President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria has called on fellow ECOWAS leaders to look beyond the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and tap into various opportunities that it presents for the betterment of lives in Member States.
The president made the appeal during an Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on COVID-19 which was held via teleconferencing under the chairmanship of President Mahamadou Issoufou of the Republic of Niger, on Thursday, April 23, 2020.
Buhari, who was appointed as “Champion of the COVID-19 response” by the ECOWAS leaders, said: “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.”
While calling on his colleagues to intensify collaboration in order to save the region from “this deadly pandemic through sharing our experiences and best practices”, the Nigerian leader outlined some measures taken by his government in response to the pandemic.
According to him, these 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 also said that unprecedented economic uncertainties, including severe fiscal and foreign exchange constraints, “amid a slowdown in global economic growth that most nations are grappling with, have 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”.
He added: “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.”
The president used the occasion to rally other leaders to embrace agriculture, technology and innovation in order to 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.
The Nigerian leader affirmed Nigeria’s solidarity with other member states as they battle the virus.
Buhari said: “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.”
Buhari reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to the well-being and safety of the people in the sub-region and restated support for any initiatives that would curb the spread of the pandemic arising from the summit.
By Ismaila Chafe