Tuesday, 04 August 2020

By Ijeoma Ndukwe Lagos, Nigeria/ BBC:

Entrepreneurs in oil-rich Nigeria are finding it difficult to weather the economic fallout of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and a plummeting currency.

Amid the lockdown a dispute between Russia and Saudi Arabia sent the price of the fossil fuel tumbling, dragging down the value of the Nigerian currency with it.

With the naira still volatile and a partial lockdown still in place, three business owners in the commercial hub of Lagos explain how they are coping.

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Marifa Witte: McKindergarten

Opened a private pre-school two months before Lagos went into lockdown. Employs 10 staff.

Marifa Witte
Tope Adenola
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"We actually closed our doors before the government shut the country. Our first priority was keeping the children safe.

"At the time we had only three children, but it started off very well considering that we opened in the middle of a school year. We were scouting for parents.

"When the lockdown happened I started panicking, because just before the we had already started seeing the devaluation of the naira.

"Today everyone is projecting that it will go up to 500 naira to one US dollar. It would be a disaster - I would need more naira to pay expatriate staff in my establishment.

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"Being a new school, we only have a certain amount of savings to float us for the first and second year until the school becomes successful.

A composite image of children reading, playing and washing their hands at McKindergartenImage copyrightTOPE ADENOLA
Image captionMcKindergarten's owner says four more children are due to join in September

"At the moment our staff - security, cleaners, nannies and administrative staff - are all on full salary. I've told them I will cut their salaries by 50% to prepare for the worst, but I expect to cut salaries by around 30%.

"There were four more people - a teacher, teaching assistants and a receptionist - whose three-month probation period ended in April. We told them that we would come back to them when the school resumes. If they do, I will have to renegotiate salaries because I can no longer pay them what we agreed.

"All the parents who have registered for September still aim to come - that's four more children. But my biggest fear is that we may not open then.

Marifa WitteImage copyrightTOPE ADENOLA
Image captionMany business owners, including Marifa Witte, say they have tough choices ahead

"I've thought about closing the school down. If the pandemic goes on for another year the school will not be able to survive. The rent is very expensive here, on one of the prime commercial streets in Lagos. I would not be able to make my rent in the third year if we don't open in September.

"Today, yes the virus is still here, yes everyone is still scared, but people are a little bit more relaxed. The economy is my biggest fear in Nigeria."

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Papa Omotayo: MOE+ and A Whitespace Creative Agency

Twenty-five full-time staff working from home. Architectural and visual arts projects continue with fewer-than-usual construction workers on site.

Papa Omotayo
Papa Omotayo
Everybody's a little bit sick and tired of zoom calls and team calls. We're definitely not as efficient"
Papa Omotayo
Architect
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"The response from my clients has been to put a lot of things on hold.

"Everybody's trying to figure out how it's going to affect them as individuals and organisations. Hopefully, the majority of projects will come back.

"I think that the uncertainty is going to last for quite a while. I'm definitely feeling the difficulties.

"[If] you look at the cost of things now compared to months ago it's in some cases almost double, so that hardship is going to be felt dramatically.

"People's earnings are going down because a lot of businesses are having to scale back because of the pandemic so it's tough times.

Builder transport and lay bricksImage copyrightPAPA OMOTAYO
Image captionConstruction work continues but with fewer people on site in accordance with social-distancing rules

"We made the conscious decision not to get rid of staff [to] keep a great team.

"But we have to discuss with staff how we can look at off-setting certain expenses and moving them to a later period in the year.

"I would say we're operating [at] 50% productivity at best, but I think that's also to do with the nature of the type of work that we do.

"You can't just walk over to someone's desk to check up on what's going on.

"Everybody's a little bit sick and tired of zoom calls and team calls. We're definitely not as efficient."

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Ndidi Nwuneli: AACE Foods

Employs 80 staff. Processes and distributes spices, seasonings and flour.

Ndidi Nwuneli
Ndidi Nwuneli
Nigerians are embracing locally sourced products"
Ndidi Nwuneli
Co-founder, AACE Foods
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"My food business is classed as essential, so when lockdown happened we sent letters of exemption to our staff so they could get to work and transport their products.

"But I have to tell you that it wasn't easy. Many of them faced harassment by police for the first two days, which we reported to the government authorities.

"Some of our staff were even attacked - that was a challenge. The government was very responsive and the challenges eased over time.

"To ensure social distancing, we had to reduce the number of people working at any given time. So we split everyone into A and B teams - who worked one week on, one week off.

"We had to reduce capacity to about 50%, but also our output, which meant that we could not enjoy the sales.

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"Many of restaurants reduced or shut down operations during the lockdown, so obviously there was reduced demand.

"Curfews also made it difficult for staff to work full days.

"Staff members have been on full salary, and we told them we would review the situation as time goes by, but it never got to that.

"Now we're back in full, operational mode with a new layout to ensure social distancing. Customers are also operational and demand has picked back up.

AACE Foods employeesImage copyrightNDIDI NWUNELI
Image captionNdidi Nwuneli says staff work alternate weeks but still receive full pay

"We are seeing an upsurge in retail because the oil shock and Covid-19 have restricted imports, so Nigerians are embracing locally sourced products.

"We're well-aware this is a 12- to 18-month battle and many speculate that Nigeria is about to really get the big blow of coronavirus.

"We're thinking, 'How can we make sure we survive and thrive during this period?'

"It means thinking through how we can be more cost-effective and innovative, and also the way we engage with our customers."

Published in Headliners

A governor in north-east Nigeria has suggested efforts to defeat jihadist group Boko Haram are being undermined by elements of the security apparatus.

Borno State's Babagana Zulum said President Muhammadu Buhari needed to know sabotage within the system was frustrating work to end the insurgency.

Babagana Zulum was speaking bluntly days after his heavily armed convoy suddenly had to flee a town near Lake Chad because of sustained gunfire.

The army blamed Boko Haram.

The governor suggested soldiers were behind it and once again used the word sabotage.

An insurgents' camp being destroyed by Nigerian military in the Sambisa Forest, Borno stateImage copyrightEPA
Image captionNigerian security forces (file image)

Babagana Zulum also questioned why the Nigerian army was stopping thousands of displaced people from returning home to their fields whilst soldiers were instead cultivating the land.

Governor Zulum is not the first person to essentially suggest that corruption within the military is prolonging the people's suffering in north-east Nigeria.

Published in Business and Economy

By Taiwo Okanlawon/ PM NEWS

Former Minister of Science and Technology, Major General Sam Momah (Rtd.) is dead.

He died on Wednesday afternoon after complicated diabetic issues.

Momah’s death came after celebrating his 77th birthday on July 6 during which he launched his 13th book titled: “Restructuring to save Nigeria from post-oil disintegration.”

His death was confirmed in a tweet by Lifeline Care Association, a not-for-profit organisation offering free emergency rescue services to victims of road traffic accidents, where Momah was serving as a Grand Patron.

“We regret to announce the passing of our Grand Patron, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Sam Momah (rtd.) – the father to our Founder, Dr. Nkem Momah. His passing occurred yesterday,” the tweet reads.

“His many contributions and unflinching commitment to the growth of our Charity and service to the nation at large will forever be cherished.

“We kindly request your prayers for his peaceful repose and consolation to the family at this time. May God grant his gentle soul eternal rest by His side. Amen!”

He is survived by a wife, children, and grandchildren.

Published in Headliners

Senator Ayo Fasanmi, the national leader of Afenifere has died at 94.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain died yesterday night, July 29 after a brief illness in Osogbo.

His death was confirmed by his Personal Assistant, Tope Adebayo on Thursday morning.

Published in Business and Economy

From Victor Oluwasegun and Tony Akowe, Abuja/ THE NATION

Top government officials are Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) contract beneficiaries, a document by Minister of Niger Delta Affairs Godswill Akpabio has shown.

This is besides the senators and House of Representatives members on the list communicated to House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila by Akpabio.

The document also contains project descriptions, local government areas, proposed contractors, contact details (including phone numbers), project sources and dates of award’.

The beneficiaries, according to the document, include two former Delta State governors, top Federal Government officials, the police, other security agencies, the judiciary, traditional rulers who got contracts worth billions of dollars over the years.

The list did not state the amount of the contracts given to the beneficiaries.

In the accompanying letter dated July 23, 2020 Akpabio said: ” It has always been known that the two chairmen of the committees on NDDC in both chambers yearly exhibit unusual influence to the exclusion of committee members and even the management of the NDDC in appropriating funds to details embellished in the budget after passage of line items at the plenaries.”

In the House, about 30 members would be appearing before the Committee on Ethics and Privileges over the allegations bothering on execution of over N100 billion in the controversial 2018 emergency projects awarded by the NDDC.

Gbajabiamila had during Thursday plenary referred the minister’s letter to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for further investigation.s

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By Abujah Racheal/Abuja/ PM NEWS

COVID-Organics, Madagascar’s herbal drink, touted by President Rajoelina as a cure and prevention for COVID-19 has been found ineffective.

The sobering verdict was given by Nigeria’s government on Thursday.

According to health minister, Osagie Ehanire, the herbal drink did not show any evidence that it had real curative properties against COVID-19.

Ehanire spoke at the 52nd Joint National Briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF), on COVID-19.

According to him, the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), has shared its final report on the evaluation of the COVID Organics.

He said that the initial report showed that its main ingredient is the same as Artemisia annua.

“While the preparation at high dose showed activity in reducing the frequency of cough, it did not show any evidence that it has real curative properties against COVID-19.

“However, we shall continue to support all genuine efforts toward finding local COVID-19 cures,” Ehanire said.

Published in Headliners

A Nigerian citizen in U.S. Damilola Bamidele Isaac Samuel, has been sentenced to federal prison for ATM fraud.

Samuel, 22, was convicted in Shreveport, Louisiana for using fraudulent ATM bank cards to steal more than $260,000 from dozens of bank customers.

According to federal prosecutors, Chief U.S. District Judge S. Maurice Hicks Jr. ordered Samuel to serve 33 months and pay $276,790 in restitution.

U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph disclosed the judgement in a statement on Thursday.

He said Samuel will face deportation proceedings after serving his term.

According to court documents, Samuel conspired with others to steal money from Regions Bank customers.

Authorities said he set up accounts in legitimate bank customers’ names then transferred money from those accounts into fraudulently created accounts.

Multiple times, Samuel was seen on surveillance cameras using ATM cards associated with the fraudulent accounts, the news release said.

Samuel pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud on Dec. 10, 2019.

The judgement was delivered on Monday.

Published in Business and Economy

Ibrahim Magu, the suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday opened his defence before the Presidential Panel probing allegations of corruption against him with 34-page documents submitted to the panel.

Magu was with his lawyer, Wahab Shittu when the 34-page document with 100 annexure were presented for his defence.

The Justice Ayo Salami-led panel is probing Magu for various corruption allegations, one of which was his inability to explain the whereabouts of interest accrued to N550bn recovered funds.

Magu reportedly appeared before the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel around 1pm and was still there as of 6pm, as he is explaining to the panel how recovered assets were disposed of and how monies seized from looters were kept.

The Punch quoted a top source at the EFCC as saying that “Magu arrived at the Presidential Villa along with his lawyer and some aides. However, only Magu and his lawyer were allowed inside the main hall. They have been there for the last five hours.

“Magu presented a 34-page letter which was spiral bound with 100 annexure including pictures. We are hopeful that he will be able to convince the panel that all the allegations levelled against him are trumped up.”

It earlier gathered that Magu’s attempt to to submit the same documents earlier on Monday was rejected by the panel.

Magu had said some of the recovered vehicles were auctioned to the Presidential Villa, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the Federal Inland Revenue Service and others.

The suspended EFCC boss stated in the letter that the agencies had not paid the funds but the Federal Government had agreed to deduct the money from their financial allocations.

Published in Headliners

Our Reporter/ THE NATION

Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Kemebradikumo Pondei will no longer appear before the House of Representatives panel probing him the agency’s Interim Management Committee (IMC), Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, said on Monday.

Speaking after Prof Pondei was taken to a hospital after he fainted at the probe venue, Gbajabiamila directed the panel to use documents he already tendered to the panel to reach its conclusion.

Prof Pondei, who is the managing director of the agency’s Interim Management Committee (IMC), collapsed while he was being grilled by the panel over allegations bordering on the mismanagement of funds.

Wishing Pondei a quick recovery, the Speaker apologised over the poor condition of the hearing room which was stuffy.

He said: “We wish him well. I have been here barely five minutes and I am already sweating profusely. So, I do understand and apologise to everybody here for the poorly conducive atmosphere. I want to say at this point and make it clear, that it is not an adversarial hearing. It is not even inquisitorial.

“It is a fact-finding mission for the people of Nigeria. Just to make things better and we should handle this as such. No one is under inquisition. The fact must come out and that is why the committee is doing what it is doing.

“Because of these conditions in this hall, we don’t need to hear further from the acting MD because he has already submitted his written report. I think you can use the documents to do the work that needs to be done.

Published in Business and Economy

By Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt/ PM NEWS

Nkechi Mercy Ikogwe, a Port Harcourt lady, squandered on sports betting N139.7 million of the money she fraudulently collected from some Nigerians and then she paid N1 million as tithe to her church.

Her fraud is now the subject of a court action filed by the EFCC against her at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

Ikogwe was on Monday arraigned before Justice E.A. Obile for a total fraud of N179 million.

She was charged with two companies, used as vehicles for the fraud, Elites Finance Investment Limited and Efinc Global Investment Limited,

The EFCC arraigned them on a three-count charge bordering on conspiracy and obtaining money by false pretence contrary to Section 1(1) (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act.

The woman was said to have used the sum of N139,704,097 of the N179 million to play sports betting and also paid a tithe of N1 million to a church in Port Harcourt.

One of the counts against the defendants read: “That you Nkechi Mercy Ikogwe, Elites Finance Investment Limited and Efinc Global Investment Limited sometime in 2019 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State within the jurisdiction of this honourable court with intent to defraud, obtained the sum of N179,326,386.62 by inducing unsuspecting members of the public to invest with your companies:

Elites Finance Investment Limited and Efinc Global Investment Limited, assuring them under a false pretence of making 15% interest on all investment made, a representation you knew to be false, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(1) (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act.”

Justice Obile ordered that the 1st defendant, Ikogwe, be remanded in prosecution’s custody and adjourned the matter till October 19 for determination of the bail application.

Mercy ran into trouble when the commission received a report about the defendant and two others, accusing them of inducing their victims into participating in a fraudulent investment scheme with a fake promise of 15 per cent return on investment.

Published in News & Stories
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