US: Pelosi wins re-election as House speaker with slim majority

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Sunday was re-elected to her leadership position despite a shrinking Democratic majority in the House.

With Democrats holding a smaller majority than the prior Congress, Pelosi could only afford to have a small handful of lawmakers peel off and opt to write-in someone else. The final count was 216, with just two Democrats — Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Conor Lamb, D-Pa. — choosing someone other than Pelosi and three others voting present. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy received 209 votes from members of his own party.

Sunday also marked the swearing-in of the 117th Congress. In a letter to colleagues Sunday morning, Pelosi said the new Congress will convene “during a time of extraordinary difficulty.”

“Each of our communities has been drastically affected by the pandemic and economic crisis: 350,000 tragic deaths, over 20 million infections, millions without jobs — a toll almost beyond comprehension,” she said. “Thank you for your generosity of spirit and patriotism to take on this challenge For The People.”

“I am enormously grateful for the trust that Members have placed in me,” she added. “I am confident that the Speaker’s election today will show a united Democratic Caucus ready to meet the challenges ahead.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the vote for speaker— which must be conducted in person— looks different than in past years. Members will be broken up into separate groups rather than having all of the elected representatives gathered on the floor at once. The roll call vote, which began shortly after 2 p.m. ET, is ongoing.

A handful of members were not expected to be present for the vote, including Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., who is battling pancreatic cancer, and Rep. David Valadao, R-Ca., and Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., who recently tested positive for Covid-19.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, Dr. Brian Monahan, Congress’ attending physician, announced the setup of an area above the House floor for members exposed to Covid-19 but who have tested negative so they can vote in person while remaining quarantined A Capitol official said two Democrats and one Republican are utilizing this option. It is not yet known which members are doing so.

“The highest possible safeguards have been implemented including separate, enhanced ventilation in this space and separate holding facilities for any Members utilizing Gallery 4,” Monahan said. “This step will only be necessary until proxy voting resumes as an option for impacted Members.”

Pelosi won the prior vote for speaker by a 220 to 192 edge over House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Senators were also sworn in on Sunday. The ceremonies marked the end of David Perdue’s term in office. Perdue left his Georgia seat vacant until either he or Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff is certified as the winner of one of Tuesday’s widely-watched Senate runoff in that state. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., is also facing a runoff on Tuesday, but she remains in her seat through the election because she was earlier appointed to continue a term that does not expire on Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., kicked off the new year by acknowledging the “challenging time” ahead. McConnell is facing a growing contingent of Republican senators who plan on contesting the Electoral College results on Wednesday as Congress convenes to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

“From political division to a deadly pandemic to adversaries around the world, the hurdles before us are many and they are serious,” said McConnell, who has been urging senators against challenging the results. “But there’s also plenty of reason for hope.”

The Senate now stands at 51 Republican senators and 48 Democrats following the swearing-in ceremonies. Should Democrats prevail in the Georgia runoffs, that split would become 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, giving Democrats the majority.

Earlier Sunday, a number of Republican senators and Republican members of the House, released separate statements opposing the challenging of the election that colleagues have planned for Wednesday.

“To take action otherwise — that is, to unconstitutionally insert Congress into the center of the presidential election process — would amount to stealing power from the people and the states,” seven House Republicans — including some of the body’s most conservative members — said in their statement. “It would, in effect, replace the electoral college with Congress, and in so doing strengthen the efforts of those on the left who are determined to eliminate it or render it irrelevant.”

Two weeks after killing UI student, Amotekun officer shoots Police constable

Barely 15 days after allegedly killing a student of University of Ibadan, an officer of the Oyo State Security Network known as Amotekun, Ibrahim Ogundele, has shot a police officer in Oyo town, Oyo State, Southwest Nigeria.

The incident occurred on Saturday when Police officers at Ojongbodu Division in Oyo town responded to calls to stop an ongoing carnival staged by some youths in the town.

Mr Yekini was shot on his left leg at a very close range around 3 pm before he was taken to the General Hospital, Oyo, where he is still receiving treatment. 

Confirming the incident to newsmen, Olugbenga Fadeyi, the Police Public Relations Officer in Oyo State, revealed that the Amotekun officer has been arrested.

“Yes, this happened when the Police personnel at Ojongbodu Division, Oyo were responding to calls to dislodge recalcitrant youths staging a carnival after several warnings that such should not be staged,” Fadeyi said.

“The Amotekun personnel has since been arrested and currently being investigated at Ojongbodu Police station.”

Amotekun officers shot dead Kolade Gbadebo, an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan, who went to eat at Sabo area of Oyo town on Friday, December 18.

Rather than take responsibility, the security network attempted to cover up the incident with lies and threats. 

Don’t use us as a bait, ASSU warns

The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has said the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT, or any other union should not use it as bait to get anything from the government.

ASUU, therefore, advised NAAT or any other staff union to fight their battles their ways.

The Chairman, University of Lagos, UNILAG chapter of ASUU, who is also a member of the National Executive Committee of the union, Dr. Dele Ashiru, stated this on Sunday while reacting to claims by NAAT expressing displeasure with the sharing arrangement of the N40 billion released by the Federal Government as Earned Academic Allowances for university workers.

“Who pays the Earned Academic Allowances, is it ASUU or the government? In the first instance, ASUU presented its demands to the government and we made our case, and based on that, the government released some money. The money was not even up to what we demanded but we made the necessary concession in the interest of all.

“However, the National Universities Commission, NUC, also saw the need to carry other unions along and requested on their behalf. Nobody should use ASUU as bait to get anything from the government. We do fight our own battles and we want other unions to also fight their battles themselves, ” he said.

Ashiru pleaded that no union should drag ASUU to their fight or struggles.

Second Wave: Lagos schools not reopening Monday – Commissioner

Second wave: Lagos schools not reopening Monday – Commissioner

The Lagos State Government says a new date for public and private primary and secondary schools to resume in the state would be announced soon.

Head, Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Mr Kayode Abayomi, made this known on Sunday.

He explained that schools in the state are not reopening on Monday, January 4, 2021, as earlier announced.

According to him, the second wave of COVID-19 would be a major determinant for the reopening of schools in the state.

He said, “Please, recall that the Ministry of Education earlier announced 4th of January as resumption date for the second term 2020/2021 academic session, but this has since been overtaken by the turn of events due to the recent waves of Covid-19 pandemic.

“As a result of the spike in Coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Governor announced the indefinite closure of all schools. To this end, kindly be informed that a new date of resumption will be announced as soon as possible.”

Also, following the increase in recorded cases of coronavirus, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has directed all State Public Servants on Grade Levels 14 and below to continue working from home till Monday, January 18, 2021.

Governor Sanwo-Olu who said the directive excludes essential duty staff, as well as first responders, enjoined all public servants to stay safe and keep adhering to all COVID-19 protocols in order to rid the State of the pandemic in the shortest possible time.

Governor Sanwo-Olu’s directive was contained in a circular issued by the Head of Service, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola, to members of the State Executive Council and all heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies on Sunday.

The circular entitled “Re: Stemming the tide of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic” also stated that the Year 2021 First Work Day Prayer Session for all public servants in Lagos State would be held virtually on Monday January 4.

“Sequel to Head of Service Circular Ref. No: CIR/HOS/’20/Vol.1/139 of 18th December, 2020 on stemming the tide of the second wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the State, it is hereby notified for general information that Mr. Governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu has further directed all State Public Servants on Grade Levels 14 and below to continue working from home till Monday, 18th January 2021. Expectedly, the directive excludes Essential Duty Staff, as well as First Responders.

“Furthermore, while wishing all Staff, a prosperous and fulfilling Year, please be informed that the Y2021 First Work Day Prayer Session for all Public Servants in Lagos State shall be held in line with tradition on Monday 4th January, 2020. However, in keeping with COVID-19 Protocols, the session shall be held via zoom and live-streamed on Facebook.

“In addition, all Public Servants are enjoined to stay safe and to keep adhering to all COVID-19 Protocols in order to rid the State of the Pandemic in the shortest possible time.

“All Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies are urged to note the contents of this Circular for compliance and give it the deserved Service-wide publicity,” the circular stated.

Earned Allowance Academic: Varsity Workers Threaten Strike, as Minister Reacts

University workers under the aegis of National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) have threatened to ground activities on campuses to protest alleged disparity in the allocation of the N40 billion Earned Academic Allowance to be released by the Federal Government.

The union on Sunday gave the government 14 day strike notice to address concerns raised in the sharing formula adopted for the earned allowances or risk another round of industrial action in public universities.

NAAT and two other university – based unions – the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Universities, (SSANU) and the Non-Academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutions (NASU) are protesting the alleged allocation of 75 percent to the Academic Staff Union of Universities and 25 per cent to them from the N40bn allowance.

But Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige said he was yet to receive official communication from the union about the planned strike by NAAT members.

The minister, who spoke with The Nation on Sunday, directed the leaderships of NAAT; SSANU and NASU to the National Universities Commission and the Federal Ministry of Education on the allocation of the N40bn allowance.

He said: “I have not see their notice of strike. When we see it we will call the attention of their employers which is the Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission.

“But before then they should go to the NUC and Federal Ministry of Education and find out the exact position of the N40bn they are talking about. It is the NUC and FMoE that will determine what each union will get on the N40bn because they also have the template as submitted by the various universities for those earned allowances.”

The university workers are protesting the disparity in sharing of the N40 billion earned allowance released to the four university based unions.

They are also demanding that the government release 50 per cent of the N71 billion accrued allowance being owed members of the union from the 2009 agreement reached between government and the union.

President of SSANU, Comrade Mohammed Ibrahim expressed displeasure over government’s failure to honour agreements.

He said: “My members and by extension all other category of staff in Nigerian Tertiary institutions are disappointed and disenchanted by this singular act of government’s refusal to honor it’s promise to pay the arrears of the New National Minimum Wage that was approved by the government since April, 2020.”

NAAT president, comrade Ibeji Nwokoma told journalists in Abuja that the union has written to the minister of Labour and Employment informing him of their planned industrial action.

He said: “We have written to government that NAAT as a body ought to have been given a specified percentage of the N40bn. You must define it. You can’t just say ASUU 75 percent and others 25 per cent. Let us know the specific percentage you are giving to NAAT as a union.

“In the MoU we entered with government on November 18, in item number 2b, we demanded that in sharing of the N40bn released; that government should clearly define what is going to be allocated to each Union and government agreed to the genuineness of our demands and said NUC and Federal Ministry of Education will work it out in conjunction with the union. And what they have done negates completely the spirit of that MoU.

“We have given government ultimatum of 14 days. We wrote to government 30th December. And we have given government 14 working days and if at the end of the 14 working days our demands are not met, we resume our suspended strike. Definitely we will close down the schools, definitely there will be no opening of schools. If anybody thinks that ASUU has called of strike and that schools will reopen, then let the person dare us. Let us know how effective or how possible it is for schools to reopen when Technologists are on strike.

“If government in its own wisdom has said ASUU should take N30 billion from the N40 billionreleased, it is not the business of my union. But we have also told government that the arrears accruable to my union since 2009 to 2020, they have paid up to 2012, is N71bn and we have demanded for 50 percent of that amount and we have also given government ultimatum of 14 days if government fails to do that, we will call out our members on strike. Nobody has monopoly of closing or opening of Universities by strike. We have said that repeatedly.”

He explained that by now, the 2009 ought to have been renegotiated, but lamented that the agreement has not been fully implemented by the government.

According to Nwokoma, “It was supposed to have been renegotiated after 3 years. But since 2009 it has not been renegotiated.”

The NAAT president noted that the laboratories and studios in universities are in terrible condition as government had abandoned technology

He said: “We demanded that government should release N100 billion because if you go to all the universities, you will discover that the laboratories are dilapidated. We have asked government to release N100bn to bring the laboratories to international standard and then release another N20bn every year for the next 5 years to enable the Laboratories to be revamped.

“We have also asked that government should do an audit of the equipment that have been sent to Universities. Most are abandoned and are not in use.”

 

Nigeria spends N1.99tn on debt servicing in nine months

Nigeria spent almost N2tn on debt servicing payments from January to September 2020, the latest data obtained from the Debt Management Office have shown.

The DMO had on Thursday disclosed that the nation’s total public debt stock rose by N1.21tn in the third quarter of last year to N32.22tn amid revenue shortfalls.

The debt stock is made up of the domestic and external debt stocks of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory, the DMO said.

“The FGN, state governments and the FCT all recorded increases in their debt stock due to borrowings to enable them to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic and to meet revenue shortfalls,” the debt office said.

DMO’s data collated by our correspondent showed that the cost of servicing the nation’s debt from January to September 2020 stood at N1.99tn.

A total of N1.53tn was spent on domestic debt service while $1.27bn or N467.44bn was spent on external debt service payments.

Domestic debt service gulped N609.13bn in the first quarter of 2020; N312.81bn in the second quarter, and N604.19bn in the third quarter.

External debt service payments stood at $472.57m (N170.60bn) in Q1; $287.04m (N103.62bn) in Q2, and $507.15m (N193.22bn) in Q3.

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s official exchange rate of $1 to N361 was used in converting the external debt service payments to naira in Q1 and Q2 while N381/$1 was used in Q3, according to the DMO.

The CBN had recently expressed concern over the rising cost of debt service being incurred by the Federal Government.

The CBN, in its half-year 2020 economic report, said the trajectory of Federal Government’s debt further constrained fiscal policy during the period, as interest payment obligations amounted to N1.15tn in the first half of 2020.

“This suggested that despite the subsisting revenue challenge, which was exacerbated by COVID-19, the larger proportion of FGN revenue was devoted to debt service,” it said.


The apex bank said at 19.2 per cent, the debt-to-GDP ratio indicated a solvency position of the government.

“However, the rising cost of debt service underscores a precarious liquidity position that could impair the government’s fiscal space, as well as its growth objectives,” it added.

The International Monetary Fund said in December that Nigeria needed significant revenue mobilisation — including through tax policy and administration improvements — to create space for higher social spending and reduce fiscal risks and debt vulnerabilities.

With high poverty rates and only a gradual recovery in prospect, revenue mobilisation will need to rely initially on progressive and efficiency-enhancing measures, with higher VAT and excise rates awaiting until stronger economic recovery takes root, it added.

 

Nigeria spends N1.99tn on debt servicing on nine months

Nigeria spent almost N2tn on debt servicing payments from January to September 2020, the latest data obtained from the Debt Management Office have shown.

The DMO had on Thursday disclosed that the nation’s total public debt stock rose by N1.21tn in the third quarter of last year to N32.22tn amid revenue shortfalls.

The debt stock is made up of the domestic and external debt stocks of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory, the DMO said.

“The FGN, state governments and the FCT all recorded increases in their debt stock due to borrowings to enable them to respond appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic and to meet revenue shortfalls,” the debt office said.

DMO’s data collated by our correspondent showed that the cost of servicing the nation’s debt from January to September 2020 stood at N1.99tn.

A total of N1.53tn was spent on domestic debt service while $1.27bn or N467.44bn was spent on external debt service payments.

Domestic debt service gulped N609.13bn in the first quarter of 2020; N312.81bn in the second quarter, and N604.19bn in the third quarter.

External debt service payments stood at $472.57m (N170.60bn) in Q1; $287.04m (N103.62bn) in Q2, and $507.15m (N193.22bn) in Q3.

The Central Bank of Nigeria’s official exchange rate of $1 to N361 was used in converting the external debt service payments to naira in Q1 and Q2 while N381/$1 was used in Q3, according to the DMO.

The CBN had recently expressed concern over the rising cost of debt service being incurred by the Federal Government.

The CBN, in its half-year 2020 economic report, said the trajectory of Federal Government’s debt further constrained fiscal policy during the period, as interest payment obligations amounted to N1.15tn in the first half of 2020.

“This suggested that despite the subsisting revenue challenge, which was exacerbated by COVID-19, the larger proportion of FGN revenue was devoted to debt service,” it said.


The apex bank said at 19.2 per cent, the debt-to-GDP ratio indicated a solvency position of the government.

“However, the rising cost of debt service underscores a precarious liquidity position that could impair the government’s fiscal space, as well as its growth objectives,” it added.

The International Monetary Fund said in December that Nigeria needed significant revenue mobilisation — including through tax policy and administration improvements — to create space for higher social spending and reduce fiscal risks and debt vulnerabilities.

With high poverty rates and only a gradual recovery in prospect, revenue mobilisation will need to rely initially on progressive and efficiency-enhancing measures, with higher VAT and excise rates awaiting until stronger economic recovery takes root, it added.

 

River reopens schools January 4

The Rivers State Government has asked all public and private nursery, primary and secondary schools to reopen in the state from January 4.

This was contained in a press statement by Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr Chidi Adiele.

Earlier, the Federal Government had instructed schools to reopen from January 18, 2021, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

The statement read, “The Rivers Education Ministry wishes to announce that, with the approval of Gov. Nyesom Wike, the school calendar published in August 2020 stands.

“Accordingly, both public and private schools in the state are hereby reminded that schools will resume on January 4, 2021 for normal academic activities.

“Schools are to maintain all COVID-19 protocols, including the wearing of face masks, use of hand sanitiser, and staggered classes.

“The classes are expected to be staggered morning and afternoon sessions in order to avoid overcrowding.”

 

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre For Disease Control reported 576 new infections of the Coronavirus on Saturday.

The NCDC said the new infections were from 14 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

It said that Lagos state recorded the highest figure with 277 new cases, followed by the FCT and Oyo with 90 and 51 new cases respectively.

Other states with new cases are Nasarawa 49, Sokoto 23, Anambra 14, Bauchi 11, Imo 11, Kano 11, Edo 10, Plateau 10, Ogun nine, Osun five, Jigawa three and Rivers two.

 

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