Thursday, June 8, 2023

President Tinubu defends end to fuel subsidy

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday defended the West African nation’s decision last week to stop subsidizing fuel, a move that has pushed up prices for transportation and commodities.

Tinubu appealed for patience as millions of citizens face additional economic hardship. The money saved by ending the decades-old subsidy will help the government’s efforts to fight poverty and implement other initiatives, he told governors in a meeting in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja.

“We can see the effects of poverty on the faces of our people. Poverty is not hereditary, it is from society. Our position is to eliminate poverty,’’ a statement from the Nigerian presidency quoted Tinubu as saying.

The governors supported the subsidy’s removal and promised to work together in implementing it, the presidency’s statement said.

Though Nigeria is an oil-producing nation, it depends on imported refined petroleum products, and the government has subsidized the cost for decades.

But with oil revenues dwindling amid chronic theft and decreasing foreign investment, the government said the fuel subsidies are no longer economically sustainable. It budgeted 4.4 trillion naira ($9.5 billion) for the subsidies in 2022, far more than for education, health care and infrastructure combined.

Analysts, however, faulted the government’s decision to withdraw the subsidy without incentives in place, especially at a time when many Nigerians already struggle to cope with record high unemployment and poverty.

Inflation is at an 18-year high. Unions have threatened strike in protest of the subsidy decision.

Nigeria’s states have begun to adopt various measures seeking to assist citizens, especially workers commuting to work daily. Edo and Kwara states this week cut the work week from five days to three. Other states said Wednesday they are considering such measures as increasing the minimum wage of 30,000 naira ($65).

In Abuja and other parts of Nigeria, The Associated Press found businesses struggling from having to spend more money on fuel for generators. As many as 46% of Nigeria’s people do not have access to electricity, the World Bank says.

In Kano state, the economic hub of northern Nigeria, Mahmud Mudi, a taxi driver, said he had to halt his transport business because he was losing money due to higher gasoline prices.

“The situation is unbearable,” Mudi said. “As a family man, the already unfriendly economy has been worsened by this removal of fuel subsidy. I have had to suspend my taxi operations and rely on divine intervention.”

Rafi’atu Audi, a government employee in the state, said it was difficult to commute to work daily because of the sharp increase in transportation costs.

“Transport fares have shot up, but our salaries remain the same,” said Audi. “It’s painful (and) I cannot bear the costs anymore.”

By Chinedu Asadu, AP

Related stories: Main union in Nigeria to suspend strike over petrol subsidy

The aftermath of fuel subsidy removal announcement in Nigeria

Naira Drops to a Record Low

Nigeria’s currency sank to a record low after the central bank auctioned dollars at a naira rate that was almost 30% weaker than on the tightly controlled official market.

Faced with heavy demand from industries and importers for the greenback, the central bank of Africa’s biggest economy sold dollars at 645 naira apiece, adding to speculation that a devaluation may be in the cards after the inauguration of a new president last month.

In official trading on the Nigeria Exchange, the currency slipped as much as 0.7%, the most in almost six months before paring losses to 467.04 naira a dollar as of 2:40 p.m. local time — a record low.

Nigeria’s dollar earnings and reserves are dwindling and the government uses multiple exchange rates to manage supply and demand for foreign currency. Most residents who can’t get hold of the greenback on the main market or at auctions are forced to turn to black market trading where the naira is about 40% weaker.

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu announced plan to adopt a uniform exchange rate during his inauguration last month, part of a program to boost investments and grow the economy. Last week, the central bank denied a report that there was a steep decline in the official naira rate.

“The president has said we don’t need all those windows, so it’s a question of time for the currency to find its real value at the oficial trade,” Adetilewa Adebajo, economist and chief executive with Lagos-based CFG Advisory said by phone.

CFG Advisory expects the currency to trade at about 650 naira a dollar following a devaluation, Adebajo said. “When you have multiple rates or a static exchange mechanism it works against you.” 


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

2,998 nurses leave Nigeria for UK

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has deplored poaching of professionals by rich nations such as the United Kingdom (UK) from poor countries, saying the development was becoming “out of control.”

The submission comes as Nigeria lost 2,998 trained nurses in 2021-2022 to British National Health Service (NHS).

ICN’s Chief Executive, Howard Catton, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): “My sense is that the situation currently is out of control.

“We have intense recruitment taking place mainly driven by six or seven high-income countries but with recruitment from countries which are some of the weakest and most vulnerable which can ill-afford to lose their nurses.”

According to a report first published by Daily Mail UK, the ICN said six or seven high-income countries are driving “intense recruitment” from places that “can ill-afford to lose their nurses.”

India and the Philippines account for the lion’s share of recruits for the period under review. But a fifth came from ‘red listed’ countries, where the NHS is banned from actively poaching nurses. They were Nigeria, Ghana, Nepal and Pakistan.

The data, from the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council, cover the period before Britain struck a special deal with Nepal to allow the NHS to recruit nurses from the country.

Ghana is one of the worst hit, with hospitals warning that their workforce had been slashed as staff rushed to fill NHS posts they found on social media.

Statistics from NHS England, which have 112,000 vacancies, suggest that approximately two-thirds of the increase in staff hired since 2019 were trained abroad.

Latest NHS, England data show that the service is recruiting more nurses abroad than ever before, with 44,000 joining the organisation since 2019, compared to the 22,000UK-trained attendants.

Most recruits were from India, the Philippines, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Ghana.
IN a related development, The British government has committed £2 million to strengthen Nigeria’s health workforce.

British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Dr. Richard Montgomery, who disclosed this in a statement yesterday, noted that the Nigerian health system, like many countries in the global south, has been beset with challenges in having a resilient infrastructure that is able to provide quality health services, promote health and prevent diseases.

He submitted that a well-skilled, motivated and adequate health workforce is critical to ending preventable deaths and building resilience against global threats.

The envoy said the UK International Development funding aligns with the Nigerian health workforce strategic plan geared at assisting the country to upskill its workers and improve health outcomes in the long run.

World Health Organisation’s (WHO) two-year HRH project aims to support government at national and sub-national levels, as well as regulatory bodies, professional associations and other key stakeholders to develop transformative strategies for scaling up the quantity and quality of health workers, including competency-based curricula development and reviews.

Montgomery said the UK provided the multi-million Pound to support healthcare staff recruitment and retention in three African countries, namely Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana to enhance resilience against global health challenges

Consequently, WHO has commended UK’s Department of Health and Social Care for a fresh funding commitment to help Nigeria develop its health staff in the pursuit of Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

The global health body noted that the £2 million grant would assist Nigeria in optimising performance, quality and impact of its health workforce through evidence-informed policies and strategies over a two-year period.

It would help to align investment in HRH with the current and future needs of the population and health systems; strengthen the capacity of institutions, including regulatory bodies, for effective public policy stewardship, leadership and governance, optimise health workers’ retention, equitable distribution and performance, and strengthen the management of health workforce data for monitoring and accountability. The project would also implement interventions in Nigeria.

The project is to draw on the technical capacity of WHO to strengthen health systems, including experience of implementing similar projects with appreciable results in the past. Implementation at sub-national levels with a focus on six states of Cross River, Enugu, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano and Lagos will build on the presence and technical support being provided to state governments through the 37 WHO sub-national offices in Nigeria.

WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said that the strength of every health system reflects the capacity and adequacy of its health workforce necessary to deliver quality services to address population health needs.

For a resilient and effective health system, he said Nigeria must have adequate numbers of health workers, who are fit for purpose, motivated to perform, and equitably distributed across sub-national levels to enhance equity in access to their services by the population in need.

By Chukwuma Muanya and Nkechi Onyedika Ugoeze, Reuters

Related stories: Over 10,000 doctors left Nigeria for UK in last 7 yrs

How Nigeria can stop doctors’ brain drain – NMA chairman


Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Main union in Nigeria to suspend strike over petrol subsidy

Nigeria's main labour union agreed after meeting with the government on Monday night to suspend a planned indefinite strike to protest the removal of a popular decades-old petrol subsidy, a signed resolution of the agreement showed.

The government had obtained a court injunction stopping Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) from embarking on the strike from June 7, after petrol prices nearly tripled following the subsidy removal last week. Trade Union Congress (TUC) was also cited although it had not yet called for a strike.

On taking office a week ago, President Bola Tinubu immediately scrapped the costly subsidy, which began in the 1970s, causing an uproar from unions.

In 2012, a wave of strikes ensued when Nigeria tried to introduce a similar measure, with authorities eventually reinstating some subsidies. Tinubu, then in the opposition, was among those who opposed ending the subsidies.

A meeting between government representatives and NLC and TUC leaders agreed on Monday that the NLC would "suspend the notice to strike forthwith to enable further consultations."

NLC's executive is expected to meet on Tuesday to approve the agreement with government.

The parties would continue discussions on the union demands, including the upgrade of state-owned refineries so they can produce petrol locally to keep prices low.

Another meeting would be held on June 19 to discuss how to implement any agreements.

TUC, in a statement on Monday, issued a raft of demands to the government, including a rise in the monthly minimum wage to 200,000 naira (433.79) from 30,000 naira with effect from this month and that the new wage should not be taxed.

Tinubu said last week Nigeria needed to review its minimum wage but did not say to what level.

By Felix Onuah, Reuters

Monday, June 5, 2023

Tomato farmers in Nigeria seek improved storage methods to reduce losses

Tomato farmers in Nigeria are seeking improved methods to reduce post-harvest losses as authorities look to increasing cold storage facilities. Nigeria is the largest producer of tomatoes in sub-Saharan Africa but has been losing over 40 percent of its yield due to poor storage.