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NUPENG extends 14-day strike notice by 7 days

Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) has extended the 14-day ultimatum earlier given to the Federal Government by seven days.

This is contained in a statement issued by the union’s General Secretary, Mr Afolabi Olawale, on Thursday in Lagos.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that NUPENG had, on Nov. 15, issued the 14-day ultimatum to embark on a nationwide strike due to what it called non-implementation of an agreement earlier reached with the government.

NAN also reports that the issues at stake include non-payment of workers’ salaries and title benefits, among others.

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Olawale said that in spite of the various interventions and engagements with government agencies and institutions, issues concerning the welfare of members and unfair labour practices by some oil majors had yet to be fully resolved.

“Leadership of the union is still exercising further patience and restraint to give the ongoing discussions the chances of resolving these issues once and for all.

“The decision of the union to give another seven-day ultimatum should not be misconstrued as a sign of capitulation or weakness.

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“Rather, it is a demonstration of our resolve not to inflict unnecessary pains on Nigerians or create any form of artificial scarcity of petroleum products,” he said.

The NUPENG general secretary urged the government and all other concerned entities to take advantage of the extension to do the needful.

“It is our hope that government does the needful and save the nation the pains and losses our industrial action will bring,” he said.

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Polish soldiers find body with Nigerian passport near Belarus border

Polish soldiers have found the body of a man next to a backpack and a Nigerian passport in a forest close to the Belarusian border, the police said on Wednesday.

Around a dozen migrants have been found dead along the border since thousands of people, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, began trying to cross in the summer.

Aid groups warn the toll could be even higher and say freezing conditions make the crossings particularly dangerous.

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“The body was found in a forest near Olchowka in the Narewka commune yesterday,” local police said on Twitter.

The border guards also said a group of 35 migrants managed to force their way across the border in the night between Tuesday and Wednesday with the help of the Belarusian military.

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The migrants were all detained and sent back.

The West accuses Belarus of engineering the crisis in an attempt to pressure the EU, which has imposed sanctions over the regime’s crackdown on the opposition and independent media.

Belarus denies this and has urged the EU to take in the migrants.

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35.8 million face lean season food crisis in West Africa and Sahel

Growing food insecurity that is already affecting tens of millions of people across West Africa and the Sahel, must not be ignored by the international community, UN humanitarians said on Tuesday.

NEW YORK, USA, December 08, 2021,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/-The alert comes as new data from the region indicated that almost 36 million people are expected to be acutely food insecure by the time next year’s lean season comes round.

This is usually in June, July and August, but it could start as early as March.

This represents an alarming 24 per cent increase on 2020, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) survey, which aid agencies use to gauge levels of need.

“Behind these numbers, there are real people,” said Ollo Sib from the World Food Programme (WFP). “We did travel recently across the region. Almost everywhere we went, people are worried.”

The IPC survey pointed to 2.6 million people in IPC level 4 which denotes “emergency” status, and a further 13,600 in “famine”-like conditions (IPC5) in inaccessible parts of Borno State in northeast Nigeria.

Central African Republic woes

Mr. Sib, a WFP senior researcher based in Senegal, said that the agency needs some $700 million to assist people for the next six months.

He noted that an additional two million people in Central African Republic (CAR) also need urgent humanitarian assistance.

“In total, 38 million in West Africa, Cameroon and CAR will not be able to meet their basic needs, food included, without external support,” he told journalists in Geneva, via Zoom.

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Highlighting Burkina Faso as an example of wider regional vulnerability, Mr. Sib explained that healthcare workers there had told him that they were now seeing double the number of admissions compared to usual.

This was a worrying and unusual development, he explained, given this is still the harvest season.

Lethal mix

Among the reasons for this deteriorating situation are years of exceptionally dry conditions and poor harvests in the Sahel, which have increased competition for land and water and heightened tensions between farmers and herders.

This has contributed to higher food prices in the region, which are “in general 30 to 40 per cent higher compared to the rest of the world”, explained WFP’s Mr. Ollo, Senior Research and Assessment and Monitoring Officer for West and Central Africa Region.

“In Bol, in Lake Chad region, pastoralists sell cattle to buy cereals,” he said. “Last year, with one cattle sold, they could buy seven bags of millet, or more. But this year, they told me they are getting only five bags of millet.”

Too dangerous to stay

Persistent insecurity in the Sahel and Nigeria is also driving the acute hunger crisis, since farming communities now feel too unsafe to stay to plant seed or harvest their crops.

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There are even fears among previously calm coastal communities in northern Côte Ivoire, Benin and Togo that the armed groups are getting ever closer, Mr. Ollo said, in a call to regional governments to do more to protect their citizens.

To make matters worse, the COVID-19 crisis has left people “overwhelmed”, the WFP official continued, pointing to a joint coronavirus impact probe by ECOWAS, WFP and the Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), that indicated that extreme poverty has increased by three per cent between 2020 and 2021.

“The reduced availability of pasture and the limited mobility due to insecurity will pose tremendous challenges to pastoralists in the next few months,” warned Amadou Diop, IPC-CH Regional Advisor for Sahel and West Africa.

Briefing journalists in Geneva via Zoom, Mr. Diop explained that the total number of appealed for international assistance to safeguard pastoralists’ livelihoods ahead of the lean season, which is usually from June to August.

“Ensuring immediate access to food, sustained food production and preserving food systems are the most cost-effective humanitarian response, paving the way for recovery, especially in conflict-affected areas such as the Liptako-Gourma region and the Lake Chad Basin,” he said.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of UN News. 

The post 35.8 million face lean season food crisis in West Africa and Sahel appeared first on African Media Agency.

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Scholz takes reins from Merkel for new German era

The German parliament elected Olaf Scholz as chancellor on Wednesday, turning the page on 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm as a new centre-left-led coalition takes the wheel of Europe’s top economy.

Scholz, who won 395 of the 707 votes cast in the Bundestag lower house, has pledged broad “continuity” with the popular Merkel while making Germany greener and fairer.

Asked by parliament speaker Baerbel Bas whether he accepted the election, a beaming Scholz nodded “yes” and then received bouquets of flowers from MPs congratulating him.

Scholz was then whisked by motorcade to Berlin’s Bellevue Palace to be officially named Germany’s ninth post-war chancellor by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier before his swearing-in back at the Reichstag parliament building at 1100 GMT.

The finance minister under Merkel led his Social Democrats to victory in the September 26 election — an outcome considered unthinkable at the start of the year given the party’s then festering divisions and anaemic support.

Scholz, 63, who turned emulating Merkel in style and substance into a winning strategy, has now cobbled together Germany’s first national “traffic light” coalition with the ecologist Greens and the liberal Free Democrats, nicknamed after the parties’ colours.

Their four-year pact sealed late last month is called “Dare for More Progress”, a hat tip to Social Democratic chancellor Willy Brandt’s 1969 historic pledge to “Dare for More Democracy”.

“We have a chance for a new beginning for Germany,” Scholz told his party at the weekend as it gave its blessing to the coalition agreement with 99-percent support.

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The alliance aims to slash carbon emissions, overhaul decrepit digital infrastructure, modernise citizenship laws, lift the minimum wage and have Germany join a handful of countries worldwide in legalising marijuana.

French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Scholz, pledging “we will write the next chapter together” while EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said she looked forward to working together for a “strong Europe”.

Vladimir Putin said Russia was offering “constructive ties” with the new government.

Gender balanced
Germany’s incoming foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has pledged a tougher line with authoritarian states such as Russia and China after the business-driven pragmatism of the Merkel years.

Greens co-leader Baerbock is one of eight women in Germany’s first gender-balanced cabinet.

“That corresponds to the society we live in — half of the power belongs to women,” Scholz, who describes himself as a “feminist”, said this week.

Scholz and his team promise stability just as France braces for a bitterly fought presidential election next year and Europe grapples with the enduring aftershocks of Brexit.

However, a vicious fourth Covid wave has already put the incoming coalition to the test.

“We have to make a fresh start while facing down the corona pandemic — those are the circumstances the new government is up against,” Scholz told reporters Tuesday.

More than 103,000 people have died with coronavirus in Germany while new infections have surged since the weather turned cold, filling intensive care units to breaking point.

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Scholz has thrown his weight behind making jabs mandatory to get the pandemic under control, as Austria has done, as experts say the worst is still to come for the country’s struggling clinics.

‘Lessons of history’
Merkel, 67, Germany’s first woman chancellor, is retiring from politics after four consecutive terms, the first post-war leader to step aside of her own accord.

Macron tweeted his gratitude to the outgoing leader.

“Thank you, dear Angela, for never forgetting the lessons of history, for having done so much for us, with us, to move Europe forward,” he said.

She leaves big shoes to fill, with large majorities of Germans approving of her leadership, even if her own party, the conservative Christian Democrats, often bridled against her moderate course.

Despite being from a rival party, Scholz tapped into that well of popular support in his bid to succeed her.

Her successor has, however, pledged to tackle the widening gap between rich and poor under Merkel.

The independent Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) said in an analysis of the coalition pact that lower-income Germans and parents stood to gain the most from its policy roadmap.

Meanwhile, Greens supporters are banking on billions flowing toward climate protection and renewable energy, even as the government pledges to return to a no-new-debt rule by 2023.

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WHO, US scientists say Omicron no worse than other virus variants

The Omicron variant appears to be no worse than other coronavirus strains, top scientists from the WHO and the United States told AFP while cautioning that more research is needed to judge its severity.

The hopeful assessments came as global concern grew over the heavily mutated variant, which has forced dozens of nations to re-impose border restrictions and raised the possibility of a return to economically punishing lockdowns.

While it is likely more transmissible than previous variants, “the preliminary data don’t indicate that this is more severe,” the World Health Organization’s second-in-command told AFP.

“In fact, if anything, the direction is towards less severity,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said in an interview on Tuesday, insisting though that more research was needed.

Ryan also said it was “highly unlikely” that Omicron could fully sidestep protections provided by existing Covid vaccines.

“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalisation… There’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so” for Omicron, he added, pointing to initial data from South Africa, where the strain was first reported.

However, Ryan acknowledged that it was possible that existing vaccines might prove less effective against Omicron, which counts more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to invade cells.

Top US scientist Anthony Fauci echoed the WHO’s view, saying Omicron did not appear worse than prior strains based on early indications — and was possibly milder.

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The new variant is “clearly highly transmissible,” very likely more so than Delta, the current dominant global strain, Fauci told AFP.

“It almost certainly is not more severe than Delta,” he said. “There is some suggestion that it might even be less severe.”

But he noted it was important to not over-interpret the data because the populations being followed skewed young and were less likely to become hospitalised. Severe disease can also take weeks to develop.

“Then, as we get more infections throughout the rest of the world, it might take longer to see what’s the level of severity.”

Global concern
The detection of the first Omicron cases two weeks ago coincided with surges in infection numbers across the world, and the variant added fuel to concerns about a global Covid resurgence.

Omicron has so far been found in 57 countries around the world, the WHO said. No deaths have yet been associated with the variant.

Ryan stressed the need for all countries to help detect Omicron cases and research its behaviour.

“The more and better data we collect in the next two weeks, (the better chances) of a clear conclusion regarding the implications of this variant,” he said.

As European Union health ministers met Tuesday to find ways to coordinate their response, Norway announced it will tighten restrictions to combat its surge.

A suspected outbreak of Omicron last week among dozens of partygoers who had all been vaccinated led to new restrictions in and around the capital Oslo.

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Neighbouring Sweden also said Tuesday it would launch a series of anti-Covid measures.

Elsewhere in Europe, Poland said that from December 15, it will restrict the number of people allowed in churches, restaurants and theatres, and make vaccination compulsory for healthcare workers, teachers and the military from March 1.

Growing frustration
While the positive initial assessments of Omicron helped lift the mood, especially among global markets as fears of another economic downturn subsided, the variant’s emergence has highlighted that the fight against the pandemic is far from over.

Covid-19 has officially killed more than 5.2 million people around the world since it was first declared in late 2019, although the true toll is likely to be several times higher.

Scientists and health experts say vaccinations and continued social distancing remain key to defeating all variants of the virus, including Omicron.

“The virus hasn’t changed its nature,” Ryan said. “The rules of the game are still the same.”

But vaccine requirements have sparked resistance in many countries, either because of misinformation and conspiracy theories or the economic and logistical impact of such mandates.

Around 4,000 people protested in Brussels on Tuesday against a plan by the Belgian government to make vaccines compulsory for health workers from early next year.

“We are in favour of vaccination, but why only health workers?” said nurse Perrine.

“Because everyone must be vaccinated, it is everyone or no one.”

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Gunmen burn passengers including children to death in Sokoto

Armed gunmen ambushed a vehicle of 21 passengers traveling from Sabon Birni Local Government Area in Sokoto State on Monday.

Some of the passengers including children who were traveling from the town of Sabon Birni to the town of Isa near the Nigerian border with Niger were then burnt to death.

Police spokesperson Sanusi Abubakar said several others are being treated in a hospital for severe burns.

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Although another account suggests the number of those killed is around 30 but police are yet to state casualty figures.

Some reports said the attackers deliberately set the vehicle on fire burning the occupants alive while another account indicates the fire ignited on the bus as a result of the attackers’ gunfire.

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An official involved in evacuating the casualties described the scene as horrendous and that most of the victims were burnt beyond recognition.

Sokoto State Police Command said they are investigating the circumstances of the attack.

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China’s Weibo falls on Hong Kong debut

China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo fell during its debut on the Hong Kong stock exchange Wednesday as investors remain wary of tech during Beijing’s crackdown on the sector.

Weibo finished 7.2 percent down from its initial listing price of HK$272.80, a poor showing compared with recent first-day trade by major Chinese companies in Hong Kong.

Several US-listed Chinese tech firms such as Alibaba have held initial public offerings in Hong Kong over the past two years as the United States has stepped up scrutiny of Chinese companies.

Listing in Hong Kong is seen as a hedge against the risk of being removed from US exchanges and a way of accessing an investor base closer to their home markets.

China has also been encouraging its big-tech players to list either in Hong Kong or Shanghai.

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Last week Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing announced it would delist its shares from the New York Stock Exchange, marking the end of a cushy relationship between Wall Street and Chinese tech giants.

Weibo raised a healthy $385 million in its Hong Kong IPO, its second listing after New York’s Nasdaq.

But its tepid debut points to ongoing concerns that China’s plans to rein in the tech sector are not over.

In recent months, Chinese regulators have launched a wide-ranging clampdown on tech companies such as Alibaba, Tencent and Meituan — clipping the wings of major internet firms that wield heavy influence over consumers’ daily lives.

According to Bloomberg News, Chinese companies that managed to raise more than $100 million in their Hong Kong IPOs this year have seen an average first-session gain of 15 percent.

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Weibo, which launched in 2009 and was among the earliest social media platforms in China, had 566 million monthly active users as of June, it said in a filing.

Its shares have traded on the Nasdaq since 2014.

Weibo is among the most widely used social media platforms in China, where authorities have blocked major international players such as Facebook.

Weibo said it planned to use the funds raised from its Hong Kong listing to grow its user base and for research and development.

But it cautioned that it was “subject to changing laws and regulations regarding regulatory matters, corporate governance and public disclosure” that have increased both its costs and risks of non-compliance.

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NCDC says three additional Omicron variant of COVID-19 detected in Nigeria

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed additional three cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in the country.

NCDC’s Director-General, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said in a statement that the new cases brought to six the number of people infected by the variant and all the infected had a history of travel to South Africa.

The Omicron variant was, first announced in Nigeria, on Dec. 1.

With the advent of the variant, more travel bans have been imposed across the world, including the one imposed on Nigeria by the United Kingdom.

Adetifa stated that the Delta variant remained the dominant variant and Nigeria has not witnessed a widespread of the Omicron variant as reported in some other countries.

He added that the Omicron variant was a source of global concern because of its increased risk of transmissibility and its potential to escape protective immune responses.

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“Taken together, and if true, the Omicron variant can significantly change the current global COVID-19 epidemiology.

“There is currently no evidence of generalised or community transmission of this variant in Nigeria.

“In line with International Health Regulations (2005) reporting framework, Nigeria has been notified by the UK of seven cases of travellers from Nigeria with the Omicron variant.

“Given the reports of increasing numbers of Omicron cases in the UK, the NCDC is also prioritising the sequencing of COVID-19 positive samples in those with history of travel to the UK.

“Viruses naturally mutate over time, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID- 19. Since SARS-CoV-2 was first identified, several mutations have occurred with the emergence of new lineages.

“This will continue to happen as long as the world does not act in concert to significantly reduce transmission through vaccination and adherence to safety protocols,’’ he said.

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“We expect any variant to be identified quickly; if it emerges anywhere, we are urging Nigerians to take known steps for curbing the spread of COVID-19, including vaccination and safety protocols,’’ Adetifa advised.

He added that compliance with the travel protocols provided by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 is mandatory for all international travellers arriving in Nigeria from any country.

“Incoming travellers should ensure their Day 2 and Day 7 tests are done as stipulated in Nigeria’s travel advisory.

“There will be consequences for defaulters which may include publication of their details, suspension of their passports and ban on travel to Nigeria,’’ Adetifa warned.

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COVID-19: Vaccination card compulsory to attend social gathering in Lagos – Sanwo-Olu

Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, says that the presentation of the COVID vaccination card is now compulsory for attendees of social gatherings in the state.

Sanwo-Olu said this on Tuesday on the update of the management of Coronavirus in the state.

He said that as a measure of curbing the spread of the disease, every attendee of a social gathering MUST present their vaccination cards or digital bar code page showing at least first dose but preferably double dose full vaccination.

According to him, in unvaccinated people, a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) within 72 hours will be an exemption.

”All social events must be duly registered to obtain Event Safety Clearance from the Lagos State Safety Commission website: www.lasgsafetyreg.com prior to holding; and the guidelines set out below must be strictly adhered to.

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”Where possible, events should be held outdoors and occupancy limit at any event must not exceed 60 per cent of the maximum design capacity of the event centre.

”Everybody, irrespective of vaccination status, MUST be subject to Rapid Diagnostic test (Antigen) to be conducted at the event venue or within 24hrs prior to the event at designated laboratories. (Request for rapid tests at the venue requires an application through the Safety Commission),” he said.

The governor said that since the persons under 18 years of age were unvaccinated, their temperature should be checked and persons with high temperatures (above 37.5) would be politely turned back and referred to paramedics or the emergency response team on the ground.

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He said that all guests and service providers at the event must wear a nose mask or face shield before entry and must endeavour to wash their hands before entering the venue or use hand sanitisers after which temperature checks should be carried out.

”Despite the huge financial obligation and constraints associated with managing this pandemic, our administration will continue to do everything within its power to ensure the preservation of the lives and livelihood of residents of Lagos State.

”I implore all residents of Lagos to comply with all guidelines and join hands with the government in the management of this pandemic,” the Incident Commander said.

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Currency risks, delayed counterpart fund, insecurity slow InfraCos takeoff

Despite mere N2.5m licence, 20-year tenor
• Danbatta claims counterpart fund is to low economic viable areas, based on service delivery 
• 90% broadband population coverage target by 2025 not realistic
• Lagos fibre duct project may affect MainOne’s execution in the state
• Challenges of InfraCos multifaceted – Teniola

The planned nationwide broadband deployment is being threatened by the slow takeoff of the licenced Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos), despite a longer tenor and cheaper licence costs.
 

  
The InfraCo licence costs N2.5 million for a 20-year period and is subject to renewals. However, there are other payments that follow such as administrative fees. 
  
Until recently when some governors commenced a review of Right of Way (RoW) fees, the cheap licences were undermined by huge RoW fees.

The InfraCo project, which has dragged on for about six years now, has become a source of worry to the telecommunications industry. This is even as broadband penetration and speed continue to drop.

The penetration, currently at 39 per cent, and the snail-speed commitment on the part of licencees, have dimmed hope of Nigeria connecting 90 per cent of her population by 2025. This may further weaken the realisation of the Federal Government’s digital economy potential in the country.  
   
The slow take-off has been attributed to many challenges. These include insecurity, foreign exchange (forex) turbulence, poor projected return on investments, especially in the less viable regions and the inability of licencees to access Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)’s N64 billion counterpart funding (subsidy) for the project.   
   
InfraCos are licenced by the NCC to provide Layer 1 (dark fibre) services on a commercial basis with a focus on the deployment of metropolitan fibre and transmission services, available at access points – Fibre-to-the-Node or neighbourhood (FTTN) – to seekers. They were licenced regionally for maximum impact.
 

 
With 114 access gaps in Nigeria, which showed that some 25 million people still lack access to basic telephony services, InfraCos are expected to plug this gap and wire underserved and unserved areas.
   
The InfraCo project started at the latter part of the administration of former Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, the late Dr. Eugene Juwah, in 2015. But it was reviewed, expanded and given a fillip by the current EVC, Prof. Umar Danbatta.  
   
Checks by The Guardian showed that while some licencees got theirs about three to six years ago, which had been subjected to several reviews, the seventh licence was awarded earlier in the year. Feelers from the industry suggest that some of the regions could have been divided into units, to necessitate more InfraCos, in addition to the current seven. Sadly, 80 per cent of the already licenced operators are yet to commence operations.
   
While defending the cost of obtaining the InfraCo licence and tenure, Danbatta said the N2.5 million placed on the licence was deliberate. He said the government is not looking to make money out of the licence.

“It is affordable so that interested entities within and outside Nigeria can come and obtain it, which is the most important thing. There are several other licences at the Commission that are very costly.
   
“The duration of the licence is 20 years because we took into consideration the life of the fibre. You can investigate the life span of a fibre cable. So, we need to allow licencees time to recoup their investment in laying the fibre. Everything about the InfraCo project was done scientifically and with due consideration of affordability.”
 

  
Despite the 20-year tenure, which analysts claim may impact the efficiency of service on the part of the operators, the NCC boss said there is a monitoring process. He explained that the InfraCo licence has clear conditions, one of which is that within a year, licencees must show evidence of deployment.
   
He said licencees are not supposed to hold the licence for two, five and 10 years without anything on ground.
  
“One year was what was given that there must be evidence of deployment. If there is nothing on ground, there would be enforcement of actions against such licencee, to examine reasons for non-compliance, after which regulatory actions may follow. Assessment would be a year after the order for deployment was granted based on the new review of the InfraCo model,” he added.
   
Danbatta had at a virtual conference a month ago disclosed that InfraCos have been licenced to deploy fibre on an open-access basis across six geo-political zones and Lagos. He said final approval to commence rollout was given in April 2021.
   
The licenced InfraCos are MainOne for Lagos, Zinox Technology Limited for Southeast and Brinks Integrated Solutions Limited for Northeast. Others are O’dua Infraco Resources Limited for Southwest, Fleek Networks Limited for Northwest, Raeana Consortium Limited for South-South and Broadbase Communications Limited for North Central.
   
Brinks Integrated Solution, which has licence for Northeast is expected to cover Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states. Fleeks Networks Limited with Northwest licence will provide services to states including Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara.
   
Southeast, which is being handled by Zinox Technologies Limited, would cover Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. Raeana Consortium Limited would focus on Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and River states, all in the South-South.
   
While MainOne would cover the entire Lagos, Broadbase Communications is expected to handle Benue, Abuja, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger and Plateau. But findings suggest a new mapping by NCC would require Broadbase Communication to focus on wiring Abuja only, which has been carved out as a special focal area as in the case with Lagos.

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MainOne has already got a boost as California-based digital infrastructure firm, Equinix, yesterday acquired the nation’s leading data centre and connectivity solutions provider at a whopping $320 million.

Confirming the acquisition, MainOne said Equinix is now in pole position to help grow digital infrastructure investment across Africa, which has been the long term vision of the company.

According to the terms of the acquisition agreement, Mainone will melt into Equinix by March next year, if the parties satisfy all customary conditions including the regulatory approvals. The terms also stipulate that the management team, including CEO Funke Opeke, will continue to serve in their respective roles.
 
Apart from Lagos and Southwest that appear relatively peaceful, other regions have continued to battle one form of insecurity or the other. In some states, telecommunications services were shut down, to contain the activities of bandits. Though, the ban has been partially reviewed now.
   
Insecurity, especially kidnapping and vandalism, according to some of the licencees, is a major threat to the deployment of fibre infrastructure in some of the regions.

   
From January to July this year, telecoms operators recorded 16,000 outages owing to various acts of vandalism, including fibre cuts, battery thefts, and damage among others. The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, confirmed this.

FURTHER, access to the yet-to-be-approved N64 billion subsidy to be granted as counterpart funding to operators is another underlying challenge weighing on deployment.
   
The N64 billion would provide 50 per cent counterpart funding to match the broadband infrastructure investment the InfraCos will make towards moving Nigeria from the current over 54,724 kilometres optic fibre infrastructure to 120,000km nationwide.

   
The Guardian also gathered that the volatility of the forex market, with naira currently hovering around N520 to a dollar, has weighed significantly on investments in equipment procurement.
   
It is also interesting to note that the current Lagos Unified Fibre Project, which is expected to gulp about N82 billion at completion, might hamper MainOne’s InfraCo project.
  
Confirming the non-readiness of the InfraCos to deploy due to teething challenges, a very close source to MainOne, who said nothing has happened on the project, told The Guardian that 60 per cent of the licencees relied on the counterpart funding coming from the Federal Government.
   
He said MainOne appeared to be the only licencee that wants to commit its money ahead of any counterpart funding, “but the situation in Lagos is dicey for MainOne. I doubt if MainOne will eventually be able to deploy. The Lagos Unified Fibre Duct project has put paid to the efforts of MainOne. MainOne started as far back as 2017, but nothing concrete on the ground for now.”
   
Against claims that the InfraCo licencees are not ready, a source close to Zinox claimed the firm has made some significant headway with its plans for the laying of fibre optics cable ahead of the rollout of high-speed broadband connectivity in the entire Southeast region.
   
The source said the recent efforts by some governors in the region, such as Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, and his Anambra counterpart, Willie Obiano, to reduce and cancel RoW charges, have equally gone a long way in boosting the rollout plans by Zinox.
   
However, the source confirmed that a few other challenges have presented a cog in the wheel of progress concerning the planned rollout and contributed to the delay encountered so far.
   
“Central to this is the ongoing challenge with accessing the counterpart funding for the project implementation, especially given the cost-intensive nature of the project. The foregoing has resulted in a measure of frustration for Zinox and other licenced InfraCos,” the source stated.
   
He, however, said Zinox is not deterred by the current situation, noting that there is optimism that the logjam would be resolved soon.

“Even Zinox has continued its ongoing liaison with other governors in the Southeast region as well as feasibility studies and engagement of critical resources in preparation for the substantial groundwork required for the project.”
   
Another licencee firm, which begged not to be mentioned for fear of sanction, said though they are working on implementation, “but you will recall that the Federal Government was supposed to give grants. Most people are waiting for that. Maybe they are working on it.

“The InfraCo project was supposed to take broadband (fibre cables) to all the 774 LGAs in the country. FG was to provide subsidies to go to those states. The CAPEX involved is very high. FG was supposed to add funding to our CAPEX but they are yet to do that. No clear-cut position for now, which is the reason the InfraCo project is stalled somehow.”
 

 
According to him, the current state of insecurity in the country, the economy and naira to dollar fluctuations are sets of new challenges slowing take-off.
   
“This is the reality. The way the InfraCo network is structured is that you have to run a network on a ring architecture, which means you don’t just go to one place and run a single cable there, you have to run it across all the local government areas in a given state and put them in a rig, with one leading to another and another to another and you put equipment around all of them so that in case there is a failure, then there will be automatic rerouting. That is the way it is set up. You will do that and you run the cable on two different paths.
   
“So, take a state where there is insurgency, in the past, it used to be Northeast, now Northwest and North Central have become a very difficult terrain to operate in. Remember you will go to every LGAs, run cables on highways and there are now some highways people are afraid of driving on, so obviously the level of insecurity will affect the speed of deployment and universal coverage to every LGAs.
   
“Secondly, the materials required for this stuff are imported. The cables, network equipment, switches, routers among others, and you know what is happening to forex, it means if you had N1 million today, it will differ from what it can buy the next day, and you are getting these things from overseas. So, obviously, these would affect deployment.”
   
The Guardian also gathered that Odu’a Investment would be implementing the project through a technical partner, which has competence in fibre optic business.

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Odu’a, which has 20 per cent stake in the project, as an investment company, will provide some funding, and work with the technical partner that is based in Lagos on the job. It hopes to begin implementation soonest, but also banks on the grant from NCC to expedite action.  

   
Reacting to the matter, Danbatta, in a telephone conversation with The Guardian, said there was a review of the InfraCo Licensing Framework, after which it was resolved and information was conveyed to all the six licencees, including the new one for the North Central zone.
   
“A letter on the directive of the board of NCC was sent to all the InfraCos that they should mobilise to site and deploy broadband infrastructure consistent with the regulatory framework, but in the opinion of the board, the subsidy will only be paid in areas that lack economic viability based on evidence on the ground. NCC will not pay subsidies for all areas.
   
“The essence of the InfraCo project is to deploy broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts, and across the 774 LGAs in the country. The subsidy is to serve as an incentive for the deployment of infrastructure in those two areas. So, there is no exclusivity on the counterpart funding (subsidy). It will be wrong on the part of licencees to say they are waiting for the subsidy to be paid to them.
   
“So far, I have not received any request from any InfraCo licencee to the effect that they have deployed in their chosen regions, so that we can embark on an assessment exercise to establish the milestone that has been attained and if it is an area that subsidy needs to be paid, we will work out the length of the fibre infrastructure deployed and we will come up with the amount of counterpart funding to be paid.
   
“It is not right for the InfraCos to say they are waiting for the NCC to give them funding when they have not even started anything. So, that is the position.”
  
The EVC further noted that the InfraCo licence also has a validity period, stressing that if at the end of that period, “we conduct the level assessment and discover that no important milestone has been attained, then we change them because it has been expressly stated that you cannot hold the licence for long and not do anything with it.”
    
On the readiness of the N64 billion counterpart funding, the EVC said NCC has written to the government and made a very convincing case and “we have been directed by FG to make a memo to FEC. We are almost there. We are not envisaging any problem again.”
   
Contributing, the National Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said the InfraCo project is still active with a few licencees finalising their plans to begin rolling out their fiber by the end of this year into Q1 of 2022.     

Teniola said the COVID-19 pandemic impacted InfraCos that had planned to roll out last year both operationally due to global supply chain challenges and financially due to the impacts to the global economy and revised country risks concerning capital-intensive projects.

   
“At the moment, their challenges are multifaceted; commonly they all struggle with the currency risks that have occurred during the last 18 months. Secondly, some are still negotiating RoW charges and thirdly, ongoing review of the project based on expectations are still to be concluded with NCC.
  
“The issue of security challenges across the country is very real and something that each infraCo has had to factor in their revised plans. FG is working to ensure telecoms and especially optic fiber is fully protected under Critical National Infrastructure.”   
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Omicron: AU, governors, lawmakers call for end to travel ban, stigmatisation

Senate urges British counterparts to intervene
• Reps says visa ban would lead to huge revenue loss
• Nigeria confirms three more cases of Omicron
• Uganda detects first Omicron cases with five travellers from Nigeria
• Travel ban to be reviewed Dec. 20, says UK High Commissioner

The African Union (AU), yesterday, called for an urgent end to travel restrictions imposed on some of its member states, saying the measures effectively penalise governments for timely data sharing in line with international health regulations.

The measures act “as a disincentive for information sharing in the future, potentially posing a threat to health security on the continent and globally,” the AU said in a statement.

The union called for more emphasis to be put on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent. “Equitable access to vaccines is key to immunise populations, control transmission of the virus and prevent the emergence of new variants. International efforts should accordingly focus on increasing vaccination coverage on the continent.”

Late last month, European Union (EU) states, the United States and Britain, among other nations, imposed travel curbs on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is considered highly infectious.

Similarly, governors of the 36 states of the federation, under the umbrella of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), yesterday, rejected the travel ban imposed on the country by the United Kingdom and Canada over concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus detected in Nigeria.

The two chambers of the National Assembly – Senate and the House of Representatives – also joined the growing band of bodies condemning the ban and seeking its reversal.

NGF Chairman and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, in the statement, condemned the hasty decision taken by Canada and the United Kingdom and described it as “precipitated, unfair and discriminatory.”

The NGF urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to intervene by setting uniform standards that are acceptable to all for banning countries across the globe.

The NGF said it was very discouraging to note that there are several countries that have reported cases of Omicron similar to or higher than Nigeria’s, that have not been banned from entry to the UK or Canada.

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The Senate slammed the travel ban as the lawmakers called on their British counterparts to prevail on their government to remove Nigeria from the red list immediately. This followed a motion pursuant to Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate standing rules on the need for the UK government to remove Nigeria from the red list, as moved by Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, while commenting on the issue said: “I urge the British parliament to mount pressure on their government to remove Nigeria from the so-called red list. I am sure with this motion, Nigerians have spoken to the British authorities that enlisting Nigeria is seriously jeopardising the relationship between the two countries. We are saying let there be justification for it.”

The House of Representatives mandated the Federal Government to urgently engage UK with a view to reversing the visa ban on Nigerians. The House noted that the decision would have a significant impact on businesses and travellers intending to carry out lawful transactions in the UK as opportunities and investments already made would be lost, hence the need for a quick interface.

This was sequel to a motion by the minority leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, on the “need to intervene in the suspension of issuance of visitors visa to Nigerians by the UK government.”

The House noted that though the ban is for Nigerians bound for the UK, it does not exempt over 8,000 Nigerian travellers that have bought air tickets to visit Nigeria during this festive period, as the restriction would affect their re-entry into the UK after holidays.

Rather than seek to work with its Commonwealth ally on ways to combat and curtail the spread of the new variant, the lawmakers are worried that the UK government decided to ban Nigerian travellers outright from entering their country.

This, according to the lawmakers, is in sharp contrast to that of the United States government, whose response is for travellers to produce evidence of negative test result at the point of departure and a day two test result after arrival in their country.

MEANWHILE, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), yesterday, confirmed three more cases of the Omicron variant in Nigeria. Director-General, NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, in a statement, said in addition to the three cases announced earlier on December 1, this brings the total number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant detected in Nigeria to six. All the Omicron cases so far were detected in persons with recent travel history to South Africa in November.

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He said the Omicron variant is a source of global concern because of its increased risk of transmissibility and its potential to escape protective immune responses induced by natural infection and/or vaccination. Adetifa said there is currently no evidence of generalised or community transmission of this variant in Nigeria.
HOWEVER, Omicron cases have been confirmed in at least nine African countries. Countries include Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

In East Africa, Uganda reported its first 11 cases of Omicron, yesterday. The variant was detected in travellers from South Africa, UAE, DRC, Netherlands and Nigeria who arrived at Entebbe International Airport on November 29 and are currently in isolation.

All of the travellers have mild symptoms, Minister of Health, Jane Ruth Aceng, said. Five are from Nigeria and two came from South Africa and UAE, while one case each came from DRC and Netherlands, she said.

Explaining reasons the UK added Nigeria to the travel red list, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, said the UK made the decision to protect the public health of its people while the government tried to understand the new variant.

She noted that despite the ban, the British government would work closely with the Nigerian authorities as the world faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Laing further explained that the decision would be reviewed at the three-week review point on December 20.

According to the statement, “this decision is a precautionary measure to protect public health in the UK, while we try to understand this new variant,” the envoy was quoted as saying in a statement issued by Ndidiamaka Eze, Press and Public Affairs Officer, British High Commission.

“I know that this decision will have a significant impact on people in both our countries, particularly at this time of year. We continue to work very closely with the Nigerian authorities in tackling the pandemic and commend their ongoing work.”

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Crisis in power sector as Buhari sacks AEDC management

Stakeholders, experts divided over decision

In a rare and bold move, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, approved the immediate sacking of the management of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) following industrial action.

The announcement made through the Ministry of Power with the purported backing of the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) was commended in some quarters, while a number of others opposed it, smelling political move and underpinning interest.

Although the government has about 40 per cent share in the utility company the President, according to some stakeholders, may be interfering in the sector and playing the roles of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).

A statement from the Minister of State for Power, Goddy Jedy Agba, said Buhari approved AEDC’s board disengagement, adding that a new interim governing board was appointed to oversee the day-to-day operations of the firm.

Agba linked the decision to the recent strike embarked upon by AEDC staff over backlogs of pensions, allowances, salaries and promotion.

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The Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nasarawa, Kogi, parts of Edo, Niger and Kaduna state had been in darkness following the industrial action.

The Guardian had reported that the strike was necessitated by pension-related issues, liabilities and non-release of intervention fund by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) among other issues.

The strike action, which led to total darkness from 7:00 a.m. to about 8:00 p.m. on Monday, was halted following a memorandum of understanding (MOU), jointly signed by Agba, NERC Chairman, Sanusi Garba, BPE Director-General, Alex Okoli and Joe Ajaero on behalf of the union.

The statement accused the management of underperformance, even as some stakeholders said the development might be a ploy to take over the company, insisting that the move was more of politics than a well-thought-out decision.

Respected energy expert, Prof. Wumi Iledare, said the decision was difficult to comprehend when viewed against the background that the firm was registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act.

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He said the government must revisit the Electricity Supply Act of 2005, stressing that the foundation of the sector remains shaky, insisting that what the current administration just did has “implications for the electric power market structure.”

In a similar vein, NERC ex-Chairman, Sam Amadi, maintained that the President has no powers under the Electric Power Sector Reform Act to sack the board of a private electricity company that the government has a minority share.

He clarified that it is the shareholders that could meet and dissolve the board, adding that another entity that could sack the board for violation of extant rules was the NERC.

But legal practitioner and consumer advocate, Kunle Olubiyo, held a contrary view. He, instead, applauded the move, stating: “It is a welcome development and a right step in the right direction.”

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Lewandowski slams Messi over Ballon d’Or speech

‘He should be sincere’

Robert Lewandowski was unconvinced by Lionel Messi’s tribute towards him at last week’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, as the Bayern Munich star labelled his rival’s comments ‘empty words’.

Messi, 34, controversially pipped Lewandowski, 33, to the 2021 prize, with many fans and pundits opining that the Polish marksman was more deserving of the award.

The Bayern Munich striker was the standout performer of 2020 and was cruelly denied the Ballon d’Or that year as it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his acceptance speech, Messi acknowledged that Lewandowski deserved the prize for 2020, and called on event organisers, France Football, to retrospectively hand the Pole his gong.

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“Last year, everyone agreed that you were the winner and I think that France Football should give you the Ballon d’Or that you deserve,” he said.

However, the 33-year-old was unmoved by Messi’s comments, labelling them ‘empty words’ before insisting that he does not care for a token reward.

“I’m not that enthusiastic about getting the 2020 award,’ Lewandowski told Kanale Sportowym via Marca.

“I would like it [Messi’s 2020 Ballon d’Or statement] to be a sincere and courteous statement from a great player and not just an empty words.’

Reflecting on last week’s near-miss, Lewandowski said: “I felt sadness. I can’t deny it.

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“I can’t say I was happy, on the contrary. I have a feeling of sadness. To be so close, to compete with Messi, of course I respect how he plays and what he has achieved. The mere fact that I was able to compete with him shows me the level that I was able to reach.”

Lewandowski has scored 130 goals in 108 games since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, and his missing out on the top prize will serve as motivation for his Bayern Munich teammates, Thomas Muller revealed.

Culled from dailymail.co.uk

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Lagos issues strict guidelines for social events at Yuletide

Cracks down on fake COVID-19 test results, vaccination cards
• Unveils plan for containing the fourth wave of pandemic

Lagos State government, yesterday, issued guidelines for social events and gatherings within the state during the festive season.

Making the disclosure in a statement, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said all social events must be duly registered to obtain Event Safety Clearance from the Lagos State Safety Commission website.

He explained: “Where possible events should be held in an outdoor space. Occupancy limit at any event must not exceed 60 per cent of the maximum design capacity of the Commission. Every attendee of a social gathering must present his/her vaccination card or digital bar code page, showing at least first dose but preferably double dose full vaccination.

“In unvaccinated people, a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours will be an exemption. Everybody irrespective of vaccination status must be subject to Rapid Diagnostic Test (Antigen) to be conducted at the event venue or within 24 hours, prior to the event. Request for rapid tests at the venue requires an application through the safety commission.

“Guests and service providers with high temperature (above 37.5) are to be politely turned back and referred to paramedics or the emergency response team on ground. All guests and service providers at the event must wear a nose mask or face shield before entry. All guests and service providers must endeavor to wash their hands before entering the venue or use hand sanitisers after which temperature checks should be carried out. Hand sanitizers to be positioned at the entry point and different spots within the venue.”

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Sanwo-Olu said the state has begun moves to prosecute persons engaged in fraudulent production of fake COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates.

He disclosed that the government received “very disturbing information about intending outbound passengers procuring fake COVID-19 test results and/or vaccination cards for travel purposes”.

Describing the development as “very worrisome”, he said the state is “currently working with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigerian Police Force to investigate and bring to book the criminal gangs involved in this reprehensible activity”.

He implored residents to desist from patronising the culprits, warning: “Anyone found with a fake COVID-19 test result and/or vaccination card will be liable to prosecution and very stiff penalties.”

He said: “State Mobile Courts will be used to prosecute all those involved in flouting regulations, as well as those engaged in the fraudulent production of fake test results and vaccination certificates. To this end, the Lagos State Ministry of Health is collaborating with various enforcement stakeholders from the Ministry of Justice and the Task Force to ensure prompt prosecution of these individuals.”

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ON plan to mitigate the fourth wave of the pandemic, Sanwo-Olu said the state would increase the percentage of vaccinated residents from 1.6 per cent to 30 per cent within one year.

“I have specifically mandated the Lagos State Ministry of Health to administer eight million doses to four million residents by December 25, 2021, under the Count Me In campaign. We have deployed a robust strategy that involves the private sector to improve access to vaccines.

“We are launching 30 private priority sites for those who want to be vaccinated within a private health facility. While vaccination at public centres remains free, there is an administration fee of N4,500 per dose and N6,000 for two doses at private centres,” the governor said.

Sanwo-Olu also commiserated with Lagos residents who lost loved ones during the third wave of the pandemic. He regretted that the fourth wave was brought by non-adherence to laid down protocols and appealed to everyone to get vaccinated.

He promised that despite the huge financial obligation and constraints associated with managing the pandemic, his administration will do everything within its power to preserve the lives and livelihood of Lagos State residents.

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Fury must face Whyte in next defence

World heavyweight champion Tyson Fury must face Dillian Whyte in his next title defence following a ruling on Tuesday by the World Boxing Council (WBC).

The WBC said Whyte has now been installed as mandatory challenger to Fury, who retained his crown with a thrilling knockout victory over Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas in October.

“The WBC hereby orders the start of the free negotiations period pursuant to the WBC Rules & Regulations for the mandatory bout between WBC World Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury and Mandatory Challenger and WBC Interim World Champion Dillian Whyte,” the WBC said in a statement on Twitter.

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The WBC initially said in October Fury would only have to face Whyte if he was unable to arrange an undisputed world title fight with Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk, the unified WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion.

However, after the 30-day window for Fury and Usyk to agree terms expired, the WBC has now moved to install Whyte as Fury’s next opponent.

Whyte last month accused Fury of “running away” from a planned showdown.

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“Fury has been mandated to fight me twice… he just keeps making excuses,” Whyte told Sky Sports.

“Hopefully now he’s got no choice. What’s he going to do? Throw the belt in the bin and run away from more money than he got to fight Wilder?”

Usyk is expected to face a rematch against former champion Anthony Joshua in early 2022. Usyk outclassed Joshua in September to dethrone the former unified champion.

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The Omicron challenge for Nigeria

As if the COVID-19 pandemic has not done enough damage to humanity, the discovery of the Omicron variant has thrown more challenges in the way for humanity.

For Nigeria, battling with myriads of other challenges owing to the failure of leadership is a sad development indeed. However, a sound appraisal of the situation and a pragmatic approach to confronting it will see the country coming out stronger.

Nigeria joined the growing number of countries that have recorded cases of the Omicron variant also known as B.1.1.529 lineage, confirming the discovery of three additional Omicron variant cases. The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Ifedayo Adetifa who disclosed this noted that the new cases were detected in persons with recent travel history to South Africa in November. Adetifa also said that through the NCDC, the Nigerian government has been notified by the government of the United Kingdom (UK) of seven cases of Omicron variant detected in travellers from Nigeria.

Although the NCDC boss established that the Delta variant remains the dominant variant so far, he said the centre will continue to coordinate genomic surveillance activities across the country to sequence all positive COVID-19 samples from international travelers arriving in Nigeria, including samples from international travelers from October 2021 to date.

The controversy as to its origin and course of spread aside, the stark reality is that the Omicron variant is here and people are testing positive for it. Travel bans have been imposed on countries especially African countries including Nigeria, by leading western countries. The latest and by far of more concern to Nigeria is the one imposed on travellers from Nigeria by the United Kingdom in particular, given the ties between the two nations; and Canada. More cases are also being discovered in Nigeria and amongst Nigerian travellers.

But there is no need to panic, because, as the NCDC boss said: “All viruses naturally mutate over time and will continue to happen as long as the world does not act in concert to significantly reduce transmission through vaccination and adherence to effective public health measures such as mask use, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and ensuring good ventilation.”

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Coming at a time Nigeria was becoming relaxed in a seeming feeling that the worst was over, it is a wake-up call to overhaul the medical and health infrastructure in the most populous black nation in the world.

With a population of over 2000 million and still burgeoning, the country’s leaders need to wake up or be woken up to tackle the age long neglect of the health sector. The leaders have access to first class health facilities worldwide based on their unfair access to public funds and hence probably feel no pressure to replicate same at home. But that is shortsightedness as the onset of COVID-19 and the attendant restriction of movement has demonstrated. So, the first implication of the myriads of travel restrictions ought to be seen by the leaders as a denial of their access to the facilities they so much depend on. It is therefore in their enlightened self-interest to do a rethink and fix this nation and its health and infrastructural facilities.

Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the political leadership has paid lip service to the development of the local pharmaceutical potentials in spite of research evidence to their efficacy in certain areas. Agencies are set up and billons of naira funneled through them and yet no meaningful outcomes or significant breakthroughs achieved. Yet, the origin of COVID-19 remains shrouded in mystery even as countries such as the U.S. and China traded blames amid argument trade is out there as to whether hegemonic western pharmaceutical companies are behind the spread and mutations of the COVID-19 pandemic for their gains. While the speculations will probably never be proven, what is not doubted is the prevalence of a killer virus that spreads and kills fast in a human population that is otherwise unprotected. A brilliant reaction to that hegemony is therefore to get into the game by developing own industry through the provision of an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.

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It is shameful that government public health institutions, including the one in the Aso Villa residence of the president, have been groaning from neglect. Teaching hospitals, once the cynosure in the developing world, have become shadows of their former selves. Salaries and emoluments of health workers are denied them, causing regular frictions and industrial (strike) actions. Primary health centres have been abandoned nationwide. Cataloguing the woes of the health sector is a heart-rending exercise.

The cumulative lesson from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic till now is the need to fix the system through honest leadership at all levels and to evoke the political will to do same. With the infrastructure in shambles, it is a miracle that the death toll from the pandemic is far below the projections. Nigeria cannot stretch its luck further through negligence.

It would seem the pandemic and its variants will live with the world a long time than expected. So, the threat of lockdowns, travel restrictions and associated inconveniences will continue. How Nigeria prepares to confront the effects will make a difference in the survival and wellbeing of the nation.

While reminding those in positions of authority that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people, ordinary Nigerians must also take heed and protect themselves. The populace should follow the protocols for the prevention of COVID-19 at all times. Many of these preventive measures are non-pharmaceutical and require simple adherence to good hygiene. Self-medication is not encouraged, but non-controversial and fairly accepted practices like steaming should be embraced at intervals.

While waiting for governments to wake up to their duties, the people must also take steps to stay alive, stay safe and stay healthy.

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