The year 2020 started on a brighter and prospective note for Nigeria and Nigerians, with the expectation of increased economic activities, arising most especially, from the CBN’s sustained interventions in agriculture and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Economic indices also proved this until what was believed to be a localised virus in a town, Wuhan, in China, took on the world ravaging not only economies but with millions of human casualties. Nigeria has been battling to contain it, as no one expected its devastating destructive capacity. Other viruses like SARS and Ebola were not this destructive. It has, no doubt, brought unquantifiable damage to world’s harmony and economic life.
In a series of interventions by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, in the wake of the novel COVID-19 outbreak, the bank unveiled a succession of targeted facilities starting with a N50billion credit facility, followed by another N100billion credit support intervention for the health sector. The Bank’s twin intervention funds were in quick response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which had caused unprecedented disruptions in global supply chains, sharp drop in global crude oil prices, chaos in global stock and financial markets, lockdown of large swaths movements of persons in many countries, including Nigeria. This was exclusive of the N1trillion set aside as loans to boost local manufacturing across critical sectors to mitigate the impact.
The news that came out few weeks past from the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning did not come as a surprise. That the economy may once again slip into recession having recorded a negative growth in Q2 2020 with the likelihood of same in Q3 2020 due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic was expected. This sad commentary was confirmed with the statistics dished out by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, NBS, saying that Nigeria is just a quarter away from moving into full recession, as the economy contracted by 6.1 percent in the second quarter.
NBS in its Gross Domestic Product, GDP, report for Q2 2020 showed that it was the second consecutive quarter, April to June, that the economy would be shrinking. As we all know a country goes into recession when its GDP contracts for two consecutive quarters. The decline which obviously was due to contraction in both domestic and international economic activities during the second quarter marks the first time the country’s economy has contracted since exiting recession in 2017, and obviously the biggest decline in 10 years. It also marked an abrupt end to a low but steady positive real growth rates recorded since the last recession.
There have also been clamour from various stakeholders in the economy urging the federal government to come up with strong and determined economic programmes to complement efforts of the country’s banker, the Central Bank of Nigeria, in moving the economy away from oil. However, this is not to say there has not been any effort, the aggression needed to prosecute the Economic Recovery Growth Plan, ERGP, is missing. The zeal to rally relevant agencies and stakeholders in support of the vision is also missing, neither has there been any visible nor concrete complementary effort as seen with the CBN in any of the critical agencies of government, particularly in Ministries as Trade and Industries, Labour, Science and Technology, Health and others.
Nobody expected the COVID-19 outbreak, and when it broke out, it was obvious and glaring that the economy was suspect due to its weak infrastructure. However, something commendable, more or less a rescue mission, emerged in June 2019, when the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, convoked ‘Going for Growth 1.0’ in Lagos, aimed to give bite to economic diversification of the economy. He had in the gathering industrialists, private sector operators and banks chief executives in onerous support for the healthiness of the economy. He held the second edition in Abuja at the wake of the pandemic, but unknown to all and sundry, that meeting was to be the Ad hoc platform to immunize and sustain the economy from collapse as a result of COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. Nations worldwide closed up their economies as they all embarked on individual approaches to tackle the outbreak, and of course, Nigeria was not left out.
It was thus not herculean for the CBN Governor to call out once again his audience and partners in economic survival on a rescue mission when the virus broke out. The effort birthed Coalition Against COVID-19, CACOVID, a private sector task force set up to partner with the Federal Government, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the World Health Organisation, WHO, with sole aim of combating Coronavirus in Nigeria. He spearheaded the task of pulling resources across industries to provide technical and operational support as well providing funds and building advocacy through aggressive awareness drive. He indeed told who cares to listen that “we must turn the COVID-19 tragedy into an opportunity for a new Nigeria”.
Godwin Emefiele’s CACOVID was to, in addition to the efforts of the Federal government, provide and equip medical facilities in the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria which involved the creation of testing, isolation and treatment centers. It also includes the provision of Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and molecular testing labs.
It was in support of this effort that it becomes imperative to write to commend Godwin Emefiele led-coalition for their patriotic mission that came handy during the economic cum health crisis; More so, in reaction to some jobless attention seeking wailers urging for forensic auditing of the donations and expenditure, instead of commending the group. This writer is not averse to such endeavour, and my position should not be taken as support for mismanagement or corruption, rather, if they must recollect, at the onset on the establishment of the Coalition, Emefiele indeed stated that a world class auditing firm will be employed to audit the inflow and outflow of donations and expenditure to show the transparency of the process. More so that private sectors people with the hard-earned money donated would not allow such to be embezzled, nor the CBN be involved in such criminal enterprise.
This promise as privileged had been kept. An audit report dated July 5, 2020, released by PricewaterhouseCoopers, revealed that a total sum of N32billion was remitted in donation so far, and has been judiciously used.
The Coalition as pledged, had provided and equipped medical facilities in the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, which involved the creation of testing, isolation and treatment centres, include the provision of Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and molecular testing labs. 34 Isolation Centers were commissioned between Tuesday, May 5, 2020 and Sunday, June 28, 2020, while renovation of Isolation Centres in Akwa Ibom, Oyo and Edo were completed and handed over to State governments. Lagos State, the epicenter of the pandemic in Nigeria got its Isolation Centre commissioned on Sunday, 28 June, 2020. 33 States including Kano and Rivers Isolation Centers were all completed in July 2020.
Food items as part of the palliative to cushion the negative effect of COVID-19 on families was launched and executed in 35 States and the Federal Capital Territory except Rivers for obvious political reason, as Rivers State Government insisted on sourcing the vendor(s) locally and have not identified one or given the Coalition the go-ahead. CACOVID in this endeavour partnered with the extensive food distribution network of business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, to reach the people “at the bottom of the pyramid”.
This is not to say there were no hiccups in logistics such as constraint in movement (local flights), delivery of required items (medical and non-medical) which were done in phases, while procurement for additional items for some States were placed and are awaiting payment.
Donation made to Nigeria Center for Disease Control, NCDC, in test kits was 52,750, exclusive of Private Protection Equipment, PPE, materials, and this effort has assisted greatly in curbing the spread of infection.
Notably in this effort is the matrimony between the monetary regulator, the CBN, led by Godwin Emefiele and deposit money banks under the aegis of Bankers’ Committee, agreeing to work together for the economy. Deposit Money Banks agreeing to collaborate with the Governor in rescuing the economy says volume about the enigmatic CBN helmsman. Was he not God-sent, and his pre-COVID-19 economic diversification campaign, it is left to be imagined, how helpless we would have been without the CBN rice-intervention revolution at the outbreak of the pandemic, especially when most rice exporting countries had banned the export of rice? How disastrous and embarrassing would it have been to attempt a necessary lockdown without sufficient food for the citizens? He had said, “The need for all Nigerians to play a role in this fight cannot be understated as we are quite literally in the fight of our lives. I must highlight the fact that this is not just about bringing money. Your time, your services, your products will all be helpful.”
COVID-19 is not only a reawakening call for Nigeria to get serious with the economic diversification, but also to look inwards, join hands together with those charged with the responsibilities of running the government and the economy, and for the past six years since he became the Bank’s helmsman, Mr. Emefiele never left anyone in doubt of his desire to chart a trajectory that distances from the usual, when he declared making the CBN a people’s central bank.
The last six years of Central Banking in Nigeria might have witnessed some dramatic turn of events and challenges. Interestingly, the technique deployed in resolving these challenges has been ingenious, or rather far from usual expectations. This could to a reasonable extent, surmise the leadership style and strategy of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, since he stepped into office in June, 2014.
From inception, Mr. Emefiele never left anyone in doubt of his desire to chart a trajectory that distances from the usual, when he declared making the CBN a people’s central bank. The declaration was coming from the twin problem of endemic poverty level and embarrassing youth unemployment pervading the country.
Joy Nguri, writes from Numan, Adamawa State.