About 39.4 million Nigerians, representing some 33.6% of the population may be left without jobs by the end of 2020, as a result of the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic.
This was part of the ramifications envisaged by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN)-led Economic Sustainability Committee (EAC) in its Action Plan, submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja, on Thursday.
Before laying out the plan, which would be driven by various federal ministries and agencies of government, Professor Osinbajo observed that the grim pictures would only get so bad if government failed to take necessary preemptive measures to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 outbreak.
The projection, according to him, also suggested that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) might fall to the negative of between -4.40% and -8.91%, depending on how long the protective lockdowns last and that millions more will fall into extreme poverty.
The Plan, themed ‘Bouncing Back: The Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan’, however outlined a range of multi-sectoral remedies, which would take care of massive jobs creation through the agricultural and construction sectors, as well as lending support to the informal and small scale business sectors.
“In addition, the inevitable mandatory lockdowns and social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have had a severe negative impact on farms and factories, as well as on trade, transport and tourism.
“Several projections, including those done by the NBS on behalf of the Economic Sustainability Committee, showed: a severe downturn in our oil earnings, as a result of which, even with oil price at 30 dollars a barrel, we 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 we fail to take prompt preemptive measures; that millions more will fall into extreme Poverty, before the pandemic ends; that GDP may fall to between minus 4.40% and minus 8.91%, depending on the length of the lockdown period and strength of our economic response”, he said.
However, laying out the plans of government to mitigate the COVID-19 induced economic woes, Professor Osinbajo said his committee had designed ranges of responses to the threat, adding that the thrust would be to localise production and consumption.
He said the plan, which gathered contributions from various sectors and ministries, would focus efforts on agriculture, production and construction of infrastructure across the country, adding that the plan intended to open doors to young Nigerians, both from the formal and informal segments of the economy.
Highlights of the plan included the mass cultivation of between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmlands in each state, provision of around 300,000 housing units annually and the connection of more than 5 million off-national grid homes to solar power.
“So we decided on a strategy hinged on Mr. President’s mantra to “produce what we eat and consume what we produce”. In other words, to create millions of new jobs, we need to focus on encouraging local production, local services, local innovation, and emphasize 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, targeting 5 million households, serving about 25 million individual Nigerians who are currently not connected to the National Grid.
“We have also recommended -(i) 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”, he said.
On how the plan would achieve the targeted end, Professor Osinbajo also highlighted the monitoring and evaluation procedure, which he said would largely be the responsibility of the various ministries and agencies, under which each item of the plan falls and the final overseeing of the entire plan and subsequent regular report back to the President would be left with the EAC.
“The key to the success of this plan is undoubtedly ‘implementation’. 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”, he said.
Meanwhile, in his response at the presentation ceremony, President Buhari
lauded Nigerians for their resilience and adapting to the realities of COVID-19, noting that the outbreak of the pandemic had thrown the entire world into serious economic crisis thus, making things difficult.
“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 homeschooling in addition to juggling other responsibilities.
“Despite all these, Nigerians have done their best and persevered. I must salute Nigerians for their resilience in adapting the realities of the covid-19 effect while also recognising the superhuman 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 is 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 the 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, where it made some important recommendations that can serve as a national plan to the nation.
“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 present 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,” the President stated.