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Buhari canvasses restructuring of ECOWAS, orders release of $20m to counter terrorism

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By Ismaila Chafe

President Muhammadu Buhari has advocated for the restructuring of ECOWAS, saying that the organization needed to streamline its management to adjust to current realities.

”A situation where ECOWAS has 23 statutory appointees, of which 13 are Commissioners for this Commission is totally unsustainable”, the president said in his presentation to the virtual 58th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, in Abuja, on Saturday.

He stressed that there was need for a lean and compact leadership in ECOWAS, to enhance the efficiency and performance of the organization, adding that the restructuring would eliminate overlap and the tussle between the large statutory appointees, as well as reduce personnel and overhead costs that could be channeled to the execution of projects.

”The African Union, our larger continental organization of 55 members, has pruned down its commissioners to only six, hence, there’s no basis whatsoever, for ECOWAS, with only 15 members, to maintain 13 commissioners and 10 other statutory appointees.

”Accordingly, Nigeria recommends the immediate appointment of a ministerial ad hoc committee to review the proposal of the Maxwells Temp Report and submit a recommendation, at the mid-year summit for our consideration and adoption.

”If, however, some countries are not in favour of this, then each country must sponsor its own statutory appointee as is practiced by other organizations, such as the European Union and other regional organizations”, President Buhari told the meeting.

He added: ”Going by the recommendation of the Maxwells Temp Report, it is envisaged that even with the lean number of statutory appointees, each member country will still have a representative on the management of ECOWAS.

”We believe that this should satisfy our desire to have a sense of belonging in  the community’s institutions and also to enhance our spirit of solidarity”.

The Nigerian leader drew attention of the meeting to the fact that at 45, ECOWAS was expected to be an accomplished regional organization, and for that reason, the right and bold decisions to enhance its performance must be taken.

”This is to fulfill the aspirations of its founding fathers and effectively serve the citizens of our community, to consolidate our prime position as the best sub-regional organization in the African continent.” he said.

Meanwhile, President Buhari has directed the immediate release of $20 million dollars, earlier pledged by Nigeria, to the pool account of the ECOWAS Action Plan to fight terrorism across the sub-region.

”We have already directed the immediate remittance of the sum of $20 million pledged by Nigeria to the pool account of the ECOWAS Action Plan to fight terrorism, while the sum of $80 million is to be disbursed for the fight against terrorism in the Northeast and banditry in the Northwest of Nigeria for the year 2020.

”We are also committed to meeting our obligations for the remaining period of the action plan,” Buhari said.

On the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the ECOWAS region, Buhari called on all member states to ensure that they prioritised procurement  of the vaccines for their citizens, while increasing efforts to develop vaccines locally, so that member states could build herd immunity against the pandemic.

”Now that vaccines are soon to be available, I call on all member states to ensure that we prioritise the acquisition of the vaccines for our citizens ,while at the same time increasing efforts to develop our own vaccines so that we can build herd immunity against the COVID-19 pandemic in West Africa,” he said.

He also urged the ECOWAS Commission, to work with the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), to assist member states in acquiring the vaccines and storage facilities, ahead of the distribution of the vaccines within the region.

The President said efforts should also be accelerated for the production of rapid diagnostic test kits, of international standards in the region, to be made available to all member states.

”It is important for the region to evolve effective measures and avoid total lockdown at this critical time, that our economies are gradually recovering from the first wave of the pandemic”, he said, adding: ”The economic challenges that our region faces, because of the pandemic, will no doubt manifest this year, 2021. (NAN


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Pictures: Ghanaian President, Akufo-Addo, receives world’s first free Covax jab

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Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo on Monday became the world’s first recipient of a coronavirus vaccine from Covax, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations for free for poorer countries.

Richer countries have surged ahead with inoculating their population, but many poorer countries are still awaiting their first vaccine doses.

“It is important that I set the example that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it so that everybody in Ghana can feel comfortable about taking this vaccine,” the 76-year old president said before receiving a shot of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a live broadcast.

The first lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo also received a shot, one day before the rest of the 600,000 doses are deployed across the country.

Ghana’s food and drug authority last month authorised the Indian-made vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V, as the government aims to target 20 of its 30 million population by year’s end.

Last Wednesday, Ghana was the first country to receive vaccines from Covax, led by Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Some 145 participating economies are set to receive 337.2 million doses by mid-year — enough to vaccinate a little over three per cent of their combined populations.

Covax has said it hopes to raise the figure to up to 27 per cent in lower-income countries by the end of December.

Ghana has recorded 84,023 Covid-19 cases and 607 deaths since the start of the pandemic, although the true figure is believed to be higher because of lack of testing.

Schools reopened in January after a 10-month closure, but large social gatherings are banned and land and sea borders have remained closed since March 2020.

Despite the vaccine roll-out, the president said that all the current restrictions to curb the spread of the virus were to remain in place.

(AFP)

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Niger: Opposition leader claims victory, shuns official results

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Opposition leader Mahamane Ousmane on Wednesday claimed he narrowly won Niger’s presidential elections, a day after official results said he lost by more than 11 percentage points.

“The compilation of results… which we have in our possession through our representatives in the various polling stations give us victory with 50.3 per cent of the vote,” he said, according to a video of a speech he made in the southeastern town of Zinder that was authenticated by his party.

According to provisional results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum picked up 55.75 per cent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff and Ousmane 44.25 per cent.

AFP


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COVID-19: South Africa halts vaccination programme

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South Africa suspended the start of its AstraZeneca inoculation programme over concerns the shot does not work on a new variant, with WHO experts due to meet Monday to discuss the vaccine already facing questions about its efficacy for over-65s.

A trial showed the vaccine provides only “minimal” protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 caused by the variant first detected in South Africa, a setback to the global fight against the pandemic as many poorer nations are relying on the logistical advantages offered by the AstraZeneca shot.

Africa’s hardest-hit nation was due to start its campaign in the coming days with a million AstraZeneca doses but the government decided to hold off in light of the results from the trial conducted by the University of Witatersrand in Johannesburg.

“It’s a temporary issue that we have to hold on AstraZeneca until we figure out these issues,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told reporters on Sunday.

The 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines obtained by South Africa, which will expire in April, will be kept until scientists give clear indications on their use, he added.

AstraZeneca, which developed the shot with the University of Oxford, told AFP: “We do believe our vaccine will still protect against severe disease.”

A company spokesperson said researchers were already working to update the vaccine to deal with the South African variant, which has been spreading rapidly around the world.

A World Health Organization panel is due to meet on Monday in Geneva to examine the shot, which is a major component of the initial Covax global vaccine rollout that covers some 145 countries — mostly lower- and lower-middle income economies.

Out of the initial 337.2 million Covax doses, 240 million are AstraZeneca shots, which do not require the supercold storage needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

There were already concerns about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca shot among over-65s, with a number of European nations not authorising it yet for that demographic.

– ‘Be careful’ –

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 2.3 million lives globally out of nearly 106 million known infections, and despite the AstraZeneca setback, vaccine rollouts in other countries are gathering pace.

Hungarian authorities said Sunday they have approved Russia’s Sputnik V shot, while Cambodia became the latest nation to receive delivery of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, taking on 600,000 doses of the jab.

Efforts are under way in the United States, the hardest-hit nation, to accelerate its mass vaccination programme, which has been plagued by supply and logistics issues.

President Joe Biden, who took office last month, said his predecessor Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic “was even more dire than we thought”.

“We thought they had indicated there was a lot more vaccine available, and it didn’t turn out to be the case,” he told CBS News on Sunday. “So that’s why we’ve ramped up every way we can.”

Biden also asked American football fans to “be careful”, with health experts worried about the virus spreading at parties expected during and after the Super Bowl, the country’s biggest sporting event.

– ‘I was bored at home’ –

There was some good news out of Israel, which began emerging out of its third lockdown on Sunday. Israel’s vaccination programme is considered the fastest per-capita in the world.

In neighbouring Jordan, hundreds of thousands of students returned to classrooms on Sunday after almost a year.

“I am very happy to see my friends and teacher again,” said seven-year-old Mecca at a school in Jabal Amman, in the centre of the Jordanian capital.

“I was bored at home.”

Schools were also expected to reopen on Monday in Romania, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria. Museums and shops were also due to reopen in Austria.

And there was both gloom and optimism in Venice, where the annual Carnival kicked off with much smaller celebrations.

“Venice is strange this year. It is shocking to see it so empty,” said Armando Bala, a costume salesman.

“We are here today to say that Venice can live and be reborn, as it has several times in its history.”

-AFP


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