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COVID-19: Turning adversity into opportunity – Part 2

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Continued from yesterday

The Federal Government, again working with States, should consider implementing the concept of an Ultra Universal Basic Income (UUBI). As Nobel laureates, Esther Dufflo and Abhijit Banerjee argue, this concept is crucial to poverty reduction and helps to simplify Government aid programs. This should require beneficiaries to use basic electronic channels, which will not only encourage growth in national identification but also help to deepen financial inclusion. We have seen the importance of the National Social Register, which contains 2.6 million poor and vulnerable households, and now provides cash transfers of N5,000 per month to benefit families.

At the Governors’ Forum, we are working with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and service providers to mine poverty data and improve the Social Register. The UUBI will deepen the impact of these and other complementary programmes like Homegrown School Feeding and Special Public Works Programmes, to ensure that as we focus on rebuilding the economy, our poorest and most vulnerable are not left behind.

There is an immediate opportunity to support our businesses, particularly SMEs by asking financial institutions to suspend loan repayments for at least six months, for which the Central Bank has already taken some commendable steps. Subsequently, the Central Bank, by modifying the conditions for existing loan guarantees, can encourage financial institutions to create new loans for small businesses recovering from the economic slowdown. In order to boost consumption, the Government can also allow employees who have lost their jobs to access a portion of their pension contributions earlier than the period stipulated in the Pension Reform Act.

There is no national or subnational plan that will not depend on the security of lives and property to succeed. By focusing on job creation and poverty reduction, we will reduce the lack of opportunity, which remains a big incentive for crime. However, for those who still insist on criminality, we must be ready to tackle them with well-trained, equipped and appropriately remunerated security agencies.

As State Governments, we recognize the importance of improving our collaboration to ensure an aligned national agenda. These collaborations include regional collaboration among states within the same geopolitical areas; a national collaboration among all States, under the auspices of the Nigerian Governors Forum, and stronger collaboration between States and the Federal Government, hence our advocacy for a joined-up national strategy.

In future, we will look at existing programmes that require both Federal and State Government participation and seek to optimize them. For example, reviewing the law undergirding the Universal Basic Education programme from a counterpart funded programme to a Programme for Results (PfR) approach will shift the requirement to access the federally managed fund from an ability to match the FGN’s contribution, to a reward for meeting agreed on milestones in basic education. This is only one example of what can be done if as States, we provide the Federal Government with on-the-ground guidance on how to deliver better solutions to our people.

In conclusion, as we battle a pandemic that has no appreciation of tribe, religion, or political affiliation, we only require bold ideas, but also the conviction to press ahead with good decisions, and the courage to jettison bad ones that impede our progress. As Jawaharlal Nehru famously said, “crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think.”

Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, wrote from Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria.


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