Kallon: Nigeria Remains Critical Economic Hub in Africa

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The United Nations Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Edward Kallon, in this interview says Nigeria remains Africa’s economic hub and will continue to enjoy support towards realising its economic potential. He also shares his views about other aspects of the Nigerian economy. James Emejo brings the excerpts:

No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on Nigeria’s economy. What is your assessment of developments in the country since the outbreak of the virus?

The prevailing economic situation is dire not only in Nigeria but across the world. Nigeria’s situation is very serious because of her reliance on oil, the prices of which has hit rock bottom because of the pandemic. However, Nigeria is a resilient country as proven over the years. Therefore, I believe the country would come out stronger from the current economic situation. Nigeria just needs to pursue economic diversification more vigorously in the post-COVID era. The power sector should be fixed to enhance MSMEs and create jobs.

How can the Nigerian government effectively manage human incidences resulting from the pandemic?
The federal government needs to scale up social protection and safety programmes targeting the vulnerable and the urban poor affected by COVID-19; scale up economic stimulus packages for key sectors of the economy, particularly the agriculture sector that is currently experiencing both demand and supply-side shocks. Government should implement generous tax cuts for private sector firms willing to continue paying their employees despite the lull in business activities.

What is your assessment of Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis?
The humanitarian situation in the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe remains amongst the most acute crises in the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations is extremely concerned about the situation of the most vulnerable people in the country, including the 7.9 million affected by the humanitarian crisis in the north-east.
We are encouraged by the commitment of all stakeholders including the Government of Nigeria and the international community to continue to work together in addressing the massive humanitarian needs particularly for women and children and laying the foundations for recovery of the region.

Over the past year, we have seen a resurgence in violent attacks, and civilians continue to bear the brunt of the crisis. Aid workers have also become a direct target and 12 of our colleagues have lost their lives in 2019. We must also remember that two female aid workers, Alice Loksha and Grace Taku, are still being held hostage, after too many months in captivity.

The escalating attacks also mean that it is now more difficult – and in some locations impossible – for aid workers to reach some of the people who desperately need their assistance, particularly in Borno State (Kala-Balge, Marte, Kukawa, Nganzai, Magumeri, Guzamala). Despite the challenging operating context, the humanitarian community was able to reach 5.2 million people with life-saving assistance in 2019, including 2.4 million people who received food assistance every month. Aid workers save the lives of more than 650 malnourished children every day in 2019.
In 2020, aid organisations stand resolute to continue our engagement towards the most vulnerable people in Nigeria, in coordination with Nigerian authorities.

What is the quantum of the UN’s intervention in the country both in kind and cash?
The United Nations system in Nigeria is big with 23 UN agencies carrying out life-saving interventions; and effectively responding to national development initiatives of Nigeria But, let me first establish that our conduct as international civil servants and activities as United Nations system in Nigeria are guided by the United Nations Charter which stipulates four purposes of our existence: to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations; to work together to improve living conditions of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms; and to be a forum for helping nations achieve these goals.

The modality and the framework of UN engagement at the country level is the same across the member states. The UN’s support to the government and people of Nigeria is embodied in a Common Country Programme Document called the United Nations Sustainable Development Partnership Framework (UNSDPF). This UNSDPF: 2018-2022, the 4th in the series which started in 2002, outline the strategic direction and results expected from the cooperation between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the UN System in Nigeria. The UNSDPF (2018-2022) serves as a collective support and response of the UN system to the national development initiatives of the Government in implementation of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Africa Union Agenda 2063 and other internationally agreed declarations.

The Partnership Framework, as we call it, is built on effective partnership and the UN programming principles of human rights, inclusive development, gender equality and women empowerment, sustainable development and resilience, and accountability. It also places emphasis on capacity building for government institutions which provide basic services, as well as on communities emerging from crisis, including those in the north-east.
In broad terms, the Sustainable Development Goals framework of 17 Goals hinged on 5 Ps (People, Planet, Peace, Prosperity and Partnership), forms the basis of the UN interventions in Nigeria since January 2016. To that extent, UN’s interventions in the country are crystallised into three results areas: Governance, Human Rights, Peace & Security; Equitable Quality Basic Services; and Sustainable and Inclusive Growth and Development.

We do a lot to promote good governance and the rule of law in Nigeria. The UN system in Nigeria places premium and special focus on increasing citizen’s confidence and engagement in governance and public service delivery mechanisms, by supporting the fight against corruption and reinforcing the accountability frameworks. The National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria in partnership with the United Nations and with the support of the United Kingdom, launched the report on the Second Survey on Corruption in Nigeria in December 2019. Women’s representation in decision making positions is another area of intervention by the UN in Nigeria. We support the government in building the capacity of the judiciary for improved handling of corruption cases and the National Assembly for enhanced oversight functions; as well as empowering the civil societies, including women and youth groups, religious leaders and traditional rulers, trade associations, local communities and persons with disabilities for increased participation in anti-corruption campaign.

All UN’s interventions in Nigeria are guided by the spirit and principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We work closely with the National Human Rights Commission to ensure that government and its agencies as duty bearers, uphold at all times, the fundamental human rights of rights holders.

The UN is addressing the violent conflicts and attendant insecurity as development challenges in Nigeria. We leverage on our global network of expertise, and partner with the government and other stakeholders at all levels to provide quality advisory service, youth and women participation in peace processes, capacity strengthening, and technical support for conflict prevention, mediation and reconciliation, psychosocial support through the establishment of early warning mechanisms and the national peace architecture. On the peace architecture, the UN is ready to support the government of Nigeria to create a National Peace Commission and the Senate has passed a bill for the Act providing for the establishment of the National Commission for Peace, Reconciliation and Mediation.

I have written to the SGF expressing our readiness to support both the Executive and Legislature to make this process more inclusive and consensual. As regards provision of equitable quality basic services, the UN in Nigeria and partners, including the line Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government at the federal and state levels, private sector and local and international NGOs, are focusing on most disadvantaged, and ensuring that Nigerian citizens have access and use quality health, nutrition and HIV & AIDS services. It is important to note at this point, that the UN in Nigeria supported the HIV/AIDS prevalence survey, which helps in understanding the prevalence of HIV AIDs in the Country.

The UN, through learning and skills development interventions, is working in the areas of strengthening the education systems’ capacity to deliver and contribute to scaling up quality services within safe learning environments, using a life cycle approach from early childhood development to post-secondary levels. These interventions provide children and young people with the skills for live long learning and for contributing to greater social cohesion and economic development, in partnership with communities.

In the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector, the UN works in the areas of advocacy for greater political commitment and accountability. We also see to capacity building at both national and subnational levels to legislate and formulate evidence-based plans and budgets, as well as coordinate, monitor and mobilise resources for scaling-up equitable WASH interventions.

Nigeria continues to experience both natural and human-made disasters which expose communities to long-term risks and conditions that jeopardise their rights to safety, dignity and livelihood, thus limiting their ability to achieve development goals. In response, therefore, the UN system is contributing to scaling up the response for IDPs, returnees and host communities, including children and adolescents facing vulnerabilities such as detention, harassment and forced recruitment.

The UN system is supporting the government to develop and enhance productivity in agriculture, manufacturing and services, thereby reducing the dependence on crude oil sales for revenue and foreign exchange. The focus is on supporting the government to creating economic opportunities, empowering youths and women, integrating rural communities, creating decent jobs and reducing poverty. We are also supporting the development of appropriate policies and frameworks for safeguarding the environment and ensuring food security.

Specifically, what has been the UN’s response to the humanitarian/economic crisis occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria?
It is no longer news that COVID-19 has depleted global economy and Nigeria’s is no exemption. National economy and individual businesses are creaking under the pressure of coronavirus pandemic. The UN’s response to COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria has been comprehensive and well-coordinated with the Government of Nigeria. The first step we took as the UN in Nigeria, was to raise the UN COVID-19 Task Team for the coordination of One UN response.

The UN system quickly reprogrammed US$ 3.2 million and procured in a timely manner essential medical supplies including 50 ventilators, 25,000 test kits, 5 ambulances and thousands of PPEs for immediate support to government’s Response.
We knew that for the national COVID-19 response to be efficient and effective, we must cooperate, collaborate and coordinate with government and development partners.

Therefore, on 23 March 2020, the UN Country leadership engaged with the national COVID 19 leadership of Nigeria (comprising of Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Nigeria Disease Control Centre (NCDC), and the Ministry of Health) and key multilateral and bilateral donors to discuss the unfolding emergency. We collectively agreed to adopt the “Four Ones” guiding principles of engagement for national authorities and partners to respond to the pandemic: One National COVID-19 Multi-Sectoral Pandemic Response Plan; One COVID-19 National Coordinating Authority with a broad-based multi-sector mandate; One COVID-19 M&E System for tracking and reporting progress; and One COVID-19 Financing and Investment Platform.

Having recognised that the scale of the response must match the magnitude of the pandemic, the UN in Nigeria and the federal government established the Nigeria/ UN COVID-19 Basket Fund. The Basket Fund was jointly launched on 6 April, by the UN, the Government of Nigeria, the multilateral partners and the private sector. Multilateral Donors like the EU have welcomed the Basket Fund and confirmed Euro 50 million to the Basket on 5 May 2020 through UNDP. UK (DFID), Switzerland and Germany and other bilateral Donors are also considering contributions to the Basket. The Private sector foundations are also considering contributions to the Basket. For example, APM Terminals has contributed $200,000, the Dangote Foundation has also made an initial contribution of N1.5 billion ($3.8 million) to the UN Basket on 7 May 2020. Other Foundations are awaiting due diligence. Total Funding mobilised for the COVID 19 response to the UN Basket as of 26 May 2020 is $ 60.2 million.

To strengthen the Nigeria healthcare system to enable it to cope better with the threat of the pandemic, the UN has further donated to the Government of Nigeria, thousands of essential clinical management, surveillance, and preventive and control items, from the COVID-19 Basket Fund.

We deployed staff and resources across the States to support States Emergency Operation Centres (EOCs) to assist in contact tracing, training of health officials, risk communication, etc.
UN in Nigeria is not only responding to people out there, we are also concerned about those in prisons across Nigeria. We have partnered with the National Correctional Service to first sensitise inmates and staff on how to stay safe; and through the provision of basic protective and preventive equipment and supplies, including gloves, face masks, sanitizer, dispensers as well as infrared thermometers.

Would you say Nigeria has had a fair share of UN humanitarian interventions compared to the rest of the world?
No country facing a humanitarian crisis has received sufficient attention, assistance or funding for the humanitarian response, and this is a real issue.

We are now almost half-way through the year and have received less than 5 per cent of the budget requires to provide urgent life-saving assistance to 5.8 million people amongst the most vulnerable.
Despite multiple emergencies across the world, in 2019 the UN was able to work with the international community to raise $580 million, representing about 69 per cent of the $848 million required to fund last year’s humanitarian response.

With needs increasing and especially additional needs linked to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigeria, assisting people and communities affected by the crisis in the north-east is critical to stabilising the sub-region and I do hope the world will step up and support Nigeria and its people this year again.

We have put in a lot of efforts and have got some encouraging results: In states like Adamawa and Yobe (Geidam and Gulani LGA – worst-affected), nearly two million displaced people have been supported to return home in recent years by a combined effort of FG, UN and INGO partners. Livelihoods and recovery programmes (including skill acquisition, financial grants, farming support etc) are being provided to help returnees pick up their lives. However, a lot still need to be done as there are millions out there with urgent need of our humanitarian support.

Through several high level local and international platforms and resource mobilization instruments including the yearly Humanitarian Response Plan/appeal, UN General Assembly, donor conferences (Oslo, Berlin), dedicated country fund (NHF) and private sector engagements, the UN continues to prioritise the crisis and needs of affected populations in north-east Nigeria. The UN will continue to support Nigeria, a key member-state and a critical economic hub in Africa.

What is the UN’s plan for the country post COVID-19?
UN’s post COVID-19 plan is a universal conversation and the UN Secretary General Antono Guterres, recently presented his report on the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity”. The report calls for protecting jobs, businesses and livelihoods to set in motion a safe recovery of societies and economies as soon as possible for a more sustainable, gender-equal, and carbon-neutral path—better than the “old normal”.

UN teams covering 162 countries and territories will be rolling out recovery plans in the next 12 to 18 months, under the leadership of UN Resident Coordinators, and drawing-on all of the UN’s assets locally and globally in an integrated response. In Nigeria, I am leading this process. Anticipating the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in the post-coronavirus era, the UN in Nigeria did an analysis of the socio-economic environment and projections post-coronavirus, and prepared seven insightful briefs and analytics on the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, to enhance planning and decision-making by the Government. A UN “Offer Plus” is currently being developed in partnership with development partners to support the Government to cushion the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The post COVID-19 transformative recovery offer of the UN in Nigeria, is guided by principle of “leaving no one behind”(LNOB), and focuses on both immediate and medium-term interventions to help the government initiate a paradigm shift in development towards a “New Nigeria.”

The immediate response will be strengthening the health system to respond to the health crisis and addressing the lingering food insecurity, which could be more threatening than COVID-19. The medium-term measures will target support to restoring and protecting the economy, service provision, livelihoods and employment while creating an enabling environment to help bring the economy back on a sustainable development path.

What are the major obstacles to your humanitarian intervention in Nigeria?
There are four major obstacles: Humanitarian access; attacks and targeting of aid workers and assets; IDP camps congestions; and funding.

Humanitarian access to key locations hosting civilian populations remains difficult and in some cases, impossible, impeding the delivery of lifesaving aid. Particularly in Borno State, most LGAs outside the capital, Maiduguri, are hard to reach while some have been cut off due to worsening insecurity in some parts. Escalating attacks and clashes since mid-2019 have made LGAs like Kukawa, Guzamala, Marte, Nganzai, Kala-Balge and Magumeri more difficult or impossible for aid workers to reach, raising concerns for several thousands of affected civilians left without assistance. Alternative access options including helicopter flights and third aid party deliveries have made response operations more expensive to run.

Targeting of aid workers and assets: The indiscriminate attacks and targeting of aid workers and assets by non-state armed groups (NSAGs), not only in Borno State but also in Yobe and Adamawa states is a major challenge for the humanitarian response in Nigeria. In 2019, at least 12 aid workers were killed and two are still held hostage by NSAGs in the region In January this year, one of our largest UN hubs housing aid workers in Ngala LGA of Borno state was directly targeted and partly burnt by NSAGs who also set assets on fire, including an operational vehicle. In recent weeks, we have seen aid convoys being ambushed and looted. These direct attacks, which violate International Humanitarian Laws, have in some situations forced temporary suspension of operations and withdrawal of staff in some worst-affected locations, leaving vulnerable civilians without help.

Congestion/overcrowding across camps: Ongoing attacks and clashes across the region continue to trigger displacements with thousands of people arriving already-crowded camps particularly in Borno State. Nearly half of all camps in Borno are currently overcrowded, stretching facilities and increasing the risks of outbreaks such as fire and diseases like cholera. We are working with authorities to secure additional land for immediate congestion especially as social distancing is a key mitigation measure for the COVID-19 pandemic that has now spread across the country.

Funding: The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates humanitarian needs in crisis-affected areas. So far the humanitarian response, including the specific COVID-19 response in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, has received less than 5% funding, at a time where needs are increasing and aid workers should be stepping up their support, especially as the lean and rainy seasons are fast approaching. We are also concerned that funding may be impacted by the financial difficulties donor countries are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are however intensifying engagement with the international and local communities to ensure stability of resources to continue to help affected populations and communities in the BAY states. The increased engagement of the Government of Nigeria – in showing leadership of the response – is encouraging, and we hope that we can find lasting solutions to this crisis in no distant future.