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WEMPCO: 19 Firms Shut, 250,000 Jobs Threatened

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The current crisis facing the Western Metal Products Company has led to the closure of no fewer than 19 enamelware firms, while 250,000 jobs along the steel and enamelware value chain are also about to end, investigations by our correspondent have revealed.

WEMPCO is reportedly facing a huge debt burden of over N90bn, planning to sell its flagship five-star Oriental Hotel on the island and considering exiting Nigeria.

This may mean the end of its 700,000 tonnes-capacity steel plant.

Our correspondent gathered that the 40-year-old firm was the authorised sole distributor of cold-rolled iron sheet,  used in the manufacturing of roofing sheets and annealed iron sheets used in the manufacturing of enamelware.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, in order to protect the local manufacturers, had included cold rolled iron sheet and annealed in the list of 41 banned items from access to official foreign exchange.

The implication is that all the firms that produce roofing sheets and enamelware in Nigeria may have to shut down in the event of WEMPCO’s exit.

Already, all the firms manufacturing wheelbarrows and shovels are said to have shut down while others are winding down gradually having run out of stock of raw materials.

It was gathered that WEMPCO’s trouble stemmed from the influx of substandard roofing sheets smuggled into Nigeria from Cameroon and other neighbouring countries.

The local firms were said to have been mandated by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria to keep the standard of roofing sheet at 0.015mm in thickness.

This posed competition challenge against smuggled roofing sheets which were 0.013mm and 0.014mm.

The smuggled versions were also said to be preferred by buyers because they were cheaper.

Low patronage set in for WEMPCO and its stock of unsold products went bad from staying too long in storage.

By last year, the company had closed down almost all its plants as they were no longer producing.

Punch correspondent also spoke to some of the buyers of WEMPCO products who recounted a different version of the story.

All of them, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the firm was not consistent in filling orders.

It was alleged that they either took too long in delivering the product or delivered items different from the specification.

WEMPCO was also alleged to have abused the exclusive rights and waivers that were granted to it by the Federal Government.

It was learnt that whereas the previous government had granted the firm heavy waivers to aid it in production of cold-rolled sheet locally, the firm had instead embarked on heavy importation of the product.

Trouble started for it when the current administration came into power and decided to cancel the waivers.

It then became a Herculean task for WEMPCO to fill orders as the importation route had been closed and they could not produce to meet local demand.

Customers, who paid money into WEMPCO account, neither saw their money nor the goods they paid for. The bank held onto customers’ money because WEMPCO was heavily indebted to the bank, it was alleged.

According to The Punch, Robert Tung, the Managing Director of WEMPCO, declined the calls and did not respond to text messages sent to his line just as a consultant to the firm, Jide Mike, denied ever working for WEMPCO; or knew anything about the company.

The Punch

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COVID-19: FirstBank Scores Another First, Launches Next-Generation ATM

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FirstBank has launched the FastTrack ATM, a Next Generation ATM and first of its kind in Africa, designed to promote financial activities on the ATM devoid of any form of physical interaction with the machine. The introduction of the FastTrack ATM which is done in partnership with Inlaks enables customers carry out cash withdrawals without having to touch the ATM.

With the FastTrack ATM, widely referred to as Touchless Solution, the customer carries out the transaction by using his or her mobile phone to perform the needed steps designed originally for implementation on the ATM. By using one’s phone, the transaction is carried out – in advance – through the Bank’s USSD or mobile banking option. Upon the schedule, the customer visits the FastTrack ATM to complete the transaction by tapping a contactless Near Field Communication (NFC) card on the ATM to withdraw his or her cash.

FirstBank customers can now leverage the real-time mobile banking capabilities of their cellphone to activate cash withdrawals at the FastTrack ATM. The ATM solution is the Bank’s response to control the spread of COVID-19, whilst promoting the safety of customers that carry out transactions at the ATM.

Speaking on the launch of the FastTrack ATM, Dr. Adesola Adeduntan, CEO, First Bank of Nigeria Limited said ‘at FirstBank, we are driven to provide seamless financial solutions to ensure our customers are able to timely carry out their transactions in safe, secured and efficient ways, thereby putting them ahead in digital banking, not just in Nigeria but Africa. We are delighted to set the pace regarding the use of the Next Generation ATM in Africa which enables customers to use their mobile phones to remotely initiate ATM-based cash withdrawals via our *894# USSD banking or FirstMobile application. At the core of our strategy lies innovation which is critical to adapting to the new normal’.

According to Olufemi Adeoti, Managing Director, Inlaks, “given that consumers are more adaptable to mobile technology Inlaks – the Africa’s leading Information Technology Solutions provider together with Hyosung ATM OEM are partnering with FirstBank to introduce the first fully compliant COVID-19 FinTech ATM. This is in alignment with the ‘new normal’ desired customer experience which includes digitalization and delivering a secure contactless cash access to the bank’s FirstMobile customers for better user experience, simplicity, speed and convenience’’

In recognition of its giant strides at promoting electronic banking in the country, FirstBank’s mobile banking application – FirstMobile –  was recently awarded the Best Mobile Banking App award 2020 in the Global Finance Best Digital Bank Awards 2020 as well as 2019 Best Mobile Banking App by Global Business Outlook.

FirstBank has been at the forefront of promoting electronic banking solution in Nigeria. In 2017, the Bank was recognized as the first financial institution in Nigeria and the West-Africa sub-region to issue 10 million ATM cards to customers across the country. The bank was the second in Africa to achieve the milestone.

These feats are achieved through the trusts in its industry leading innovative banking solutions by over 10 million customers on its USSD *894# banking platform and over 4.1 million customers on its FirstMobile banking application, endearing the Bank to process about 30% of card transactions in the entire banking industry in the country.

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Airlines Hike Airfares by 100% as Operating Costs Rise

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The cost of air tickets along several routes have doubled due to the high demand for air travel in light of the rising insecurity in the country and cost of flight operations, findings by The PUNCH have shown.

Checks on several airline websites showed that even intending passengers who booked their flights days ahead of departure were also affected.

A check on Friday on the website of Max Air showed that a one-way ticket from Maiduguri to Lagos for Saturday was put at N100,000 while the same flight costs N70,000 for Monday.

A flight from Kano to Abuja on Azman Air on Friday was put at N85,000; the same route for Saturday was put at N61,000.

A flight from Lagos to Abuja via Max Air on Monday was put at N80,000 while the same flight on Aero was fixed at N107,000.

Travelling to Kano State from Lagos on Arik Air on Saturday, cost about N70,618 while the flight would cost N65,564 for the same route on Tuesday.

It was also observed that the Lagos-Port Harcourt route, which is one of the busiest in the country, had also been affected.

A check on Arik Air’s website on Friday showed that there were no available seats till Monday and the price for the four available seats was fixed at N52, 868 each for afternoon flight and at N57,045 for morning.

Overland Airways which travels less busy routes with its much smaller aircraft also hiked its ticket prices.

Ilorin to Abuja flight was put at N56,000 on Saturday and N61, 500 on Sunday; the same route was put at a cost of N56,000 on Tuesday and N52,500 on Wednesday.

The increase in the air tickets caused a debate on social media last week as several Nigerians lamented how they had to part with large sums of money to purchase tickets.

Confirming the increments on Friday, the Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told The Punch that airlines could not access foreign exchange at the official rate while the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria had increased its fees.

Sanusi said except airlines were given special concessions, the prices would continue to rise and could hit an average of N100,000 for even the Lagos/Abuja route.

He said, “We were buying dollars at N360 and it went to N380 but you can’t get it for less than N480.

“We are paying VAT at 7.5 per cent. We are paying 15 per cent duty on our spare parts. The boarding passes, we pay 15 per cent duty on it.

“The passenger service charge has increased by FAAN. So, don’t look at one component but look at the total reason for the increase.

“Yes, there is an increase in demand but it is caused by the lack of aircraft and this lack of aircraft is caused by unavailability of spare parts which is also caused by dollar scarcity.”

Also speaking, the General Secretary, Aviation Roundtable, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, said there was a connection between the rising airfares and the insecurity in the country.

Lagos based travel agent, Mr Ndudim Nwaoma, said, his encounter with several passengers showed that many were desperate to fly because of the high level of insecurity in the country.

The Punch

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Nigeria Joins League of Nations with Professional Association for CSR and Sustainability

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The Association of Sustainability Professionals of Nigeria (ASPN) will host an industry conversation to discuss the urgent need for attaining an inclusive economy in Nigeria and the roles that Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals can play in this regard on Thursday, November 26, 2020.

The dialogue, which doubles as the formal launch of the professional group, will explore the need for synergy among sustainability experts, subject-matter specialists, and advocates to support the efforts of government and drive private sector leadership for social inclusion as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) in line with the beginning of the Decade of Action. After many years of mainstreaming CSR and Sustainability through various initiatives, milestones, and adoption of all major international conventions on Business Sustainability, Climate Change, Environmental Standards, and other development agendas; Nigeria formally joins the league of nations with professional associations specially set up for the practice of CSR and Sustainability.

ASPN is a non-profit organisation founded in August 2019 to redefine and improve the practice and profession of Sustainability and CSR in Nigeria. Through various strategic partnerships, policy formulation & advocacy activities, ASPN seeks to set standards for professional ethics, best practices and long-term systems thinking amongst individuals and businesses to foster the sustainable development of Nigeria.

To formally unveil the ASPN, the event will feature discussions on the theme: Professionalising Sustainability for an Inclusive Development and has been slated to hold on Thursday, November 26, 2020. Professor Wayne Visser, Founder, CSR International will participate as the Guest Speaker whilst other speakers will include: Professor Chris Ogbeche, Deputy Dean, Lagos Business School; Solape Hammond, Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on SDGs; and Dr. Aisha Mamood, Sustainability Director, Central Bank of Nigeria. Also, in attendance at the event will be government and regulatory agencies, sustainability experts, corporate organisations, and industry experts, non-governmental organisations and the public.

Nigeria, like most present-day societies, has adopted various measures to minimize pollution and promote environmental, social, and economic sustainability as a fundamental component of socio-economic development. For example, the last decades of the century witnessed increased concerns – with the private sector at the forefront, about climate change. Therefore, the need to develop, implement and drive cohesive policy, that would go a long way in meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future to meet its needs is paramount. Consequently, a need to have a body that drives cohesive policies seeking sustainable development and growth in the country in a more coordinated manner is essential.

According to the ASPN President, Prof. Kenneth Amaeshi, “We are excited about the formal launch of the ASPN because we have existed for so many years as a community of passionate and committed advocates. We look forward to strengthening our alliances and contributing significantly to Nigeria’s active role in the Decade of Action”. The ASPN is led by passionate and renowned professionals with many years of experience committed to practicing advocating teaching and mentoring on sustainability-related issues within Nigeria and internationally. These professionals are Ini Abimbola, Founder, ThistlePraxis Consulting. Ismail Omamegbe, Head, Media & External Relations; Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability, FirstBank; Bekeme-Masade Olowola, Chief Executive, CSR-in-Action; Ken Egbas, CEO, TruContact CSR Nigeria; Eunice Sampson, Head, Sustainability, Dangote Cement Plc; Ibrahim Salau, Managing Director, Environmental Accord; Bolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head, Sustainability, Access Bank and Kenneth Amaeshi who serves as Chair in Business and Sustainable Development and Director of the Sustainable Business Initiative at the University of Edinburgh.

To join the conversation and participate in this event, please visit: https://bit.ly/ASPNUnveiling or follow ASPN on social media on @ASPNigeria on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. For more information, please visit the ASPN Website: https://aspn.org.ng  or email, info@aspn.org.ng or call: 0706 752 3702.

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