*Plan to deal with impact of pandemic on poor Nigerians, small businesses in the offing
*Talks about President’s new Economic Sustainability Committee
As governments and stakeholders harness resources to contain the spread of Coronavirus and tackle its fallouts, confronting the pandemic is an all Nigeria effort that requires the cooperation of all, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo, stated this on Monday in Abuja while responding to questions at a Google Hangout organized by the HACK COVID-19 Call Centre, where young Nigerian technology innovators talked about the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and wellbeing of Nigerians.
Joining the VP at the online event, besides a number of technology innovators from across the country was the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu.
According to him, “We must see this as a joint effort, everyone is involved in this, it really is an all-Nigeria effort and I am happy that everyone is responding.”
Asked about how the Buhari administration intends to grapple with the consequences of the restriction of movements in parts of the country and support vulnerable Nigerians, the Vice President said the President has actually just established the Economic Sustainability Committee, “which he has asked me to chair.”
The Committee is to take care of the economic challenges and fallouts of the pandemic and the attendant movement restrictions in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun States. He said the new Committee will also develop further palliatives, and a sustainability plan to reposition the economy and grow the non-oil sector.
Speaking on the readiness of government to tackle the fallouts of the pandemic, the Vice President restated the palliatives mentioned in the President’s speech on Sunday and added in particular how the Buhari administration’s Social Investment Programmes would be scaled up.
“First of all we must admit that there is very little precedent for what we are doing today, this is not the sort of situation that anyone necessarily prepares for. But fortunately for us, we have, in the past few years, designed a social investment programme that tries to address some of these types of concerns.
“Part of the work of the Economic Sustainability Committee that has been constituted is to look at some of the concerns that affect the poor, especially in the context of what has already been done and the data that we already have on informal workers and informal traders and how to implement some strategy that will be able to alleviate the sufferings of the poor (and the informal workforce) at this time. And how to integrate some of the data that we have in other respects.
“So, we have data of the poorest of the poor, with the assistance of the World Bank, we have developed what is called the National Social Register where we mapped out, in practically all Local Government Areas in Nigeria, those who are considered the most vulnerable. Already, some of them get conditional cash transfers but, again, compared to the numbers, it is not large enough. But now we have an opportunity of doing much more in terms of giving the poor and vulnerable some kind of assistance.
“The N-power is one of our schemes where we provide opportunities for young Nigerians who have no jobs at the moment. Again the President has asked that we take a look at that and see how we can enhance that and do more. This provides yet another opportunity to widen the scope and provide more.
“One of the critical things is the fact that the whole Home Grown School Feeding Programme also has a large number of cooks; there are over 100,000 men and women scattered across the local government areas in this country who cook for these children.
“So, at the moment, they may well be out of work, so part of what we are also looking at is for them to continue to earn a living even with the current closing down of schools. They are also obviously endangered.
“The Honorable Minister is working on that and I will be working closely with her to see what can possibly be done to deliver on the President’s directive on that.”
The Vice President however assured that though the challenges are daunting and expectations high, government is ready and willing to address all of them.
He said “…you can imagine, anything on this scale, asking people not to move at all, shutting borders in a country as large as this, there will obviously be all sorts of problems and issues. But I think the good thing is that we are all ready and willing to ensure that we unbottle the bottlenecks and ensure that things move as quickly and smoothly as possible.”
On incorporating local manufacturers in the production of some of the items needed to manage the pandemic, the Vice President said, “…we have been working with many clusters of private sector manufacturers under the MSMEs clinics.”
He said, “for example, a lot of the clusters like the tailoring cluster in Aba have come together to give us different samples of some of the protective equipment that health workers wear. They have sent us one or two samples and the NCDC will tell us whether any of them is appropriate for the circumstances so that they can begin to manufacture on a larger scale.
“Similarly, those who are making hand sanitizers are working on something, these are all local manufacturing concerns. Also, some people are even looking at local fabrication of ventilators.”
Addressing issues raised about how government could help private organizations to scale up their respective interventions, the Vice President said State governments have been encouraged to fully support all private initiatives aimed at addressing issues relating to the pandemic.
Responding to participants at the hangout, the Vice President added that “If you have specific cases, and ideas you may channel it through the HACK COVID-19 Call Centre, so at least we can identify those specific ones that may require some assistance.
“But what is happening now is that there is so many private initiatives and a lot is happening at the State level. We have had conversations with the Governor of Lagos State, the FCT Minister, and the Governor of Ogun State, between yesterday and today, on this matter.
“Again with respect to moving relief items from point to point, especially with the lockdown, already exceptions have been made for this. The President made specific provisions for those who are moving relief items or rendering essential services in one form or the other.
“The State Governors have been charged to ensure that this is done properly and that people are assisted, that relief organizations, charitable organizations who are concerned with these services are helped along the way. If there are specific problems, those could be fed back to us,” the Vice President added.
In his contribution at the online event the NCDC top official, Dr. Ihekweazu disclosed that there have been a lot private sector contributions including how a CEO of a Telco offered the agency free phone data for three months to support its work tracking those who might have been exposed to the virus.
The online event-Google Hangout-was moderated by Ms. Ore Disu, a development expert and researcher with other technology innovators as participants.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity
Office of the Vice President.