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OPS prioritises projects amid cash crunch, export hoarding

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Emefiele

• Seeks executive action on economic palliatives
With over N25 billion donated so far, the Organised Private Sector (OPS) has urged government to focus on the quick wins to safeguard public health, security and food security, while urging other operators to complement the current efforts of the government and the various private sector coalitions to ensure effective containment of the pandemic.

Indeed, they argued that members should focus more on identifying needs and meeting them rather than donating cash, considering the issues of transparency prevalent in the country.

According to them, the need for palliatives has become necessary, as some governments are moving to secure domestic food supplies during the conoravirus pandemic.

Already, Kazakhstan, one of the world’s biggest shippers of wheat flour, banned exports of that product along with others, including carrots, sugar and potatoes. Vietnam temporarily suspended new rice export contracts. Serbia has stopped the flow of its sunflower oil and other goods, while Russia is leaving the door open to shipment bans and said it’s assessing the situation weekly.

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Though local manufacturers have promised to sustain production, most of the raw materials needed are largely imported, with the exception of foods produced locally.

According to NBS data, imported agricultural products accounted for N233.3billion of total agricultural trade in Q4, 2019. The major product was Durum wheat (not in seeds) imported mainly from Latvia (N11.58billion) and Canada (N11.15billion). Durum wheat (seeds) was also imported from Singapore and Russia valued at N14.9billion and N6.78billion respectively.

Wheat flour is a major source of raw materials for bread, pastries and even widely consumed noodles.

As it is, many governments have employed extreme measures, setting curfews and limits on crowds or even on people venturing out for anything but to acquire essentials.

Although the country is estimated to need at least N120 billion to fight the coronavirus pandemic, members of the Organised Private Sector (OPS) have raised no less than N25.06 billion within the last few days, with others unveiling several relief materials for the pandemic.

Indeed, the crash in oil prices, which have fallen by nearly two- thirds this year due in large part to a coronavirus-induced demand collapse, has seriously battered the nation’s finances, even as the world enters into another recession.

According to details from the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Federal Government has received no less than N25,060,000,700 in cash and items donation as at Saturday.

Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele had said: “So far, the federal government has made giant strides in the fight but it is clear that the private sector needs to step in and support efforts already being made. To procure all needed equipment, material, and all infrastructure needed to fight this pandemic, over N120b need to be raised”.

Emefiele formed a coalition led by the Aliko Dangote Foundation and Access Bank that is already working to raise funds.

On Friday, Nigeria’s state oil company NNPC pledged $30 million, with the help of 33 oil companies, including international majors Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil and Nigerian companies Oando, Lekoil and Seplat.

NNPC said it would offer more in partnership with downstream companies. That assistance, offered by companies, includes 200 ambulances, test kits and laboratory equipment, NNPC said in a tweet.

Bank UBA Group, led by Tony Elumelu, on Thursday pledged N1 billion to Nigeria as part of a broader N5 billion coronavirus donation. Other prominent Nigerians, including Dangote and five others, would ensure their organizations also contribute N1 billion each, Emefiele said.

According to the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), the nation needs to invoke appropriate Executive Orders to make this happen.

“There should be seamless access to medical and food supplies, especially by the vulnerable groups. We should explore the option of cash transfers to the vulnerable groups to mitigate the pains associated with the current and imminent lockdowns in many parts of the country.
“There should be immediate import duties and tax waivers for medical equipment, pharmaceutical products, food processing, raw materials and intermediate products and other essential items. All customs bottlenecks to these sectors should be removed without delay.

“The Central bank should prevail on the banks to give concessions on pending private sector credit liabilities with the deposit money banks over the period of this economic crisis. The Nigerian customs service, the terminal operators and other agencies of government should extend similar concessions to port users at this time”, LCCI’s President, Toki Mabogunje said.

Some nations are adding to their strategic reserves. China, the biggest rice grower and consumer, pledged to buy more than ever before from its domestic harvest, even though the government already holds massive stockpiles of rice and wheat, enough for one year of consumption.

LCCI’s Director-General, Muda Yusuf explained the need for operators to focus on meeting needs rather than throwing money at the situation for effective result.

“Operators should go the way of GTBank Plc if the impact will be felt, just as donor agencies always tie their interventions to projects, rather than donating cash”, he added.

While they commended the gestures from those that have contributed to further curtail the spread, the OPS demanded that Nigerians should know how the funds are expended and for what they are being used.

Director-General of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, who lamented the state of the nation’s medical infrastructure, said more attention should be looked into the dilapidated medical infrastructure in the country, and should be given a facelift through the funds.

He also said government should ensure proper care for medical personnel, that it was because of these that the country had witnessed massive medical tourism by political leaders in recent time.

“It is very important government looked on the state of the nation’s medical infrastructure. Over the years, we have been talking of the state of the hospitals, and now the reality has confronted us, and we also know that is why there is massive medical tourism, especially for our political leaders, of which circumstances has forced them to stay with us to use our medical facilities with us,” he said.

Part of the funds, Olawale said, should also be used to take care of the poor and those in the informal sector, who are also in isolation and maintaining social distancing, so that they would not die of hunger

He said: “There are lots of Nigerians that are poor and poor of the poorest, especially those in the informal sector or daily paid workers that cannot fend for themselves now because they are out of activities. Government should find a way of reaching out to them and also provide for them. That is the only way they can isolate themselves, because hunger will basically drive them out to fend for themselves.”

“Despite issue of COVID-19 isolation centre, if we have an explosion, the number of people to be isolated, Nigeria does not have the capacity, the hospitals and infrastructure that is why they are earmarking stadia as isolation centres.

“The question is what infrastructure is there for them to use as isolation centre? How effective are they? We only hope it is not going to be mortuary for those that will be isolated on account for testing positive to COVID-19. So, massive investment is very important as regards to our medical infrastructure, and also the clamour for probity and accountability is very important. As a Nigerian factor, we prefer an opportunity for a few people to benefit from it, while it is meant for the welfare of the entire population.”

Similarly, the President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero, said there should be a finance committee whose duty would be basically to raise funds and appropriate them accordingly.

This, Ajaero said, is to ensure proper accountability and transparency and also not to discourage the private sector from donating in future occurrence.

“I think from the finance committee, another committee should be in place to present various social partners to the project and if that is done, accounting for the money will entail collective responsibility of all those involved, which may at the end of the day discourage the private sector from future responses.”

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