We’ll protect Nigerians, says Buhari

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EVERYTHING possible will be done to protect Nigerians from the adverse effects of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari assured on Tuesday.

He gave the assurance during a briefing session by the Prof Doyin Salami-led Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC), at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

The PEAC Chairman, Prof Doyin Salami, warned of the likely consequences of a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, recommending budget review and prioritisation of expenditure.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the President said Nigeria had foreseen the economic problems that might come in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will explore all alternatives to protect Nigerians.

He noted that a lot had changed about the government’s economic plans, especially with oil prices oscillating between $29 and $30 in recent times, as opposed to the $57 dollars benchmark for this year’s budget.

The President also noted that many variables, including production cost and political impact, determine oil prices, but said “we will see how to survive fallen prices, as we already envisaged the problem.”

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Stressing the importance of education and healthcare, the President submitted that if people were adequately educated, “they won’t accept any form of mismanagement by leadership, nor would they allow themselves to be manipulated by those promoting ethnic and religious sentiments.”

He promised that inputs in agriculture, education and healthcare would continue as much as practicable.

Prof Salami, leading other PEAC members, painted sobering scenarios of what could happen to the Nigerian economy, if the COVID-19 pandemic lasted for too long.

The PEAC chair said: “These include; slower growth, as the supply and demand sides of global economy would be affected, uncertainty, which would erode confidence, governments acting unilaterally instead of cooperatively, further drop in oil prices, and lockdowns gaining grounds around the world.

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“There would also be oil glut, trade imbalance, drop in foreign reserves and rise in unemployment.”

Noting that many countries round the world may go into economic recession, the PEAC advocated hard work for Nigeria to keep its head above the waters.

Recommending, among others, a possible revision of the budget, with priority spending on healthcare, reprioritisation of expenditure on infrastructure to focus on projects nearing completion with pro-poor effects, curtailing recurrent expenditure, mobilising the private sector to strengthen health sector infrastructure, and boosting of government revenue, the Salami stressed that the projections may seem dire, but the worst may be avoided with hard work and scrupulous implementation of policies.

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