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Thursday, August 5, 2021



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‘Spiritual opium,’ Facebook, and the metaverse: An alternate reality on the rise

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The irony of an International Water Conference in Lagos

The Lagos State government on 23 June 2021, threw its doors open to welcome delegates from different parts of the world. The goal of the conference was to facilitate the efficiency of the water sector in the state. But when asked, a typical Lagosian like Isaac Moses said that the last time he drank water supplied by the state’s water corporation was in 1999, when the public water works close to his old compound used to function. The pipes that connect this precious liquid to his compound have remained broken and rusty. Since then, his major source of drinking water has come from boreholes. Lagos is an island city surrounded by water yet, there is very little for the population to drink. At the water conference, the Governor of the State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu disclosed that less than 40 percent of the residents have access to potable water. The World Population Review estimates the population of Lagos at above 14 million. In other words, less than 7 million Lagosians have access to potable water. As of 2016, Lagosians needed as much as 724 million gallons to function efficiently, but the state could only manage to provide 317 million gallons, leaving a gap of 407 million gallons. At the conference, Sanwo-Olu said the state has yet to resolve its sufficiency problem. The Lagos State Water Supply Master Plan said that, current water demand stands at about 540 million gallons daily (MGD) but the Lagos Water Corporation (LSWC) can only produce 210 MGD. Read Also: A case for tackling challenge of potable water supply in Lagos Sadly, not all the 210 gallons of water reach households due to perennial fractures from dilapidated transmission pipes and old trunk lines. Also, the water supply is very erratic and frequently subject to prolonged outages. For the over 8 million Lagosians without access to potable water, it is a public health threat. It is also a threat to environmental sanitation, a challenge the state has failed to address. Apart from that, residents in the state are left with no choice but to provide water for themselves with boreholes. The LSWC estimates that there are up to 200,000 such boreholes across Lagos State. Interestingly, even when they use their money to provide themselves water to drink, some agencies of the state penalise them for it with illegal levies. We believe that with efficient management, Lagos easily can surpass its water target and even position itself as the primary market for supplying potable water to other states in the country. The solution can start from revisiting the Lagos Water Master Plan 2010-2020. One of the failures of that plan was the government’s fixation on funds to revamp water infrastructure. In the current economic climate raising $2.5 billion which is the target, from the state’s budget may not be visible. However, the government can take a different tack to water production, and positioning the sector in such a way that investors can see the value in investing capital, would be a way to address the poor infrastructure. While the proliferation of boreholes has provided some respite for residents, the state requires a permanent fix to the water crisis. This is especially given that borehole drilling is widely unregulated and most of the water that people get from them is contaminated. This is where we think the plan to licence borehole drilling has its merits. Nevertheless, it requires transparency and the goal must be to help Lagos residents get the best portable water. In that sense, licensing should not be an avenue to extort and make access to drinkable water difficult, rather it should be a way to monitor the quality of the water people will drink. It should also be a way to help people live a quality life. After all, as the late afro-beat crooner said, “Water does not have an enemy.”

India’s highest court weighs Pegasus phone snooping inquiry

India’s Supreme Court will on Thursday hear journalists’ petitions for an independent, court-supervised investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government misused spyware to surveil opposition politicians, journalists and officials.Traces of NSO Group’s Pegasus software were found on the smartphones of Prashant Kishor, an opposition political strategist, and seven Indian journalists during a recent global investigation by a media consortium into the use of the Israeli-made surveillance tool.The phone numbers of dozens of other prominent Indian public figures, including Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, other opposition politicians, a former election commissioner and officials, and a well-connected businessman, also appeared on a global list of 50,000 people who had allegedly been targeted for potential surveillance by NSO Group’s clients since 2016.The allegations of widespread snooping on high-profile Indian citizens have unleashed a political storm that some commentators have compared to the 1970s Watergate scandal that cost Richard Nixon his job as US president.Pegasus’s maker claims that it sells its military spyware only to “vetted governments” for national security, counter-terrorism and law enforcement. In the weeks since the revelations, Indian journalists and media organisations have filed a number of petitions appealing to the Supreme Court to set up an independent investigation to establish the truth — and determine who authorised any snooping. “It’s not just a matter of my privacy. It’s not just a question of my freedom of expression,” said one of the petitioners, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a veteran journalist whose phone was allegedly compromised by Pegasus. “It raises fundamental questions of the future of the democratic system — not only in India but across the world.”The Editors Guild of India this week filed public litigation. It argued that the alleged use of Pegasus to spy on journalists raised “grave concerns of abuse of office, dismantling of separation of power, infringement of fundamental right to privacy, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of the press, subversion of the democratic process, and commission of serious criminal offences”.Modi’s government has refused to either confirm or deny whether it is using the Israeli software, although cabinet ministers have insisted that no illegal surveillance has taken place.Government officials and members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party have boycotted a hearing into the use of Pegasus by parliament’s standing committee on IT, which is led by Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor, in a move which in effect stalled that line of inquiry. “It is clear what has occurred was a crime, but you have seen absolutely no attempts by the central government to investigate it,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia-Pacific policy director of Access Now, a global digital rights organisation. “They are seeking to use any tool they can to frustrate inquiries into the Pegasus Project revelations.”Privacy activists and digital rights groups have become concerned by New Delhi’s surveillance of its citizens. In late 2019, WhatsApp notified two dozen Indian activists, scholars and politicians that their phones had been hacked by commercial Israeli spyware. The only entity New Delhi blamed was WhatsApp.“Of all the democracies that we are tracking globally, we are most concerned by the surveillance impunity problem in India,” Chima said. “It’s happening on a massive scale, with even less pretence of conducting an independent inquiry or ensuring this does not happen again.”


China reports 85 new coronavirus cases for Aug 4 vs 96 previous day

BEIJING — China reported on Thursday 85 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the mainland for Aug. 4, down from 96 a day earlier, according to the National Health Commission. Of the new infections, 62 were locally transmitted, the health authority said. That compares with 71 local cases a day earlier. China reported 54 new asymptomatic […]

Rihanna breaks the glass ceiling, joins billionaires’ club

Barbadian singer, songwriter, performer and entrepreneur, Rihanna just made billionaire status according to Forbes. The pop superstar turned beauty mogul has just broken into a class generally populated by white men, breaking more records such as becoming the world’s first black female billionaire musician and the second richest female entertainer coming in behind Oprah. Read also: Meet Blessing Oborududu Nigeria’s Olympics silver medallist Her net worth is estimated to be around $1.7 billion, impressively propped by some of her more recent ventures such as her new 50 percent stake in Fenty Beauty (her makeup brand) and Savage x Fenty, her lingerie company. Over two-thirds of her recently acquired wealth is by virtue of the Fenty Beauty brand, her joint venture project with luxury goods group, LVMH. With the brand recently valued at $1.4 billion, it is clear that Rihanna’s inclusion centric branding for the line of beauty products has helped set her apart from the host of celebrity-backed or initiated beauty lines as she has comfortably beat out the closest competition (KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics) in the race to billionaire status. Stocked by Sephora and sold online, LVMH and Fenty Beauty reportedly sold over $550 million worth of products in 2018 alone, a feat considering that was the brand’s first full calendar year in operation. Beauty is big business as demonstrated by the post-pandemic growth estimate of $21 billion for the beauty industry globally. Much of this uptick is owed to industry leaders L’Oreal, Unilever and Estee Lauder but credit is due to the LVMH conglomerate for not only increasing market share through sales but by supporting brands that provide a sense of community to the consumers. Non-western beauty cultures are becoming more influential; consumers beyond North America and Europe are remaking the beauty market in their own image and likeness. As a result of this attention shift to new regions, beauty cultures operating outside the conventional Western beauty standards look to more inclusive brands for a sense of belonging, something Rihanna’s Fenty and Savage X Fenty brands provide in largesse. Everything from the availability of over 52 skin shades to lingerie for plus-sized women, centring the needs of the consumers while reinforcing their beauty in their traits is Rihanna’s secret weapon in search of global domination. Her Savage x Fenty lingerie line also raised $115 million in funding rounds, achieving a billion-dollar valuation as a result and further expanding her net worth through her hefty 30 percent stake. While some fans of her artistic career might be underwhelmed by every headline since 2016 focusing more on her entrepreneurship journey, no one can be unimpressed by the story of an immigrant girl who went on to capture the very essence of the American dream in our lifetimes.

SoftBank acquires $5bn stake in Swiss drugmaker Roche

SoftBank has acquired a $5bn non-voting stake in Swiss drugmaker Roche through its unit that was responsible for the “Nasdaq whale” trade, according to two people with knowledge of the transaction. The architect of the investment was Akshay Naheta, the former Deutsche Bank trader who runs SB Northstar, a vehicle set up last year to manage the Japanese technology investor’s public equity trades. Naheta, 40, has been behind some of SoftBank’s most controversial investments. These include the so-called Nasdaq whale, which bought billions of dollars of US equity derivatives in a series of trades that stoked a rally in tech stocks, and the scandal-ridden German payments company Wirecard. The deal, which was first reported by Bloomberg, comes just months after SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son told investors he would scale back investments by SB Northstar after the unit racked up $5.6bn in derivative losses since it was set up in July 2020.The decision to buy a stake in a large pharmaceutical company marked a shift away from SB NorthStar’s recent investments, which have been focused on tech and earlier stage biotech companies. A person briefed on the matter said the move signalled Naheta’s attempts to diversify SB NorthStar’s portfolio. SB NorthStar’s investments, which are partly funded by Son’s personal money, have raised questions within SoftBank and among investors about the unit’s strategy and due diligence process.  Roche, one of world’s largest drugmakers by revenue, focuses on cancer drugs and treatments for immune conditions, among other diseases. Some of those medicines deploy a targeted, or “precision medicine” approach, which Roche has developed with its own data and that it has acquired.The Basel-based group is controlled by the Hoffmann-La Roche family, which holds 50.1 per cent of shares. Company disclosures show rival Novartis, which is also based in Basel, owns a third.After a protracted battle, Roche took over US biotech Genentech in 2009 for $47bn. The latter’s early research and development centre continues to operate independently within Roche out of San Francisco, where the pharma company’s US operations are headquartered. Roche and SoftBank declined to comment. Naheta was not immediately available for comment.Sales at Roche, one of the “Big Four” diagnostic makers worldwide, have increased in the past year on demand for its Covid-19 tests, though it does not make vaccines. While its pharmaceuticals division’s sales decreased during the pandemic, the company said last month the unit had returned to growth, buoyed by a bounceback in routine healthcare.One of the company’s rheumatoid arthritis drugs, Actemra, has been repurposed to treat severe Covid patients and is recommended by the World Health Organization. Roche has also developed a Covid antibody cocktail with US company Regeneron.Shares of Roche have risen 18 per cent this year. SoftBank’s shares fell 1.1 per cent on Wednesday.Additional reporting by Robert Smith in London Video: SoftBank: piecing the puzzle together | FT Film
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Gold dips on dollar strength, Fed official’s rate comment

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How NCAT is repositioning Nigeria’s Aviation industry for growth in changing times

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