Thursday, April 2, 2020

Trapped by Coronavirus, Nigeria’s Elite Faces Squalid Hospitals

For decades, powerful Nigerians could ignore the government’s failure to invest adequately in the health-care system by seeking medical treatment abroad. The coronavirus pandemic means they can no longer escape.

Since Nigeria identified its first case in late February, President Muhammadu Buhari has responded by closing the borders and imposing a lockdown on two key cities and the state of Ogun, an industrial hub. Commercial flights and private jets have been grounded. Like most African countries, Nigeria is now largely cut off from the world.

The pandemic has forced much of Africa’s elite into a unique situation where it’s no longer possible to fly to the U.K., France or India to see a doctor, a practice that’s become commonplace even among the affluent middle class.

Buhari was widely criticized for spending more than five months in the U.K. in 2017 for an undisclosed ailment. Last year, Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, recovered in Morocco from a stroke, while Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s former leader, died in a hospital in Singapore.

In Nigeria, the coronavirus has so far infected 174 people, including Abba Kyari, Buhari’s chief of staff, a man regarded as the second-most powerful in the country. Four out of 36 state governors and a son of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar have also tested positive. A former senior executive of the state oil company, Suleiman Achimugu, was the first Covid-19 fatality.

‘Total Collapse’

Dozens of senior public officials, including state governors and lawmakers, have gone into isolation. If they get sick, they will have to rely on a weak health system that is at risk of crumbling under the weight of a larger outbreak, according to Francis Faduyile, head of the Nigerian Medical Association, an umbrella group for doctors.

“The health system is not strong enough,” Faduyile said by phone from Lagos. “Over the years, it’s been denied normal funding and things are not where they’re supposed to be. If the burden of the coronavirus is added, it may be too heavy; it may actually cause a total collapse.”

Among Nigeria’s registered health professionals are 75,000 doctors, 180,709 nurses and 25,000 pharmacists, according to the health ministry. With 0.5% hospital beds per 1,000 people and a population of roughly 200 million, that’s far below thresholds set by the World Health Organization. Only five laboratories are able to test for the virus.

Health spending at around 5% of the budget in the past decade falls short of the African Union’s recommended minimum of 15% and has been mostly focused on recurrent spending, with little capital investment made over the years, according to BudgiT, a civil-society group that tracks government expenditure. A National Health Act that came into effect in 2015 and requires that 1% of government revenue is set aside for basic health care has yet to be implemented.

Even those numbers may not tell the whole story as officials of the medical association say about half of all registered doctors have emigrated to the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia and other parts of the world.

While Faduyile said there’s still time for the government to institute large-scale preventative measures, a wider coronavirus outbreak would leave everyone in Africa’s most populous country -- the rich, the poor and the middle class -- scrambling for service in poorly equipped hospitals.

“It’s going to be a lesson for those who think they can neglect the health system,” Faduyile said. “The highest of the government officials, some of them will be infected, and they’ll have no option but to get local treatment.”

By Dulue Mbachu


Nigeria becomes eigth African nation to welcome bitcoin ATMs

Africa’s largest country has welcomed its first Bitcoin ATM.

Blockstale BTM, the company that installed the ATM in the Dazey Lounge and Bar in Lagos state, plans to launch more than 30 more terminals across Nigeria.

“Despite all the legal uncertainties about cryptocurrencies in Nigeria, Nigerians happen to be the highest crypto traders in Africa,” Blockstale’s chief executive and founder, Daniel Adekunle, told local media on April 1.

Adekunle developed his Bitcoin ATMs in partnership with a tech firm based in Shenzhen, China.

Nigeria welcomes Africa’s 15th Bitcoin ATM

Despite being home to the largest trade volume in Africa, Nigeria is the eighth country in the continent to host a Bitcoin ATM — with Blockstale’s comprising the 15th in Africa.

According to CoinATMRadar, South Africa is home to seven crypto ATMs, Ghana hosts two, and Botswana, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe each have a single terminal.

With Nigeria comprising Africa’s largest economy and population, the country’s first Bitcoin ATM may be a signpost for broader adoption across the continent. Coinstale’s terminal is only the second Bitcoin ATM in West Africa.

Nigerian LocalBitcoins volume drops after KYC overhaul

Recent weeks have seen roughly 220 Bitcoins, or $1.38 million worth, of peer-to-peer (P2P) trade between BTC and Nigerian Naira on LocalBitcoins.

However, Nigerian LocalBitcoins has dropped by roughly 50% since the P2P platform strengthened its KYC requirements during September 2019.

Nigerian ‘Bitcoin’ searches top Google Trends

Nigeria also consistently tops Google searches for ‘Bitcoin’ — driving nearly twice the traffic as the second-ranked country, Austria, according to Google Trends.

Three of the top five ranked nations for ‘Bitcoin’ searches are African — with South Africa and Ghana ranking third and fifth respectively.

By Samuel Haig


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

MTN to Move Ahead on Nigeria Stock Sale Amid Market Turmoil

MTN Group Ltd. will push on with a plan to reduce its majority stake in the wireless carrier’s Nigerian business, though turmoil caused by the coronavirus may require the sale to be done in smaller chunks than anticipated.

The impact of the pandemic on international financial markets doesn’t change the importance of selling part of the 79% shareholding to local investors, Chief Financial Officer Ralph Mupita said in an interview. However, the rest of a three-to-five year plan to dispose of 25-billion rand ($1.4 billion) of assets will probably take a back seat for now, he said.

“In Nigeria we still want to do part of our retail offer, even if it’s a smaller part of the total planned sale,” Mupita said by phone. “We are applying our minds to doing this at the moment.”

MTN is disposing of part of its largest division after a series of disputes with Nigerian authorities, most recently over tax payments and the withdrawal of cash from the country. The plan is to sell about a 15% stake to local investors, reducing MTN’s ownership to about 64%. MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd. was listed in Lagos last year, and is the country’s second-biggest publicly traded company.

Nigeria is MTN’s biggest market, accounting for a third of overall 2019 revenue and almost 40% of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. The Johannesburg-based company is also the biggest provider of telecom services in the country, with almost 69 million customers, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission.
Share Rally

The drastic fall in oil prices, hurting major producers including Nigeria, and the outbreak of the coronavirus has weighed on MTN’s share price, which hit 15-year lows last week. The stock has since rallied for six straight days, and traded as much as 21% higher in Johannesburg on Tuesday -- the biggest jump in two decades.

“We of course have no visibility on how all of this could play out, but the business currently has a resilient balance sheet and is highly cash generative, with most of our business coming from pre-paid contracts,” Mupita said.

MTN’s cash position was bolstered by the sale of 14 billion rand in assets last year, including stakes in telecom-tower companies in certain African markets. Some of that was paid in dollars, which provides a currency hedge against the weakening rand, the CFO said. MTN also has a credit facility that can be accessed if needed, he added.

MTN expects an increase in data usage as more and more of its markets go into lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“We want to make sure that our networks have resilience and capacity,” Mupita said. “We are looking at where we can drive broader coverage.”

By Loni Prinsloo


Nigeria confirms four new cases of coronavirus, totalling 135

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has announced additional four new cases of Covid-19 in the country.
The agency on Tuesday said the new cases were reported in Ogun and Osun States.
This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 135.
NCDC said “as at 11:15 am 31st March there are 135 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Nigeria with 2 deaths. ”
A breakdown of the cases in Nigeria shows that Lagos is still the epicenter of the disease. Meanwhile, all the states in the South-west region of Nigeria have recorded at least a case of the disease.
NCDC said all the new cases have mild to moderate symptoms and are currently receiving care.
Till date, eight cases have been discharged and two deaths have been recorded.
As of 11:15 a.m. March 31, there cases are Lagos-81, FCT- 25, Oyo – 8, Osun – 5, Ogun- 4, Kaduna- 3
Enugu- 2, Edo – 2, Bauchi – 2, while Ekiti, Rivers and Benue have one case respectively.
The number of infections is expected to keep increasing as the government intensifies contact tracing and monitoring in respect of the disease.
In a bid to contain the spread of the virus, the government has ordered a lockdown of three states – Lagos, Ogun and Abuja.

By Ayodamola Owoseye

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

25 year old Nigerian student dies of coronavirus weeks before graduation

Weeks before he was set to graduate at the Western Michigan University, a Nigerian-America student, Bassey Offiong, died from coronavirus after being refused a test several times in Michigan.

The PUNCH gathered that the deceased is a 25-year-old college student studying Chemical Engineering at the Michigan-based university.

A relative to the deceased told The PUNCH that he tested positive for coronavirus on Friday.

Offiong’s cousin, Rosalyn Afiong, added that the student died on Sunday, describing the deceased as a “shining light.”

“My dear sweet cousin, this is unreal. I don’t even know where to begin. May your soul rest in eternal peace. You did everything and more with your time here on Earth, and although you weren’t anywhere near done in your purpose, you’ve been called for a higher purpose bigger than us all.

“I love you so much and I pray you to keep that same light shining on us from above,” Afiong said while paying a tribute on Facebook.

According to his sister, Offiong was refused testing several times despite showing symptoms of the deadly virus.

She said the victim had shortness of breath, fatigue and fever before his death.

“I told him to ask them to test him. He said they refused to test him,” she told Detroit News.

Confirming his death, WMU president, Edward Montgomery, said, “On behalf of the entire Bronco community, I want to extend my deepest condolences to his entire family, including his sister Asari, who has been generous in communicating with us regularly.”

One of his friends, Koko Adiaha, said it was “extremely hard” to believe Offiong’s death,

Adiaha said, “My mother called me frantic and told me we lost Bassey Offiong due to COVID-19. I just can’t wrap my head around the why and how.

“This one is extremely hard to process. Beloved by everyone who knew him. Bassey deserved much more than what was offered to him.”

A representative of Michigan’s Sixth Congressional District, Fred Upton, added, “I woke up this Sunday morning to the sad news of a WMU Engineering student who passed away with coronavirus.

“He had a ventilator and, likely, other members of his immediate family are also impacted along with perhaps his roommates at WMU. Our condolences are with them.”