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Editorial

Naira’s Free Fall

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These are not the best of times for the Nigerian national currency, the Naira. It is buffeted on all sides by a fast depreciating value. Already, the weak local currency is taking a toll on the nation’s economy which is now encountering declining industrial production, massive job losses, escalating cost of living, worsening insecurity and difficulties in transportation, among others. When condensed, they present a hazardous slide towards a comprehensive economic meltdown. The flit needs to be stalled.
The Naira has been in a free fall. It plunged to a new low of N620 to US$1 last week in the parallel market, heightening fears of a further devaluation by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). According to data published by FMDQ Group, where forex is officially traded, the Naira, which opened trading at N426.63, closed at N430.33 to a dollar last Friday. Experts say this is the weakest the Naira has exchanged this year. This upturns fiscal planning in the public and private sectors.
As businesses and citizens fussed over the foreign exchange volatility and its attendant negative effects, the CBN raised the benchmark interest rate from 11.5 per cent to 13 per cent for the first time in two years. This will invariably push inflation further up. The local currency is diminishing steadily following increased speculation, receding external reserves, and low forex inflows.
External reserves fell by $313 million in March, says the CBN. The rise in the acceleration of political activities is seen also as a key factor in the depreciating exchange rate. Meanwhile, politicians are reportedly mopping up dollars for the 2023 electioneering. The Federal Government is not managing the headwinds effectively. The country remains import-dependent and relies on crude oil for over 80 per cent of its foreign earnings.
Nigeria is not profiting from the increasing oil prices fuelled by the Russia-Ukraine war. This is because of a lack of capability to heighten production as a result of enormous crude oil thievery and dwindling investment. Diaspora remittances, which depict an important source of forex inflow into the country, have been on the fall recently from $12.3 billion in the second half of 2018 to $9.3 billion in the first half of 2021, according to CBN data.
The collapsing Naira is a huge trouble for our nation. The random way the CBN has been overseeing the economy is a reason for worry. The system is replete with contrariety, patronisation and corruption.  Analysts fear the currency may wreck farther N1,000 to $1 shortly. The apex bank’s many exchange rate regimes power massive fraud. Connected operators generate tremendous profits, while those in the real sector can scarcely procure forex. They are compelled to get dollars from the parallel market, as the official sources rarely satisfy a fraction of their demands.
This is further worsened by the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele’s recent involvement in politics which has corroded the modicum of faith Nigerians and international investors had in the CBN’s capacity to navigate the economy on the corridor of advancement and oversee inflation, forex, and interest rates. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said inflation jumped to 18.6 per cent this month, the highest this year, following a comparable uptick recorded last month on the back of higher energy and food prices.
Again, Nigeria’s cumulative debt burden rose to N39.55 trillion in December 2021, denoting N1.55 trillion or a 4.1 per cent increase in three months from N38 trillion in September 2021. The regime’s craving for borrowing is phenomenal. Last April, President Muhammadu Buhari solicited authorisation for an upswing in the 2022 budget deficit to be financed through domestic borrowing a few days after the Debt Management Office (DMO) disclosed a schedule of the Federal Government’s N720 billion domestic borrowing plans for the second quarter of 2022.
Industry cessations and the attendant job losses, congestion at the ports, and rising JET-A1 price that has almost incapacitated the domestic aviation industry are unmistakable signs of a falling economy. The Federal Government should put a stop to borrowings in another phoney bid to rebuild the doomed refineries, the Ajaokuta Steel Company and other unreasonable overheads.
For the Nigerian Naira to grow, the exchange rate must stabilise. The current situation has already affected the country’s manufacturers significantly. For instance, how do manufacturers who import raw materials strategise in a regime of volatile exchange rates? Many of them have complained bitterly about how the plummeting exchange rates impacted their planning and put them in a most difficult situation.
Furthermore, foreign investors have to be attracted to the nation’s capital market. The problem requires a multi-pronged solution, and it is achievable if more seriousness is attached to it. The concerns that make capital importation dwindle must be addressed. The absence of foreign investors is drying up the source of foreign exchange which could have provided succour to the waning currency.
The highly exorbitant political system Nigeria runs is not boosting the Naira. For example, presidential aspirants under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) paid a minimum of N100 million to obtain the party’s presidential form, while the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expended N40 million. At the just concluded convention of the two leading parties, it was reported that delegates were reimbursed profoundly in dollars.
Meanwhile, the electioneering span has just begun, and now the Naira is exchanged for N620/$ at the parallel market. More money will still be injected into the political space in an election season such as this. Therefore, there is no assurance that the exchange rate will not worsen. The economy cannot experience any meaningful growth if this particular trend is not stopped.
Efforts are also needed in demand management to promote Nigerian-made goods, manufacturers source raw materials, and eliminate political interference in foreign exchange allocation to qualified end users. If these policies and many others are not adopted, the rapid depreciation of the Naira would prolong indefinitely, with its concomitant effect on the inflation rate. These would not be in the overall best interest of the palpitating Nigerian economy.

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Editorial

Preventing Spread Of Marburg Virus 

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Two deadly cases of Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) were reported in the Ashanti region of Ghana. On 28 June, 2022, health authorities were informed of the outbreak as suspected cases of viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF). They tested positive for the Marburg virus on July 1, 2022. This is the first MVD in Ghana. The disease is severe and often fatal and, therefore, poses a considerable risk to public health.
MVD is a horrifying human disease. It can cause epidemics with critical case fatality. It is not an airborne disease and is not considered contagious until symptoms appear. Direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids of infected people and animals or indirect contact with contaminated surfaces and materials, such as clothing, bedding, and medical equipment, is essential for transmission.
Likewise, MVD can be sexually transmitted through the semen of men who have recouped from the disease. It can remain in some body fluids of a patient even if the patient no longer has symptoms of severe disease. MVD patients have an incubation period of 2 to 21 days and transmit the virus when they develop symptoms, unlike SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, which can also be spread by asymptomatic infections.
This is the second time this zoonotic disease has been detected in West Africa, following the previous incidence in Guinea in August 2021. In 1967, two outbreaks occurred simultaneously in Marburg, Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia, among laboratory workers in Europe working with tissues of African green monkeys imported from Uganda, and among medical personnel who cared for the laboratory workers. Nine people of the 37 cases died, with some incidents spreading through households.
Although there is no approved vaccine or antiviral therapy to treat the virus, several candidate MVD vaccines are in clinical trials. In addition, supportive care (oral or intravenous fluids) and treatment of specific symptoms may improve survival. A range of potential treatments is being evaluated, including blood products, immunotherapy, and drug therapy.
Gavi, an international organisation promoting vaccine access, said Marburg could be prevented by avoiding eating or handling bushmeat. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it was also advising people to avoid contact with pigs in outbreak areas. Men with the virus are advised to use condoms for a year after they develop symptoms or until their semen tests negative for the virus twice. People should shun the dead bodies of victims.
There is a risk of this outbreak spreading from Ghana to neighbouring countries. Ghana borders Côte d’Ivoire and shares maritime borders with Nigeria and other West African countries. This could pose a risk of cross-border transmission if more cases continue to be reported or other regions are affected. We recommend that these countries take strong and proactive measures. A practical, strategic, and extensive plan should be taken to prevent it.
Since the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is aware of the outbreak in Ghana, it has to act to prevent a similar outbreak in the country. Although Nigeria has not officially reported a case of the virus, some measures must be taken to stave off a break. For individuals and groups, there should be sufficient awareness and public sensitisation by government agencies on avoiding fruit bats, and sick non-human primates.
While citizens should be constantly tested for the disease, surveillance at the point of entry must be enhanced. A trained rapid response team should be on call for deployment in the event of an outbreak, and the NCDC’s Incident Coordination Centre (ICC) should remain vigilant. The NCDC must similarly enhance risk communication efforts and continue to work with states and partners to enhance preparedness activities, including planning and information in the event of a surge.
Nigeria is already battling several other infectious diseases and cannot afford the deadly MVD. The country has reported 847 confirmed cases of Lassa fever, spreading to 24 states and 99 local government areas. The NCDC’s monkeypox situation report shows that nationwide confirmed cases have increased from 101 to 117, with no less than 338 suspected cases.
In 2022, 31 states have reported suspected cases of cholera. From January 3, 2020, to July 5, 2022, Nigeria recorded 257,637 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,157 deaths. Its infection rate jumped to 67 per cent in early July, according to statistics from the WHO and the NCDC. Sadly, this all comes at a time when the country’s health sector is experiencing a staggering brain drain and dilapidated health institutions.
Consequently, the governments at national and subnational levels need to revive primary health care centres across the country, as more than 70 per cent of them are not functional. This is key to fighting disease infestation as they are the first port of call for most rural dwellers and others. While most public hospitals are the main health facilities for the treatment of diseases, they should also be assessed and adequately stocked so that they do not fall short.
Nigeria’s porous borders should be effectively patrolled and the illegal movement of people and goods adequately regulated to prevent cross-border infections. The Federal Government must establish more specialised centres for the treatment of viral diseases. Every Nigerian should heed the recommended safety measures and report any suspected disease outbreak to health authorities.

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Editorial

In Support Of Exclusive Breastfeeding

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As the world commemorates this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the need to encourage
breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world has again been spotlighted. World Breastfeeding Week is annually celebrated from August 1 to 7. It is observed by 170 countries to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed until they are six months or possibly two years old.
Every year, this week is celebrated with a unique theme and this year’s theme is, “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support”. As humanity observes the event, it is vital to spread awareness about the significance of education and support for breastfeeding. It is not a social stigma, but a requirement that shapes the totality of a child’s wellbeing.
In a joint statement by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Catherine Russell, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergencies.
Health professionals point out that breast milk contains all the nutrients a newborn needs for normal development early and later in life. However, pressure from family members and friends to drink water in addition to breast milk prevents mothers from exclusively breastfeeding their babies. This stress is not good for the child, as health professionals advise breastfeeding to be valuable for both mother and child.
Colostrum, in particular, the yellow, custard-like milk produced in the first few days of life, is described as the baby’s first immunity because it is very rich in anti-infective substances that protect the baby from potentially harmful diseases. Likewise, breast milk is an ideal food for babies and infants because it contains the right amount of nutrients and is easily digested, giving them all the nutrients they need to survive.
Besides, it is safe and contains antibodies that assist in protecting infants from common childhood illnesses, such as respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide. Exclusive Breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of coeliac disease and chances of developing asthma, and other allergic crises.
Breastfeeding also prevents obesity in childhood and adulthood, as well as diet-related chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and cancer. In addition, breastfed infants are known to show better vaccine responses when vaccinated against childhood diseases. Compared with infant formula-fed babies, they performed better on intelligence tests.
For mothers, starting breast milk early can speed up the expulsion of the placenta, while breastfeeding helps burn extra calories and lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases hormones that support the return of the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding is also associated with a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes and postpartum depression in mothers.
According to the 2018 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS), child mortality accounts for 52 per cent of all under-five deaths. The child mortality rate was 69 per 1,000 children surviving to 12 months, while the overall under-five mortality rate was 132 per 1,000 live births. Fifty-one per cent of all deaths among children under the age of five in Nigeria happen before the child’s first birthday, and 30 per cent of these occur in the first month of life.
It is worth reiterating that breastfeeding is not a woman’s job alone. A mother needs the support of her husband and family. Therefore, Nigerian men should show greater commitment to ensuring that their babies are successfully breastfed for at least the first six months of life. Men should plan active roles for themselves and ensure their babies do not miss out on the many benefits of breastfeeding.
The Rivers State Government had earlier highlighted the need for nursing mothers to engage in exclusive breastfeeding to promote healthy baby growth. This was contained in a goodwill message from the Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, on the event. She said breast milk is nature’s food and ensures a baby’s health and quality of life from childhood to adulthood. This reveals that Governor Nyesom Wike cares about the health of nursing mothers and their babies.
Since it is recommended that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months, the breastfeeding policies that are already in place in the country should be bolstered such that the maternity leave should be a minimum of six months. Moreover, the legislature should enact laws to protect the breastfeeding rights of working women to enable them to exclusively breastfeed.
Employers should be involved as well. They need to create an enabling environment by providing childcare or crèches. Governments at all levels should also protect breastfeeding by enforcing regulations on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. All formula labels must state the benefits of breastfeeding. Authorities must also express dissatisfaction with the distribution of free breastmilk substitutes to mothers and health workers.
A participatory approach to promoting exclusive breastfeeding is imperative. There should be an enlightenment campaign, planning and information sharing on the benefits of breastfeeding by the governing authorities. This should include the relevant stakeholders within their socio-cultural networks. The initiative will in turn lead to improvement in the uptake of breastfeeding among nursing mothers in the country.

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Editorial

Investing To Bridge Food Gap

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The rise in international market costs for major food items almost reflects that of the 2008 food crisis, presenting a global threat to food security. The situation is especially terrible in Africa, where the COVID-19 pestilence and now the Russia-Ukraine crisis have uncovered the susceptibility of food systems of many nations like Nigeria that rely profoundly on imports of vital staple foods such as rice and wheat.
Nigeria is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of people in food crises. According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, 12.94 million people were in acute food insecurity from October – December 2021. In a recent joint report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), both international bodies warned that acute food insecurity will likely worsen in Nigeria and 19 countries from June to September 2022.
Similarly, a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that Nigeria’s inflation rose in June which is its highest in more than five years, induced by rising prices of food and the high cost of diesel. The inflation rate surged to 18.60 per cent in June, up from 17.71 per cent in the previous month. The composite food index rose to 20.60 per cent in June 2022 on a yearly basis, the NBS also said.
Recent statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria have indicated that Nigeria’s food import bill has risen to N1.1 trillion ($2.7 billion) in 12 months, representing an increase of about 45 per cent. In 2020, about $1.87 billion was spent on food imports. However, the latest CBN data on sectoral utilisation of foreign exchange showed that Nigeria spent $2.7 billion on food imports from January to December 2021, representing an increase in over $840 million.
The drive by the government to mitigate the food deficit is being jeopardised by nature. Uncontrollable flooding destroyed crops in the food-producing states. In Edo State, flooding swept away 280 hectares of rice plantation in Ovia last August. The rampaging flood wreaked havoc on farms in Adamawa, Kogi, Benue, Kebbi, Niger, Delta and Bayelsa States last year. In 2017, the authorities said 10,000 small-holding farmers had their crops washed away by flood after seven days of torrential rain in Benue State.
Since the advent of banditry in the Northern part of the country, farmers have found it difficult to access their farms, and in most cases, have to pay the bandits taxes before they can go to their farms. The situation is gradually getting out of hand to the extent that the Zamfara State Government recently directed residents of the state to obtain guns to defend themselves against bandits ravaging the state. The government should encourage ranching, deal decisively with the bandits, and enable the use of technology to process farm produce.
Terrorists are driving away farmers from their homes in the North-East. President Muhammadu Buhari stated in 2016 that over two million people were in internally displaced persons camps. The North-Central, which includes Benue and Plateau States, suffers gravely from cyclical Fulani herdsmen attacks. The effect of the assaults on food production is damaging. The insecurity demands a fresh impetus for farming to flourish.
All this leaves Nigeria in a desperate situation. The nation has been taking the easy way out with food imports, even where it has a comparative advantage. Therefore, urgent remedies are required to reverse the deficit. An integrated transport system to enable harvests to reach their destinations on time is imperative. The rail sector should be opened to global investors to encourage foreign direct investment and aid the movement of produce and goods.
The frightening situation in the agricultural sector now makes it necessary for the governors to rally round farmers in their states by providing for basic needs and adequate security to enhance massive food production for the populace. We have observed that many governors are only paying lip service to the development of agriculture. Specifically, there has been no coordinated plan to increase the production of food. These and other factors have led to the regular hike in food items.
Demonstrating commitment to agricultural development in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike kick-started an agricultural revolution from inception by encouraging the private sector to re-engineer the 12 agric-related projects it inherited from previous administrations in the state. The government also worked with key partners to complete and put on stream the Rivers State Cassava Processing Plant in Afam, the Oyigbo Local Government Council headquarters. Other governors should do likewise to properly utilise the nation’s capacity for food production.
Interestingly, the cassava processing plant has since been completed and commissioned. It has placed Rivers among the top five cassava-producing states in the country. This factory will be fed with feedstock from 3,000 farmers within the farming communities and other farmers far and wide from neighbouring communities. The cassava plant will address the challenges of value addition of the crop in the value chain sub-sector, creating massive jobs.
Besides, the plant will generate increased incomes, and livelihood, ensure healthy cassava food processing activities and serve as a new page to achieve the desired result in the 10 per cent cassava flour inclusion policy as well as food and nutrition security. It will contribute to food security, and in line with the Federal Government’s policy, build an agribusiness ecosystem to address the challenges in the sector in partnership with all stakeholders. The governor should consolidate on the visible gains to boost agriculture.
To check the rapidly deteriorating food situation, the CBN has to support the food production initiative to increase local output in line with the Federal Government’s resolve to diversify the economy through agriculture and reduce pressure on the nation’s foreign reserves. Efforts must be made to address concerns about staple food items to reduce the country’s import base and make food available for Nigerians. The apex bank should critically look at rice, wheat, fish, and other significant food items that are taking a toll on the country’s foreign reserves.

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