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COVID 19: Why Customs Need Special Package As Okonjo-Iweala, Former Minister Of Finance Gets AU Special Envoy Appointment

By Stephen Ubanna

 It is no longer news that President  Muhammadu  Buhari has extended by additional two weeks the restrictions of movement in Lagos Ogun and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, to curb the spread  of the Wuhan Town in Hebei Province of  the Asian  country of China emerged Coronavirus which had spread to over 210 countries in the world including Nigeria.

  Note that acting on the reports of the Presidential Task Force on COVID 19, under the Chairmanship of Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the government of the Federation, the Kastina born Nigerian President, had rubber stamped the recommendations of the Task Force that the country’s five International Airports located at the FCT, Lagos, PortHarcourt, Kano, Enugu and the land border areas  across the country with the neighboring countries of Benin Republic, Niger and the Central  African country of Cameroon, should remain closed.

In justifying the reason for the extension of the lockdown in the two south west states and the FCT, the President had said  in his COVID 19 nation-wide broadcast on Monday, April 13, 2020 , had  that it was basically to’’ to save more lives and bring the spread of the disease to a halt’’.

Given that the disease  has  no  respect for both  the  low and the mighty , Civilian or uniform personnel, there is need for the President to approve special financial package for the Customs and other security agencies personnel to boost their morale in enforcing government laws to curb the spread of the pandemic

 The President had  alluded in his last Sunday  broadcast that the country security operatives had performed very well in enforcing the law  during the two  weeks lock down of Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, urging  them to do so with the  extension of the lock down which would take another two weeks..

Okonjo-Iweala: Former Minister Of Finance And National Economy

  Political watchers believe that it is not enough to praise the security agencies personnel for supporting the government by ensuring  that  people  stay at home by to reward accordingly  as a way of  encouraging them to do more.   This is because of their regular contacts with people whose status are not known leaving  or   coming into the country  on a daily basis at the airports or land border  areas which exposes them to the disease .

Take for instance, Hameed, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General,  Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, in his  recent directive had made it clear that  all Customs personnel must report on duty  at their various  duty posts across the country to ensure that nothing leaves or enters the country. The directive had come at a time a time when the Chikwe Ihekweazu, led Ngerian Center for Disease Control, NCDC, has asked Nigerians to ensure to keep to the World Health Organiation, WHO, recommended social distancing and keeping away from crowd  to avoid contacting the deadly disease

.  From the  seaports,  airports to the Land borders  Command, Customs and other security  agencies personnel stay in group to be able to discharge their duties. At the seaports, which is one of the critical areas of the  economy   not shut down, where  the ocean going vessels are still sailing to the ports to discharge cargoes lifted from the  major trading routes in the world: Europe/Middle East, North and South America, Far East/China, Far East/India and AAustralia, The Value cited at Apapa port how the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, pilots and port medical personnel, find their way to the vessel which had anchored to discharge their  carges, exposing them the Crew  members whose health status remain unknown as Customs and other security agencies personnel  follow suit to do their job .

The situation is the same in other ports in the  West and Central African  Sub-regions  as the Federal Operations Unit, FOU, FOU, personnel, across the country including the adhoc Teams: Comptroller General of Customs , CGC, Strike Force and the Border Drill sectors  personnel  battle to contain the activities  of smugglers  of Contraband into the country.  

Indeed, the situation in Niger, one of the neighbouring countries in the northern  part of the country appear worrisome  as over 500 people were said to have  been confirmed by the country’s health Authorities as having contacted the disease. Note that that Niger share common boundaries with virtually all the states in the north west including Yobe in the north east.

This should increase the concern  of  the  President because of the difficulty in controlling the  movement of people  in the border Communities. The Magazine findings show that there are so many illegal  entry  routes from the West African country to Sokoto and other states in the north west geo-political region.

The Demographic Map of Nigeria, indicates that  seven local Areas in the state share border with Niger Republic. There are indications that the COVID19 cases that had been recorded in  Kano and Katsina  states may have  been contacted by the victims from Niger. This is coming at  a  time  Customs and other security agencies personnel are all over the place to protect the country territorial waters and national security.

Note that with the Coronavirus explosion in the neighbouring West African country of Niger, Aminu Tambuwal, a former Speaker of House of Representatives and now governor of Sokoto state may have known  that there is danger ahead in    that  he had set up a Special Task Force against the spread of the disease in the state.

A  source told The Magazine  that the Special Task Force personnel are working closely with the  Customs and other security agencies personnel including the Department of Security, DSS, to beef up security  at the border posts to guide against  the spread of the deadly disease, described as’’ very  dangerous’’ by the President, in the state .

Going by the NCDC, report,  sokoto state is yet to  record any  COVID 19 case because of the restrictions of movement  within the state as obtained in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, the FCT. But Tambuwal, the Sokoto state governor has to watch it. There had been a total lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, but Lagos , remain the epicenter of the disease which had infected  343 persons  in the country , confirming what  Ihekweazu, the  Director General, NCDC, had said that the ’’ disease will be on the rise in the country’’. He had made the bold statement without taking into consideration the spread of the disease to Niger which many believe  do not have the resource to contain it.

In a related development The African Union, AU, has taken advantage of Ngozi Okonjonjo –Iweala, a former minister of Finance and  Coordinator of the economy under former  Presidents Olusegun Obaanjo and Goodluck Jonathan appointment as a member of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, External Advisory group  on COVID 19, to give  her a Special Envoy for the Union appointment.

Cyril Ramaphosa- COVID 19 Is A Cross On Africa

She was appointed alongside three other notable Africans by Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa and Chairman, AU. The AU, special Envoys were said to have been a mandate to mobilize international support for the African countries effort to address the economic  challenges  that will be faced as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The Special envoy  were said to have also been mandated to follow up the pledge  that had been made by the G20, European Union, EU and other International Financial Organisations, particular, the IMF, in order to defer their debt and Interests rate payment.

There are fears that the G20 and the EU, may find it difficult to come out fully to support the African continent  with funds this time around in tackling the health crisis  as many members of the G20 and the EU, are worse hit by the pandemic.  Take for instance, the North American country of the United States, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, UK,France, Germany, South Korea and China, which are still battling to contain the spread of the disease in their respective countries.

Aware of the difficulty by the G20 and the EU in ,providing adequate  financial support to the African countries to fight the pandemic,  because the situation in the developed economies, may have informed why  Kristiana Georgieva, Managing Director, IMF, had called for a global unity against the virus to defeat it.   

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Stephen Ubanna

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