Mr Leo Nkah, the Acting Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Ebonyi Chapter, says Gov. Dave Umahi has promised to ensure smooth resolution of issues concerning the newly introduced Contributory Pension Scheme.
Nkah, who spoke in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday in Abuja, said that the governor gave the assurance when the new NLC leadership paid him a courtesy visit.
NAN recalls that deductions were made from workers’ salaries following the passage of the Law on Contributory Pension by the Ebonyi House of Assembly.
He said that the governor was intimated about the leadership change in NLC, in which Nkah, the President, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) Ebonyi Chapter, was elected acting chairman.
Nkah emerged Acting NLC Chairman, following the indefinite suspension of the incumbent Chairman, Ikechukwu Nwafor, over alleged financial misappropriation and gross misconduct.
He said that the governor was told that the change followed due process, as it was carried out in line with NLC constitution.
Nkah said that the union emphasised the need for greater co-operation between the government and labour in order to boost the welfare of workers and promote good governance.
He said that the governor gave an assurance that issues concerning the new pension scheme already passed into law by the Ebonyi House of Assembly would be resolved.
“The governor pledged that a 14-man panel of labour/government will be set up to review all issues that concern the pension law recently passed by Ebonyi State House of Assembly.’’
Nkah expressed optimism that the governor would fulfil the promise, noting that till date: “It is on record that Ebonyi is among the states not owing workers’ monthly salaries.
“Workers in Ebonyi public and civil service are paid within the month.
“He gave the instruction that workers must be paid within the month and he ensures the directive is carried out.
“The promise to resolve all issues surrounding the new pension scheme will not be an exception.’’
Nkah also solicited the support and co-operation of the state workforce to the state NLC.
Strike: ‘We exhausted all avenues for dialogue’
Health workers, under the aegis of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Enugu chapter, have said that there will be no going back on the strike embarked upon by the workers except all arrears of salaries are paid.
Speaking in Enugu, the Chairman, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals and Secretary Trade Union Congress, TUC, Enugu State chapter, Ben Asogwa, said they exhausted all avenues for dialogue with the management to no avail.
He said they had no choice than embark on the action, which has grounded activities at the hospital.
The workers under JOHESU had earlier issued a 21-day ultimatum to the management of the hospital over a litany of issues.
This was followed by another 7-day ultimatum, which has also expired.
JOHESU’s ultimatum borders on withheld salaries and arrears from February 2017 till date; withheld promotion arrears, withheld teaching allowance and enrolment of the hospital into the Integrated Payroll Personnel Information System, IPPIS.
The ultimatum was signed by Comrades Ozurumba Anthony, Onu Bank-Anthony, Sims Nwagwu, Ugwu Eric. A. Eze Mathew and Oduru Friday on behalf of the JOHESU affiliate bodies.
It was followed by another one by the University Graduates of Nursing Science Association (UGONSA), and signed by its President, Chief S.E.O Egwuenu and the Secretary, Nurse Goodluck Nshi.
The group said if the current situation at the hospital was not checked, it will result in a breach of peace and a breakdown of law and order, adding that peace would not return to the hospital without the immediate implementation of the report of a panel earlier sent to the hospital by the minister.
Tomato policy: All eyes on FG’s monitoring team
Recently, the Federal Government inaugurated a tomato monitoring team to supervise the implementation of its tomato policy. TAIWO HASSAN examines the task ahead of the team
Barely one year after the Federal Government announced the approval of new tomato policy, there is still much to be done towards the revitalisation of the country’s tomato industry.
Particularly, the tomato policy was designed to achieve sustainable tomato processing in Nigeria, but the implementation of the new tariff regime, which began in August 2017, is yet to felt in the sector
This has therefore become worrisome for members of the organised private sector (OPS), who are lamenting their huge investments in the sector.
According to the Federal Government’s blueprint on new tomato policy, Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and large companies needed to invest in the industry given its potential such as job and wealth creation in rural areas.
Ideally, the implementation of the policy has been slow, prompting the Federal Government to go back to the drawing board to look at ways to solve the challenges in the comatose sector and protect local manufacturing companies.
Importation of tomatoes
Statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) showed that about N6 billion is currently spent annually in foreign exchange on tomato import despite the introduction of the new tomato policy.
With an annual national domestic demand estimated at 2.4 million metric tons, only about 1.7 million metric tons is produced annually, leaving a deficit of 700,000 metric tons due to cultivation of existing low yield varieties and high post-harvest losses.
But in order to arrest the shortfalls and reduce the influx of tomato paste importation, the Federal Government disclosed that the policy on importation of tomatoes has stimulated the establishment of new and emerging processing plants as well as the resuscitation of some hitherto comatose tomato concentrating plants.
Speaking on this development, the Director General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Dr. Hussani Ibrahim, said that the government was fully aware of the uncertainty in the country’s comatose tomato sector.
According to him, the establishment of new and emerging processing plants, if allowed to operate at optimal capacity and competitively, and satisfies the demand for table use, it would add an additional five million metric tons of quality processing grade tomatoes.
Speaking at the inauguration of the monitoring team, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar, said that the government was working round the clock to make sure that the approved new regime on tomatoes was a success after all.
“It is, therefore, important to put in place a tomato monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the policy. The membership of the monitoring team is made up of public and private sector and the processors,” she stated.
Abubakar noted that the ministry had been partnering other ministries, departments and agencies to address challenges that could hinder the actualisation of the objectives.
The minister said the team would provide a linkage between research and development in the industry as well as champion the growth and development of the tomato industry.
She added that the sustainability of the industry would be promoted through a peer review mechanism among tomato processors to be instituted by the team.
The monitoring team is made up of the ministries of Industry, Trade and Investment; Finance; Agriculture; Raw Materials Research and Development Council; Nigeria Customs Service; Central Bank of Nigeria and National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Others are National Research Institute For Chemical Technology (NARICT) and private sector players.
Among the private sector players are the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dangote Tomato Processing Limited, Erisco Food Industries Limited, Savannah Integrated Farms, GB Food, Tomato Jos and Springfield Tomato Processing Companies.
The team’s terms of reference include monitoring the implementation of the policy and importation of tomato products and derivatives.
For the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), there is need for the Federal Government to protect the huge investment by local firms in tomato production by reducing the importation of concentrated tomato paste.
Its President, Dr. Frank Jacobs, in a chat with New Telegraph, rued that the government through its introduced new tomato policy must cushion the large importation of concentrated tomato paste, which, according to him, is killing local industry.
He said that there was need for the government to balance the continued importation of concentrated tomato paste and enhance local production for consumption.
Jacobs explained that despite the government’s support of local manufacturing firms that are into tomato paste production, all is not well with the industry in terms of stability and conducive environment for investors.
He lamented that importers of concentrated tomato paste still spent billions of naira yearly on the commodity through seaports and land borders in spite of the policy in place.
“The issue of tomato has been on for a long time. Members in the sub-sector have invested heavily in the industry. They have made representation through MAN on ways to protect their industries. I believe that most of the imports you are talking about are not the finished tomato paste but rather the concentrate ones,” he said.
“If they are the concentrate ones then those people that import them are expected to pay some levies.
“Paying the levy is to balance against those people that have gone into backward integration.”
Jacobs bemoaned the challenges facing the local manufacturing firms that are into tomato production in Nigeria, stressing that apart from the environmental and industrial challenges, the issue of mass importation of tomato paste into the country was the most critical thing affecting tomato development in Nigeria.
FG’s stance on importation
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah, while speaking on the new tomato policy recently, insisted that the government had not totally banned importation of tomato paste rather it only introduced higher duty, tariff and levy for prospective importers in order to discourage importation of the product.
He said that the idea of the new tomato policy was in favour of local production.
“Yes. We haven’t stopped people from bringing in tomato paste. We only said that you will pay more if you bring it here because you have breached the incentives of growing it here,” he explained.
“So in a nutshell, what we are trying to say is that importing paste is a luxury thing whereas we can grow it locally.
“What has happened in the sector before we came in was the flooding of cheap tomato paste in circulation, of which some of them are sub standard.9
“We find out that people are finding it difficult to compete locally. So what we’ve done is to issue a new tomato policy that bans first of all, retail of tomato paste and that it should be produced locally, including the so-called packers, that is, those who bring in industrial paste and pack them here. We have basically said that they should pay an extra duty of 50 per cent and of course, there is also a levy of $1500 per ton.
“The idea of the new tomato policy is to favour local production and I think, we have already seen some positive signals in the processing plants that were redundant now going back to work.People are basically retooling their abandoned plant”
Industry stakeholders are optimistic that the monitoring team will judiciously execute their jobs and reduce the huge foreign exchange loss.
Timbers: Illegal export triggers int’l probe
Last week, in response to rosewood crisis in West Africa, the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) informed its 183-member countries the need for exceptional control measures into Nigeria-China timber trafficking. TAIWO HASSAN reports
Corruption by local officials and sharp practices by Chinese businessmen is driving a thriving illegal trade in timber from Nigeria and other parts of West Africa with grave consequences.
The nefarious activities are jeopardising the country’s manufacturing sector amid scarcity of raw materials for furniture making.
Smart Chinese businessmen are exploiting a lax regulatory and enforcement environment, loopholes in existing laws, lack of government policy and direction as well as corruption by the government officials to drive an illegal trade in export of the country’s forestry resources.
In states such as Kogi, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Taraba, Kaduna, Adamawa and Cross River, a rapacious demand by China for an ornate species of wood, rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus), locally known as Kosso, has, since late 2013, fuelled an unprecedented frenzy of illegal logging of wood that is fast depleting the nation’s natural forestry resources.
Timber merchants working for Chinese businessmen are moving from one state to another, depleting the rosewood resources in their forests, leaving blighted and raped landscapes without minding the enduring effects of unrestrained harvesting of the product on the environment.
Forestry experts are worried that the unrestrained and uncontrolled harvesting of the special type of timber across the states will have devastating impact on the environment and contribute immensely to global warming, which is currently threatening the world.
Apart from the effect on the environment, the experts fear that the illegal activities of local and Chinese merchants will also have telling economic implications in the near future on many communities where the forests that are being violated are located.
The Chinese connection
The unprecedented demand for rosewood in Nigeria is driven by a rapacious need by China to feed a taste for ornate and luxury furniture by the country’s burgeoning middle and upper class.
The Pterocarpus family of which rosewood is a part belongs to the Hongmu (meaning red wood in Chinese) wood family, which refer to range of exotic, high worth hardwood highly sought after by the elite and royalty in China and is used in making furniture, floorings and art works.
Ownership of such exotic furniture and art works are considered as worthy investments by the very rich in Chinese.
A spike in demand in Asia and locally in China has created a boom and the Chinese government has supported the growth and expansion of the Hongmu wood industry in order to generate employment and tax revenue.
According to the report on the probe, the Secretariat of the Convention and a special CITES noted that it would verify all the authenticity of rosewood permits issued by the Federal Government soon when it visits Nigeria.
“Going forward, all “kosso” rosewood permits issued by Nigeria, the world’s largest exporter of rosewood over the past years, will have to be verified by the Secretariat of the Convention and a special CITES mission will soon be sent to the country,” the report stated.
In November 2017, the Washington, DC-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released the Rosewood Racket report, the result of a two-year undercover investigation following the corrupt timber trade from the fragile forests of Nigeria to high-end furniture boutiques in China.
Triggered by skyrocketing Chinese demand, over a billion U.S. dollar worth of rosewood has been illegally exported from Nigeria between 2015 and 2017.
Part of it had been laundered by traffickers through a sophisticated scheme that involved approximately 3,000 questionable CITES permits officially issued by the Federal authorities.
With these permits in hand, traffickers smuggled over 1.5 million logs to the Chinese market – the equivalent of three Empire State buildings.
This happened despite environmental protection policies adopted by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment.
Alerted by EIA’s report and evidence, the CITES Standing Committee discussed the Nigerian rosewood trafficking crisis during its meeting in Geneva last month.
It was at the meeting that the committee took a decision that was validated by the secretariat and officially communicated to all parties of the convention – including almost all member states of the United Nations – on January 15, 2018.
While acknowledging the mechanism of cooperation established between Nigeria and China, the official notification formally requests that the parties to the CITES Convention “not accept any CITES permit or certificate for Pterocarpus erinaceus issued by Nigeria unless its authenticity has been confirmed by the Secretariat.”
Indeed, this represents a remarkable step under the convention in order to better control the trade in this commercially threatened species and avoid massive fraud.
Furthermore, in response to Nigeria’s invitation, the CITES Secretariat will conduct an official inquiry – a “technical mission” – in the country.
The investigation will focus on the key elements of what has been a monumental laundering machine for illegally harvested or exported rosewood logs: suspect issuance of thousands of CITES permits, lack of coordination between the Ministry of Environment and Customs, and the general opacity of the process.
In his remark to the rosewood probe, EIA Executive Director, Alexander von Bismarck, said: “Now that the problem of the illegal rosewood trade between Nigeria and China has been formally acknowledged under CITES and exceptional measures have been agreed, we hope that all the parties involved will come together to end what is most likely one of the largest forest crimes of this century.”
The report of the international probe revealed that millions of rosewood logs were harvested and exported illegally from Nigeria when Amina J. Mohammed, the current Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nation, was Minister of Environment.
For industry stakeholders, the inability of the current administration to tame the volatility in the illegal export of timbers outside the shore of Nigeria is causing the economy trillions of naira in revenue loss.
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