*As Labour warns FG against using Pension Funds as Palliatives
*We won’t touch it, SGF assures
*5,000 health workers get Life Insurance Cover
*As FG asks farmers to get ready for farming season
Barely two days to the end of the second round of a 14-day shutdown of the nation’s capital, Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun states, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC has hinted at the likelihood of the extension of the current lockdown, saying Nigeria has not gotten to the point where its containment protocols could be relaxed.
This came even as the Nigeria Labour Congress NLC warned the federal government against deploying the Contributory Pension Fund as Palliatives in the fight against the Novel Coronavirus.
On its part, the Federal Government which promised not to touch the pension fund announced that Nigeria’s insurance industry has offered life insurance to 5, 000 health workers who are in the front line of the fight against Covid-19.
The government also asked farmers in the country to get set to return to farm as the planting season begins, saying the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has put in place several farming incentives.
These were some of the disclosures yesterday in Abuja at the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19.
Speaking at the event, Director General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu said while relevant authorities are working hard to get to a point where the restriction measures can be eased, the country was yet to get to that point.
He said; “I will like to start by thanking everyone for their continued sacrifice on this journey and their continued cooperation with the lockdown as advised and instituted by Mr President and many other Governors across the country.
“As we travelled around the country over the last four days, we could really see how difficult it has been and how hard Nigerians have been trying to do their best. We know it is a difficult journey but we also know that we will eventually exit this stage and we return to our normal lives, but that stage is still a while to come and I ask for your endurance, your support, your patience.
“A lot of efforts are going on across the world to find new therapies, to find vaccines and everybody is pushing very hard in this direction. So, we need to stay firm.
“Spreading the virus, we do when we go out. We are an outgoing society. We live and work outdoors. So, staying at home and thinking about every movement we make is very important especially when we feel the need to travel.
“I recognize how difficult these things are at the moment. Many families I know personally have not been able to bury their dead, they have rescheduled their marriages, baptisms and everything they are doing. So, in a way, it feels like life has been suspended or we have suspended so many of the things that we hold dear.
“I am sure that as leaders, we recognise the sacrifices being made by all Nigerians but we have to encourage each other to continue. Continue until we get to the position where we can relax some of that, but to get to that place, we have to continue in the short term”, he added.
In his opening remarks, Chairman of the Taskforce and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha said the paperwork for several allowances meant for health workers have been concluded.
He said; “Today, the welfare of our front line heroes, the health workers came to the front burner. I am pleased to inform you that the Federal Ministry of Health working in conjunction with other MDAs and the Health sector professional bodies have signed an MOU for various allowances and other incentives. The full details will be unveiled to you by the Hon. Minister of Health soon.
“I am however pleased to inform you that, in addition to what the Federal Government is doing, the Insurance Industry has responded massively to the call for support. The PTF has received the Life Insurance cover to the frontline workers on COVID-19 for a maximum of 5000 health workers who are employed to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The premium in the sum of N112,500,000 for the cover has been fully paid by the Nigerian Insurance Industry in line with the principle of No Premium, No Cover.
“The PTF wishes to thank the Insurance Industry immensely and calls on other sectors of the economy to rise up to support the efforts to fight COVID-19. I also call on our frontline health workers to double their efforts just as we assure them of our determination to protect them”, he added.
“I also wish to use this opportunity to restate that food security and self-sufficiency remain important to our national life. I, therefore, urge all our farmers to begin to prepare for their return to the farms as the planting season begins. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture has put in place arrangements for access to farm inputs, extension and other services”, Mustapha added.
Nine Nigerian infected in China
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama dismissed reports that 72 Nigerians had tested positive for the Novel Coronavirus in Guangzhou, China, saying official figures indicate that those affected are only nine. He, however, conceded that Nigerian Consular officials in the Chinese Province explained that some Nigerians were asymptomatic.
He said; “We have been in touch with our Consulate in Guangzhou which is the epicentre of this whole thing happening in China regarding Nigerians and Covid-19, and the official figure that was given was nine Nigerians. They added that a number of Nigerians were asymptomatic but the figures that we have are nine”, he said.
On his part, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire said the ministry has already deployed Covid-19 starter packs to all tertiary health institutions in the country.
“We have now deployed Covid-19 starter packs to all tertiary institutions and Federal Medical Centres, to complement what was earlier sent to each State. The starter packs consist of medical consumables and disposables, to ensure that our frontline healthcare workers are protected.
“The Covid-19 capable national laboratory network led by NCDC has the capacity to test over 1,500 samples per day in 13 laboratories, but the present utilization is barely 50%, since we averagely test about 600 samples daily, being the samples received per day.
“Efforts are on to increase the number of functional laboratories in the country, however, we need to meanwhile improve surveillance, sample collection strategy and transport logistics to laboratories and reduce the turn around time for the tests. In our strategy, testing positive is followed by Isolation and treatment, as needed”, he added.
President, Nigerian Labour Congress NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba warned the federal government against touching the Contributory Pension Fund in its bid to galvanise resources against COVID-19.
He said; The Contributory Pension Fund is the money that belongs to the Pensioner. It is in the Pensioner’s Retirement Savings Account and it is structured in such a way that he would continue to draw this money throughout his life.
“So, we need to control those funds and we need to also make sure that the workers who are contributing this money, at the end of the day when they are no longer working, they should be able to have something to rely on. So, clearly, I think it should not be used for this purpose (Covid-19)”, he said.
Responding, the SGF said the federal government will not touch the said funds.
He said; “We have looked at the issue of the Pension Fund. As a matter of fact, we even got the Minister of State, Education, to do us a position paper and our conclusion was that the time is not even right for us to go there because the entire world, in terms of our economy, the health system has been disrupted by Covid-19 and the consequences, nobody can imagine until probably when the dust is settled. I am being honest with you. The consequences are all over the world.