By Omololu Ogunmade
President Muhammadu Buhari Friday said democracy and humanity were under the threat of COVID-19 but expressed optimism that Nigeria would come out stronger as it had survived many crises in the past.
In a national broadcast to mark this year’s Democracy Day in Abuja, Buhari urged Nigerians to bear the threat posed by the global pandemic in mind irrespective of their dreams and aspirations.
“Fellow Nigerians, as we celebrate this year’s Democracy Day, let us remember that, notwithstanding our aspirations, humanity and indeed democracy is under the threat of COVID-19. Nigeria has survived many crises before and came out stronger. I am confident that by God’s grace we shall overcome this one and emerge stronger and more purposeful,” he said.
The president, who said the celebration of 21 years of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria called for reflection, added that it also provides the platform to celebrate Nigeria’s founding fathers, describing this year’s celebration amid COVID-19 as a very difficult moment.
“The 2020 celebration of Democracy Day marks 21 years of uninterrupted civil administration in our dear country. This day provides us an opportunity to reflect on our journey as a nation, our achievements and struggles.
“It is a day to honour our founding fathers who toiled to establish our republic and every Nigerian who has worked tirelessly to sustain it. We are celebrating this year’s Democracy Day despite the COVID-19 pandemic which afflicts our nation and the whole world.
“It is indeed a very difficult time for everyone especially those who have lost loved ones to the virus and those whose sources of livelihood have been severely constrained by the stringent measures we introduced at every level of government to contain the virus and save lives,” Buhari said.
He commended the effort of health workers and other Nigerians on essential services in containing the pandemic, describing it as an attestation to the courage and resilience of Nigeria as a great country.
Buhari said the pandemic had disrupted Nigeria’s economic system, explaining that in government’s efforts to sustain the economy, it had “put in place a number of various non-pharmaceutical measures to slow down the spread of the virus, in addition to a progressive re-opening of the economy.”
He also said in the effort to create jobs and reduce the effect of COVID-19, he had directed the employment of 1,000 youth from each of the 774, 000 local governments of the country through Special Public Works Programme to cushion the effects of economic downturn.
Buhari who claimed that since 2019 when he delivered Democracy Day address, the government had recorded notable achievements, added that the country had witnessed 11 consecutive gross domestic product (GDP) growth.
According to him, the growth only declined in the first quarter of this year as a result of the pandemic which he said had affected global economy.
According to him, a deliberate effort to stabilise the economy had resulted in the decision to strengthen the external reserves, which he said consequently grew from $33.42 billion to $36 billion between April and May this year, submitting that the country’s economic decline amid the pandemic had been mild.
“We have witnessed eleven quarters of consecutive GDP growth since exiting recession. The GDP grew from 1.91% in 2018 to 2.27% in 2019 but declined to 1.87% in the first quarter of 2020 as a result of the decline in global economic activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every single economy in the world has suffered a decline. Ours has been relatively moderate. In order to stabilize the economy, the Monetary Authority took steps to build the external reserves which resulted in improved liquidity in the foreign exchange market.
“The external reserves grew from $33.42 billion on April 29th 2020 to about $36.00 billion in May, 2020 which is enough to finance seven months of import commitments,” he said.