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US Consulate awards $1.02m to Nigerian civic organiations

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The United States has stressed that it is a steadfast partner of Nigeria, working together to improve health, security, economic growth, human rights, democracy, and education throughout the country.

It disclosed in a statement that from January 2021, the United States Consulate General in Lagos awarded $1.02 million to civic organisations to implement projects across the 17 states in southern Nigeria.

“The funded projects addressed the themes of bolstering outreach to underserved communities, promoting respect for human rights and transparency in government, empowerment of women and youth, and teacher training and STEM education. “Other themes included entrepreneurship, media literacy, combatting misinformation as well as fostering a robust alumni network,” it added.

It revealed that the Consulate supported United States’ exchange alumni efforts to utilise the skills, knowledge, and networks gained through their exchange program experiences to address challenges faced by communities across southern Nigeria.

“Our exchange alumni organised clean-up campaigns, taught others job skills, marched to show support for combatting gender-based violence, promoted technology in the classroom, and raised awareness of illegal wildlife trafficking,” it added.

According to the statement, the alumni led projects were selected for their strong sustainability plans, adding that many would continue past the grant period through volunteer work and other funding sources.

US Consulate Public Affairs Officer, Stephen Ibelli praised the US alumni commitment in working to improve the lives of community members through sustainable projects.

According to him, the Consulate’s alumni focused grant projects was part of the US government’s efforts to support Nigeria’s economic development, improve livelihoods, and strengthen communities.
“We are proud to work with such an immensely energetic and creative community of alumni-led organisations and individuals committed to strengthening communities and empowering fellow Nigerians,” Ibelli added.

Reflecting on the outgoing year, Ibelli noted that seven new American spaces were opened in southern Nigeria, including a flagship American Corner in Ikeja, as part of the US Consulate efforts aimed at bolstering its public engagement efforts.

“The Consulate also trained 250 women through the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) providing them with skills to grow their businesses and contribute to the growth of small and medium enterprises in Nigeria.

“Some of our AWE graduates received funding from the US Africa Development Foundation and local funding sources to scale their businesses.
“The Consulate also supported the shipment of 250 dairy cows to Ekiti State to boost milk production, and introduced biotech cowpea to increase farmers’ yields and improve food security in Nigeria.

“In 2022, the United States will break ground on its New Consulate Compound at Eko Atlantic City, symbolising the US’ sustained investment in Nigeria and its focus on the Nigerian people,” it added.

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140 Days after, Nigeria loses N3bn on suspended Kaduna-Abuja train service

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The federal government has lost over N3 billion in revenue since it suspended Abuja-Kaduna train services in March, this year.

Besides, the businesses of hundreds of people who earn livelihood around the railway corridor have collapsed.

The stoppage of the service followed the March 28 attack on Kaduna-bound train which was bombed after explosives planted on the rail track by terrorists went off between the Dutse and Kakau areas of Kaduna State.

The train, which took off from the Idu Train Station in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) hit the explosives about 30 minutes from the Rigasa Train Station in Kaduna.

About 970 passengers were on board the train, out of which the terrorists killed some and abducted over 60 others.

Subsequently, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) announced the indefinite suspension of train service on the Abuja-Kaduna railway line.

Although a number of the passengers have been released after unspecified amounts were paid as ransom, some of them are still languishing in the kidnappers’ den.

Meanwhile, NRC recently reiterated that until all the passengers currently in the custody of the terrorists were released to their families, the Abuja-Kaduna train service would not resume.

N3.024bn ticket revenue lost so far

Checks have shown that for the past 140 days since the train service was suspended, NRC has lost about N3.024bn revenue, which could have been raked from ticket sales.

The coaches, which ply the Abuja-Kaduna rail line have the capacity to carry between 900 and 1,000 passengers per trip.

About eight trips were also recorded daily between Rigasa in Kaduna and Idu in Abuja.

An average economy ticket before the suspension sold between N2, 800 and N3,000 while VIP tickets sold for N6,000.

A breakdown of daily ticket sales shows that the NRC makes a minimum of N2.7m per trip at N3,000 a ticket for a train that has the capacity to carry 900 to 1,000 passengers.

Consequently, for the eight trips that the Abuja-Kaduna train does in a day, a total of about N21.6m is realised. Subsequently, this amounts to about N151.1m in seven days (one week).

As such, for the over four months that train services have been suspended, the federal government has lost nothing less than N600m monthly.

Some other services tied to the train services that have been crippled include shop owners at the train stations, especially Idu, Kubwa and Rigasa.

Some of these small businesses, which are unable to move to other locations outside of the train stations have sacked their staff.

“I closed my shop a day after the train was attacked,” said Halima Abubakar, a restaurateur at the Idu train station in Abuja.

“Everything has stopped…I asked my staff to go because I am unable to find another place,” she said.

The booming taxi services and pool buses have also been crippled.

Ambrose Alex, a taxi driver at the Idu station called on the government to do the needful.

“We have all been displaced with the closure of the train service. I took a loan to buy my car and was operating from the station. Things are really tough now because some of us are only doing town service instead of shuttle service, which brings more money,” he said.

It was learnt that the NRC is also losing out on rental fees as these businesses will have to be either refunded or be allocated the exact months they have lost since the facility was shut down.

Another significant loss is to the ticketing firm, SevureID Solutions, which got the concession at N900m to operate for 10 years.

Because they are no longer earning on the train service, they may be forced to lay off their staff. They may also have to renegotiate the terms of the deal.

Commenting, Dr Frank Ojiadi, a faculty member at Lagos Business School, and an expert in transportation and logistics, said the continued shutdown of the train service was not only a loss to the government but to citizens who had built an economy around the train corridor.

He said while the risks associated with aviation were there, different from rail transportation, it is unlikely the aviation industry would be shut down for “This long in an event of a terror attack because of many factors.”

He said with the robust insurance packages in aviation and the critical nature of aviation to a country’s economy, the airport won’t remain shut down in perpetuity because of a terror attack.

He advised NRC to ensure its trains across the country are insured.

He explained further that the impacts of the sustained shutdown of the rail service were not economic and social.

On the economic impact, he said the government would lose huge revenues as NRC suffered downtime since no train was running that route. He also said the facilities (tracks and trains) might deteriorate with non-usage.

He noted that “The equipment not being utilised might lead to depreciation. Also, the roads will be pressured more with more usage. The train took so many vehicles off the road.”

He added that more people would be exposed to attacks by terrorists and bandits on the Abuja-Kaduna highway.

On the social impact, he said the train had opened up business activities in the corridor by the locals, especially around the train stations.

He advised that even when the train resumed, it must not run at night as the risks were higher then.

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Priest, seminarian abducted near military checkpoint, N50m demanded

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Gunmen have kidnapped the Deputy Registrar of Spiritan University, Nneochi, Fr Chinedu Nwadike.

Nwadike, a Catholic priest, was kidnapped on Friday on the Enugu-Okigwe Road.

The priest was abducted alongside a seminarian, Emmanuel Nwafor.

It was gathered on Sunday that their abductors had established contact with their relations and demanded a ransom of N50m.

A family source said, “Rev. Fr. Dr. Chinedu Nwadike from Umuezeanoruo Eziama, Nkwerre LGA, Imo State, and a young seminarian, Emmanuel Nwafor, were on Friday kidnapped on their way to Enugu State, Umunnochi axis, along Enugu-Okigwe Road.

“Both are members of the Holy Ghost congregation missionaries, living their lives of sacrifice and selflessness in service to a better society.”

Another source said it was the second time the priest would be attacked by kidnappers.

“In the first attempt, they shot directly at him but he managed to escape. This time, they succeeded and are said to be demanding a ransom of N50m. Curiously, a military checkpoint is around the place,” the source added.

The priest’s younger brother, Chikezie, said the family was praying for the safe return of his younger brother and the seminarian.

The Director, Catholic Communication, Enugu Catholic Diocese, Very Rev. Fr. Benjamin Achi, confirmed the incident.

Although he did not provide details, he simply said, “Yes, father was kidnapped.”

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Monkeypox spreads to 27 states, cases hit 172

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has confirmed the number of monkeypox cases has risen to 172 in the country.

The centre’s Week 31 reports indicated the spread has reached 27 states since January.

From January 1 to August 7, 2022, NCDC said four deaths were recorded from four states – Delta (1), Lagos (1), Ondo (1), and Akwa Ibom (1).

The report also showed that there were at least 473 suspected cases of the disease in the country.

The report read in part, “60 new suspected cases were reported in Epi Week 31, 2022 (August 1-7, 2022) from 19 states.

“Of the 60 suspected cases, 15 new confirmed cases have been recorded in Epi Week 31 from 10 states – Imo (3), FCT (2), Ondo (2), Rivers (2), Abia (1), Anambra (1), Ebonyi (1), Edo (1), Ogun (1), and Nasarawa (1).

“From  January 1 to August 7, 2022, there have now been 473 suspected cases with 172 confirmed cases (115 male, 57 female) from 27 states – Lagos (20), Ondo (16), Adamawa (13), Rivers (13), Delta (12), Bayelsa (12), Edo (9), Nasarawa (9), Anambra (7), FCT (7), Imo (7), Plateau (6), Taraba (5), Kwara (5), Kano (5), Abia (4), Cross River (3), Borno (3), Oyo (3), Gombe (3), Katsina (2), Kogi (2), Ogun (2), Niger (1), Bauchi (1), Akwa Ibom (1), and Ebonyi (1).

“Overall, since the re-emergence of monkeypox in September 2017, 985 suspected cases have been reported from 35 states in the country. Of these 985 suspected cases, 398 (40.4%) were confirmed (263 male, 135 female) from 30 states.

“12 deaths have been recorded (CFR = 3.0%) since September 2017 in nine states—Lagos (3), Edo (2), Imo (1), Cross River (1), FCT (1), Rivers (1), Ondo (1), Delta (1), and Akwa Ibom (1).”

The NCDC, however, said there are ongoing efforts to strengthen surveillance at the national and sub-national levels, to increase awareness, and to promptly detect and respond to the outbreak.

Speaking with The PUNCH, the Ondo State Epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Fagbemi, said people need to visit the hospital once they notice the symptoms.

The symptoms, according to him, are fever, swelling of lymph nodes, back pain, intense headache, muscle aches, and lack of energy.

“There is a need for increased awareness on the steps to reduce the virus exposure and people need to report to hospitals once they notice the symptoms.”

Also, the Senior Vice President for Africa, Human Health Education and Research Foundation, Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, said Nigerians must ensure that they protect themselves against the disease.

“You must ensure you wash your hands thoroughly, and always avoid contact with animals that could harbour the virus, including sick or dead animals. Personal hygiene is always important,” Nsofor said.

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