By Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu
Following the shutdown of commercial activities to curb the spread of Covid-19 that has devastated the country’s economy, the House of Representatives has established Covid-19 Strategic Response Team to resuscitate (CSRT) the country’s economy.
The lawmakers said that the Strategic Response Team would be supported by a group of technical experts, private sector leaders and representatives, adding that their experience and expertise would ensure that the policy proposals presented to the House are rigorously grounded in a fact-based reality.
The Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, disclosed this on Tuesday at the emergency session of the House to review the federal government response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He stressed that the arrival of the deadly coronavirus on the nation’s shores threatens the same consequences as if the country was besieged by the terror of armed conflict.
Gbajabiamila noted that though the struggle is not against bullets and bombs, but the present conditions are not any less dire, but stressed the country’s determination to survive through these trying times and the resolve to triumph in this immediate cause is absolute.
The Speaker said that a month after the House last sat in session, the coronavirus has infected over 1,000 Nigerians, 40 of whom have passed on.
Gbajabiamila said the federal government has responded to the present challenges with equanimity, while also commending President Muhammadu Buhari for appointing a Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 composed of some of the best and brightest in the country.
He stated further that the members of the Taskforce have risen to the assignment and proven themselves worthy, while also urging them to remain committed and to act always in the best interest of the Nigerian people.
The Speaker reiterated that the restrictions imposed on the people as a result of the lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory, as well as the curfews imposed by other state governments were necessary interventions.
Gbajbiamila also commended the palliative schemes initiated by the federal government, saying that it has helped to alleviate the sufferings of the most vulnerable populations.
According to him, “However, many of our people have not benefited from any of the implemented measures. It is necessary that we act to ensure that as many people as need help, are reached. We must also ensure that the distribution of interventions across the country is inclusive and equitable.”
The Speaker noted that at times like this, there is a tendency for the existing fault-lines of a nation to become dangerously exacerbated, while the government must not be complicit by acts of omission or commission in any such aggravations, adding that such would only make it more difficult to maintain the unity of purpose that is essential for the nation’s survival at this delicate time.
He further called on the federal government to take advantage of the unique insights of the lawmakers in targeting the distribution of some essential palliatives, adding that when the federal government interventions do not reach the needy, the lawmakers are the first to receive complaints.
Gbajabiamila said the lawmakers’ grassroots interactions provide knowledge and context that can be useful to ensure that the hardest hit communities receive help, adding that the House intends to bring the unique perspectives in its ongoing work to codify the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) into a Bill that would be considered at the next adjourned date.
He stated: “The shutdown of commercial activities initiated here at home and abroad, to curb community transmission of Covid-19 has devastated the global economy. We have already begun to see the effect in millions of lost jobs, lost incomes, lost revenue and severely diminished productivity. In the past week, we saw oil prices fall into negative value. Our country, heavily dependent on crude oil income, has seen a drop in our revenue so severe that we risk failing to meet even the most basic obligations of governance.
“At a time when the social welfare demands on the public purse are higher than they have ever been, our present reality calls for nothing short of a wholesale reform of our governing structures, systems and processes. Any such efforts must of necessity, begin with drastic reductions in the cost of governance coupled with determined efforts to drive economic diversity and innovation in the non-oil sector.
“It is in preparing for this new reality that I have established a Covid-19 Strategic Response Team (CRST) with a broad mandate to develop interventions and reforms and also to update the Legislative Agenda to reflect our post-Covid realities and priorities. The Strategic Response Team will be supported by a group of technical experts, private sector leaders and representatives. Their experience and expertise will ensure that the policy proposals presented to the House are rigorously grounded in a fact-based reality.
“There are no longer any sacred cows, protected spaces or classes. Every area of our national health policy, economic policy, tax policy, education policy and security architecture are now on the table for reform. We must turn this moment of profound crises into an opportunity to make the hard choices we have too long deferred but can now no longer avoid if we are to survive as a nation. This House of Representatives is ready, and I trust that we will find allies in government and across our country who are prepared to make the changes that our country needs to survive, recover and thrive.
“We will also at that time seek to pass a second Economic Stimulus Bill to provide necessary relief to individuals and corporate organisations in Nigeria. We expect that before then, the Senate will quickly consider and pass the first Economic Stimulus Bill which has since passed in the House and now awaits concurrence by the Senate.”
The Speaker said that many have postulated that the current approach to managing the pandemic would not yield the results the country desires, stressing that it has been suggested that government should look at other alternatives in dealing with this virus – alternatives that are more suited to the nation’s economic structure and cultural makeup, custom and way of life.