COVID-19: Nigerians going through trying times ― Buhari

• Osinbajo submits Economic Sustainability Plan

President Muhammadu Buhari has, on Thursday, observed that the advent of COVID-19 has seen Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector, going through trying times.

He, however, praised their resilience in adapting to the realities of the pandemic.

The president spoke when he received the report of the Committee on Economic Sustainability Plan, submitted by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who heads the committee.

Buhari observed that the emergence of coronavirus threw the entire world into a serious economic crisis thus, making things difficult.

He said: “While the COVID-19 pandemic spread through our towns and cities, it continues to take a massive toll on the economy. I know that many of us have experienced great difficulty during this time, businesses have considerably slowed down and in certain instances, operations closed, workdays have been cut short and personnel liberties restricted, people have lost their jobs and earning a living has indeed been difficult.

“This has been a trying time for those in the informal sector, which constitutes a large part of our economy, important family celebrations were held without the presence of loved ones, schools are closed and parents have had to resort to homeschooling in addition to juggling other responsibilities.

“Despite all these, Nigerians have done their best and persevered. I must salute Nigerians for their resilience in adapting the realities of the COVID-19 effect while also recognising the superhuman effort of our frontline health workers who continue to play a critical role in keeping our country and people safe.”

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The president regretted the effect of the outbreak of coronavirus on revenue and policies and programmes of government, assuring that more efforts would be geared towards making life better for citizens.

“Non-oil income largely made up of taxes are also dramatically reduced on account of the lockdown. It is clear that businesses face the prospect of collapse so we must prepare for difficult times, while the government continues to seek ways of supporting businesses and industry,” he said.

While speaking on the assignment of the committee, President Buhari appreciated its good work, saying: “I am pleased to hear that the Economic Sustainability committee consulted with both the National Economic Council and the National Assembly and I look forward to a continuing partnership with both organs, to implement what I consider a national plan.

“As we go forward, we must chart a new course and remain steadfast. I believe the priorities contained in this plan present a practical way of achieving our desire of a truly competitive economy that can support our people and secure our future.

“I congratulate the Economic Sustainability committee for completing this critical national assignment in good time. I believe that with God’s help and in a sense of duty to prosperity we will successfully reset our economy for a brighter future.”

Speaking earlier on the report, Vice President Osinbajo said the committee, which was set up to look at what the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic might be on the budget and the economy, has recommended that the government must carry out mass programmes that create jobs and utilise local materials.

He added: “Such will include: A Mass Agricultural Programme, which is expected to bring between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every State of the Federation and create millions of direct and indirect job opportunities.

“Extensive Public Works and Road Construction Programme focusing on both major and rural roads and using locally available materials like limestone, cement and granite.

“Mass Housing Programme to deliver up to 300,000 homes annually, engaging young professionals and artisans who form themselves into small and medium scale businesses within the construction industry, using indigenous labour and materials.

“Installation of Solar Home System, targetting 5 million households, serving about 25 million individual Nigerians who are currently not connected to the National Grid.

“We have also recommended support for local production and manufacturing of all that is possible, including tech apps, software, shoes, garments, steel fabrication, ceramics and furniture, with the required capital and essential machinery.

“The provision of ample support for the informal sector through low interest loans and by easing procedures for registration, licensing, obtaining permits, etc.

“By these means, urban and informal business people like mechanics, tailors, artisans, and petty traders, will be encouraged to improve and develop their services.

“Support for MSMEs, especially in assisting to restructure their loans with banks. Among others, this will assist businesses in the pharmaceutical, aviation, hotels and the hospitality industry, private schools, road transportation, technology companies, and the creative industry, amongst others.

(iv) Facilitation of broadband connectivity across the country and creation of a wide variety of technology and ICT jobs.

“Expansion of the Social Investment Programme, through an increase in the number cash transfer beneficiaries, N- Power volunteers and sundry traders enjoying small and microloans through the MarketMoni and TraderMoni schemes. The preexisting conditional cash transfer will also be extended to cover a larger number of the extremely poor.”

Osinbajo affirmed that the key to the success of this plan is “undoubtedly ‘implementation’. Making sure that we execute the Plan faithfully and working in collaboration.”

Towards this, the committee recommended that each Minister will be responsible for supervising the implementation of plans situated in their respective Ministries.

Ministers will also be responsible for ensuring synergy between all relevant stakeholders across the public and private sectors.

He said the Economic Sustainability Committee, which is inter-Ministerial in nature, should only then remain to oversee plan implementation, ensure inter-ministerial coordination, and report regularly to the president, while expenditure is monitored through the National M&E framework and the Budget Office of the Federation.

The committee’s Terms of Reference were to: (i) Develop a clear Economic Sustainability Plan in response to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic;

(ii) Propose monetary policy measures in support of the plan;

(iii) Provide a Fiscal/Monetary Stimulus Package, including support to private businesses (with emphasis on strategic sectors most affected by the pandemic) and vulnerable segments of the population;

(iv) Identify fiscal measures for enhancing distributable oil and gas revenue, increasing non-oil revenues and reducing non- essential spending, towards securing sufficient resources to fund the plan;

(v) Articulate specific measures to support the States and FCT;

(vi) Propose a clear-cut strategy to keep existing jobs and create opportunities for new ones; and

(vii) Identify measures that may require legislative support to deliver the Plan.

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

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