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CBN releases measures to battle economic impact of coronavirus

By From Anthony Otaru and John Akubo (Abuja) and Helen Oji (Lagos)
17 March 2020   |   4:33 am
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced six new policy measures to mitigate the spread of the dreaded coronavirus across the country.Addressing journalists yesterday in Abuja, the governor, Godwin Emefiele..

• Experts foresee difficulty in execution
• Effect of scourge on debt servicing worries DMO

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced six new policy measures to mitigate the spread of the dreaded coronavirus across the country.Addressing journalists yesterday in Abuja, the governor, Godwin Emefiele, said the apex bank’s intervention facilities had been granted a further moratorium of one year in all principal repayments, with effect from March 2020.

According to him, any intervention loan currently under moratorium has been granted additional period of one year. Emefiele also announced the reduction of interest rates on all applicable CBN intervention facilities to five per cent from nine per cent per annum, for one year effective from this month.

The apex bank, according to him, is also establishing a N50 billion facility through the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) microfinance bank for households as well as Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) that have been hit by the COVID-19.

But economic pundits are pessimistic about the actualisation of the policies because of the country’s weak economic outlook.An economist, Johnson Chukwu, said the measures would boost the confidence of the people, but argued that the apex bank might face some challenges in the implementation.

“What CBN is trying to do is to give people some level of confidence. It is a positive action plan to support the economy. But the modalities in implementing it are the challenges,” he said.Chukwu cited the reduction in interest rate, which he said might be tricky to implement because “it is an agreement” between banks and their customers.

According to him, the apex bank must reach a risk sharing agreement with banks for them to willingly accept the cut in interest rate and extension of moratorium.

On the provision of credit support for the healthcare industry, he said the decision would reduce pressure from banks to extend loan facilities to firms under the sector.

Another economic expert, Eze Onyekpere, faulted the apex bank’s approval of the N50 billion intervention without recourse to the National Assembly.The Lead Director, Centre For Social Justice [CSJ) said, “The N50 billion approval put in place as facility to households through NIRSAL is illegal and fails to meet the transparency and accountability standards.”

Meanwhile, the Debt Management Office (DMO) has said that the scourge is threatening the laid down procedures for servicing the nation’s debts. This was coming as the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, Mohammed Bima, raised serious concern about Nigeria’s rising debt profile.

The Director-General of DMO, Patience Oniha, gave the indication yesterday at a public lecture entitled ‘Public Debt in Nigeria: Trend, Sustainable and Management’ organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies.

Her words: “While Nigeria’s debt is sustainable, recent developments in the global environment induced by COVID-19 already suggest a less than favourable economic outlook with implications for Nigeria.

“Irrespective of COVID-19, the drive towards revenue generation should remain a priority for Nigeria, to finance development and strengthen development sustainability.”

Oniha put the total domestic debt at about N18 trillion which is 68.45 per cent of the total public debts. She added: “Concerns have been expressed about the growth in Nigeria’s debt stock since its exit from the Paris and London Club of Creditors.”

She recalled that Nigeria secured an unprecedented debt relief of $18 billion from the Paris Club in 2005 and successfully exited the Paris and London clubs in 2006.Nigeria earmarked N2.47 trillion in the 2020 budget for debt serving.