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, 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.