COVID-19: Nigeria’s response in line with ILO objectives – Minister
Helen Shok Jok, Abuja
The Nigerian government says its responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are tailored in line with the objectives of the International Labour Organisation ILO of promoting jobs, guaranteeing the right of work, extending social protection and promoting social dialogue.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige stated this while presenting Nigeria’s response to the report of the Director-General of ILO and Chairperson of the Governing Body at the 109th Virtual Session of the International Labour Conference taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.
The Minister stated that like many other countries, Nigeria was ill-equipped for a pandemic of such magnitude at the time the index case of the COVID-19 in Nigeria was confirmed on February 28, 2020 and the pandemic was declared a national emergency.
He said that Nigeria’s policy responses to what he described as an unseen enemy were tailored in line with the ILO four pillars as was reported during the ILO Global Summit mid-last year.
“Our government, therefore, directed the establishment of the following bodies: The Presidential Task Force (PTF) to coordinate with the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Sub-national Governments to implement the COVID-19 protocols nationwide.
“The Presidential Economic Sustainability Committee (PESC) to develop a credible plan to reposition the Nigerian economy post-COVID-19 crisis.
“It is this Committee of which the Minister of Labour and Employment is a member that put in place several policy frameworks to tackle the emerging issues of the time,” he explained.
The Minister also cited the COVID-19 Recovery Programme, among the numerous policy frameworks for the country in various sectors, including health, industry, trade and investment and job creation.
The recovery plan in the health sector, the Minister said, includes the Presidential Committee on Salaries (PCS), which engaged workers in the health sector to increase and give special COVID-19 hazard allowance and extended retirement age during the pandemic in recognition of the sacrifices made by these frontline health workers.
He recalled that the Federal Government paid huge bulk hazard allowance to the health sector workers which were spread out for three months of June/July, July/August, August/September and October/November 2020.
“The plan further includes the procurement of sufficient number of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and the purchase of Group Life Insurance for all health workers.
“Others were the upgrading of the existing health infrastructure as centres for the management of identified cases, especially in the rural areas across the Federation, the establishment of molecular laboratories in the 36 States of the country and the Federal Capital Territory and setting up of oxygen plants, one each for the 36 States, except Lagos State and FCT, which have three each,” Ngige disclosed.
On humanitarian and disaster control, Ngige said the Government compartmentalised palliatives and activated various short term and medium term schemes targeted at vulnerable groups, including the unconditional cash transfer for vulnerable poor, which rose from 2.6 million households of about 13 million people to 7.6 households of about 32 million people.
He also disclosed that the Government produced a customized COVID-19 Rapid Response Register (RRR) for the urban poor, which targeted over 4.8 million households of about 20 million persons, including urban poor/working class, to ease the poverty inflicted by COVID-19 on workers in the informal sector who depend on daily earnings.
In the area of industry, trade and investment and job creation, Ngige said the Federal Government released 50 billion naira targeted credit facility to provide support for Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) and 260 billion naira Survival Fund to sustain at least 500,000 jobs in 50,000 MSMEs.
He stated that the Entrepreneur Support Programme was also established to further cushion the effects of the pandemic and expand opportunities by supporting and encouraging MSMEs.
“They included the Artisan Support Fund, Payroll Support Fund for small scale businesses and Business Formalisation, which offered free registration for upcoming businesses by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Guaranteed Off-take Stimulus Scheme for SMEs for producers of hygienic products and packaged food to encourage entrepreneurship and industries.
“The Government introduced the National Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) for young entrepreneurs to expand the absorbing capacity for new young entrants into productive ventures.
“The number of beneficiaries of the N-Power programme was increased from the present 500,000 to one million persons for two years ad-hoc employment.”
He said the Federal Government also intervened through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which granted an extension of moratorium for all facilities with appropriate reduction in applicable interest rates from 9 percent to 5 percent for manufacturers.
The Minister recalled that the Government appealed to employers to exercise restraint on retrenchment and redundancy as measures to cope with the negative consequences of COVID-19.
“We strengthened the capacity of our National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) to effectively and constructively engage with our social partners in the spirit of Social Dialogue and Tripartism.”
According to Dr Chris Ngige, “Nigeria shares in the optimistic commendation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and is adjusting monetary and fiscal policy space to meet with the reality and aftermath of the pandemic.”