Coronavirus…How Buhari’s Presidency is Addressing the Pandemic and Sustaining Nigerian Economy, By Garba Shehu

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Nigeria, like every other country around the world, is dealing with the unexpected and unprecedented impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has taken some steps to mitigate the effects on the Nigerian people.

To prevent the spread of cases imported into Nigeria, the President has already ordered the restrictions of travel from 13 countries, each with more than 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Government has also suspended visas issued to nationals of these countries. The restriction will take effect from March 20 and will remain until further notice. While Nigeria delights in welcoming the world, the safety and protection of our citizens and land must take priority.

The various agencies of government including Media owned by the government have embarked on vigorous campaigns promoting hygiene measures. There are, currently, very stringent regimes of checks at the points of air and sea entry into the country. The effort Nigeria is making as is well known, has already received the commendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Presidency wishes to assure Nigerians that government is on top of the situation. There is no cause for panic. So far measures put in place are working efficiently. What this country is doing has been recommended as a template.

The President trusts the relevant Ministers in his cabinet and the officials of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), who are providing him with constant updates and professional counsel.  These officials have a track record of competence.

The President instructed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to reduce the pump price of fuel. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a crash in the global price of crude oil, and the President decided that every Nigerian should benefit from this.

Subsequently, the NNPC announced a N20 deduction, and the pump price of fuel has now been reduced from N145 per litre to N125 per litre.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Monday announced a credit relief of N1.1 trillion to businesses affected by the pandemic. The Bank has also established a facility for household, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and announced a reduction of interest rates for loans from 9% to 5%.

Also, President Buhari has directed a repositioning of the economy, starting with a review of 2020 budget to reflect realities in oil sector, and prioritizing health sector infrastructure to respond to the threats posed by COVID-19.

President Buhari gave the directive after the 2nd Regular Meeting of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC), which also recommended securitization of government debt, design and institutionalisation of a revenue stabilisation programme and the imperative of cutting the cost of governance at all levels.

At the meeting, held in the State House, the President agreed with the Advisory Council on the need to prepare the country to take the necessary tough economic decisions, including embark on a national agenda of stakeholder mobilization – bringing the National Assembly, government organs, private sector and civil society together around a programme to respond to the major challenges confronting the nation.

Highlighting immediate and short-term measures to consider and implement in order to mitigate any adverse economic effects, the meeting reviewed the COVID-19 pandemic and its potential economic spill-over effects on the global and Nigerian economy.

The meeting with the Advisory Council reviewed the state of the Nigerian economy and noted its continued fragility and vulnerability to external shocks in spite of recent gains in output growth. It also noted, with concern, the changing economic fundamentals – as manifested in a renewed cycle of rising prices and weaknesses in the external sector.

The meeting also considered indirect effect that would come through the impact of the pandemic on Nigeria’s other trading partners and the global economy, with implications of global recession that could slow down Nigeria’s fragile growth and trigger exchange rate re-alignment.

We do not want to create panic. But we will continue to update the Nigerian public with relevant information. We plead with every Nigerian to cooperate with the government in the fight against COVID-19 and obey all instructions from the NCDC. We have a high level Presidential Coordination Committee chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). This body should be allowed to carry out its duties.

We also plead with Nigerians not to see this most peculiar of times as one to be politicised or seen as an opportunity to regurgitate grudges against the government or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). North, South, East, and West – all Nigerians must unite to fight this plague, irrespective of religious or ideological affiliation.

In this regard, populist advocacies such as the one accusing the President of “complacency” simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics.

President Buhari thanks all those at the forefront of the fight against the deadly disease.

© Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.

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