By Omololu Ogunmade
West African leaders under the aegis of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments Thursday appointed President Muhammadu Buhari as Champion of the COVID-19 response.
The 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 President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.
Adesina 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 reportedly said.
The statement added that 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.”
It further said Buhari outlined some measures taken by his government so far in response to the pandemic to include:
“The reduction of interest rates on all applicable Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) interventions from 9 to 5 percent 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 centers and testing facilities to contain the spread of the virus.”
Adesina also said Buhari further remarked 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.”
He also quoted the president as saying, “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,” adding: “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.”
According to the statement, Buhari used opportunity of the forum to rally other leaders to embrace agriculture, technology, innovation, and also 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 was further quoted to have said.
It also said Buhari affirmed Nigeria’s solidarity with other member states as they battle COVID-19, saying he was saddened by the loss of several lives to the malignant disease.
“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.
Adesina said Buhari 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.