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Economy

The Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN) has expressed its concern over the intense smuggling of rice into the country, following the reopening of some land borders, and the take-off of AFCTA trade agreement.

Mr. Peter Dama, National Chairman of RIMAN, in a statement, disclosed that millions of tons of smuggled rice are being offloaded at the reopened borders on daily basis without any interruption, or checks by customs and the security agencies, for onward transportation into Nigerian markets.

According to Dama, the boarders frequently used for the smuggling activities are Babura, Kongolon, Ibadan, Oyo State, SEME, Owede, Benin and so many other illegal routes into the country.

For the Nigerian Government to safeguard its investment and protect rice millers, processors and farmers in this country, he called on Federal Government to take necessary steps in order to stem the tide of rice smuggling.

The RIMAN boss said: “While RIMAN sympathizes with officers and men of the Nigerian customs service together with other security personnel being killed daily by armed smugglers, we call on Nigerian Government to properly equip and compensate adequately all customs officers, manning our borders in order for them to function optimally in the discharge of their duties in order to ensure Rice Smuggling is reduced to the barest minimum.

“Any truck or means of transportation used to transport smuggled Rice into Nigeria, through the boarders be confiscated with the entire goods, while the culprits are arrested and prosecuted and jailed if found guilty.

“We also appeal to the government to set in motion, urgently committees made of various security agencies to raid Nigerian markets and confiscate any smuggled rice found and marketers caught with the smuggled rice products be termed economic saboteurs and be prosecuted.”

Dama, who said some of the smuggled rice are not fit for human consumption, added that Government should take necessary steps to educate citizens on the dangers of consuming smuggled rice order to safeguard the citizens’ health.

“All the confiscated Rice found to be good for consumption should be sent to IDPs, correctional centres and schools for feeding of inmates and students. While stores owned by these unpatriotic economic saboteurs also be sealed up completely, until after paying up fines or after serving prison terms before such stores/shops are reopened.

“We also advise that the Federal Government as a matter of urgency should subsidize Rice Millers, processors and farmers, in the entire Rice value chain in order for us to be competitive. We equally advise that bank accounts linked to rice smugglers distributors and marketers be blocked,” he added.

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Government, Health, Manufacturing

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved N6.45 billion for the setting up of gas plants in 38 locations nationwide in a bid to enhance the treatment of Covid-19 patients who need oxygen.

This disclosure emerged at the first National Economic Council meeting of the year presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, with State Governors, Federal Capital Territory Minister, Central Bank Governor and other senior government officials in attendance.

While briefing the NEC on the release of the funds, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed said the President approved the release of the funds for the production of oxygen, necessitated by the increased number of patients who need oxygen due to the surge in Covid-19 infections in the country.

Similarly at the meeting, the Health Minister Dr. Osagie Ehanire informed the Council that sequel to President Buhari’s decision to activate the Basic Healthcare Provision Fund based on the National Health Act, N55.1billion was approved in 2018 and that 50% of the sum has since been released to the States and the FCT.

Besides, the Federal Government has also allocated N35billion for 2021 for the Fund.

It would be recalled that the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF or “The Fund”) was established under Section 11 of the National Health Act (NHA Act), as the principal funding vehicle for the Basic Minimum Package of Health Services (BMPHS). The Fund serves to increase the fiscal space and overall financing to the health sector to assist Nigeria to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Funding of the BHCPF would be derived from contributions including — an annual grant from the Federal Government of Nigeria of not less than one per cent (1%) of its Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) — grants by international donor partners; and funds from any other source.

Other updates at the NEC meeting include account balances as at 20th January, 2020 given by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, as follows:

 

Excess Crude Account (ECA), balance as at 20th January, 2021, $72,411,197.80; Stabilization Account, balance as at 19th January, 2021, N28, 800, 711,295.37; Natural Resources Development Fund Account, balance as at 19th January 2021, N95, 830,729,470.82.

Council also received an update from the Vice President who is the Chairman of Council’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Public Engagements regarding the fallouts of the EndSars protests of last year.

In the update, the NEC engagements will focus mainly on: Wealth creation, social safety nets and employment; Education, digital economy and sports development; Creative industry and hospitality; Security; and  Governance

Participants of the NEC engagements will be drawn from the following groups

  • Young intellectuals and emerging industry leaders from diverse sectors, students of tertiary and other educational institutions, youths in the Diaspora who are interested in social-political developments, entertainers and social influencers, trained artisans etc.
  • Youth leaders in (a) civil Society Organization (b) Politics (c) religious organization (d) traditional institutions.
  • Young women and young people with disabilities.

The engagement will evolve in three stages:

  1. Stage One: State Government(and FCT) facilitated youth engagements, guided by a panel of seasoned professionals(for comprehensiveness, practicability and effectiveness). This will essentially be a youth-driven engagement organised by each State Government or the FCT Administration. As the initial engagement, it will allow for streamlining of the thought processes of the youths’ interaction with State Officials and the selection of representatives, who will participate in subsequent engagements at Zonal and National levels.
  2. Stage Two: This is the zonal-level engagement where the issues of concern and the consensus reform ideas developed from the State-level engagements are presented by the individual States’ representatives. This engagement is a collaboration between the youths and the State Governments in the respective zones.
  3. Stage Three: This the national engagement, where select representatives from States and the Federal Capital Territory participate in an interactive session with Federal and other Government officials. The youth representatives present the consensus issues of concern and reform ideas developed from the first two stages. The session will be people-centric, providing a platform for the Government to listen to the youth and focus less on presenting its own achievements or defending its perspectives.
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ICT

The third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) base transceiver stations (BTS) deployment in Nigeria has increased from 30,000 to 53,460 while Fibre Optic Transmission cables expanded from 47,000km to 54,725km in the last five years, resulting in improved broadband/telecoms service delivery to Nigerians.

These were parts of industry growth data reeled out by the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta at a briefing for the new Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Engr. Festus Yusuf Daudu, on the functions and regulatory activities of the Commission in Abuja on Tuesday.

In the comprehensive briefing, the EVC spoke on NCC’s enabling laws, mandates of NCC, structure of NCC, implementation approach of its mandates and methodology, key focus and targets, scorecards, the new soon-to-be-unveiled Strategic Management Vision (SVP), NCC’s contributions to the economy, various regulatory frameworks aimed at improving service delivery, challenges confronting the sector and proposed solutions, among others.

According to Danbatta, the effective regulatory regime emplaced by the leadership of the Commission has resulted in increased deployment of  infrastructure by telecoms operators, which in turn, helped to improve broadband penetration and other related service delivery in the telecoms industry.

“The BTS, fibre optic cables and other related infrastructure are central to the provision of improved service experience for Nigerians by their respective telecoms service providers,” he said, adding that the licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) are also expected to add 38,296km to optic fibre cables when they commence fully operations.

According to the EVC, as at November, 2020, active telephony subscribers stood at 208 million with teledensity standing at 108.92 per cent while active Internet subscriptions were 154.9 million and a broadband penetration of 45.07 per cent, among others.

He also talked on various initiatives undertaken by the Commission to ensure consumer protection and empowerment. These, according to him, include the Declaration of 2017 as Year of the Telecom Consumer, introduction of the 622 Toll Free Line for lodging and resolving consumer complaints and the provision of the 112 Emergency number and activation of 19 Emergency Communications Centre (ECCs).

Other such consumer-centric regulatory measures intervention, according to the EVC, include, issuance of various directions to mobile network operators (MNOs) to protect the consumers from being short-changed, ensuring smooth transition of Etisalat to 9Mobile, consumer outreach programmes, introduction and enforcement of mobile number portability (MNP) as well as introduction of the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 to check cases of unsolicited text messages.

The EVC disclosed that the number of subscriptions to DND service has hit over 30 million as the service empowers Nigerians to be able to protect themselves from the menace of unsolicited text messages.

In recognition of the tremendous economic growth opportunities afforded by the deployment of broadband and its associated technologies, Danbatta said the Commission has positioned itself in government’s drive for a digital Nigeria, as contained in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (2020 – 2025), the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020 – 2030) and the Strategic Management Plan (2020 – 2024) of the Commission.

“The Commission will continue to put in its best in the discharge of its mandates, especially in facilitating the deployment of broadband, which is central to diversifying the Nigerian economy and national development. Also, it is our belief that the communications industry, under the leadership of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, will experience more quantum leaps and retain its current leadership role in the telecommunications space,” he said.

In his reaction, the Perm Sec commended the leadership of the Commission, acknowledging the upward growth attributed to the effective regulatory regime, the central role NCC is playing in the digital transformation of the Nigerian economy as well as the impressive contribution of the sector to the country’s Gross Domestic (GDP)

“I want to thank NCC for its contribution to the Nigerian economy so far. I am not exaggerating about the achievements of NCC, in terms of contribution to GDP and how NCC’s effective regulatory role has been helping the economy in so many ways,” he said, adding that NCC leadership also contributed to his success as the Chairman of the World Radio Conference in 2015.

Engr. Daudu urged the Commission on the need for increased collaboration and teamwork with the Ministry, other agencies and industry stakeholders towards achieving the Federal Government’s objective of a digital economy. He also promised to support the Commission in whatever ways possible towards achieving its regulatory mandates.

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Economy, Government, LIFE STYLE

In a renewed attempt at further deepening the reforms of the nation’s business environment, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), has resolved that CEOs and Heads of some Federal Government regulatory agencies be presented with the outcome of a recent survey that exposes major pitfalls in the operations of the agencies.

The Cost of Compliance Report which was presented to the Council at its first virtual meeting of the year on Tuesday revealed persistent corruption, duplicity of functions, poor service orientation, and several anti-business disposition in some of the regulatory agencies.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, who presided over the meeting directed that CEOs and heads of such government regulatory agencies involved should be presented with the outcomes and interaction should take place regarding some of the worrying disclosures in the report of the survey conducted by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, PwC.

Prof Osinbajo who said the report revealed human issues that are not unavoidable, stressed the important roles regulatory agencies play in ensuring businesses are able to thrive seamlessly without inhibition. He noted that doing otherwise would only jeopardize the government’s efforts in creating a conducive business environment.

He stated that “if the environment on account of regulatory authorities is so difficult or expensive, such that people are discouraged or it doesn’t make sense for people to do business, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot in a manner we can only blame ourselves. These are human issues and we must do something very serious about these issues.”

Speaking further about holding those responsible for the major lapses to account, the Vice President said, “I am in full support of holding our CEOs to account because they, in turn, must hold their staff to account. If there is systemic corruption, bribery and extortion, and nobody is held to account, there is a problem.”

According to Prof Osinbajo, the plans of the Federal Government in growing the economy and changing the lives and livelihood of Nigerians for the better is largely dependent on the business environment in which they operate.

“Every one of our plans around sustaining economic growth, improving job creation and opportunities, whatever it is that we plan to do to make life better for the citizens, depends entirely on the environment in which people have to do business.

“It determines whether they will invest their resources, expand their businesses, and it just determines practically everything.”

Others present at the PEBEC meeting yesterday include the Ministers of Industry Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, the Vice Chairman of PEBEC; Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed; Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi; Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Budget and National Planning (State), Clem Abga; Special Adviser on Ease of Doing Business, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, and Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, representing the National Assembly among other top government officials and representatives from PwC.

Members of PEBEC also condoled with Dr. Oduwole on the death of her father, former Vice-Chancellor of the Lagos State University, Prof. Afolabi Olumide who passed away recently. Otunba Adebayo who spoke on behalf of PEBEC prayed that God will grant the Council Secretary and the entire family the fortitude to bear the loss.

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Government

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, on Tuesday lauded the efforts of the armed forces in restoring security to parts of Nigeria, saying that the spate of insecurity across states is gradually being reversed.

Lawan stated this when he received a delegation from Adamawa state who paid him a visit in appreciation to the National Assembly for converting the Modibbo Adama University, Yola, into a conventional University that can run medical programmes alongside social and management sciences.

The delegation was led by Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed and the Vice Chancellor of the University, Abdullahi Lima Tukur.

Lawan in his welcome speech said the conversion of the university was the outcome of a collaborative effort between the legislature and the executive arms of government.

According to the Senate President, the ninth National Assembly would be judged fairly by Nigerians for its pro-people legislations in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic which slowed the country’s pace of development.

“I will take this opportunity to commend Mr. President for assenting to that bill. This is what we call cooperative governance. We work with the Executive to ensure that the Nigerian people benefit from democracy.

“We have set our eyes on our target of making Nigeria better and making Nigerians safer. What matters to us is what we are able to achieve at the end of the day.

“History will judge us very very fairly, and without sounding immodest, I’ll like to take this opportunity to congratulate the ninth National Assembly.

“The ninth National Assembly has achieved so much between 2019 till date for the benefit of this country despite the pandemic, and the secret is unity and harmony.

“We have achieved unity amongst ourselves in the National Assembly environment between the Senate and the House; and of course, we have achieved harmony in work between the National Assembly and the Executive, and that’s the essence of governance, anyway.

“When we disagree, we will do so, but if we have no reason to disagree, we will not do that because we want to please anybody,” he said.

Speaking on the security and economic challenges faced by Nigeria, the Senate President said recent developments showed an improvement in efforts made by the armed forces towards addressing the spate of insecurity in parts of the country.

“Those of us in position of leadership today are probably more challenged than any set of leaders. We need to pray, but we also need to act, work hard and apply ourselves fully and work committedly to ensure that we serve Nigerians.

“Nothing is impossible, this situation of insecurity gradually is being reversed. I am particularly happy with recent developments by our armed forces. They are doing better than they were doing before.

“I’m sure that the economy will also start to improve, and we will get out of recession that we entered last month.

“With the implementation of the capital budget 2020 up till the end of March, and of course, the start of the implementation of the 2021 budget, the economy will receive a boost,” the Senate President added.

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