Buhari, ministers meet over COVID-19 threat to economy

As fears grow over the consequences of Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on the economy, President Muhammadu Buhari has met with some ministers to fashion a way out of the possible quagmire.

With him at the presidential villa, Abuja for the meeting on Monday we’re Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed; Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva and his counterpart in Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba.

At the end of the meeting, a five-man committee was formed to assess the impact of the outbreak, especially on the crude oil price.

The committee, headed by Ahmed, also has Sylva, Agba, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Mela Kyari.

Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Zainab reiterated that there will be a review of the 2020 budget, which was predicated on $57 per barrel.

Some reports suggested on Monday that the crude oil price had plummeted to $29, far short of the Nigerian budget benchmark.

The Finance minister said: “We just met with the President to discuss with him on the matter of the impact of the coronavirus on our economy.

“Mr. President has formed us into a committee with the minister of State, Petroleum Resources, the Central Bank governor, GMD NNPC and myself as members.

“Our mandate is to make a very quick assessment of the impact of this coronavirus on the economy especially as it affects the crude oil price.

“We will be writing a report and brief Mr. President tomorrow (Tuesday) or Wednesday morning. After that, we will also have more substantial information for the press.

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“It is very clear that we will have to revisit the crude oil benchmark price that we have of $57 per barrel. We have to revisit it and lower the price. Where it will be lowered is the subject of this committee. What the impact will be on that is that there will be reduced revenue to the budget and it will cut the size of the budget. The quantum of the cut is what we are supposed to assess as a committee.”

Also speaking, Sylva remarked that as a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Nigeria was not in a position to unilaterally engage Russia for a possible cut in oil production to shore up price.

He stated: “On the issue of engaging Russia, we as a member of OPEC are not in a position to take that engagement on our own unilaterally.

“There was a disagreement between OPEC and OPEC+, it’s not just Russia, but the biggest producers within OPEC and OPEC+ are Saudi Arabia and Russia.

“We believe that in the coming days when all of us would have begun to see the effect of the reduction of prices, OPEC and OPEC+ might need to meet again and reconsider our positions.

“Meanwhile, we expect also that a lot of discussions are going on at the level of Saudi Arabia and Russia, but as Nigeria, we are not in a position to begin to engage members on this matter.”

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