From the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo-led Committee on Economic Sustainability Plan came warning that about 39.4 million people might be unemployed by the end of 2020, if the government failed to take preemptive measures.
The panel also warned that millions of other citizens might fall into extreme poverty before the coronavirus pandemic ends, as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slides to between minus 4.40 per cent and minus 8.91 per cent. According to the committee, the severity of the situation will depend on the length of the lockdown period and strength of the country’s economic response.
In its report presented to President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday, the Osinbajo panel predicated its position on the mandatory lockdowns and social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 which, it said, had had negative impact on farms and factories, as well as on trade, transport and tourism.
The panel said several projections, including those done by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on behalf of the Economic Sustainability Committee, showed severe downturn in the nation’s oil earnings, as a result of which, even with oil price at $30 a barrel, the country would still have a shortfall of about N185 billion every month, in the amount available for allocation to the three tiers of government.
It was against this background that the committee decided on a strategy hinged on Mr. President’s mantra to “produce what we eat and consume what we produce”. The panel, therefore, recommended the creation of millions of new jobs, focus on encouraging local production, local services, local innovation, and emphasis on 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,” the Osinbajo committee said.
The committee also recommended 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.
Other recommendations include initiation of a 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, and installation of solar home system, targeting five million households, and serving about 25 million individual Nigerians who are currently not connected to the national grid.
In his response, President Buhari commended Nigerians for their resilience and disposition to adapt to the realities of the prevailing coronavirus. He said the emergence of coronavirus had thrown the entire world into serious economic crisis, a development he said had made things difficult generally.
“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.
“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.
In a related development yesterday, President Buhari charged the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) commission to come up with an economic plan that would help member-states to recover from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at a virtual meeting with the President of the commission, Jean Kassi-Brou, President Buhari, in his capacity as the ECOWAS COVID-19 Champion, agreed to provide logistic support to enable the sub-region receive and distribute procured and donated medical equipment with Abuja as the hub.
Buhari, who noted that the pandemic was yet to reach its peak in the sub-region, warned against laxity in the fight against it, just as he called on member-states to continually sensitise their citizens on preventive measures.
He expressed appreciation on behalf of ECOWAS member-states for the “swift interventions made to the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) and the Africa Centre for Disease Control by the Jack Ma Foundation,” while also commending the support so far received from “development partners such as the European Union, African Development Bank, France and Germany for their financial contributions in the procurement of medical supplies.”He urged member-states to work closely in order to completely tame the pandemic in the sub-region.
In his report to President Buhari, the president of ECOWAS Commission advocated additional strategies to assist the sub-region in fighting the health and economic impact of COVID-19.
According to Kassi-Brou, these include, the need for advocacy at continental and global levels particularly with the G20, World Bank, United Nations and the African Development Bank, among others, for support to negate the health and economic damage to the ECOWAS sub-region. He also called for mass awareness campaign to achieve behavioural change among the citizens of the community with effective customs, security and health protocols put in place throughout the sub-region.