Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari thursday told a virtual forum of world leaders backed by the United Nations (UN) that only debt cancellations can give developing countries reliefs from the devastation caused by COVID-19, Tagged "High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond," the forum was convened by Canada, Jamaica and the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Gutteres, and attended by over 50 world leaders.
At the meeting, Buhari who said the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic had altered global events, renewed the appeal for debt cancellation for African countries, insisting that the only hope of reprieve for humanity is global solidarity.
According to him, this global solidarity can only be demonstrated through debt forgivenesses by developed countries and international financial institutions to "needy countries" especially in Africa.
This is coming as Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has said the federal government was expanding access to water, sanitisation and hygiene facilities as Nigeria's most effective weapons against the spread of the pandemic.
A statement by Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari told the forum that such magnanimity by developed countries would assist African countries in reversing the devastations caused COVID-19 to the human race.
Adesina said Buhari also appealed to advanced nations to come up with free additional resources through an international consensus to aid the fight against pandemic by poor countries.
He said the president also advised advanced nations against adopting what he described as a "me first" and "every man for himself" approach, warning that consequences of such attitudes would be detrimental to the wellbeing of all nations in the 21st century.
"The world has changed through COVID-19 and so must the global financing architecture for development financing and the response to the current pandemic. There is an urgent need for weak and needy countries especially those of Africa, to receive a fresh reprieve.
"This is a historic plague affecting every corner of the globe. In the circumstances, the response needed must be global, unconditionally, comprehensive, and rapid. Debts must be forgiven and cancelled. Free additional resources are needed urgently through an international consensus to enable poor countries work to reverse the devastations of COVID-19 to the human race.
"Rising now and standing together in true global solidarity to my mind is the only hope for humanity, the best approach to safeguarding the 2030 SDGs and the only way we can build back for more resilient economies and societies," he was quoted as saying.
According to the statement, the president used the forum to intimate the international community with the devastating impact of the pandemic on Nigerian economy, the country's health sector and the efforts being made by the government to mitigate the effect of the pandemic.
It also said the president told the world leaders that the pandemic brought shocks upon the country, highlighting its adverse effects on the economy as well as measures being put in place to cushion its effects during and after the pandemic.
"For Nigeria, the shocks are multiple, including the sharp decline in international oil prices which has negatively impacted revenues and growth, worsened external and domestic positions, and further increased banking sector vulnerabilities, resulting in enormous human and economic toll on the country.
"We have been proactive in implementing a number of strong measures, including fiscal, monetary and structural policies, and a multi-front response to the health crisis created by COVID-19 which captures all tiers of Government as well as the private sector.
"Our objective is to revert to the government's planned medium-term fiscal consolidation path once the crisis is over. Our strategy for macroeconomic stability is anchored on our home-grown Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), " he was further quoted.
Adesina also said Buhari told the forum that Nigeria had revised its 2020 budget downwards and shifted emphasis to response activities towards bridging the critical gaps in the health infrastructure to strengthen national response to COVID-19 and other diseases.
He added that the president spoke on demographics and health, pointing out that with an estimated population of 200 million and a large segment of economically vulnerable population, Nigeria had a high burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
"This level of disease burden, coupled with poverty level and Nigeria's weak system; the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly jeopardizing and reversing the gains already made by the Government and its partners including in such other areas as outbreaks of Lassa and yellow fevers and measles," he added.
In another development in Abuja yesterday, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said the federal government was expanding access to water, sanitisation and hygiene facilities as Nigeria's most effective weapons against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A statement by the vice-president's spokesman, Mr. Laolu Akande, said Osinbajo made the disclosure at the virtual inauguration of the Steering Committee of the "Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet Campaign."
Akande said the event was attended by members of the committee drawn from the Federal Executive Council (FEC), states, local government areas, civil society and the organised private sector.
He quoted the vice-president as saying, "we are embarking upon this initiative at a most auspicious time. As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, we recognize that expanding access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities is our most effective weapon against the scourge of infectious diseases.
"Ensuring the provision of adequate WASH facilities in our communities is the cornerstone of our efforts to strengthen the resilience of our public health structures beyond the present challenge of COVID-19. This is the basis of our commitment to ending open defecation and more broadly to raising the standards in the WASH sector."