Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday called on African Parliamentarians to collaborate with the executive, judiciary, the private sector and civil society in their countries to drive the next phase of development across the continent after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call was contained in his speech at the First Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
With the theme; “Enhancing Africa’s Post-Covid Economic Recovery through Parliamentary Leadership,” the three-day conference has as one of its objectives to develop collaborative strategies for tackling related issues of common concern and to devise legislative interventions and solutions on a wider continental scale.
Declaring the conference open, President Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, said all hands must be on deck to ensure that Africa rises from the impact of the pandemic to even greater heights.
“We must build strong collaborative partnerships across the aisles in our parliaments, with our judiciaries, the executive and the private sector and civil society if we learnt anything from COVID and its aftermath it is that no Nation, institution or group can succeed alone.
“Collaboration is the key to making the world work today,” he stated.
Pointing out that Africa has fared better than several other continents in successfully containing the COVID-19 pandemic, the president said the social and economic costs have been high for African countries.
Insisting that a post-COVID economic recovery strategy for Africa must go beyond efforts in individual countries, President Buhari said that increased collaborative measures must be taken by African countries for sustained economic recovery, growth and development.
“The African economy took a big hit recording 253,000 deaths and over 30 million jobs lost since the pandemic began.
“According to the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to have pushed between 26 to 40 million people into extreme poverty on the continent of Africa.
“Various African countries took decisive measures to contain the spread of the virus and limit its socioeconomic impact.
“Public health interventions were rolled out, several programs and measures were put in place to combat the pandemic such as lockdowns, stimulus packages, financial support to households and MSMEs, and so on. We all achieved some level of progress with those measures.
“In many of our countries despite relatively weak economic circumstances the legislature had to sit down with the executive to make some of the most breathtaking budgetary provisions in our histories.
“In Nigeria, our stimulus package was in the order of N2.3 trillion, at the time in excess of $ 6 billion).”
According to the Nigerian leader, African parliaments have a central role to play in the post-COVID-19 efforts to drive and sustain the economic recovery of the continent since they have the power to enact laws, oversee government budgeting and international borrowing.
“A crucial concern for all African economies is how to improve liquidity, to reduce the debt burden and improve our balance of payments positions, especially in the wake of the huge damage done to our finances by the pandemic.
“Indeed one of the key issues discussed and agreed to at the preparatory meeting for this inaugural meeting was debt cancellation for African countries. And this initiative is already gaining considerable traction.”
President Buhari said a practical initiative introduced in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic was the new Special Drawing Rights, SDR, reallocation of $650billion, which was implemented in August 2021.
He said that even though there have been arguments around how much of the SDR that the African economies and developing countries got, “it is important to recognize that it was a life saver and it came at the right time.
“The allocation improved our balance of payments position by increasing the share of SDRs in the reserve assets of our countries thereby providing direct liquidity without raising our debt burdens.
“So I think that African countries speaking in one voice can seek more SDR support.
The ECA recently proposed that our countries could address our development financing needs by leveraging SDR reallocation through on-lending vehicles, such as the Liquidity and Sustainability Facility (LSF), a trust for middle-income countries, multilateral and regional development banks as well as the Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust (PRGT).
“So, these are possible vehicles by which we could use SDR reallocations more effectively, especially because these arrangements could in fact provide an appropriate window for financing development and global public goods.”
Leverage Technology, AfCFTA
President Buhari also urged the legislators to enact laws that would enable the countries’ economies leverage technology and opportunities created by the African Continental Free Trade Area, AfCFTA, agreement.
While noting that seven Nigerian tech companies are now valued at over $1billion each, he stated that; “The AfCFTA is a unique opportunity to consolidate Africa’s enormously large market, which will create and recover millions of jobs, reduce Africa’s import dependency, boost intra-Africa trade and exports; and strengthen intra-Africa cross-border ties and trade relations.”
The keynote speaker and President of the African Development Bank, AFDB, Dr Akinwumi Adesina warned African countries against complacency in their health and economic recovery strategies, adding that the “Next pandemic is just around the corner.”
Adesina stated that the AFDB has designed a $1.5billion food emergency intervention to enable the continent to withstand the current war between Russia and Ukraine.
Welcoming the parliamentarians, Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, decried the recent threat posed to democracy in Sudan, Mali, Guinea and Chad where “Elected governments have been usurped by military juntas, overturning years of progress and hopes of millions.”
He explained that the conference would examine some of the reasons adduced for the development and correct the trajectory of countries and the continent.