The appalling allocation of ₦27.7Bn for National Assembly renovation, amid Health and Education Budget cuts

national-assembly

                                                                                    Written by Lucas Nwachukwu

While the state of healthcare and education is changing globally as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian government has chosen to be ignorant of this reality. In a shameless and appalling move, the Federal Government in the 2020 revised budget, allocated to the National Assembly a whooping ₦27.7 Billion for the renovation of its complex, while the allocation for basic healthcare provision, which is meant to cater for the public healthcare sector of the entire country for a year, was significantly reduced by ₦44.4 Billion to ₦25.5 Billion, a decrease of more than 42.5 percent. Similarly, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) fund was reduced significantly, from ₦111.7 Billion to ₦51.1 Billion, by more than 54.2 percent.

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COVID-19: CSO Situation Room solicits for massive support from Bayelsa community leaders

Bayelsa SA-Chief

BAYELSA STATE

Amidst the rising cases of coronavirus disease in the country and the shocking nonchalance of many Nigerians towards the pandemic, the Civil Societies Network in Bayelsa State has resolved to ensure public discourse about the pandemic is kept on the front burner, by calling on traditional rulers, youth leaders, religious overseers and other community leaders to use their influence in expanding the public outreach campaigns on COVID-19. The Civil Societies, operating under the auspices of the CSO Situation Room, find it ironical and bothersome that, the more the number of confirmed cases increases in the State, the lesser the public interest in curbing further spread of the virus. The reverse, ought to be the case. With the spike in the number of infected persons within and around Bayelsa, the CSO Situation Room has begun reaching out to community leaders in the State, requesting them to play the symbolic role of closing the gaps in communication with the people, by raising their voices and calling for action against the spread of the deadly virus in the State.

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Revamping the Social Protection Programmes to minimise the impact of COVID-19

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By Mercy Christopher

COVID-19 and its socioeconomic impacts have been and will, for a period of time after the virus, continue to be of serious consequence to the poor and vulnerable in Nigeria. The virus which infects people regardless of their economic and social status poses a greater threat to the poor.

Nigeria has since 2018 remained the country with the highest incidence of poverty in the world. According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, more than 82 million Nigerians are trapped in extreme poverty, living on less than $1 a day as of May 2020. This figure is expected to increase as the COVID-19 outbreak is expected to push more people further into poverty. World Bank estimates that COVID-19 will push 49 million people globally into extreme poverty in 2020 (World Bank, 2020). In that figure, Nigeria accounts for 5 million people who will be pushed into extreme poverty according to the estimates. This is excluding the number of struggling people living on the verge of poverty, on $3.20 – $5.50 per day. According to the World Bank projections, 100 million people in this class will be pushed into poverty. With the dispiriting projections, it has become apparent that the Nigerian government will need to act strategic and fast in protecting a majority of its population who are most vulnerable to the shocks occasioned by COVID-19.

The hardship experienced by most Nigerians whose sources of livelihood were severed as a result of the lockdown measures in the earlier months of the pandemic highlighted the need for social protection in Nigeria. With a good number of the workforce especially in the informal sector lacking savings to facilitate self isolation and most people lacking basic necessities to survive a lockdown, the public’s attention was drawn to existence of a social protection program in Nigeria under the name National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). The programme since then has undergone a heightened public scrutiny and criticism by politicians, Civil Society Organisations, the public and the government itself. The National Assembly have, in recent times, had cause to question the impact and implementation of the Social Investment Programme. During a meeting convened by the leadership of the National Assembly with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, on Federal Government intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians, the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives faulted the scheme for being inefficient in its delivery and for failing to reach its target audience. These criticisms are not out of place.

The National Social Investment Programme which was established in 2016 to tackle poverty and hunger has from its inception given rise to a several lines of questioning. The first is based on the demographics of the country and how to ascertain the actual number of poor people who are the beneficiaries of the programme. The statistics of people living in poverty in Nigeria are based on projections and speculations. A good example of this is the recent publications of the number of poor people by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics and the National Social Safety Coordinating Office (NASSCO) which shows a huge discrepancy. According to NASSCO, 9.45 million Nigerians in 35 states of the federation are living in poverty as of January 2020. NSB in May 2020 placed its own figure of poor Nigerians at 82 million. With such discrepancy in the target group of the programme, the implementation of the programme will definitely be hampered.

Another aspect of the programme that has been criticised is how the funds earmarked for the programme are being utilised. The NSIP is funded through a $500 million credit granted by the World Bank in 2016, $322.5 million Abacha loot recovered from Switzerland in 2017 and the yearly appropriation of N400 billion after the initial N500 billion appropriated in the 2016 federal budget. The Nigerian government have been unable to provide a comprehensive data of how these funds are expended. In an independent monitoring undertaken by CSOs under the Monitoring of Recovered Assets through Transparency and Accountability (MANTRA) for August/September 2018 phase of the conditional cash transfer, the report indicated a number of flaws in the programme (Africa Network for Environment and Social Justice, 2019). According to the report, staff of NSIP had no official documentation of total persons paid and not paid in the August/September round of payment in some LGAs and communities. The report also noted that data provided at the national level oftentimes varied with that provided at the state level for households enrolled in the programme, the total funds disbursed and the total number of persons paid. Some beneficiaries enrolled in the programme are also not paid and some community leaders who are part of the programme noted that it was unclear how the selection criteria for beneficiaries were developed.

A major setback of the programme is the fact that the administrators of the programme have continuously failed to share timely information of the operations of the programme to the general public. This has created public distrust about the programme as many Nigerians now see the NSIP as a front to siphon money. The Special Adviser to the president on social investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais (who supervised the programme from 2016 to September 2019) in an attempt to defend the programme after several days of public backlash, provided some information to the public. She asserted amongst other things that the programme as of September 2019 benefited 1,491,296 poor and vulnerable households comprising of 6,056,872 individuals in 33 states. Assuming these figures are factual, the reach of the programme is still limited when compared to the number of people living in poverty, so is its efficacy is reducing poverty in Nigeria.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Nigeria has witnessed reduced economic activity that has increased the socioeconomic pressures of most Nigerians. Workers in some sectors are being laid off, non essential businesses have been on a halt, restriction on movement also affects the income generating capacity of most and the prices of essential goods and services have been on the rise. With the pandemic still at its peak and the hardship not near its end, the government need to be more strategic in prioritising and implementing social protection programmes in the country. The Federal government has recently turned to borrowing to finance the federal budget which scarcely captures the new reality and the eminent socioeconomic needs of Nigerians.

Rather than plunge the country in debt to cover projects whose impact will not be felt by a majority of Nigerians, the government could revamp and channel funds into social programmes which will not only address poverty and hunger but will also grow businesses and develop capacity especially for persons in the informal sector. This approach will go beyond minimising the impact of COVID-19 to actually promoting inclusive growth and diversification of the economy. As emphasised by the International Monetary Fund, the poor and middle class matter the most for growth through economic and social channels as an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth (IMF, 2015).

The NSIP has the potential to tackle the emerging socioeconomic challenges Nigeria is faced with as a result of the pandemic. The programme was designed to address hunger, poverty alleviation, employment creation, child education, agriculture, local production and promotes small and medium businesses. All that government needs to do is prioritise the programme, perfect its method of delivery, adequately fund it and ensure its transparency and accountability.

Poor living conditions mar fight against COVID-19 in Borno IDP camps, says CSO Situation Room

Children-and-adults-will-fare-better-against-coronavirus-if-they-do-not-have-to-endure-harsh-living-conditions-in-dilapidated,-crowded-tents-which-contribute-to-underlying-health-conditions
Children and adults will fare better against coronavirus if they do not have to endure harsh living conditions in dilapidated, crowded tents which contribute to underlying health conditions. Pictures show Shuwari 5 IDP camp in Dikwa LGA.

Borno State Report

Day after day, the sight of malnourished children living in deplorable conditions, has become a sickening phenomenon witnessed in most IDP camps in Borno State. Dilapidated tents, poor clothing and food lacking in basic nutrients, are the unpalatable hallmarks of human existence in these camps. At least, 600,000 people are living in the IDP camps located in Borno, having been displaced from their communities due to the insurgency that has hounded the State since 2009. Fortunate to have survived and fled the violent attacks that took the lives of tens of thousands of Borno inhabitants, these resilient survivors are now faced with a perpetual struggle to stay alive. Most of them lost their homes, farms and small-scale businesses to the conflicts.

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COVID-19: Rivers CSO Situation Room raises alarm over the danger posed by facemasks to children below 2 years

COVID-19-Rivers-CSO-Situation-Room-raises-alarm-over-the-danger-posed-by-facemasks-to-children-below-2-years

Rivers State Report:

Sequel to the introduction of health safety rules by the Rivers State Government to curtail the spread of coronavirus in the State,there has been several incidents reported within the State of little infants choking and gasping for breath after their parents ignorantly wore face masks on them, out of fear of flouting the government’s rules. The CSO Situation Room made up of civil societies in the State, is greatly alarmed by these reports as they are an indication of an acute lack of awareness amongst the populace, about the recommendations on the use of the facemask published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The level of public sensitisation about COVID-19 has been noticeably minimal in Rivers State. Though some parts of the State experienced a total lockdown for some days, imposed by the State Government, many residents in the State lamented that they were never enlightened about the pandemic,as the government appeared more interested in enforcing a strict compliance to the lockdown, than seeking the understanding and cooperation of the people.

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Borno CSO Situation Room advocates for more women participation to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic

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Borno women on a queue, waiting to receive relief materials on behalf of their families

Borno State Report:

The civil societies’network, also known as CSO Situation Room in Borno State, has called on the Borno State Government and the State Committee on COVID-19 to engage more women as a strategy for deeper community sensitisation, in the bid to quell the coronavirus crisis. Within the last three months, the CSO Situation Room has been leveraging on the presence of its over 170 members across the state to support the State Committee on COVID-19 in public sensitisation and communication.

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RECKLESS BORROWING: $5.5BN FRESH LOAN

President-Muhammadu-Buhari,-presenting-the-Budget-to-the-joint-session-of-the-National-Assembly
President Muhammadu Buhari, presenting the Budget to the joint session of the National Assembly

Written by Lucas Nwachukwu:

In the face of a novel virus threat and the concomitant socio-economic conundrum, President Muhammadu Buhari made fresh external loan request of $5.513 Billion. This request will see Nigeria’s total external debt leap higher.The culture of borrowing has become a serious cause for alarm, as it underscores an underlying socio-economic injustice being perpetrated against future generations of Nigerians who will be saddled with debt repayments, long after the current administration led by President Buhari is over.

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Bayelsa CSO Situation Room galvanises more action against COVID-19, as community transmission sets in

Pictures-show-CSO-Situation-Room-members-on-a-mission-to-distribute-IEC-materials-in-communities-within--Bayelsa
Pictures show CSO Situation Room members on a mission to distribute IEC materials in communities within Bayelsa

Bayelsa State Report

The subtle pressure mounted on the Bayelsa State Government by the CSO Situation Room and some public-spirited citizens across the State, to take more drastic actions in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, has yielded some positive results with the State Government taking the public enlightenment campaigns a notch higher. The government commissioned the production of DVD (Digital Video Disc) and IEC (Information Education and Communication) materials, to improve communication and information dissemination to residents of the State on their collective responsibility to stem the tide of community transmission. The IEC materials were produced using slogans and messages curated by the CSO Situation Room for the purpose of public sensitisation. About 5,000 copies of these IEC materials and DVDs have been handed over to the CSO Situation Room by the State Government, for distribution to the public in the course of carrying out their daily community sensitisation campaigns across the State. Social Action, one of the civil society groups in the coalition, provided the logistical support needed to efficiently distribute the materials.

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COVID-19: Nigeria, in dire need of a people-friendly economic policy response as recession looms

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Thematic Report: There has been a drastic drop in the demand for refined and unrefined oil

Written by Lillian Akhigbe:
Even a layperson who is neither an economist nor a finance expert, but who has been on a lockdown with his family for a period of time within the last two months, must have observed that the coronavirus – induced lockdown slowed down economic activities in parts of Nigeria. From the school teacher in Abuja who decides to remove the battery of his car and keep it inside his house like a treasure box, mindful that the vehicle will not be on the road during the total lockdown, to the airline companies with offices in Lagos who had to place over 80% of their staff on a mandatory Leave without pay, pending the lifting of the ban on inter-State and inter-country air travel; it was evident that there has been a drop in the purchase of petrol, aviation fuel and other petroleum-based fuels.All across the world, the demand for refined and unrefined oil drastically reduced within the last three months. Many people just did not need that much petroleum-based fuel while at home on a lockdown. The global oil market has been majorly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the Nigerian economy in particular, which is majorly dependent on the oil market, was one of the worst-hit.Nigeria had a pile up of unsold crude oil in vessels offshore and the challenge of a drastic drop in oil prices stared the country hard in the face.

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Thinking outside the box, to control the spread of coronavirus

bank crowd

By Peter Mazzi

Despite the different physical policies adopted by leaders all over the world to curb the transmission of the coronavirus, the curve has been on the bend. Some of the measures recommended by the World Health Organisation to flatten the curve, include the maintenance of respiratory and personal hygiene and keeping safe physical distances, one from another. But one notable measure that was adopted by many affected countries to enforce the physical distancing, was the implementation of a lockdown which involves the partial or total restriction of movement of persons from one place to another. This seemed to be perhaps one of the most effective and cost- effective means of constraining the contagion from infected persons to the uninfected or from a region of high infection to a less affected area. The logic is simply that the virus cannot move on its own but depend on a host in form of an infected person to transmit to others as they engage in physical communication. As effective as this measure may be, it has also proven to be highly unsustainable.

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