champion of the COVID-19 Response for THISDAY yesterday,  a top federal government official said the appointment was similar to the earlier one conferred on the president by African leaders as Africa’s Anti-corruption Champion, which portrayed him as a moral authority to lead the way against corruption.

He explained that yesterday’s  appointment of the president was the fallout of a discussion in the meeting on how the West African sub-region should respond to COVID-19 as well as how it should prepare for post-COVID-19.

According to him, as it is common knowledge that the region is asking for debt forgiveness from both China and G-20, the appointment implies that the president, whom he said secured the backing of all leaders present at the meeting for the appointment, will articulate how the campaign for debt relief will be pursued as well as the level of preparation for post-COVID-19 West Africa.

Earlier,  Adesina, in the statement, had said during the meeting, Buhari admonished fellow ECOWAS leaders to look beyond the threat posed by COVID-19 pandemic and explore other opportunities presented by the outbreak to ameliorate the living standard of people in member states.

“In every challenging situation such as the current one, there are also opportunities. Our region must therefore seek to find those opportunities provided by this gloomy global outlook for its benefit by embarking on the implementation of such critical policies, which before now, will be difficult to accept,” he  said.

Buhari appealed to his colleagues to intensify collaboration with one another with a view to saving the region from “this deadly pandemic through sharing our experiences and best practices.”

The president outlined some measures taken by his government so far in fighting the pandemic to include:

“The reduction of interest rates on all applicable Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) interventions from 9 to 5 per cent and introduction of a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities;

“The inauguration of presidential task force to coordinate national efforts to combat the spread of the virus and ensure efficiency and effectiveness in line with the Nigerian Action Plan on Health Security;

“The provision of relief materials, including medical and food supplies, as well as conditional cash transfers of N20, 000 each for poor and vulnerable households and the establishment of more isolation centres and testing facilities to contain the spread of the virus.”

Buhari added  that unprecedented economic uncertainties, such as severe fiscal and foreign exchange constraints, amid a slow global economic growth currently confronting several nations had made it imperative for “our sub-region to refocus on accelerating the implementation of our popular vision of ‘ECOWAS of the people’ by adopting dynamic regional policies aimed at providing relief to our citizens.”

“Despite declining revenues, government continues to spend massively on the containment of the virus, medical care for those infected and minimising impact of the crisis on the poor and vulnerable.

“This situation puts severe pressure on our finances by increasing our expenditures amid dwindling revenues. This invariably has led to a restructuring and reduction of our budget,” he stated.

Buhari used the opportunity of the forum to rally other leaders to embrace agriculture, technology, innovation and also to create jobs and reduce poverty to enable West African economies emerge stronger.

“It is imperative that while addressing short term challenges, we should also explore opportunities to promote strong and dynamic agricultural policies that will guarantee food security for our people, creating jobs and reducing poverty in the region. We must innovate and use technology to boost the digital economy and do things differently, but better,” he said.

Buhari affirmed Nigeria’s solidarity with other member states as they battle COVID-19, saying he is saddened by the loss of lives to the pandemic.

“At a time of global uncertainty such as this, caused by the devastating impact of the COVID-19, let me convey Nigeria’s solidarity with all the member states as we collectively battle to defeat the pandemic. I am greatly saddened by loss of numerous lives and extend my heartfelt condolences to families of those who have lost loved ones throughout the region. I also wish infected victims speedy and full recovery,” he said.

He reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to the well-being and safety of the people of the sub-region and also restated his support for any initiative from the summit aimed at containing the spread of the disease.

108 More COVID-19 Cases Push Tally to 981

Also yesterday,  the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed 108 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of the incidence since the index case occurred in Lagos on February 27 to 981; with 197 patients discharged and 31 deaths.

The NCDC, in a tweet, gave the breakdown of the 108 reported cases as 78 in Lagos; 14 in FCT; five in Ogun; four in Gombe; three Borno; two in Akwa Ibom as well as one each in Kwara and Plateau.

With the latest tally, Lagos State remains the epicentre of the pandemic with a total of 582 cases followed by the FCT with 133.

Other are: Kano-73; Ogun-29; Katsina-21; Osun-20; Oyo-17; Edo-17; Borno-12; Kwara-11; Akwa Ibom-11; Kaduna-9; Gombe-9; Bauchi-8;Delta-6; Ekiti-4; Ondo-3; Rivers-3; Jigawa-2; Enugu-2; Niger-2; Abia-2; Benue-1; Anambra-1; Sokoto-1; Adamawa-1 and Plateau-1.

FG Accuses China of Racism

The federal government has accused China of racism and discriminatory practices against Nigerians and black people in the country following the outbreak of COVID- 19 in some parts of the country.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, at the  media briefing of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 yesterday in Abuja, likened the recent treatment meted out to Nigerians in Guangzhou as crossing the red line.

“We have been engaging with China at various levels; at the level of our consulate in Guangzhou where the cases of racism and discrimination have been ongoing and also at the federal level in Beijing, through our embassy. We have made it clear to the Chinese government in no uncertain terms that under no circumstance will we accept racial discrimination against Nigerians or Africans or Blacks in China. That is a red line for us,” Onyeama stated.

He said although the Chinese had  denied the allegation, complaint by maltreated Nigerians and video proofs  supported the claims of discrimination and racism.

He said the federal government had  directed the Nigerian consulate in Guangzhou to detail all instances of discrimination, losses and damages suffered by any Nigerian.

He added that such violations will be  pursued with the Chinese government if it requires compensation or damages.

He said: “We are extremely disappointed because we have excellent relations with the government and people of China that such a thing can happen at this stage.  And you know when there were calls for travels to be banned to China, when they had the outbreak in Wuhan and so forth, we went along with the World Health Organisation (WHO) advice not to place a travel ban on China and showed rare solidarity because we also had our own experience of epidemic with Ebola etc, but really we are deeply, deeply wounded by what has happened to Nigerians and other Africans in China.

“Of course their government has given us explanations and so forth, but really it is something we never accepted and we will pursue to its final conclusion and we will not make any compromises in doing so.

“There have been some comments in public domain, as if our policy, that we are somehow held hostage by the fact that we have receive a lot of economic cooperation from China in the past. But I can assure you where this is concerned, we are going to pursue to the very end irrespective of whatever economic cooperation that we have with China because in the world of today, we absolutely can’t tolerate and accept any form of racism or discrimination against black Africans and as the largest Black country in the world,  it behoves on us to be in the front line in defending the dignity of blacks and Africans everywhere in the world.”

FG Studying Govs’ Call for Lockdown on Interstate Movement

Also speaking at the event, the Chairman of PTF on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha,  said the federal government was yet to take a position on the decision by all the 36 state governors for an interstate lockdown.

He said the PTF would meet and take a holistic look at all proposals before making its recommendation to President Muhammadu Buhari.

“This will not be taken in isolation. I am assuring you we are working in synergy with the state governors and some national entities. By the time we are through with this phase, going into the third phase, it will be a more collaborative effort and that will have taken into consideration the inputs and interests of many segments of our society,” Mustapha said.

Mustapha also spoke on the warning by the  Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that a further extension of the lockdown imposed on the FCT as well as Lagos and Ogun States could lead to a breakdown of law and order.

He said although he received a letter from NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, the labour leader as a representative  of the working class should be aware that lockdown is a global issue.

The SGF also said  Nigeria had received from the China-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce a cheque of N48,120,000 for the COVID-19  Support Fund.

He said the money, which was presented yesterday by the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Zhou Pingjian, was a gesture that underscored the deep relationship between Nigeria and China.

He also said China had also informed the PTF that the third phase of the medical supplies from the government of China was ready for airlift.

He expressed  concern about the pandemic in Kano State,  saying the PTF had instructed the NCDC to proceed to Kano and, in conjunction with the state government, mobilise for immediate contacts tracing to contain the spread of the disease.

Mustapha said: “The situation in Kano is still being assessed and monitored closely. Based on preliminary findings, the PTF has directed the NCDC to send an enhanced support team, mobilise resources for contact tracing and immediately ensure that necessary steps are taken in conjunction with the state government to contain the spread of the pandemic in Kano and stop the city from becoming the next epicentre.”

He also expressed concerns about the refusal of private healthcare facilities to comply with the directive for accreditation by the Federal Ministry of Health before commencing treatment of cases related to COVID-19, noting that this posed serious danger, not just to the health and life of the personnel working in such facilities, but to those of their loved ones as well as the general public.

40 Health Workers Tested Positive for Virus, Says FG

On his part, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said  40 health workers had tested Giving updates during the presidential task force on COVID-19 briefing, the minister urged frontline workers to always protect themselves when treating patients.

“I urge you all to take the necessary precautions. Please do not try to treat patients without adequate PPE.

“This advice is necessary due to the number of health workers who have tested positive; they are over 40 now and some others have had to be quarantined in the last two weeks due to exposure and are therefore not able to contribute to the health sector efforts.

“I urge you all to remain vigilant in the line of duty,” he added.

Speaking on the country’s testing capacity, the minister said the high number of new cases could be attributed to improved testing.

“The high number of new cases is a manifestation of improved testing but also of ongoing community transmission.

“The NCDC laboratories have the capacity to test 1,500 samples per day in 13 laboratories per day.

“We are testing an average of 600 samples per day because that is all the samples collected and sent for testing,” he said.

According  to him,  the under-utilisation of the testing laboratories can be due to surveillance, sample collection and mode of transportation,  which could be improved through investments in logistics.

NCDC, WHO Redeploys 17 Personnel to Kano

The NCDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO)  have redeployed 17 persons to Kano State to support the fight against virus in the state.

The National Coordinator, PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said during the briefing in Abuja that additional lab equipment were sent to Kano yesterday for the fumigation and disinfection of the Kano molecular laboratory, which will  continue “for the next few days.”

Aliyu said: “The PTF has directed and, in line with the directive, the NCDC has already redeployed at least 17 persons, including seven from the WHO, to Kano to deal with the current issues that have arisen.

“In addition, the Director-General, NCDC, has worked with the state emergency operating centre to reorganise the way it functions and a joint team, together with that from the state government, is currently investigating the concerns with regard to this.”

The Director General of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu,  noted that Kano State at the moment has an excellent treatment centres with over 300-bed capacity.

He said he was confident that Kano would emerge from the crisis of the strange deaths, improving from the initial hiccups like Lagos to witness a much smoother response.

Review Lockdown to Save Economy, ANAP Urges FG

A think tank under the aegis of ANAP Foundation has called for a review of the lockdown imposed of the FCT,  Lagos and Ogun States and the reopening of business activities in the country.

The foundation in a statement jointly signed by its Chairman and Nigerian entrepreneur, Mr. Atedo Peterside and the Vice Chairman, Mr. Abubukar Mohammed,  entitled: “COVID-19: Time to Change Strategy towards Intelligent Lockdown and Voluntary Compliance,”  said the current lockdown and forcible compliance was not yielding the needed result.

It said having reviewed the nationwide situation report with regard to the ongoing lockdowns and social distancing initiatives being implemented all over the country, it  resolved to call on the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and other stakeholders to also evaluate the effectiveness of the lockdown in a bid to manage the pandemic as well as the unintended consequences, which they continue to generate.

According to the foundation, since the commencement of the lockdown in Lagos and Ogun States as well  as FCT,  the number of people being infected has climbed steadily and the spread to various parts of the country has continued apace.

The foundation added that 28 persons have been confirmed as having died on account of COVID-19 whereas 25 Nigerians appeared to have been killed by security agents in their bid to enforce lockdown measures.

The foundation said: “A situation where Nigerians are being killed daily by law enforcement agencies at almost the same pace as the Coronavirus kills them is totally unacceptable.

“It is time to review the strategy, as it is clear that compulsory lockdowns (as implemented by our own security agencies) are not working. Food has become a lot more expensive in various urban centres, as transportation costs have soared due to rising security obstacles, arbitrary closure of inter-state borders and other supply chain disruptions.

“Restricted market days and curfews often result in needless overcrowding thereby negating adherence to social distancing. There has also been a rise in protests and mob action. The longer the compulsory lockdowns continue, the higher the risk of a breakdown of law and order despite the best efforts of government and other well-meaning Nigerians in distributing food and money to those in need.

“We believe there is a need to change direction from a compulsory lockdown to an intelligent lockdown (as practiced by a few countries), which largely thrives on voluntary actions by an informed populace.”

It explained that the  expected benefit of the lockdown wad to buy some time so that public enlightenment and awareness campaigns could educate the populace whilst also helping to popularise self-quarantine.

However, it explained that for an intelligent lockdown to be effectively implemented, most economic activities should be allowed to resume cautiously.

The foundation  called for and end to the  lockdown while public enlightenment and awareness of the importance of behavioural changes like social distancing, quarantine and other safety habits be intensified.