The federal government has expressed its readiness to reopen the nation’s airspace for international flights in ‘a matter of weeks’.
This was as it lamented the growing wave of community transmission of Covid-19, saying the virus has now made incursions into 536 out of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas. Consequently, the government has extended the current phase of the eased lockdown by another four weeks while planning towards re-opening of the airspace for international flights.
Also, the 10.m. to 4p.m. curfew, limitation on mass gatherings and virtual holding of government meetings remain in place. It noted that in the last month, the number of states with over 1, 000 confirmed cases increased from 4 to 10 and the FCT.
Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on Covid-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha disclosed this during yesterday’s briefing of the taskforce.
He lamented the increased non-compliance with non-pharmaceutical prevention measures; lack of enforcement of necessary guidelines issued to preserve lives; insufficient engagement by some states with the national response; as well as “a lingering concern about the gap between identified cases and the actual burden of disease; and apathy, fatigue and disbelief combining to challenge public enlightenment, compliance and behaviour change.
“Community transmission is increasing, as reflected in the fact that 536 Local Government Areas – 69% of the total – have reported a COVID-19 case.
“To sustain gains already made, therefore, the PTF recommended to the President, the retention of the current phase of the response with minor changes to address economic, socio-political and health concerns. These measures are further outlined in the guidelines to be elaborated upon by the National Coordinator.
“It is, however, important to inform you that the major changes being proposed are aimed at achieving the following: Gradual re-opening of international air flights within established parameters; Re-opening of rail transportation within established parameters; Granting permission to exit classes to resume ahead of examinations; Allowing civil servants from Grade Level 12 to resume work; and opening recreational parks for supervised exercises.
“After due consideration of the recommendations, Mr. President approved the following: Maintaining the current phase of the National Response to COVID-19 for another four weeks in line with the modifications reflected in the Report; Partnering with States and Local Governments to improve community sensitisation and engagement to the COVID-19 response; Mandating State authorities and the FCT, to enforce non-pharmaceutical guidelines, primarily the use of face masks in public appearance and places; Encouraging State Governments to collaborate with Local Government Authorities to intensify necessary measures such as contact tracing, grassroots mobilisation and risk communication; and Strengthening of collaboration with other mandate groups at Federal/State levels to harmonise the country’s COVID-19 response, on the short, medium and long-term basis”.
National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu on his part said the taskforce has asked the aviation ministry to work towards resumption of international flights in weeks.
Aliyu added that the management of the National Youth Service Corps NYSC has been told to start working towards resumption in the next phases of the eased lockdown.
He said; “The restrictions in the entertainment and education sector as well as other activities that attract mass gatherings such as operation of markets and worship centres, remain.
“Specific to air transportation, domestic operations have already resumed as well as the railways. For international travel, we have made recommendations to the aviation industry to commence the process for opening international airports provided all existing international and local prevention guidelines on COVID-19 are in place.
“We have modified the advice with regards to the arrival for flights. Passengers arriving at the airports for domestic flights are advised to arrive at least one and a half hours before their flights and three hours before international flights when it is restarted.
“There might be requirements for additional infrastructure in some of the airports. What we want to do, and we have made it very clear at the PTF is, we want to reopen as soon as possible but in a safe manner that does not put at risk all the efforts we have made to control this pandemic. Hopefully, the airports would open in weeks, rather than months. That is what we are looking at”, he added.
Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC DrChikweIheakwazu said the National Council on Health which held its meeting yesterday resolved that the sector must continue to work harder to halt the spread of the virus in order to be able to fully reopen the economy. According to him, until there is a vaccine, workers in the health sector cannot relax in the battle against Covid-19.
“What we collectively agreed was in order for our economy to reopen, in order for our country to restart slowly, in order for the full benefits of the eased of restriction to manifest, we on the public health side have the responsibility to strengthen our response.
“Until we have a vaccine there won’t be a point where we would say, okay, let us relax. That is completely out of the question. The meeting we had today with the Honourable Commissioners of Health was to really encourage ourselves, you know, the motivation to keep going in spite six months of really tough work”, he said.
Minister of Aviation, HadiSirika said the resumption of international flights is not solely an aviation function as the main consideration is the health of the people.
According to him, while the industry would love to reopen fully so as to make money and save jobs, the reality on ground is such that it has to work with relevant stakeholders before reopening the airspace for international flights.
Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory Administration FCTA said it will not hesitate to shut down any school within the territory that violates the Covid-19 guidelines recommended for the safety of their students in exit classes who are resuming for their examinations. Chairman, FCT Ministerial Enforcement Task team on COVID 19 Restrictions, IkharoAttah who led the team to inspect some schools within the nation’s capital, stated that the administration cannot afford to expose the students to the danger of contracting the virus, and therefore will not compromise the guidelines for the resumption of the schools.
“Any school that fails to comply, we will do everything within our power to safeguard the students and such schools would likely be shut down through legal processes while the students will have to go and write their exams somewhere else, pending when the school complies with the safety guidelines, and those responsible for the school mismanagement will be brought to book.
“The FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello has been very clear about it, that he is not going to risk the life of any student or teacher. He said everyone must come in within the context of safety”, Attah said.
He noted most of the public and private schools his team visited to ascertain their level of compliance, had shown about 80 percent in their preparedness to the safety of students and teachers in their respective schools, by providing adequate handwashing hand points, sanitizer and decontaminated environment.
“From our own point, it is already encouraging in the sense that the schools we have been to, both government and private, if we assess them at a point of average, you will score them about 85 percent in terms of preparedness. They have complied. You could see hand washing points, hand sanitizers and there was also social distancing in their classrooms”, he said.
Rivers PDP To Inaugurate Zonal Offices In Senatorial Districts
The Rivers State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has announced its readiness to inaugurate zonal offices across the three senatorial districts in the state.
The state party Chairman, Amb Desmond Akawor, disclosed this, yesterday, while receiving the members of the Forum of Former Local Government PDP Chairmen at the state party Secretariat in Port Harcourt.
According to him, the party zonal offices would serve as a closed medium to settle some minor differences at the grassroots.
Akawor urged the former party chairmen to be committed to the party’s activities, saying that the party cannot make use of somebody who does not show concern in the affairs of the party.
He commended the former chairmen for their commitment to produce two-term governor from the party in the state.
The party state chairman also commended the forum for producing members of the PDP as elected officers in almost all the elected offices, including local government council chairmen across the 23 LGAs in the state.
Akawor urged the forum to use their political experiences to support the party’s new executives in their various LGAs and the state to ensure that the party maintains its standard in subsequence elections in the state.
“Please, don’t say because you are no longer chairman and ignore party activities, involve in party activities and support the governor and the new party leadership to maintain the position of PDP in the state.
“Governor Nyesom Wike knows all of you as former party chairmen by name, some of you now are council chairmen, special advisers, members of the state party executive, among others. I am sure the rest of you would definitely be recognised again before this tenure runs out.
“But you must be loyal and committed to the progress of the party in your various LGAs”, Akawor advised.
Akawor said that no individual would be imposed on the party as council chairman come the next LGA election either because of personal relationship or position, saying that every aspirant must pass through the due process of the system.
In his speech, the Coordinator of the former chairmen forum, Hon Ikechi Chinda, said the forum was committed to support the party despite the fact that some of them were no longer in any position.
The coordinator used the opportunity to commend Governor Nyesom Wike and the leadership of the party for the support to ensure PDP reclaimed Edo State at the just concluded governorship election.
He appealed to the party leadership to always include them in the affairs of the party in the state.
By: Enoch Epelle
Ogoni Clean-Up: Minister Hands Over Seven Completed Sites In Ogoniland
The Minister of Environment, Dr Mahmood Abuakar, has handed over seven completed remediated oil spill polluted sites in Ogoniland in Rivers State to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) for scientific certification.
The sites are among the first 21 sites awarded to contractors by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) for clean-up in Ogoniland.
The seven sites are Lots 2,5,6 and 8 in Eleme Local Govenrment Area; Lot 10 in Gokana Local Government Area; and Lots 17 and 18 in Tai Local Government Area.
The minister, while handing over the completed sites during a colourful ceremony, yesterday, in Nkeleoken-Alode community in Eleme Local Government Area, expressed delight that the contractors that handled the sites were able to complete them for onward handover to NOSDRA for certification, and thanked the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, for his support to the project.
He said after certification by NOSDRA, the sites would thereafter be handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari, who initiated the clean-up project in the first place.
Abubakar further thanked the people of the various communities in Ogoniland, particularly the youths for their cooperation and support to the clean-up project, stressing that the completion of the seven sites is a pointer to the fact that Buhari was determined to change the negative narratives of the people of the Niger Delta who have suffered over four decades of environmental pollution.
“It is a day of promise kept and kept to the letter in terms of standard and depth of work done”, he said, adding that, “a total of 208, 300 cubic metres of soil was treated from the seven lots using bio-remediation option, a method that is environmentally friendly and effective in removing pollutants from the soil.”
He said so far, progress has been made in the clean-up project but hinted that the Federal Ministry of Environment still yearns for more progress, as it does not want the clean-up to be done haphazardly.
“It is a project we want to ensure that it is done very well,” the minister said.
Abubakar further indicated that the clean-up project has created over 2,,000 direct jobs for Ogoni youths, stressing that the contractors would have completed their work earlier but for some factors that slowed down the pace of work.
“As a project, we would need your support and cooperation to achieve set goals, which goals are for the benefit of the Ogoni people,” he said, and appealed to host communities to the remediation sites to allow contractors to do their work without undue interference.
He said HYPREP is already training 1,200 Ogoni women in alternative livelihood skills in agro-allied ventures being handled by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNTIAR), adding that the first batch of 400 women drawn from the four Ogoni LGAs is ongoing.
He assured Ogoni people that “We will sustain progress on the clean-up of impacted sites and all other recommendations contained in the UNEP Report”.
On his part, the Project Coordinator of HYPREP, Dr Marvin Dekil, thanked the minister and the Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, and the community leaderships as well as staff of HYPREP for their support.
He said the minister’s commitment and input gave a new impetus to the clean-up project, “thus, making us come thus far on the project”, stressing that he (the minister) has left indelible marks on the project that can be copied for similar projects elsewhere.
He hinted that the bio-cell technology adopted for the clean-up of less impacted sites is a success that could be adopted for remediation elsewhere.
“In awarding the contracts for remediation, we factored in the training of community workers in basic remediation skills as a way of developing local manpower so that the skills acquired can be used elsewhere at the end of their contracts,” he said, adding that technical assistants for the project which constitute over 90 percent of the workforce are Ogoni young scientists were trained in Switzerland.
The minister and his entourage, before handing over the completed sites paid a courtesy visit to the King of Eleme Kingdom, Emere Philip Osaro Obele, who assured that Eleme people would give 110 per cent support to the clean-up project.
Among those on the minister’s entourage included the Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor; Director General of NOSDRA, Alhaji Idris O. Musa; the Cross River State Commissioner for Environment, Hon Mfon Bassey; and a host of other personalities.
Ikeazor, in a speech, urged HYPREP to engage more community people, and expressed joy that a reference laboratory to facilitate NOSDRA’s work is located in Port Harcourt, which she commissioned in January this year.
By: Donatus Ebi
40 Killed In Kogi Tanker Inferno …As Gas Plant Blast Rocks Lagos
Tears flowed freely yesterday morning in Felele, a community on the outskirt of Lokoja along Abuja-Lokoja highway, as a tanker truck laden with fuel caught fire and roasted no fewer than 40 people to death.
Most of the victims were said to be school children and their parents who were said to be going to school.
Also, five students of Kogi State Polytechnic living in the area, were reported to have been killed as they were heading to school along the highway
Several passersby, Okada riders and taxi cabs were also said to be trapped in the inferno which caused serious traffic gridlock on the highway.
A witness, who spoke to newsmen said no fewer than 40 corpses were counted on the scene, including those who were roasted beyond recognition.
But the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), confirmed 23 deaths, including seven school children.
Its Sector Commander for Kogi, Idris Ali, said the seven school children comprised 10 male adults and six female adults.
The commander said 10 vehicles, including five cars, three tricycles and two motorcycles were burnt in the inferno.
He said bodies of victims had been deposited at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital, Lokoja, where the only survivor was also receiving treatment.
He said 11 corpses had been claimed for burial by their relations.
The incident threw some schools that lost their students in the accident into mourning forcing them to hurriedly shut down.
One of them, the Baptist Group of Schools at Ganaja, lost three pupils and their parents to the accident, and its management immediately closed the school till September 28 in honour of the deceased.
The accident occurred when an Abuja-bound fuel tanker had a brake failure and in the process fell down at a spot close to GT Plaza and spilled its content on the road, which immediately caught fire.
The fire engulfed the entire spot and extended to other parts of the area, including a major a bus stop where school children, workers and other people were waiting to board vehicles to their various destinations.
Meanwhile, the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, has expressed shock and sorrow over the accident.
The governor, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Mohammed Onogu, yesterday, lamented the loss of lives and property in the accident which he described as sad and tragic.
Reacting last night, President Muhammadu Buhari, described the frequent petroleum tanker explosion and fire incidents as a national scandal caused by indifference to safety standards.
In a statement by Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, Buhari said “these frequent incidents that result in loss of lives and property are a national scandal caused by our indifference to safety standards.”
He insisted that “many accidents are preventable if proper proactive and precautionary measures are put in place or properly observed as routine policies.”
Reacting, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, expressed shock over the petroleum tanker explosion in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital which resulted in the death of about 30 persons.
The PDP, in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja, expressed worry over the slow pace of response by concerned authorities, saying “our party is extremely distressed by this horrid and traumatizing incident, which, in a very painful manner, cut short the lives of hardworking compatriots, brought instant anguish to families and painful material losses to many.
“It is even more disturbing that the fire raged without any intervention by authorities, which would have helped mitigated the effect.
“Indeed, the absence of fire and other emergency facilities around the area, despite the frequent occurrence of such accidents in the past signposts the failure and insensitivity of both the federal and Kogi State governments towards the dangers that daily confront the people.
“The PDP demands the Federal Government to put instant traffic measures to forestall such accidents as well as immediately establish emergency facilities in the area.
“Our party also calls on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fasola, to leave the comfort of their offices in Abuja and immediately visit the area as well as undertake a tour of our highways to witness the sorry state of infrastructure across our country, under their administration.
“The PDP commiserates with the families of the victims, the Kogi State Polytechnic, parents of the school children as well as the entire people of Kogi State,” the statement read.
However, to curb the incessant incidents of oil tanker explosions leading to loss of lives and property, the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), yesterday, met with the Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) to discuss truck renewal project.
Speaking at the conference, the Minister of State for Transportation, Gbemisola Ruqayyah Saraki, noted that tanker accidents caused more deaths in Nigeria than most deadly diseases and stressed that the meeting was timely to address the tanker explosion situation.
The minister, who was represented by the Assistant Director of Mass Transit Administration, Mrs Angela Keyede, said: “It might shock you to know that road crashes is a serious ‘epidemic’ in Nigeria that produces more deaths than HIV/AIDs and Tuberculosis (TB) put together annually. The ministry through the Nigeria Shippers Council under Public Private Partnership arrangement has identified some locations for Truck Transit Parks in the country.
Also speaking, the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Dr Boboye Oyeyemi, recalling the explosion which claimed over 30 lives, last Wednesday in Kogi State, charged MOMAN and NARTO to do proper safety examination of drivers, trucks and tankers before allowing them to move on the roads.
He said: “We have been battling with the tankers that are falling and killing scores of people. We need to really address these unnecessary killings on our highways, just yesterday around 30 people died in the Kogi explosion and a whole family was claimed. And if you listen to the comments of President Buhari, yesterday, you will notice he charged the relevant agencies and stakeholders to act. And I’m happy that MOMAN and NARTO are here today to address this”.
The Managing Director of MOMAN, Mr Adetunji Oyebanji, said that 80 per cent of the trucks involved in hauling products from the south of the country to the north do not have the relevant safety equipments needed for preventing ghastly explosions.
In his remarks, the National President of NARTO, Yusuf Lawal Othman, urged his members to renew their fleets and solicited support from MOMAN in the purchasing of trucks.
Meanwhile, panic gripped residents of Lagos and Ogun border communities, yesterday, following an explosion and massive fire.
The explosion, which was heard as far as Harmony Estate and Obawole, Ogba, Iju in Lagos as well as Akute Ogun State, was said to have occurred around 3:30pm around Balogun Bus Stop in Ishaga.
Contacted, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) confirmed the incident, urging residents to stay away from the area.
NEMA’s South-West Coordinator, Ibrahim Farinloye told newsmen, that the agency’s officials were on ground and fire service has been contacted.
He said: “Yes, a tanker exploded at Balogun Bus Stop, Iju Ishaga. Our people are already there and fire service has been informed.
“The tanker was trying to enter a gas plant when it exploded. There were domestic cylinders there and so, those ones also started exploding.
“The fire has not extended to any building. It is still within the gas plant. People sustained burn injuries but no deaths reported yet. We have contacted fire service. We appeal to people to stay away from the area,” he said.
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