By Joan Nwagwu
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to include Nigeria in the beneficiary list for the Covid-19 related debt relief and debt moratorium.
Mr. Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, made the call in a statement on Tuesday in Abuja.
According to him, never in living memory has the world faced a twin catastrophe of both health and economic proportions as now.
“The novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which has infected close to two million persons and amassed a death toll of over one hundred thousand precious lives worldwide has also grounded the global economy.
“The result is that many countries are desperately in search of funds to cope with rising health emergencies, especially with regards to the supply of life supporting medical equipment, wears and drugs.
“Even rich countries in Europe and America are struggling to keep up with the supply of essential medical goods and services as COVID-19 bites harder, ” he said.
Wabba noted that the response of the IMF in providing debt relief service to 25 poor countries could not have come at a better time.
He said the IMF at its Executive Board Meeting held on Monday, announced that the gesture channeled through its revamped Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) was targeted at addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He further noted that last week, the World Bank also announced plans to roll out 160 billion US dollars in emergency aid to countries impacted by the Coronavirus including 14 billion US dollars in debt repayments to governments owed by 76 poor countries.
Wabba, however, said that the NLC commended the goodwill of the IMF and World Bank for the gestures.
He expressed displeasure that Nigeria was excluded from the list of benefitting countries announced by IMF.
“We call for the inclusion of Nigeria in the beneficiary list for the COVID-19 related debt relief and debt moratorium based on very cogent reasons.
“First, Nigeria is facing dire economic crisis given the recent plunge in the price of crude oil, Nigeria’s major foreign exchange earner.
“This has already led to the downsizing of the capital expenditure in the 2020 national budget.
“Second, in December 2019, Nigeria’s external debt hit a 16 year high of 27 billion US dollars with a debt servicing commitment of 1.5 billion dollar.
“The fact that Nigeria’s debt servicing is about 5 per cent of our 2020 federal budget and 75 per cent of our external reserves signpost that our debt servicing pledges are impracticable and should be renegotiated,” Wabba said.
He also said Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and a major regional transportation hub.
The NLC president, therefore, added that the implication was that a population as large as Nigeria’s with very active citizens could be a major epicentre for future global waves of COVID-19.
“That is if very robust and adequate support is not extended to Nigeria to fight and contain the Coronavirus pandemic. Already, the dire signs are all over the place.
” During the two weeks initial lockdown in Lagos State, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there were reports of increased tension, unrests and criminal activities in different parts of the country.
“The fact is that the dangers of a burgeoning constituency of the poor, including the working-class poor is staring us hard in the face. We do not know how long this dam can hold.
“But we do know that Nigeria needs all the support it can get, including debt relief, moratorium, and pardon in order to enable the country tide over the waves of COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Wabba said NLC completely aligned with the position of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and other international non-governmental organisations, which warned that failure to address the debt and financing needs of developing countries, could trigger large scale loss of lives and livelihoods.
“This can be the harbinger of the collapse of the global social and economic order,” he said.
He, therefore, said that in order to mobilise the necessary financial resources to fight and defeat COVID-19, the labour movement have called for a temporary suspension of debt payments by developing economies, renegotiation of debt obligations, and ultimately debt pardon by creditor countries.
“We also believe that the current difficulties instruct our government to always keep a healthy debt profile that can withstand the evil day.
“While we learn our lessons, we must halt COVID-19, we must re-start our economy, we must pay for essential goods and services, we must recover jobs and income, we must save lives, and we must live again,” he added.
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