Host community demands withdrawal of oil firm operating licence

Eastern Obolo Council of Chiefs in Akwa Ibom State has called on the Federal Government to withdraw operating mining license (OML112) from AMNI International Petroleum Development Company Limited.

The elders who stated this at Okoroete, Eastern Obolo on Saturday, averred that if the FG does not intervene quickly by withdrawing the firm’s operating licence, the community may be forced into taking unpleasant actions against the company.

Chairman, Traditional Rulers Council, Eastern Obolo LGA, Chief Job Job, said that since AMNI signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the chiefs and began operations at Okoro and Setu fields less than 12km offshore of Eastern Obolo territorial waters, the relationship between the company and the community has been soiled.

He stated that AMNI, since coming into the community has been using  “divide and rule” system to cheat, marginalise, intimidate and insult the chiefs and other stakeholders of the area. He noted that the community, rather than enjoying the benefits of their oil, suffer from neglect, insults, abuses and in-house war instigated by AMNI among brothers.

According to Job, the company has continued to exploit their resources without corresponding without corresponding corporate social responsibilities in terms of development to the community.

Job on spoke on behalf of the traditional rulers, expressed surprise why AMNI could not keep to the agreement it reached with the people of Eastern Obolo eight years ago.

He added that the chiefs were angry with the continuous pollution, neglect of their communities and the deteriorating relationship between the oil company and the people of the area.

He said, “We are sad about the company fueling crisis in our community by refusing to recognise and work with the new/4th Community Relations Committee following the expiration of the 3rd CRC whose tenure came to an end on the 24th October, 2014; and this could not be extended due to non-performance and collaboration with the company to cheat and further exploit the Eastern Obolo Community.

“Every effort we made to ensure a cordial relationship between the community and the company proves abortive. We wrote sixty official letters to AMNI, yet none is replied nor their contents implemented.


Buhari promises improved budgetary allocation for women projects

President Muhammadu Buhari has promised that his administration will continue to guarantee the economic rights of women.

He said he would achieve this by increasing budgetary allocation to projects by Federal Government ministries, agencies and departments specifically targeted at improving the lives of women.

It will be recalled that the Chairman, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, had last week faulted the N4bn allocation to the Ministry of Women Affairs in the 2016 budget.

Tinubu, who made the observation while contributing to the debate on the 2016 Appropriation Bill, asked relevant committees to ensure the vote of the ministry was reconsidered.

She decried a situation where Nigerian women would be used by politicians to campaign and win elections and thereafter be dumped, adding that the change promised by the present administration must be for all strata of the society.

But according to a statement on Sunday by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the President had while speaking at the 26th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on Saturday night in Addis Ababa, said the Federal Government under his watch has demonstrated its commitment to the rights of women.

This, he said, was evident in his administration’s appointment of women of proven integrity to key positions within the cabinet.

The President said, “We have increased the budgetary allocation of ministries that have direct bearing on the lives of women particularly health and education, with greater emphasis on girl-child education.

NLC, Okorocha set for face-off

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Imo chapter, has criticized the state government’s plan to concession some of its institutions, expressing fears that the policy would expose the people to serious danger.

The Chairman of NLC in the state, Mr Austin Chilakpu, expressed the workers’ fears in an interview in an interview with NAN in Owerri on Sunday.
It would be recalled that Governor Rochas Okorocha on January 17 announced the sack of more than 5, 000 workers in 19 parastatal organizations, agencies and departments in the state, in line with the policy.

But Chilakpu said, “concessioning the primary health sector and the Imo State Agricultural Development Agency (ADP) for instance, is one big mistake that will expose the entire Imo people to danger.

“A lot of international donor agencies funding healthcare and food security programmes in the state would withdraw their support immediately these government outfits get into private hands.
“If Imo state goes ahead with the so-called concession policy, it means that the state would be cut off from assessing funds from IFAD, for instance.

“This international donor funds agriculture and polio eradication programmes in the country.
“I foresee a situation where cases of wild polio infection will re-surface in the state.

“The matter is made worse when the health workers are sacked and Lassa fever and bird flu are lurking around; the people will be endangered in the event of any outbreak.”

The chairman told NAN that the leadership of NLC was not opposed to reduction in the number of workforce of the state government, considering its dwindling resources.

“What NLC is kicking against is the faulty process because these workers are employed under the civil and public service rules.
“The statute book engaging them spelt out the ways and manners they shall be hired or fired,” he added.

Chilakpu said that already, the NLC had given seven days ultimatum to the state government to reverse the decision.
The NLC added that if the government failed to do that, labour would take the next step considered necessary.

He advised the affected workers to continue to report for duties despite the reported molestation by some groups who claimed to have been authorized by government to take over the affected establishments.

Edo to massively benefit from CBN N143m intervention fund

No fewer than 377 cooperative societies in Edo have been selected to benefit from the N143 million Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund (MSMEDF) provided by the CBN.

Mr Edward Izevbigie, the State Project Coordinator of Fadama 111, disclosed this in an interview with NAN on Sunday in Benin.
Izevbigie said that MSMEDF was initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide soft loans to micro, small and medium scale farmers in the country to achieve food security in the country.

According to him, two categories of farmers have been shortlisted to benefit from the intervention fund.
“Out of the number of cooperative societies selected for the programme, 122 have been shortlisted for direct funding under the first category.

“A total of 255 cooperative societies shortlisted under the second category would undergo business development training to qualify them for accessing the loan,” he said.
Izevbigie said the scheme decided to use Fadama 111 project structure to administer the fund to farmers at the grassroots.

The coordinator said the money would be disbursed to the farmers based on the nature of their enterprises.

He further said that the state was in the process of paying its counterpart fund in order to access additional financing for Fadama 111 project in the state.

Izevbigie also said that the office was currently disbursing funds for ongoing Fadama 111projects in the state.

Ban importation of foreign fabrics, Textile Industry tells FG

Zamfara Textile industry on Sunday urged the Federal Government to ban import of foreign fabrics to revive the nation’s ailing textile mills.
Alhaji Sani Muhammad, the Administrative Secretary of the mill, made the call while fielding questions from NAN in Gusau.

He said the importation of textile materials had led to the collapse of the nation’s textile sector.
Muhammad lamented that Zamfara Textile Industry, established in 1965, had layed off over 2, 500 workers in 2004.
“It is unfortunate that the industry is not able to come back fully,” the manager said.

He described plan by the government to improve power and fuel supply as a ‘welcome development’, adding that if the importation of textile goods were not stopped, surviving local mills would be operating at a loss.

He said cotton farmers, who produced raw materials for the mills had moved to other crops with the collapse of the sector.
He, therefore, urged the government to provide improved cotton seeds and modern textile machines for Nigerian fabrics to favorably compete with foreign ones.

The Chairman, Ginners Association of Nigeria in the state, Alhaji Sani Dahiru, blamed poor cotton production on the neglect of the agricultural sector and collapse of the textile industries.
He said that out of the 15 ginneries operating in the state, only two offered skeletal services.

Dahiru urged the government to provide trained agricultural extension workers to assist farmer to cotton famers meet the needs of the surviving mills.
When contacted, the Director, Federal Ministry of Agriculture in the state, Alhaji Musa Raji, said despite government’s efforts to encourage cotton farmers, there was no much progress.

He said that the ministry, which was supplied improved seeds and fertilizer to the farmers, was always ready to offer professional advice to them.

Similarly, the state Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Umar Jibo, said the state government would provide ready markets to the cotton farmers and other stakeholders.

CPS: Employers may review workers’ welfare package

There are indications that many employers under the Contributory Pension Scheme are considering a downward review of the welfare packages of their workers following the increase in the obligations to their employees’ retirement.

Employers who were contributing 7.5 per cent of the workers monthly emolument into their Retirement Savings Account to augment the employees’ contributions are now required to increase their contribution under the Pension Reform Act 2014.

Under the new dispensation, employers are required to pay 10 per cent while the employees are to contribute eight per cent of their monthly emoluments to the RSA.

The Deputy Managing Director, Linkage Assurance Plc, Dr. Pius Apere, said the increase in the employer’s contribution into the RSA could cause companies to slash the worker’s benefit package.

He said, “The increase in employer’s compulsory contribution rates from 7.5 per cent to 10 per cent in the Contributory Pension Scheme has significantly increased the employment costs and due to affordability, companies may need to review the levels and design of their total employee benefit packages.”

While speaking on the implication of the PRA 2014 on the management of private sector gratuity and pension scheme, he said this review would pose a greater challenge to employers without an actuarial input.

Apere, who is an actuarial scientist, said that the statutory regulation of the PRA 2014 did not give any guidelines on pension scheme valuation method.

He said the choice of valuation method was at the discretion of the actuary, leading to non-standardisation of valuation results.

According to him, employers operating unfunded (PAYG) gratuity scheme use the book reserving methodology (which requires making provisions in the company’s accounts for unfunded benefit liabilities payable in the future for which no funds have been set aside) being the most appropriate valuation method for unfunded schemes.

The balance sheet of the company, he added, would show the full value of the unfunded benefits as liabilities of the company and there would be no specific assets earmarked for the benefits.

He listed the challenges of book reserving as insecurity of reserves, liquidity problems, overstatement of profits for taxation and insecurity of benefits.

The deputy managing director said the engagement of actuaries (as required by law and/or scheme trust deed/rules) in the management of private sector gratuity/pension schemes would result in adequate assessment of funding needs, thereby reducing the risk of insolvency.

He said that actuary’s expertise could be used in managing the risks arising from the administration of the scheme.

Apere said the main objective of the PRA 2014, as far as private sector schemes were concerned, was to establish uniform rules, regulations and standards for the administration and payments of retirement benefits as and when due.

“This objective is aimed at improving the management of private sectors. In addition, there are other reasons why scheme sponsors would seek to improve the management of their schemes,” he added.

The National Pension Commission had also said it scaled up its compliance and enforcement strategies in order to enhance compliance with the provisions of the PRA 2014.

PenCom said sanctions were applied in line with the compliance framework, adding that it organised public enlightenment programmes as well as collaborated with various stakeholders to enhance compliance.

FG distributes 250,000 cocoa pods to farmers

The distribution of free hybrid cocoa pods under the Federal Government-sponsored Cocoa Transformation Agenda of the past administration will end this year after four years.

According to findings by our correspondent, the last batch of 250,000 pods is currently being distributed to farmers through the Ondo State Government-owned Cocoa Seed Gardens and Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria.

The 2015-2016 distribution of the pods is expected to facilitate the country’s targeted yield from 250,000 metric tonnes in 2013 to 500,000 by the end of the year.

The Cocoa Transformation Agenda is meant to boost cocoa production in the country by providing improved seedlings for cultivation and to also help maintain earnings through cocoa as a non-oil export.

The former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, at the 2014 Cocoa Summit in Abuja, had said that the Federal Government was expected to generate $1.3bn from cocoa under the ATA, with a target to boost production to 500,000 metric tonnes by 2015 and 600,000 by 2016.

According to him, more than 1.4 million pods of hybrids varieties of the produce had been distributed to farmers across the cocoa growing states as of 2014, translating into more than 50,000 seedlings of hybrid cocoa and enough to cultivate additional 45,000 hectares of new plantations.

Findings by our correspondent revealed that the main features of the hybrid pods were early maturity, high and prolific yields, as well as disease and drought resistance.

Some of the farmers and stakeholders in the value chain who spoke with our correspondent said that the hybrid pods had increased yield and urged the Federal Government to continue the programme.

The Chief Operating Officer of the Centre for Cocoa Development Initiatives, Mr. Robo Adhuze, said the performance and impact of the pods in the farms planted with the hybrid seedlings had been impressive.

Adhuze said that over three million hybrid pods had been distributed by CRIN, and the Ondo, Osun and Ekiti state governments.

“In spite of the hiccup suffered by CRIN during parts of 2015, Ondo State filled the gap by providing pods to farmers, corporate organisations and other cocoa producing states,” he added.

He noted that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture had also confirmed that the cocoa distribution arrangement had been very successful.

Adhuze added, “Though no figures were shown, there are indications that the government intervention has shored up the production figures as recently shown.

“Nigeria has also moved from 250,000 to over 350,000 metric tonnes, and has retained her fourth position in the global cocoa production scale with the highest cocoa producing countries still Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia and Ghana, respectively. Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and other countries make up the rear.”

A Cross River State-based farmer, Mr. Olushina Oloyede, who spoke with our correspondent, said he had established over 100 new cocoa farms with the hybrid pods in the last three years.

“I started harvesting from the farms I planted with pods received under the CocTA arrangement within 14 months of establishment,” he said.

The President, Tonikoko Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Union, Ondo State, Mrs. Ronke Akindoju, said the union members had regularly received the CocTA pods free of charge since inception and urged the new administration to support the farmers by ensuring continuation of the programme.

IITA, Gates to improve fortune of cassava farmers

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, with funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has instituted the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative to improve the incomes of cassava farmers in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and DR Congo.