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COVID 19:Hajia Ahmed heaves A Sigh Of Relief As WHO Says The Number Of Infected Persons Have Hit 3,151,603

  By Stephen Ubanna

Hajia Zainab Usman, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning who has been on the neck of the Board members  of the International Monetary Fund, IMF,  to approve a $3.4 billion loan facility for the country   to support the fight against   the Wuhan  town, in Hebei Province of the Asian country of China  emerged  Coronavirus disease is a happy person.

 Hajia Ahmed source of happiness  was based on the fact  that  Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director,  of the IMF and other Board members of the International Financial  body  has finally approved  the  $3.4 billion  emergency financial assistance requested by the government  to address  the severe economic impact  of the COVID 19, pandemic and the sharp drop in the price of Oil in the International market on the economy.

 There was the initial fear that the IMF Board, may not approve the loan because of the drop of oil prices to the rock bottom of less than $20 per barrel  which  may affect sources of repayment but it was said to have been facilitated  through the Bank’s Rapid Financing Instrument ,RFI, for developing countries.

Indeed, the minister has every reason to be happy for the external funding for the 2020 budget. This is because the government had succeeded in getting the IMF loan  without  any input from Ngozi Okon-Iweala, a former minister of Finance and Coordinator of the Economy u and now a member of the multi-lateral International Financial Institution External Advisory Group on COVID 19.

Many believe that President Muhammadu  Buhari, efforts in tackling the COVID 19 , health crisis since its out- break in the country  last February , described as a welcome  development  may have put the country  in the good books  of the IMF  Board members who were ready to support whenever the issue of external funding by the bank for countries are being discussed. This may have informed that when the issue came up for discussion at their recent Board meeting, they did not hesitate in giving approving the loan for Nigeria.

Unlike in the past ,where such facilities, are used to settle overhead costs and other government expenditures  that has nothing to do with the poor and Vulnerable Nigerians, but this time around, the Bank has made it clear  the higher percentage of the loan  should be spent on the health sector and providing  palliatives for the poor and the  vulnerable  including funding low and Medium Scale  businesses.

Appealing to the government  to take steps  to unify its exchange rate  which are in different categories to avoid wasting the loan facility, the International Financial body has  advised that ‘’this should be done as quickly as possible’’. This is where Godwin Emefiele, governor of Central and Chairman of the Bankers Committee , has to  step in to bring the situation under control.

Althogh, Nigerian , had  benefited from the IMF package, but it had expected to be included in the Financial body debt relief package  for heavily indebted countries in order to free up funds  to fight the  OVID 19 pandemic.  But the IMF Board  had dampened  the enthusiasm of Nigerians when it announced on April 13, 2020,  that ’’ no need for  debt for Nigeria’’, a facility that was said to have been extended  to 25 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East.

The exclusion of Nigeria from the  IMF debt relief package may have informed  why  Ayuba Wabba, President , Nigerian Labour Cngress, NLC, to  cry out, pleading with the International Financial Institution  to add Nigeria on the list  of the benefitting countries  of the debt relief package , if it is really sincere in helping country  come out of the present health crisis.

Hajia Ahmed: Minister of Finance, Budge and National Planning

Hajia Ahmed, the minister of Finance , who has been  under pressure from official and unofficial quarters  to explain why  the country was not added on the IMF debt forgiving list blamed on the fact that ‘’ the country has no debt  outstanding  or debt obligation  to be forgiven’’.  She disclosed that it was because the country has no debt obligation to service that it applied  for the  $3.4 billion  external  financing facility   which has been granted.

  Ahmad Lawan, led All Progressive Congress, APC, controlled Senate, has given the Katsina  state born Nigerian President, the nod to raise an additional   loan of N850 billion from  the Domestic Capital market as requested  in order  to fund some key projects in the 2020 fiscal budget. This is because of the diversion of funds from the budget to fund the Containment of the COVID 19 spread  in the country.

 Meanwhile, Mitsubiro Furusawa,  Deputy Managing Director  and Acting Chairman of IMF, has cautioned the Federal  government that after the  COVID 19 health Crisis has passed, the country should not hesitate ’’to continue  on its Medium –term macroeconomic stability policy, which is a revenue- based  fiscal Consolidation essential  to keep the country’s local and foreign debts sustainable in order to create  fiscal  for priority spending  space’’.

As a prelude to ensuring the Sustainability of the economy after the COVID 19 passes, Yemi Osinbajo, a Professor of Law and the country’s Vice President  at  the instance f Buhari, had inaugurated the Economic Sustainability Committee. The Committee has a mandate to develop a sustainable response to the country’s economic down turn arising   from  the drop in  prices in the International oil market. According to him, the President had set up the Committee  to develop a clear  economic sustainability plan between now and 2023, identify fiscal and monetary measures to enhance oil and non –oil revenues in order  to fund the economic plan, develop stimulus package and come up  with other clear-cut measures  to create more jobs while keeping the existing business  going as recommended by the IMF.  

Given the telling effect of the lockdown of Lagos, described as the epicenter of the disease, Ogun and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, on the economy, the President, acting on the advice of the governors has promised to ease the lockdown in the next one week as the country enters into the next  phase of the Containment of the disease.

The governors were said to have advised the President to impose inter-state restrictions  but allow intra- state movement. They were said to also recommended continued  restriction of large gatherings and Compulsory use of Face Masks in public places.  This may form the focus of the next phase of the lockdown  in  Lagos, Ogun, FCT and other parts of the country.

 Note that the over 900 Companies in China  which  had taken advantage of the out-break of the Coronavirus  in the country   last December to start Commercial  production of Face Mask for export  may have bad market in Nigeria.

 This is because ,there are firms in Cross river state, south-south Nigeria, that have started producing the Face Mask in Commercial quantities that Lagos and Kano states governments had  agreed to buy from them.  Other states are likely to follow suit. This is expected to save huge amount of Foreign Exchange for the country.  As at Wednesday, April 29, 2020, the Chikwe Ihekweazu, led  Nigerian Center for Disease Control, NCDC, had  confirmed that there are 1, 532 infected persons in the country.

With the rising  Coronavirus cases in Lagos, Kano and other parts of the country, the question on the lips of most people is: What is the job of the 15-man Medical Team  who  arrived the country on April 18, 2020, from China, at the instance of the Chinese civil Engineering and Construction Company, CCECC, in order  to complement  the government ongoing efforts  in tackling the pandemic?

Osagie Ehanire, minister of Health, appeared to have  exonerated the Team  from any blame, noting that they have been on the NCDC  mandatory 14 –day quarantine. ‘’They had to fully observe the Protocols put in place by the NCDC’’, the minister has said .Zhou Pinjian, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Corroborated the view when he said that they were adhering to the NCDC Protocols.

According to the Ambassador ,’’ they are on 100 percent quarantine on the Isolation facility provided by the CCECC. He disclosed that NCDC officials have visited the facility twice, insisting that they have to follow Protocol. ‘’They are here to deliver medical supplies  and play  advisory role only, which is a prevention  working group on COVID 19’’, he remarked.

Giving an insider information about their coming to Nigeria, the Ambassador disclosed that they will not do  anything  like practicing  as Medical Doctors in the country because it was not part of the arrangement. It is not  surprising why the Chinese  15-man Medical Team are  watching  Nigerians contact the disease and die with  ease but could  do nothing to stop it as obtained  in their own country.

I a related development, the World Health Organisation, AWHO, a health  agency  of the United Nations,  UN,  had  revealed that the number of infected COVID 19 persons  the world over  had risen to 3,151,603 as April 29, 2020. The WHO disclosed that  out of the infected confirmed cases , 964, 513, had fully recovered leaving only  1,968,600 persons, still suffering from the disease. The bad side of the disease is the ease at which infected people die from it.

Going by reports compiled by the agency  from  China , United States, US, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, United Kingdom, UK Iran,, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, South  Africa, CtedÍvoire,  Nigeria among others, since the out- break of the disease in December31, 2019, 218,490 people had died , noting that the number has continued to increase by the day in the recent time as no vaccine has been developed to trat it. Scientists, Pharmaceutical Companies are still working in triangular cycles to develop one with grants from the US and China.   

Stephen Ubanna

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