The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced on Saturday that 195 cases of Lassa fever had been confirmed and 29 deaths reported in 11 states as of 24 January, the latest deaths being two health workers in Kano. The centre said of the confirmed cases, 89% are from Ondo, Edo and Ebonyi. The NCDC said it activated a national emergency operations centre (EOC) to coordinate response activities on the disease. The EOC includes representatives of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), federal ministry of agriculture and rural development, federal ministry of environment, World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, and other partners. Meanwhile, Kaduna’s health ministry confirmed that a 36-year-old patient in Chikun LGA tested positive for Lassa fever on Saturday. The state’s health commissioner, Amina Baloni, said the patient is being treated at a designated infectious disease control centre and appealed to the public to maintain the highest standard of individual hygiene and to report any suspected cases promptly to the nearest health facility. Baloni said that the state’s epidemiology unit was monitoring the situation closely, and all health facilities were on alert for prompt referral of suspected cases.

President Muhammadu Buhari is surprised at the state of security in the country, particularly security challenges in the North West. According to his media aide, Femi Adesina, while the administration is aware of the Boko Haram threat, the banditry menace in other parts of the country, among others, are alien to his administration. Buhari, however, vowed “harder times’’ await the bandits whose disruptive activities have brought sorrow to Nigerians, kept many away from their means of livelihood, and heightened insecurity in parts of the country. The President said this when he received a delegation of ‘Eminent and Respected Citizens of Niger State’ led by Governor Abubakar Sani Bello at the State House on Tuesday. The President added that the discovery of oil and gas reserves in Chad Basin, Benue Trough and Bida, and some parts of Bauchi and Gombe, would further bolster current efforts to strengthen the Nigerian economy.

The Lagos State Government has announced a ban on the activities of commercial motorcycles, and tricycles in some LGAs, bridges, and highways in the state. The ban, which also includes, ride-hailing services; Opay and Gokada operators, will be fully enforced from 1 February 2020. The announcement was contained in a tweet by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s spokesman, Jubril Gawat, on Monday. Among the 15 Local Governments and Local Council Development Centres affected are Apapa, Apapa Iganmu, Lagos Mainland, Yaba, Surulere, Itire Ikate, Coker Aguda, Eti-Osa, Lagos Island, Ikeja, Onigbongo, Ojodu, Ikoyi-Obalende, Iru Ikoyi-Obalende, and Lagos Island East. The ban, Omotosho said, is the first stage of the state government’s plan to sanitise its “roads and protect Lagosians from the negative effects of these illegal modes of transportation.”

The FG has concluded plans to borrow ₦2 trillion from the ₦10 trillion in pension funds domiciled in the country to finance infrastructural development. Speaking after the National Economic Council meeting, Kaduna Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, said the decision followed an interim report earlier presented to the council and was in compliance with the Pension Reform Act 2004, which empowers the government to borrow 20% of the fund to address national issues. According to el-Rufai, the country will never be able to close its infrastructure deficit with the current budgetary allocation for road construction and maintenance. Nigeria allocated ₦200 billion in the 2019 budget and ₦169 billion in 2020 budget for road infrastructure.

Commentary

  • Since its discovery in the 1960s, Lassa fever outbreaks have been an annual occurrence and on at least eight occasions, even multiple times a year. The disease is a direct result of poor hygiene as unclean environments attract its vectors, rats. However, despite the frequent outbreaks, public reaction in Nigeria has almost always been complacent, leading to many deaths each year. It is instructive to contrast the reaction to this Lassa outbreak with the country’s reaction to the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and on the other side of the world, the Chinese response to the coronavirus outbreak which has killed over 100 people worldwide. Although there have been only two suspected cases in Africa, there are fears that any of the Nigerians living in Wuhan could bring it home, which could overwhelm Nigeria’s already stretched health system, especially if it hits lightly surveilled rural areas.
  • President Buhari’s comments expressing surprise at insecurity are likely to be viewed as being out of touch, considering the fact that even Boko Haram in the North East has continued to wax strong, rolling back the government’s gains from 2015-16, with the recent attacks on civilians and soldiers by both factions of the terrorist group. But beyond rhetoric, he has not proposed a new approach to combating insecurity, either by restoring law and order or tackling the causative factors such as high youth unemployment and the flow of illegal arms into the country. He is also right that the activities of bandits in the North West is affecting agricultural productivity, in the same way as the clashes between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt did. What is sorely needed, after firing the service chiefs (an open goal that he missed yesterday), is a new approach to fighting insecurity in the country in the immediate, medium and long-term, especially as both factions of Boko Haram stepped up attacks (the Jammatul Ahlis Sunnah wing controlled by Abubakar Shekau seem to have carried out the recent suicide bombing in Gwoza as well as the execution of a clergyman and a young student last week). Unless an adequate response is arrived at, there is a risk that North-West and North-East Nigeria with its vast open spaces could be largely overrun by nefarious elements.
  • Not very long ago, some ride hailing companies were with the Lagos State governor and his deputy, taking pictures and being hailed for providing employment and an alternative strategy to tackling Lagos’ notorious traffic snafu. Subsequently, the road transport workers’ union, the NURTW, extorted a daily contribution from the operators, in a deal brokered by agents of the government. This is perhaps the fourth motorcycle ban in one of Africa’s largest metropolises in eight years. It is so common now that it should qualify as a rite of passage for every Lagos governor. What they fail to do is put in the hard work of solving the fundamental issues that cause motorcycles to be considered a viable transport option on expressways. Rail? Good Roads? Waterways? Yet the state government always reverts to the ban – in this case, despite assurances by the operators to increase their investment in the city. We should also add that the state administration is notorious for its inability to enforce its own laws and policies. The new traffic regulation introduced soon after Mr Sanwo-Olu was sworn-in has been forgotten. It is now the latest tool for the predatory extortion of commuters by government agents. We wager that this is how this new bike ban will end as well.
  • To put the announcement about pensions and infrastructure by Mr el-Rufai in the right context, the pension fund administrators already have more than 70% of their funds invested in government securities, such that for years, economists have expressed concerns about the government crowding out other investors from the fixed income market. One fail-safe with this investment track was that the securities, as sovereign instruments, at least came with certain guarantees. We are worried that the government is bent on dipping its hands into these pensions outside of the stringent requirements that a securities market puts on it. Mr el-Rufai’s comments appear to be directed at having pension funds directly invested in infrastructure projects. This is deeply worrying for a variety of reasons including the ability or willingness of states, and indeed the federal government, to honour their commitments. As an example, most of the states have rarely met their public sector pension contributions, yet they want to have a piece of the pension funds that they have not contributed to. If this is to work, the FG must work with the regulator, Pencom, and interested investors in establishing public-private partnership structures with adequate safeguards to protect retirees and current contributors. As we have warned consistently, what has kept the Contributory Pension Scheme in place is the trust that the system will work when people retire. It will take generations to rebuild that trust if this government fritters away the pensions of Nigerians.