President Muhammadu Buhari has at last, rolled out his programme aimed at addressing the challenges posed by the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, almost two months after the disease entered Nigeria.
Rolling out the programme through the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, at a press briefing in Abuja, the President said he approved the engagement of 774, 000 Nigerians on Special Public Works programme to cushion the effect of COVID-19.
According to him, the 1,000 people are to be recruited from each of the 774 local government areas in the country, while a sum of N60 billion is to be earmarked as allowances and operational cost from the COVID-19 crisis intervention fund, for the initiative.
He explained that he had previously approved a pilot special public works programme in eight states to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, and that the programme would now be extended to all the 36 States and the FCT from October to December 2020. The selected time-frame was to ensure that it was implemented after the planting season, he explained.
The President further stated that “the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is evaluating how best to extend the Special Public Works Programme, to provide modest stipends for itinerant workers to undertake roads rehabilitation and social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, health extension and other critical services”.
He explained that the intervention programme would be undertaken in conjunction with the key federal ministries responsible for Agriculture, Environment, Health and Infrastructure, as well as the states, in order to financially empower individuals who lose their jobs due to the economic crisis.
Furthermore, according to the President, a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund is to be established, and this would involve drawing cash resources from various special funds and accounts, in consultation with, and approval of the National Assembly.
He explained that “the N500 billion is proposed to be utilized to upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
This would also “help to finance the federal government’s interventions to support states in improving healthcare facilities, finance the creation of a special public works programme and fund any additional interventions”, he stated.
The President noted that although similar challenges were experienced in 2008/2009 as well as in 2015/2016, Nigeria had considerably lower fiscal buffers now than in previous economic downturns, “while the decline in international oil prices and domestic production may be magnified if a severe outbreak of COVID-19 occurs”.
To directly address these health and economic challenges, the President said he had approved fiscal stimulus package as part of an integrated policy framework to ensure that Nigeria’s healthcare system, fiscal position and economy were sufficiently supported to weather these shocks.
For us, this is a wonderful programme aimed at dealing with the effects of COVID-19. But Nigeria is never deficient in coming up with beautiful and innovative programmes, the only problem is implementation, coupled with bureaucratic bottlenecks.
For instance, how will this particular programme going to be implemented? Who will do the recruitment of the 1,000 people to be engaged per local government area? What are the criteria for recruiting them?
How are we sure that the politicians will not fill the positions with their family members and political hangers on, thereby excluding the real people for which the scheme is intended? What is the sustainability of the programme, the guarantee that those recruited will continue to receive their stipends for a very long time?
The fear is that by the time this set out programme will come on stream, COVID-19 and its effects would have gone, and many people would have suffered terribly, as a result without any assistance.
We hear that the N500 billion intervention fund will be taken from the Sovereign Wealth Fund, and that Nigeria will be seeking loans from the World Bank, the IMF, and the African Development Bank, to cushion the effects of COVID-19.
We hope that we will not be jeopardizing the future of our youths by terribly depleting the Sovereign Wealth Fund and also piling up foreign loans that may not be judiciously utilized, and properly accounted for.