Nigeria: Coronavirus - 39.4 Million Nigerians May Be Jobless in 6 Months - Govt

Naira (file photo).

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on Thursday that unemployment may rise to 33.6 percent, which means a total of 39.4 million people will be jobless by the end of 2020 if the country fails "to take prompt pre-emptive measures".

Osinbajo said this while presenting a post-COVID-19 Economic Sustainability Plan to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The plan entitled "Bouncing Back: The Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan", was prepared by the Vice President-led Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) constituted on March 30, 2020, by President Buhari.

The vice president also said that with a severe downturn in oil earnings, the country would have a shortfall of about N185 billion every month.

He said: "In addition, the inevitable mandatory lockdown and social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have had a severe negative impact on farms and factories, as well as on trade, transport and tourism.

"Several projections, including those done by the NBS on behalf of the Economic Sustainability Committee, showed:

"A severe downturn in our oil earnings, as a result of which, even with oil price at $30 a barrel, we would still have a shortfall of about N185 billion every month, in the amount available for allocation to the three tiers of government;

"That unemployment may rise to 33.6% or about 39.4 million people by the end of 2020, if we fail to take prompt pre-emptive measures;

"That millions more will fall into extreme poverty, before the pandemic ends;

"That GDP may fall to between minus 4.40% and minus 8.91%, depending on the length of the lockdown period and strength of our economic response."

Osinbajo, however, expressed confidence that Nigeria "will avert the worst of the impending economic headwinds and convert this crisis to a victory for the Nigerian economy" "if the proposals are taken as a whole and implemented conscientiously".

The vice president, who said the key to the success of the plan was 'implementation', stated that the committee recommended that each minister would be responsible for supervising the implementation of plans situated in their respective ministries.

The ministers, he added, would also be responsible for ensuring synergy between all relevant stakeholders across the public and private sectors.

He said the ESC, which is inter-ministerial in nature, should only remain to oversee plan implementation, ensure inter-ministerial coordination, and report regularly to the president, while expenditure is monitored through the National Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework and the Budget Office of the Federation.

Recommendations in the plan

He said the ESC was motivated by the president's directive to come up with a plan that would provide succour to Nigerians, taking into account the dangers posed to the economy by the global economic slowdown, which also resulted in a drastic fall in crude oil production and prices, with serious implications for government revenues and foreign exchange earnings.

Osinbajo, who stated that the ESC considered the existing government policies and strategies and consulted with members of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC), the 36 state governors; and the leadership of the National Assembly, said the committee, therefore, recommended that "we must carry out mass programmes that create jobs and utilise local materials."

This, he said, included a mass agricultural programme, expected to bring between 20,000 and 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every state of the federation and create millions of direct and indirect job opportunities.

He added that the plan made provision for extensive public works and road construction programmes by focusing on both major and rural roads and using locally available materials like limestone, cement and granite.

Osinbajo also listed a mass housing programme to deliver up to 300,000 homes annually, engaging young professionals and artisans who formed themselves into small and medium scale businesses within the construction industry, using indigenous labour and materials.

He also mentioned the installation of a solar home system, targeting five million households, serving about 25 million Nigerians, who are currently not connected to the national grid.

Osinbajo said: "We have also recommended -(i) support for local production and manufacturing of all that is possible, including tech apps, software, shoes, garments, steel fabrication, ceramics and furniture, with the required capital and essential machinery.

"(ii) The provision of ample support for the informal sector through low-interest loans and by easing procedures for registration, licensing, obtaining permits, etc.

"By these means, urban and informal business people like mechanics, tailors, artisans, and petty traders, will be encouraged to improve and develop their services.

"(iii) Support for MSMEs, especially in assisting to restructure their loans with banks.

"Among others, this will assist businesses in the pharmaceutical, aviation, and the hospitality industry, private schools, road transportation, technology companies, and the creative industry, amongst others.

"(iv) Facilitation of broadband connectivity across the country and creation of a wide variety of technology and ICT jobs.

"(v) Expansion of the Social Investment Programme, through an increase in the number of cash transfer beneficiaries, N-Power volunteers and sundry traders enjoying small and microloans through the MarketMoni and TraderMoni schemes.

"The pre-existing conditional cash transfer will also be extended to cover a larger number of the extremely poor."

Govt to support businesses - Buhari

While speaking, President Buhari hailed Nigerians for their resilience and adapting to the realities of COVID-19 that threw the entire world into a serious economic crisis thus, making things difficult.

He said: "While the COVID-19 pandemic spread through our towns and cities, it continues to take a massive toll on the economy.

"I know that many of us have experienced great difficulty during this time, businesses have considerably slowed down and in certain instances, operations closed, workdays have been cut short and personal liberties restricted, people have lost their jobs and earning a living has indeed been difficult.

"This has been a trying time for those in the informal sector, which constitutes a large part of our economy, important family celebrations were held without the presence of loved ones, schools are closed and parents have had to resort to home schooling in addition to juggling other responsibilities.

"Despite all these, Nigerians have done their best and persevered.

"I must salute Nigerians for their resilience in adapting to the realities of the COVID-19, while also recognising the super human effort of our frontline health workers who continue to play a critical role in keeping our country and people safe."

Buhari said more efforts would be geared towards making life better for citizens.

"Non-oil income largely made up of taxes has also dramatically reduced on account of the lockdown. It is clear that businesses face the prospect of collapse.

"So, we must prepare for difficult times, while the government continues to seek ways of supporting businesses and industry," he said.

The president, while speaking on the work of the ESC, said: "I am pleased to hear that the Economic Sustainability committee consulted with both the National Economic Council and the National Assembly and I look forward to a continuing partnership with both organs, to implement what I consider a national plan.

"As we go forward, we must chart a new course and remain steadfast.

"I believe the priorities contained in this plan present a practical way of achieving our desire of a truly competitive economy that can support our people and secure our future.

"I congratulate the Economic Sustainability Committee for completing this critical national assignment in good time.

"I believe that with God's help and in a sense of duty to prosperity we will successfully reset our economy for a brighter future."

Government must act fast to avert crisis - NLC

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has said that the way to go is for the government to take full responsibility, instead of causing panic.

The NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, told Daily Trust that the government should come up with innovative ways to curb the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Wabba said: "While we identify and agree that there are challenges, which may affect workers, especially the fact there has been disruption in the production lines due to a prolonged lockdown, quick action must be taken."

"With unemployment comes the issue of insecurity.

"By parading these figures, it means we are giving way for extremists to come in and undermine the entire social service of our country.

"From the labour movement, we are not aware of the figure, we have a department of research, we have checked our record and that figure is not empirical."

"People should stop parading figures, we should work together and save jobs, and create more jobs".

Experts proffer solution

Experts have said that the best way to recover jobs and revenues lost to the coronavirus pandemic is for the federal government to empower the private sector to drive the post-COVID-19 economic recovery process.

Speaking to Daily Trust, the Director of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Policy Centre, Olawale Rasheed, said the federal government must change its ideological approach to management of the economy towards a private sector-driven economy.

"Genuine partnership with the private sector, especially the SMEs, is required for the government to address the post-COVID-19 recession and likely depression.

"In several countries, the recovery plan has the organised private sector, through their institutional structures, as the main platforms for operations.

"This eliminates partisan considerations and ensures that genuine businesses are reached through recovery funding among others," he said.

Rasheed, who is also the Director of African Railway Roundtable, said the socialistic thinking has been at variance with several findings that confirm that business rather than government can grow the economy.

"This is as true today as was before the pandemic. For the sustainability plan to work, the philosophical approach should change.

"The government should not be the driver.

"Empower the private sector without let or hindrance and see how the economy will bounce back," he said.

An Economic Development Specialist, Professor Adesoji Adesugba, said Nigeria must concentrate on economic programmes that have the most significant multiplier effect to create jobs and increase revenues.

Professor Adesugba, who is also the Provost of the Business Entrepreneurship Skills and Technology Centre of the ACCI, said this is an opportunity for the reset everyone is talking about in the new normal.

"The most important thing to consider is the cohesiveness of the policy implementation and the understanding of all the stakeholders of how to attain the set goals and objectives," he said.

He called for investment in construction, agriculture and health.

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