Presidents of West African countries, under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States Authority of Heads of State and Government, have appointed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), Champion of their COVID-19 response.
According to a statement by Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the appointment took place on Thursday at the Extraordinary ECOWAS Summit on COVID-19, which was held via teleconference under the Chairmanship of the President of the Republic of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou.
During the teleconference, Buhari was said to have called on fellow ECOWAS leaders to look beyond the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and tap into various opportunities that it presents for the betterment of lives in the Member States.
He said, “In every challenging situation such as the current one, there are also opportunities. Our region must, therefore, seek to find those opportunities provided by this gloomy global outlook for its benefit by embarking on the implementation of such critical policies, which, before now, will be difficult to accept.”
While calling on his colleagues to intensify collaboration in order to save the region from “this deadly pandemic through sharing our experiences and best practices,” Buhari outlined some measures taken by his regime in response to the pandemic.
They included reduction of interest rates on all applicable Central Bank of Nigeria interventions from nine per cent to five per cent and introduction of a one-year moratorium on CBN intervention facilities; and the inauguration of a presidential task force to coordinate national efforts to combat the spread of the virus and ensure efficiency and effectiveness in line with the Nigerian Action Plan on Health Security.
Other measures, Buhari noted, were the provision of relief materials, including medical and food supplies, as well as conditional cash transfers of N20,000 each to poor and vulnerable households; and the establishment of more isolation centres and testing facilities to contain the spread of the virus.
The President also stated that unprecedented economic uncertainties, including severe fiscal and foreign exchange constraints, amid a slowdown in global economic growth that most nations are grappling with, had made it imperative for “our sub-region to refocus on accelerating the implementation of our popular vision of ‘ECOWAS of the people’ by adopting dynamic regional policies aimed at providing relief to our citizens.”
He added, “Despite declining revenues, government continues to spend massively on the containment of the virus, medical care for those infected and minimising impact of the crisis on the poor and vulnerable. This situation puts severe pressure on our finances by increasing our expenditures amid dwindling revenues. This invariably has led to a restructuring and reduction of our budget.”
According to the statement, Buhari used the occasion to rally other leaders to embrace agriculture, technology, and innovation in order to emerge stronger.
He said, “It is imperative that, while addressing short-term challenges, we should also explore opportunities to promote strong and dynamic agricultural policies that will guarantee food security for our people, creating jobs and reducing poverty in the region. We must innovate and use technology to boost the digital economy and do things differently, but better.”
The President affirmed Nigeria’s solidarity with other member states as they battled the virus.