By Akintunde Adeyinka
The Federal Government is committed to ameliorating the pains and negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians through the active implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice-President, Laolu Akande has said.
Akande stated this in Abuja on Tuesday at the Channels TV morning show – Sunrise Daily.
He also spoke at different times on the same day on Fresh FM radio station in Ekiti state; Bond FM, Radio One and Metro Radio, all based in Lagos.
Speaking on the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) and how it will lift Nigerians out of poverty, Akande assured Nigerians that the ESP, which was designed under the Economic Sustainability Committee chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. is expected to reduce the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic within the country in 12 months.
According to him, “The plan sets out to spend 2.3 trillion naira to manage the economic fallouts of COVID-19 and prevent a deep recession in the country. We do have in this plan, certain initiatives and measures that are designed to help the common man.”
Speaking on the MSMEs supportive initiatives, Mr. Akande informed Nigerians on the recent launch of the survival fund under the ESP. He said, “Next week, we are starting the survival fund, which is a part of this plan. From next week, it will be available and people who are potential beneficiaries will be able to get more information on https://survivalfund.ng”
“From next week, the website https://survivalfund.ng will be open for Nigerians who have MSMEs or who are artisans, plumbers, electricians, transport workers, private school teachers or who belong to different categories under the survival fund.
Explaining how the funding for the ESP will be generated, Mr. Akande reiterated that the Buhari administration remains capable of achieving so much with very little as has been made evident in its efforts towards infrastructural development and the social investment programs despite earning less than its predecessors.
He added that, “There are two broad sources of funding for the ESP. We have 500 billion naira from the budget, and we will be using the Central Bank’s lending structures and facilities to raise the lending aspects of the program and also some international concessionary loans”
Speaking on rising inflation, Akande restated that these are challenging times for Nigeria, Africa and globally and this has made it more imperative for the administration to channel funds into the system to support Nigerians, hence the 2.3 trillion Naira stimulus ESP.
“With the administration’s support through the Central Bank’s lending packages, interest rates will be minimal to enable Nigerians get back on their feet. The important thing at this point is to put money in people’s hands and we need to do it urgently.”
The spokesman addressed the issue of fuel price hike and reminded Nigerians that the deregulation of the petroleum sector was in March this year, implying that fuel prices are normally determined by the international price of crude oil.
“This explains why our local pump prices fell to N125 when international oil prices fell in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“What we believe is that, instead of us to continue a regime where we heavily subsidize the price of fuel, we should move the money we have left towards measures that put money in people’s pockets.”
Going further he explained, “We do not even have the kind of money anymore, if you look at the 2020 revised budget, there was no budgetary allocation for fuel subsidy and our revenue has dropped sharply by 60%.”
“But the important thing is that since 2016, when we began to reorganize the petroleum sector, Nigerians have discovered that they can buy fuel without long queues. Fuel is made available and people can buy it.”
“We believe that now we are encouraging everyone to bring in fuel products, ultimately, the prices will fall when we have more investment in the sector. This is what happened during the telecoms deregulation. If you remember when it started, people were buying SIM cards for 50,000 Naira. With continuous investment in the sector due to its deregulation, prices came down to a point that people now get the SIM cards free.”
“We have the PPRA who ensures that the consumers are protected and that fuel marketers do not have the leverage to raise prices indiscriminately, so there is still protection.”
Mr. Akande spoke more on alternatives to fuel provided by the administration. He said, “we are working assiduously to provide Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) so that Nigerians do not depend on fuel alone.”
“Some of these initiatives have begun in some states such as Edo and Rivers states. There is a lot of progress in Edo state. Government is going to be funding a system where people can convert their cars from fuel use to gas. We are doing all these to ensure that the average Nigerian is able to save money.”
Speaking on electricity tariffs, the SSA Media noted that majority of Nigerians will not pay more for electricity. In his words, “Regarding the electricity tariffs, majority of Nigerians will not be paying more. This is because, if you are currently receiving below 8-12 hours of electricity per day, your tariffs will not go up.”
“If you are asked to pay more in that category, you need to let us know. You need to go to Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) platforms on Twitter and Facebook and report, so that what the President said is enforced.”
He added that, “The President has also said there should be mass metering and we are starting with the provision of 5 million meters. The President waived the tariffs to bring in the meters so that everyone gets a meter because he has called for the end of estimated billing”
Besides, the government spokesman explained that the ESP also has a robust plan for Nigerians not on the electricity grid. He said, “majority of our people are not actually on the grid. And so, we have a plan to reach them. “We have set up the Solar Power Project under the ESP costing 154 billion Naira and the project is expected to provide solar power to 5 million homes and create 250,000 jobs in the process.”
The Presidency official also spoke on agitations by labour groups over the situation, stating that we are all in this together as Nigerians. According to him, “Labour is made up of Nigerians, those of us in government are Nigerians, the people out there are Nigerians, this country belongs to every one of us, so we will all talk and reason things out”
“I must tell you that the reason I am serving in this administration is because I know by my own personal conviction that the President and the Vice President have the best interests of Nigerians at heart.”