As campaigns for the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States intensify, the federal government yesterday sounded a note of warning to political actors and their supporters on the need to adhere to the COVID-19 protocols.
Secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who made government's position during the briefing of the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja also revealed that the next phase of the eased lockdown would be announced on Thursday following President Muhammadu Buhari's approval of the 6th interim report which will be submitted by the task force.
Campaigns for the Edo and Ondo governorship elections billed to hold on September 19 and October 10 respectively, have already started just as the COVID-19 guidelines, including social distancing, wearing of face masks and washing of hands, have largely been observed in breach at most of the political gatherings.
But addressing concerns over the electioneering process so far, Boss Mustapha who is chairman of the PTF said the task force and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are currently concluding discussions on the appropriate guidelines and protocols to be adopted for the forthcoming elections.
He said, "The National Response would continue to guide the adoption of sector specific guidelines and protocols just as the PTF is currently concluding discussions with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on appropriate guidelines to be adopted for elections beginning with the August 8th Bye-Election in Nasarawa State to be followed by those for Edo and Ondo States in September and October respectively.
"I, therefore, wish to use this opportunity to implore party leaders, aspirants, members and supporters to remain mindful of the virulent nature of COVID-19 during electioneering campaigns and other election processes. We need to remain alive to enjoy the benefits of our democracy".
The SGF warned Nigerians still doubting the existence of coronavirus and its dangers to change their behaviour in their own interest and that of their loved ones by complying with COVID-19 protocols.
The chairman of the PTF said, "For our countrymen and women who still habour skepticism about the existence and dangers posed by the virus, we urge you to imbibe a change of behaviour by complying with the non-pharmaceutical measures prescribed.
"This appeal remains in your own interest and in the interest of your loved ones. Remember, always wear your mask, observe social distancing, avoid large gatherings and maintain proper hygiene".
The PTF also appreciated religious leaders for leading the risk communication efforts, enjoining them not to relent given the fact that the partnership already formed will go a long way in ensuring that the battle is won from the rural areas right up to the urban centres.
Mustapha also disclosed that President Buhari made a donation of N67million worth of PPEs and medical supplies to the government and people of Sao Tome and Principe.
Noting that the donation was reflecting of Nigeria's status as the ECOWAS Champion on the Containment of COVID-19 in the West African Sub-Region, Mustapha added that President Buhari's leadership of the regional effort to contain the virus would be more impactful if Nigerians demonstrate that their national response could be replicable in other West African countries by changing their behaviour.
The PTF chairman reiterated the concern on reopening of schools which he said remains critical for the development of children and the nation.
He urged stakeholders in the education sector to ensure strict compliance with the prescribed protocols as schools are re-opened for final-year pupils and students, adding that doing the contrary would provide a ground for increased community transmission of the virus.
"Reopening the sector is also a source of concern based on the fact that the school system remains a veritable ground for increasing community transmission if appropriate protocols are not put in place and more importantly adhered to," Mustapha added.
He implored stakeholders to ensure that the agreed protocols are put in place and that measures are strictly adhered to.
He also commended religious and political leaders for putting in place mechanisms to ensure the people adhere to COVID-19 protocols during the Sallah festivities.
Mustapha said, "The PTF welcomes all Nigerians back from the Eid-El-Kabir celebrations and wishes to express her appreciation to all the State Governors that put in place the necessary protocols to ensure social distancing and correct wearing of masks during the Eid festivities.
"The ban placed on traditional Eid activities like the Durbar and other activities of mass gathering by sub-national entities also helped in reducing opportunities for community spread.
"The PTF also wishes to appreciate our religious leaders for leading the risk communication efforts. We wish to enjoin you not to relent because the partnership we have formed will go a long way in ensuring that we win this way from the rural areas right up to the urban centres".
The SGF further stated that the PTF will continue to push forward with the community engagement, risk communication and support to states.
He continued: "There is an on-going surveillance in the high burden local government areas just as we ramp up our precision efforts.
"Similarly, the federal government is supporting the states to firm up their Incidence Action Plans preparatory to their accessing the World Bank facility for the fight against COVID-19."
Meanwhile, the PTF will submit its 6th Interim Report to President Muhammadu Buhari and subject to his approval, the report will be presented with the way forward to Nigerians at the next briefing on Thursday, August 6, 2020.
Uncertainty In Ondo PDP As Stakeholders Warn Against Division
Meanwhile, some stakeholders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday raised concerns over the division within the party caused by the emergence of Mr Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) as the party's candidate ahead of the Ondo State governorship election.
They warned that the failure of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) and other party leaders to close ranks and support its flag bearer in the October 10 election will amount to a disservice to the party and may ruin its chances of winning the election.
The stakeholders under the platform of Vanguard for Justice and Fairness in PDP (VJF) stated this while reacting to moves by the Ondo State deputy governor Agboola Ajayi to dump PDP after his failure to clinch the party's ticket in the July 22 PDP governorship primary election.
In a statement yesterday, VJF president, Malam Abubakar Abagi, said they are worried by the "anti-party activities" of ranking officials of the party following Jegede's victory at the primaries.
The statement noted: "It has come to our knowledge that some top party leaders are not happy over the victory of Mr Jegede over Ajayi's defeat at the PDP governorship primaries and they are beginning to show tacit support for Ajayi to leave the party while withdrawing their support for Mr Jegede who clearly won in a transparent process."We are fully aware that Mr Jegede is seen by these unhappy leaders as being a follower of the political ideology championed by the former vice president and PDP candidate in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
However, Mr Jegede still remains the choice of the people of Ondo State and the entire PDP followers in the state and that should be respected.
"We can't go into the election with a divided house as APC members in the state are on a daily basis uniting and closing ranks while we are busy with anti-party activities that may ruin our chances of kicking Rotimi Akeredolu and his All Progressives Party (APC) out of power and in turn, free the people of Ondo State from the grip of poor governance."
Abagi cited Akeredolu's recent visit to Tinubu in Lagos to introduce his running mate, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, noting that Tinubu was regarded as Akeredolu's erstwhile political antagonists.
We Didn't Substitute Nominated Candidates Of AAC - INEC
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has disclosed that the commission did not substitute nominated candidates of the African Action Congress (AAC).
This was disclosed in a statement signed by the commission's national commissioner and chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye.
INEC was reacting to allegations by an aspirant who accused the commission of substituting his name as the rightful governorship candidate of the party, while another aspirant also claimed that the commission substituted his deputy governorship candidate.
The commission in the statement said it did not substitute the name of any aspirant or candidate.
The statement noted that the commission received only one submission from the AAC through its dedicated online portal for candidate nomination, adding that there was no human interface.
INEC stated: "The names uploaded on the portal by the political parties were the same names published. The Commission only receives the names of candidates and running mates from the National Headquarters of Political Parties, duly signed by both the National Chairman and National Secretary.
"On Friday 31 July, 2020 INEC published the Provisional List of
Candidates for the Ondo State Governorship Election scheduled for 10 October, 2020 in its State Office in Akure and also uploaded the same to its website and social media platforms."
FG Inspects 104 Unity Schools, To Announce Next Phase Of Eased Lockdown Thursday
Ahead of the today's resumption of schools, the federal government said it would embark on assessment tour of Unity Colleges across the country.
Minister of State for Education, Hon Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba stated this during a virtual meeting with the 36 state commissioners of Education yesterday.
Nwajiuba who said the ministry's permanent secretary, Sonny Echono, and its directors would join him in the assessment tour, noted that all the 104 Unity Colleges are ready to open their gates to exit classes tomorrow.
Director, press and public relations of the ministry, Ben Bem Goong said the minister also lauded principals of Unity Colleges for the comprehensive preparation put in place for resumption.
The statement reads in part: "Across states, Honourable Commissioners reported varying degrees of preparation and readiness for reopening between the 4th and 10th of August, 2020 for virtually all schools within their jurisdictions.
"From today, the Honourable Minister of State for Education, Permanent Secretary and Directors will embark on an assessment tour of all Unity Colleges to ascertain and confirm the reports they have received from the Principals of Unity Colleges.
"Similarly, Federal Education Quality Assurance Directors deployed to the States have been directed to monitor compliance in their respective states.
"Honourable Commissioners from the States were enjoined to embark on assessment tours in their jurisdictions to ascertain the level of preparations for reopening."
While most schools will reopen tomorrow, others will continue to fine-tune their preparations in the coming days for reopening.
Nwajiuba further asked all schools to communicate their specific reopening dates to their parents and students in order to avoid chaos in the system. All returning students are to undergo temperature checks among other protocols before being admitted into their schools.
According to him, the intended tour which would be led by him, aims to assess the level of preparedness of the various institutions.
Meanwhile, a visit to some secondary schools in the capital city showed a high level of compliance as most schools visited displayed evidence of necessary arrangements to ensure the safety of learners.
The principal of Government Secondary School, Lugbe, Abuja, Mrs Grace Adaji, said the school has secured all the necessary tools requested by the federal Ministry of Education.
She said, "The students are to return tomorrow (today) that is on 4th and that is why you see us putting somethings in order, you can see the water buckets and others.
"We have all it takes in the guidelines that has been given to us. We have soap, water, you can see the container and we have our thermometer".
N523m Spent On School Feeding Programme During Lockdown - Farouq
The minister Of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq has said N523,273,800 was expended on school feeding programme during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The minister, who stated this at the Presidential Taskforce briefing on COVID-19 yesterday said, "In recent days, there have been rumours and innuendos and speculations around one of our key interventions; the Home Grown School Feeding Programme which was modified and implemented in three states following a March 29 Presidential directive.
"It is critical at this juncture to provide details that will help puncture the tissue of lies being peddled in the public space.
"The provision of Take Home rations under the modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme was not a SOLE initiative of the federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
"The ministry in obeying the Presidential directive went into consultations with state governments through the State Governor's Forum following which it was resolved that Take Home Rations remained the most viable option for feeding children during the lock down.
We Plan To Reduce Case Fatalities From Present 2% To 1% - Ehanire
The minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has said that the federal government was working on innovative interventions with prospects of improving COVID-19 survival chances, especially for the elderly and those with co-morbidities.
The minister, who stated this during the Presidential Task Force (PTF) briefing on COVID19, yesterday in Abuja, said "Our objective is to reduce case fatalities to less than one per cent from present two per cent."
He said, "We will work with state governments to prepare necessary space and human resources at general hospitals or PHCs, to be trained for setting up at least one sample collection site at every LGA in due course, with efficient sample retrieval logistics to convey samples to laboratories.
"For patients with significant clinical symptoms, we also plan the designation of Holding rooms at general hospitals, with facilities for oxygen administration, such as oxygen concentrators or from oxygen cylinders.
"Some investment in this strategy, known in Lagos State as oxygen kiosks, will be required, but the benefit, in lives saved, will be significant".
According to him, the total number of positive COVID-19 cases recorded in July was 17,457, out of a total of 154, 454 samples tested, with a positivity rate of 11.3 per cent. This is against the June 2020 figures of 19,149 positive cases from a total of 111,052 samples tested with a positivity rate of 17.2 per cent.
Virus Unlikely To Be Transmitted Through Breastfeeding - UNICEF
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), has said that there is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted through breastfeeding, saying that exclusive breastfeeding still best for mothers and babies during the COVID 19 pandemic.
The child's right organisation, in a statement yesterday, highlighted the need for stronger measures to support exclusive breastfeeding, as Nigeria joins the world to celebrate this year's World Breastfeeding Week, themed: "Supporting breastfeeding for a healthier planet."
The call came as UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), in a joint statement, urged governments to find innovative solutions to protect and promote women's access to breastfeeding counselling, a critical component of breastfeeding support.
According to the statement, breast milk saves children's lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protect them against many childhood illnesses. While researchers continue to test breast milk from mothers with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, current evidence indicate that it is unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding.
"The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, like most emergencies, leaves families with children in an extremely vulnerable position. Given the present lack of evidence that transmission of the virus could occur through breast milk, we recommend that mothers should be encouraged to initiate and continue to breastfeed their babies while observing good hygiene practices," said UNICEF's Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins.
UNICEF and WHO recommend that babies be fed only breast milk for their first six months, after which they should continue breastfeeding as well as eating other nutritious and safe foods until two years of age or beyond.
However, only 29 per cent of Nigerian children between the ages of 0 to six months are exclusively breastfed currently.
"Breast milk substitutes such as infant formula, other milk products, and beverages not only contribute negatively to the health and development of the child, but also to environmental degradation and climate change. Breast milk, on the other hand, is natural, and is the only food a baby needs in the first 6 months of life," UNICEF warned.
The organisation has therefore called on relevant agencies to strictly enforce adherence to the National Regulation on the Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions by putting to a stop to the unwholesome marketing of breast milk substitutes.