Participants at the Africa Initiative for Governance (AIG) webinar, have underscored the need for the government to leverage opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and diversify the economy, and spend wisely.
AIG, a not-for-profit founded to inspire the transformation of Africa’s public sector, in collaboration with the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, hosted a virtual discussion on COVID-19, themed: “COVID-19 and the Oil Price Crash: Nigeria’s Tough Choices.”
The stakeholders argued that the time is ripe for the country to focus on encouraging growth in the informal sector to boost the economy.
They pointed out that COVID-19 has brought about many changes to the fabric of every society, restricting business activities, and causing loss of lives across the world.
According to them, Nigeria is faced with a double-edged crisis comprising COVID-19 on the one hand, and instability in oil prices on the other.
They argued that the latter has been costly, because the 2020 budget was based on forecasted oil prices of $57/barrel, and has compelled the government to revise this to $20/barrel while maintaining proposed production volume at 2.18 million barrels daily.
Specifically, a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, Paul Collier, said COVID-19 has impacted negatively on the nation’s economy with a fall in government revenues and people’s capacity to spend.
He opined that the government should focus on encouraging growth in the informal sector to boost the economy, as the sector is a major contributor to the Nigerian economy, accounting for a significant portion of employment and national GDP.
He said due to its flexible nature, the informal sector in some ways is better able to adapt to difficulties such as the current pandemic and provides some measure of support to those most in need.
Contributing, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, while noting that this was indeed a tough time for the country, said: “If we harness our resources well, Nigeria should be a developed country, not a developing country.”
He noted that the fall in oil prices pose an opportunity for Nigeria to advance the diversification of her economy finally.
In his opening address, the Founder and Chairman of AIG, Aigboje AigImoukhuede, argued that while governments have so far committed $15.6 trillion in response to COVID-19, at an average of $2,042.00 per person, Nigeria’s $6.5 billion in commitments amount to a paltry $32.50 per person.
He said: “COVID-19 has brought an opportunity for Nigeria to rethink and reinvent the way we lead our people so that we can spend smartly, generate more revenue and also get them to act in a manner that will deal with this pandemic and other health issues.”
He suggested that the private sector should collaborate more with the government.
Also, the Vice President, Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions (EGFI), at the World Bank, Dr Ceyla Pazarbasiogu, recommended the implementation of policies to boost the economy and improve governance.
He stressed the need for the government to take action and implement policies to facilitate Nigeria’s economic growth.