By Adebisi Onanuga, Robert Egbe, Bolaji Ogundele and Victor Oluwasegun, Abuja
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A survival fund to support small businesses, artisans and private school teachers is underway, the Federal Government said on Thursday.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said data compilation for those eligible is ongoing while the criteria for would-be beneficiaries are already set.
Describing the plan as part of its economic sustainability programme, Osinbajo explained that this is part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to saving jobs and creating new ones, despite the pandemic.
He spoke on the state of the nation through the COVID-19 pandemic at the on-going 60th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
The session, moderated by the president of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Mr Nduka Obaigbena, featured House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila.
Osinbajo said: “Through the Economic Sustainability Plan, the Federal Government’s focus is to save jobs and create new ones. Similarly, there is a survival fund and payroll support for artisans, private school teachers and small businesses.
“We are currently compiling the data, the criteria are already set. There are plans also for other sectors, including the hospitality and aviation sectors.”
On the economy, the VP noted that despite the -6 per cent decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Nigeria had fared better in comparison to other economies, such as South Africa and much of the top 20 global economies.
“The truth is that many countries experienced severe decline in many areas but in comparison to other economies in terms of GDP of -6 per cent, we are good and better”, he maintained.
Nevertheless, he added, it was no reason to gloat.
“Economics, like politics, is local. In comparison to other economies we have fared better. We, however recognise, that there is a severe decline. The Economic Sustainability Plan is our response to that and we will focus on local industry, local resources and local production.
“For agriculture, we have registered farmers using the Geographical Information System (GIS), tied them to big agricultural businesses, provided some financing and the government will be final off takers for their produce. This is to ensure that local production goes on,” he explained.
On housing, the Vice President said 300,000 units under an envisaged housing programme using local materials, were on the table.
He said 11 state governments had provided land and “these houses are to be built by young engineers, architects and artisans. We hope to build thousands of two-bedroom apartments for about N2 million each.”
Responding to questions about his political future in 2023, Osinbajo said he was “incredibly grateful” for the opportunity to serve Nigeria and was focused on doing just that.
“There are issues to be tackled and that has my undivided attention,” he said.
Follow due process on CAMA
Responding to the issue of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020, which some Christians leaders are criticising, the Vice President said the solution to the concerns is evident, noting that an amendment to the CAMA Act could be sought by those expressing concerns about sections of the law.
He said “we have a process by which this can be redressed. Whatever the proposal for amendment may be, whatever the view of the leadership of the church may be, regarding the question of how the trustees, whether they are interim trustees or not, can be put into a proposal that will be brought to the National Assembly for consideration for amendment to the law, that is the process which is entirely open: and ought to be pursued.
“We are in a democracy and there is a process by which things can be done and that process is the one where you bring forward amendments to the National Assembly and they will do whatever is considered useful in the circumstance.”
Southern Kaduna crisis
Osinbajo said the federal government would interrogate all the issues fuelling the bloody Southern Kaduna crisis, vowing also to ensure justice and punishment for those who would be found culpable.
He said government would find solution to the Southern Kaduna crisis, by “ensuring justice, fixing economic marginalization and the prosecution of persons responsible for these murders -this is to ensure that the impunity doesn’t worsen.”
The Vice President said, “I have been involved since 2001 through the work of the Macedonian initiative, an NGO that focused on providing relief materials to displaced persons in Southern Kaduna and several other places especially in North Central part of Nigeria. There have been judicial commissions and all sorts, but the problem remains. So, there is the need to address the underlying issues. You can’t sweep under the carpet, justice and the cries of economic marginalization.
“The fact is that we must prosecute persons responsible for these murders or otherwise impunity will worsen. And also support those who have lost their bread winners.
“The mindless callous killings in Southern Kaduna are heartbreaking. And again we must condole those who have lost loved ones and those injured or who have suffered loss of property. These tragedies are unacceptable and they are avoidable.”
Highlighting what the Federal Government had done, Osinbajo said: “First is the improvement of security in Southern Kaduna. Now, we have a military base there, for the first time. We also have a lot of Air Force surveillance.
“We have about 500 conventional and Mobile Policemen in Zangon-Kataff and Kaura Local Government Areas and then the combined military team of the Army and the Navy who are also on ground 24 hours. This is basically to just take care of the volatile situation there.”
“The President has also had several Security Council meetings and I have attended all of those, where the issues were discussed and the possibilities of engagement have also been discussed.”
On a personal note, the Vice President added “I have also engaged with community leaders in Southern Kaduna and also I have engaged with the governor to look at what peacemaking efforts are possible.”
For Gbajabiamila, COVID-19 had helped to identify the country’s problems, including security, electricity shortages among others.
He urged the people to rally round the government to help it to succeed.
“When you talk about the state of the nation, we should also talk about the state of the people. We can’t achieve that if the governed don’t play their roles.”
According to him, “the issue of security is perhaps the most important leg of the three legs that this government came into power on. If you look at it, a lot has been done, but that’s not to say that it’s Uhuru, it’s not yet.”
He advised the Federal Government to deploy technology in the war against Boko Haram.
“The only way you can fight the Boko Haram effectively is through technology,” Gbajabiamila said.
On state police, he said: “To have regional police, you need constitutional amendment. That is different from the Police Reform Bill that we passed.”
Gbajabiamila said while government plays its part, the citizens should also do their part in making the country a better place.
Responding to a question on the actions taken by the House to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the Speaker said the first thing the House did was to pass the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill which grants moratorium on mortgages and lifts duties on medical equipment.
Other actions taken by the House on COVID-19, the Speaker said, were the donation of two months salary by the 360 members to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the introduction of the Infectious Diseases Bill as well as updating the Legislative Agenda of the House to accommodate current realities.
Obaigbena charged lawyers to ensure that free speech is promoted in the country and that citizens’ rights are always protected.
In another session, Rivers State Governor Nyesome Wike, a former Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi; a former Vice President of the World Bank (African Region), Mrs Oby Ezekwesili; Former Minister of Women’s Affairs and Social Development, Mrs. Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Wale Akoni, examined the topic: ‘Who is a Nigerian? A Debate on National Identity.’
They urged citizens to uphold their identities as Nigerians, show loyalty to the nation and contribute their quotas to national development.
Obi said the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly, had challenged Nigerians to look at the nation’s corporate existence as a nation and not as tribes.
“Looking at economic sensibilities, countries are grouped as developed, developing and underdeveloped and not as tribes.
“So, economically today, any problem facing the country as an entity affects every tribe and section.”
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