Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Heads of States and Governments, yesterday appointed President Muhammadu Buhari to lead the COVID-19 region’s campaign for debt forgiveness.
Buhari’s appointment, according to Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, took place at the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on COVID-19 held through teleconferencing and chaired by the President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.
African leaders have been forceful in their demand for a debt relief in view of the economic disruptions triggered by the pandemic, which have undermined the income streams of many countries.
However, with the uncertainty surrounding how soon the virus would be defeated, many blocs within the continent have stepped up their preparations to rally support for the clarion campaign for a debt relief.
Adesina, in the statement, said during the meeting, Buhari admonished fellow ECOWAS leaders to look beyond the threat posed by COVID-19 pandemic and explore other opportunities presented by the outbreak to ameliorate the living standard of people in member states.
“In every challenging situation such as the current one, there are also opportunities. Our region must therefore seek to find those opportunities provided by this gloomy global outlook for its benefit by embarking on the implementation of such critical policies, which before now, will be difficult to accept,” he said.
Buhari appealed to his colleagues to intensify collaboration with one another with a view to saving the region from “this deadly pandemic through sharing our experiences and best practices.”
The president outlined some measures taken by his government so far in fighting the pandemic to include:
“The reduction of interest rates on all applicable Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) interventions from 9 to 5 per cent and introduction of a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities;
“The inauguration of presidential task force to coordinate national efforts to combat the spread of the virus and ensure efficiency and effectiveness in line with the Nigerian Action Plan on Health Security;
“The provision of relief materials, including medical and food supplies, as well as conditional cash transfers of N20, 000 each for poor and vulnerable households and the establishment of more isolation centres and testing facilities to contain the spread of the virus.”
Buhari added that unprecedented economic uncertainties, such as severe fiscal and foreign exchange constraints, amid a slow global economic growth currently confronting several nations had made it imperative for “our sub-region to refocus on accelerating the implementation of our popular vision of ‘ECOWAS of the people’ by adopting dynamic regional policies aimed at providing relief to our citizens.”
“Despite declining revenues, government continues to spend massively on the containment of the virus, medical care for those infected and minimising impact of the crisis on the poor and vulnerable.
“This situation puts severe pressure on our finances by increasing our expenditures amid dwindling revenues. This invariably has led to a restructuring and reduction of our budget,” he stated.
Buhari used the opportunity of the forum to rally other leaders to embrace agriculture, technology, innovation and also to create jobs and reduce poverty to enable West African economies emerge stronger.
“It is imperative that while addressing short term challenges, we should also explore opportunities to promote strong and dynamic agricultural policies that will guarantee food security for our people, creating jobs and reducing poverty in the region. We must innovate and use technology to boost the digital economy and do things differently, but better,” he said.
Buhari affirmed Nigeria’s solidarity with other member states as they battle COVID-19, saying he is saddened by the loss of lives to the pandemic.
“At a time of global uncertainty such as this, caused by the devastating impact of the COVID-19, let me convey Nigeria’s solidarity with all the member states as we collectively battle to defeat the pandemic. I am greatly saddened by loss of numerous lives and extend my heartfelt condolences to families of those who have lost loved ones throughout the region. I also wish infected victims speedy and full recovery,” he said.
He reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to the well-being and safety of the people of the sub-region and also restated his support for any initiative from the summit aimed at containing the spread of the disease.