Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday received the report of the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, saddled with the responsibility to respond to the disruptions and dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as develop a credible sustainability plan for repositioning the Nigerian economy pre and post COVID-19 crisis period.
Osinbajo at the presentation of the economic sustainability plan in the a brief ceremony inside the Council Chambers, said in the inevitable mandatory lockdowns and social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have had a severe and negative impact on farms and factories, as well as on trade, transport and tourism.
The Vice President said several projections, including those done by the NBS on behalf of the Economic Sustainability Committee, showed with a severe downturn in the country’s oil earnings, even with oil price at $30 a barrel, Nigeria would still have a shortfall of about N185 billion every month, in the amount available for allocation to the three tiers of government; that unemployment may rise to 33.6% or about 39.4 million people by the end of 2020, if the country fails to take prompt preemptive measures; millions more will fall into extreme poverty before the pandemic ends; and that the GDP may fall to between minus 4.40 per cent and minus 8.91%, depending on the length of the lockdown period and strength of our economic response.
Vice President Osinbajo said the committee decided on a strategy hinged on President Buhari’s goal to ‘produce what we eat and consume what we produce’. To create millions of new jobs, the Vice President said, ‘we need to focus on encouraging local production, local services, local innovation, and emphasise the use of local materials. Nigeria and Nigerians can produce our food, build our houses and construct our roads, using local materials in all cases.
‘If we must import, it must be to support local production. We have, therefore, recommended that we must carry out mass programmes that create jobs and utilise local materials. 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.’
Osinbajo said the committee 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.
‘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 micro loans through the MarketMoni and TraderMoni schemes. The preexisting conditional cash transfer will also be extended to cover a larger number of the extremely poor.’
The Vice President said that the key to the success of this plan is undoubtedly ‘implementation’.
According to him, ‘making sure that we execute the Plan faithfully and working in collaboration. We have, therefore, 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.
“The Economic Sustainability Committee, which is inter-ministerial in nature, should only then remain to oversee plan implementation, ensure inter ministerial co-ordination, and report regularly to the president, while expenditure is monitored through the National M&E framework and the Budget Office of the Federation.’
President Buhari in his response said even though his administration had in January begun the process of taking out 10 million of Nigerians out of poverty, by March the world was in serious crisis both on the health and economic front.
President Buhari went on to praise Nigerians for their resilience and for adopting to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the emergence of coronavirus has thrown the entire world into serious crisis economic crisis.
‘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, work days have been cut short and personnel liberties restricted, people have lost their jobs and earning a living has indeed been difficult,’ the president said.
‘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 home schooling in addition to juggling other responsibilities.
‘Despite all these, Nigerians have done their best and persevered. I must salute Nigerians for their resilience in adopting to the realities of the COVID-19 effect while also recognising the super human effort of our frontline health workers who continue to play a critical role in keeping our country and people safe.’
While noting the effects of the pandemic on the revenue and policies and programmes of government, the president said 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 government continues to seek ways of supporting businesses and industry,’ he said.
Commenting on the job done by the committee that produced the Economic Sustainability Plan, President Buhari appreciated the committee’s good work, pointing to the important recommendations that can serve as a national guide to recovery.
‘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, presents 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,’ he stated.