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Hot Breaking News This Morning, July 17, 2020

1. Nigeria lost N3bn to illegal gold smuggling in 6-yrs — Buhari

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, lamented that Nigeria lost about $3 billion to illegal smuggling of gold between 2012 and 2018.

President Buhari also said that improved gold mining operations in the country will generate about 250,000 jobs and over $500 million annually in royalties and taxes to the Federal Government.

President Buhari disclosed this at the official presentation of locally mined gold bars by the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative, PAGMDI, at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja.

President Buhari in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to establishing gold refineries in Nigeria.

He said the laudable initiative would support efforts at creation of jobs for Nigerians, diversifying the revenue base, and improving foreign exchange reserves.

According to the statement, “Reiterating the determination of the Federal Government to combat illegal mining activities, the President expressed concern that Nigeria lost close to $3b from 2012 – 2018 due to illegal smuggling of gold.

“With the implementation of the PAGDMI scheme which will result in the set-up of accredited gold buying centres across key mining areas, artisanal miners and SMEs engaged in mining will be able to capture the value of their work.

“These operations will help in diversifying our revenue base. The sale of gold by artisanal miners and SMEs at accredited centres will help the government in realizing royalties and taxes from the sale of these assets.

“These developments will also help in improving our foreign reserves by enabling the Central Bank of Nigeria to increase the amount of gold in its reserves.

“These gold assets which will be purchased in Naira, will not only help to bolster our international reserves, it will also provide a hedge against inflation and other economic volatilities associated with foreign currencies that are held in our reserves.”

President Buhari noted that in addition to the potential revenue gains that will occur from mining operations, efforts are being made to enable the setting up of gold refineries in Nigeria.

He expressed optimism that these measures would lead to the creation of additional job opportunities across the gold value chain and also help the nation capture the additional value created from the gold refining process.

On environmental degradation, he pledged that the Government would pay close attention to safety and environmental measures to protect workers and the environment.

The President commended all stakeholders involved in the PAGMI for their painstaking efforts in developing a programme aimed at improved sourcing and refining of high-quality gold bars, derived from minefields in Nigeria.

Speaking with State House correspondents after the launch, Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State said the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative, PAGMDI, will positively impact on the security situation in most parts of the country currently experiencing security challenges.

Bagudu, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the PAGMDI steering committee, said that the initiative would eliminate illegality and criminality in the Solid Minerals sector.

Recall that banditry and kidnapping in the north-west states of Zamfara, Kebbi and Sokoto have been attributed to illegal mining.

He said that many states, including Kebbi have people in the artisanal gold mining sector for decades but this is the first time they are being energized by a National Programme.

He noted that the initiative would ensure that miners are supported by a steering committee to include those artisanal miners that are eager to do their activities, but they have been doing so illegally, with health hazards to themselves, damage to the environment and because of illegality, it brings insecurity.

According to him, “Will this contribute to security, yes certainly, I have said that already most of the Artisanal miners because they are illegal and because they are producing something that is very precious and easy to transport.

“So it attracts criminals and criminality but the PAGMDI process is now for formalizing them, recognizing them, providing them protection so that whosoever wants to participate, will register and get trained and participate and do it legitimately this will have a significant effect on insecurity in some places of the country particularly where mineral production including gold is taking place because it will provide them with safety and formalization.

2. We’ll vigorously enforce COVID-19 protocols —S’West states

FOLLOWING the decision by the South-West states to allow students in the zone sit for the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, some states in the region have expressed readiness to follow the COVID-19 protocols before schools resume.

Ekiti, Ogun and Osun states,promised to vigorously enforce the COVID-19 protocols.

The Ekiti State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Mr. Foluso Daramola said this at a meeting of the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB, management held with headteachers of public primary schools in Ado-Ekiti.

Daramola expressed the commitment of state government to the safety of teachers and pupils when schools resume.

He disclosed that plans are underway to appoint and train focal persons in all schools to ensure compliance with the COVID-19 protocols when schools resume.

Similarly, at a meeting with headteachers from the three Senatorial Districts of the State, at Ikere, Ado and Ido-Ekiti, the Executive Chairman of the Ekiti State SUBEB, Professor Francisca Aladejana, said fumigation of school buildings and cutting of grass and bushes in the school premises would be carried out in all the schools before the resumption date.

Aladejana disclosed that a checklist of these guidelines would be carried out by the COVID-19 Prevention Compliance School Monitoring Committee to be set up by the State Government, while Certificates of Readiness showing that a school has adhered to all the conditions required for school reopening will be issued to all schools before they can be allowed to reopen.

We can’t close schools forever —Osun govt

Similarly, the Osun State government said it has received the Federal Government guidelines on reopening of schools and it has met about 9 out of the 12 issues formulated from it.

The Special Adviser to Governor on Education, Mr. Jamiu Olawumi, said: “The dynamism for COVID-19 would not allow anyone to close schools forever. This is the way malaria started. We have received the Federal Government’s guidelines on reopening of schools and out of the 12 issues formulated, we have met nine and have about two to three to resolve.

“Some of the issues include school management, provision of infrastructure for social distancing, disinfecting schools, provision of water and soap for handwashing, the provision of infra-red thermometers and the use of face mask.

“Presently, we are compiling the list and will present the paper to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola for approval and I know that due to his position to provide adequate security for our people, he will approve the recommendation.”

Ogun constitutes committee on schools reopening

On its part, the Ogun State government said it had set up a steering committee that will work out protocol and guidelines on reopening of schools in the state.

The Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor on Primary and Secondary schools, Mrs. Ronke Soyombo, said the committee is working round the clock to draw up protocol and guidelines for schools in the state.

Aside from this, a team from the State Ministry of Education, Science and Technology is moving round schools in the state to assess facilities in each of the schools across the state.

3. God is teaching us some lessons — Religious leaders

Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) in collaboration with Faith for Peace Initiative (FPI) has charged Nigerians to recognise that God, through this pandemic, is teaching the citizenry some lessons, urging all to come together to fight this common nemesis.

This was part of the recommendation at its online Faith Leaders’ Dialogue Forum on the theme, Role of Faith and Inter-Faith Communities on Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery, a webinar held recently.

The Forum which had the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Cornelius Omonokhua, as the Keynote Speaker, Dr (Imam) Abdullahi Shuaib, CEO, Jaiz Charity and Development Foundation and former Co-Chairman of NIREC in Lagos State, as the Lead Discussant, Sr. Agatha Chikelue, Executive Director of COFP Foundation, as the Chief Host was convened and moderated by Tajudeen Alabede, a COFP Fellow and Director of FPI.

The forum, while affirming that COVID-19 does not respect faith, gender, race, age, social status and other demographic realities, said religious leaders have a critical role to play in combating the social and economic challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.

In a communique at the end of the event, the group lamented Faith Communities are not represented in the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 and, therefore, urged the Government to do the needful by recognising the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities as development partners and patriotic allies in the fight against COVID-19.

It also appealed to both the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities to do more in lifting the hope of our people by harnessing the power of faith for the common good and, as a result, step up their complementary role in economic development and poverty alleviation as we all grapple with the effects of COVID-19.

“In playing this role, the Forum urged the Faith Communities to place emphasis on Joint Community Action by the leaders of both faiths at all levels; this way, the Faith Communities would work together, complement each other and share resources and experiences as we all face this common challenge to our humanity.

“The Forum observed that the Faith Communities are not represented in the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 and, therefore, urged the Government to do the needful by recognising the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities as development partners and patriotic allies in the fight against COVID-19 as religious leaders are the closest set of leaders to the citizens.

“The Forum, while recognising that COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the crisis of governance bedevilling the nation as it has shown the gross inadequacies in our governance system with massive deficits in health, education and other sectors, called on the Government to seize this opportunity to review the governance system so as to make it more effective and efficient as well as to prepare the nation for any future challenge of the scale of COVID-19crisis.

“While noting that, even prior to COVID-19 crisis, more than 82 million Nigerians were living on less than one dollar a day, the Forum called on the Government to provide an enabling environment for the creation of jobs on a massive scale, offer interest-free loans to citizens, provide incentives to employers of labour and start-ups, ensure transparent management of the intervention schemes, reduce non-essential spending and invest more in essential services such as health, education, technology, security and other services that would support decent livelihood by Nigerian citizens.

“To combat the hunger challenge occasioned by COVID-19, the Forum advised that conscious efforts should be made by Governments and the Faith Communities to encourage Nigerian youths to take to agribusiness.

“The Forum appealed to the private sector, as the driver of the economy, to develop services and products that could catalyse national productivity and socially-inclusive economic recovery.

“The Forum urged religious leaders to be more fervent in admonishing their followers to turn to their respective scriptures to find comfort at this difficult time, promote safe practices, build trust between the people and the government, embark on a sustained campaign on discipline at both the personal and social levels, dissuade people from politicising the pandemic and other common challenges, discourage waste, both individually and collectively, foster compassion towards vulnerable members of the society,

encourage the consumption of locally produced foods and goods and monitor governmental spending and application of resources for capital projects.

The forum also encouraged the Faith Communities to collaborate on charitable initiatives while efforts should be made towards deploying Zakat, tithe and charitable donations to attend to the needs of vulnerable citizens and embark on a strong advocacy on financial literacy among their members in order to facilitate the utilization of non-interest social and commercial finance instruments for short-term, medium-term and long-term interventions.

It called on religious leaders to intensify efforts to promote religious tolerance and harmony in order to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility which is necessary to attract foreign investments and allow for free movement of goods and services across the country; in the same vein, the Government should do more to protect the citizens as the recent lockdown has led to an upsurge in cases of rape and other social vices.

It also called on NIREC, as the coordinating body for Inter-Faith matters in Nigeria, to rally religious leaders to take their social roles more seriously and facilitate the establishment of an Inter-Faith COVID-19 Council that would coordinate the responses of the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities to the COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria.

The Forum commended the efforts of governments at all levels, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, State Governors and members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for providing leadership at this difficult time.

It also hailed inter-faith communities and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) for supporting government’s efforts towards stemming the health and socio-economic effects of the pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians.

The forum also lauded corporate organisations and public-spirited individuals for their efforts at

alleviating the effects of the pandemic and in managing its spread; as well as Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) under the leadership of His Eminence, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, for providing the platform to unite people of different faiths for peace through dialogue.

Other facilitators were Very Rev. Kolade Fadahunsi, Director, Institute of Church and Society (CCN), Ibadan; Alhaji Kamor Disu, Executive Chairman, Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), Lagos; Very Rev. Fr. Bulus Karis Lukas, Director of InterReligious Dialogue and Vicar General (Admin), Kaduna Archdiocese, Catholic Church; Hajia Halimah Jibril, National Amirah, Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN); Apostle Nyeneime Andy, National President, Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (YOWICAN); Mallam Sani Suleiman, National President, National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO); Mrs Mary Asibi Gonsum, President, Catholic Women Organisation of Nigeria, Jos Archdiocese; and Mrs Fatima Abubakar Madaki, Senior Project Coordinator, Search for Common Ground.

4. Buhari orders speedy, coordinated probe

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on spoke on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) N40 billion probe, which has sparked a row between the National Assembly and the agency’s Interim Management Committee (IMC).

The President ordered a “speedy” and “coordinated investigation” of the activities of the NDDC management.

He said there should be a better coordination among security and investigation agencies, and the National Assembly to unravel the problems militating against the agency’s performance and factors undermining the development of the Niger Delta.

President Buhari, who vowed to wield the big stick against culprits in the agency’s mismanagement, expressed his determination “to get to the root of the problems.”

The President also said he will not tolerate any form of disrespect to the National Assembly by his appointees.

The president, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, titled: “NDDC: President Buhari directs speedy coordinated investigation”, said sanity, transparency and accountability should be restored in the management of resources allocated to NDDC for the development of the region.

Also, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, who expressed dismay at the rancorous investigation, warned that the National Assembly will no more tolerate rascality on the part of government’s appointees.

President Buhari and the Senate President issued their stern warnings, shortly after the NDDC Managing Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, walked out on the Olubunmi Ojo-led House of Representatives Committee, which is investigating the alleged N40 billion sleaze in the agency.

Southsouth governors backed the forensic probe of the NDDC, saying that it is in the interest of the region.

The chairman of the Southsouth Governors’ Forum, Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, said the probe would reposition the agency for better performance.

There was drama at the committee sitting when Pondei declined to make a presentation on the ground that Tunji-Ojo was an “interested party” in the NDDC affairs.

Irked by his outburst, the Committee ordered a warrant of arrest on him.

President Buhari, in his first public reaction to the NDDC probe, directed all agencies and auditing firms investigating the misuse of NDDC resources to work together with the National Assembly in ensuring transparency and accountability in the management of public funds.

He said the agencies “must act with urgency and a sense of purpose”, adding that they should keep him abreast of all actions being taken.”

The President also urged the agencies and individuals involved in the running of the agency to exercise caution.

The president’s statement reads in part: “President Buhari has given directives for better coordination among security and investigating agencies with the National Assembly to ensure that the administration’s effort to bring sanity, transparency and accountability to the management of the large amount of resources dedicated to development of the Niger Delta sub-region is not derailed.

“In his reaction to the unfolding drama, which include attacks and counter-attacks between and around persons, institutions, and the NDDC, President Buhari expressed his strong determination to get to the root of the problems undermining the development of the Niger Delta and its peoples, in spite of enormous national resources voted year after year for this singular purpose.

“President Buhari said the administration wants to bring about “rapid, even and sustainable development to the region.

”The President gave firm assurance that his administration would put in place a transparent and accountable governance framework, not only in the NDDC but in all other institutions of government.”

President Buhari said his administration would not tolerate any form of disrespect to the National Assembly.

He gave the assurance when he received the leadership of the National Assembly, led by the President of the Senate, Senior Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, at the State House.

According to a separate statement issued by Shehu, the President restated his respect for the National Assembly as a democratic institution.

He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari received in audience the distinguished Senate President Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan and Rt. Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives Honorable Femi Gbajabiamila at the State House, Aso Villa.

“The meeting, which lasted for almost an hour, was characterized by an engaging discussion on a range of key issues of National importance particularly the role of the Legislature as a critical component in supporting their common goal and commitment towards improving the lives of the people of Nigeria.

“In the course of their conversation, recent events at the National Assembly were highlighted and the President re-emphasized his utmost respect for the National Assembly, adding that any disrespect to the institution by any member of the executive branch will not be accepted.

“Ministers and all heads of Departments and Agencies should at all times conduct themselves in ways that will not undermine the National Assembly as an institution, its leadership and members.

“The President and the leaders of the National Assembly recognized and acknowledged that the Executive and Legislative arms of government are essential partners in the fulfillment of their mutually aligned goal of improving the lives of the Nigerian people”, the statement said..

Senate President Lawan told State House correspondents that the National Assembly would no “longer tolerate indiscrete attitudinal displays from presidential appointees.”

He lamented that some appointees were bent on damaging the existing cordial relations between Buhari and the National Assembly.

Lawan said: “If you are an appointee of the President, you are supposed to be reflective of the attitude of the President towards the National Assembly.

“The National Assembly will take exception to any attitude or disposition that is not in support of the harmony in the relationship between the two arms of government.

”We have had a very good engagement with Mr President. Mr President has always respected the Legislature, he has always commended the National Assembly members for always being there to ensure that the requests by the Executive, in the national interest, are processed.

5. FG threatens sanctions over violation of airport COVID-19 protocols, probes Yari, Fintiri

The Federal Government is probing reported violations of COVID-19 safety protocols by some high profile Nigerians accessing some of the newly-reopened airports in the country.

The probe, government said, involving Adamawa State governor, Ahmadu Fintiri and the former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, is with a view to sanctioning violators if it is established that they indeed violated the rules, or apologise to them should the result of the investigations exonerate them.

Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, PTF, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who did not mention the names of alleged violators of safety protocols, urged them to desist from flouting the guidelines.

He said: “You will all recall that the aviation sector reopened domestic operations on July 8, 2020. Dry runs were carried out and guidelines meant to protect all travellers were issued.

“You also recall that we identified and pleaded even before now, with certain classes of persons, particularly VIPs, to desist from flouting such guidelines.

“Unfortunately, we have received reports about violations by some dignitaries who failed to follow the protocols at our airports. We believe leaders must lead by example.

“In truth, as leaders and followers, we must change our behaviour if we must overcome the pandemic. This virus does not discriminate by status, age, tribe, creed or colour. All we require is diligent compliance and vigilance,” Mustapha stated.

According to the SGF, the reasons for extending phase two of the eased lockdown are still present and hence the need for Nigerians to change their behaviour.

“As we continue to monitor compliance, we emphasise that all restrictions that have been eased remain subject to review,”

The punishment

Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirika on his part said the Ministry has received reports regarding the violation of Airport COVID-19 safety protocols by Governor Fintiri and the former Governor Yari.

He said; “The ministry and agencies have received a lot of inquiries regarding some alleged unruly passengers. One of the agencies, FAAN in particular tweeted and because of that we have received a lot of questions.

“So, FAAN has escalated what has transpired. These alleged unruly passengers include the former Governor Yari, who I spoke to at length and Governor Fintiri.

“While that of Yari was on Saturday in Kano, that of Fintiri was in Port Harcourt. Those are being investigated and if it is found that it was true, we would do the needful. If it is found untrue we will definitely apologise to these individuals.”

Citing provisions of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Regulations, the Minister said untruly behaviour include fighting inside an aircraft or within the vicinity of an airport as well as disobedience to lawful instructions issued by the airport commander which is the captain, the flight crew or engineer, cabin crew, attendants, check-in staff or any lawful staff on lawful duties at the airports.

“So, if you receive instructions, you have become an unruly passenger. An unruly passenger behaviour requires the punishment of criminal referral for imprisonment for not less than two months.

“So, it can be for 10 years. If you are found to be an unruly passenger because you are a big man, VIP, the easiest or simplest thing that we could do is to refer you to the police and they must, by law, prosecute you and it will not be less than two months.

“I am sure you will not want to be a criminal for one day or even for one second.

“Please, VIPs, show that you are a VIP by conducting yourselves in the manner that you would want to be identified with. If you are caught, we will investigate and the punishment will be not less than two months of being criminally liable by a court of law. We mean business. We are very serious about this.

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