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Speaker Gbajabiamila: Why we’re concerned about effects of COVID-19 on Nigeria

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The Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila has said that the possible effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) disease on the nation’s economy and the healthcare delivery system are responsible for all the steps taken by the House in its bid to address the raging pandemic.

Gbajabiamila said the introduction and passage of the first Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill and the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, as well as the second Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill which is about to be introduced, were all meant to successfully steer the country out of troubled waters that might follow the pandemic.

Gbajabiamila also hinted that the House would soon introduce a bill that would codify government’s Social Investment Programme (SIP) with a view to giving it legal backing.

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While speaking at a web interactive session (webinar) organized by the Emmanuel Chapel on Friday, he said the country cannot afford not to learn from the novel disease, which was why legislation must be put in place to address similar crises when they occur again. 

Other panelists at the Zoom-powered webinar, moderated by Bolanle Austen-Peters, with the theme ‘State of Biosecurity: National Emergencies and COVID-19 Disruptions,’ included Prof. Akin Abayomi, Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor, Chief of Defence Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters and Prof. Abdulrazaq Habib, Infectious and Tropical Disease Physician  

According to the Speaker, it would be irresponsible for any legislature not to have speedily acted with dispatch in times of danger such as this, while speaking to the impression that the provisions in the CID Bill were strange and contradictory to the nation’s constitution and why the Social Investment Programm (SIP) must be institutionalized and backed by law.

He said: “We are going through an experience like never before, hopefully, we are …. I always believe that great nations are determined by how they survive and they respond in times of emergencies like this, in times of adversity. 

“We are at war and I believed that’s agreed, although with an unseen enemy, we don’t know how the enemy looks like, we don’t understand… there are some aspects of the virus ….but we must respond quickly and accordingly.

“As leaders, we must respond like we are at war. Lives have been disrupted. Talking about social security, we have before now and even till now that is akin to that in Nigeria today is Social Investment Programme (SIP) where we have the N-Power, Moni Trader, the Conditional Cash Transfer, the School Feeding Programme and a wide variety of other programs but unfortunately, they have not been codified. 

“So, basically these are left to the whims and caprices of whoever is in charge to determine who gets what. So, it’s been something that’s not statutory, it’s not codified, budgeted for but again it depends on who’s handling it at the appointed time. 

“What the House is doing now, and in the next couple of weeks, we will be introducing a robust codification and sanction of the SIP in Nigeria that will take care of the poor and the vulnerable. That’s the standard, it’s for the poor and the vulnerable, it would codify and define who is poor and who is vulnerable and the geographical spread would be determined by law. 

“It is a very proactive legislation that would be on the floor of the House, debated and passed to the Senate for concurrence.

“We have passed the Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill from the onset in March when this broke. It went through the first, second and third reading the same day because of the urgency of now with three prongs. One, it allows companies to basically write off 20 per cent of their taxes. 

“The whole idea is to enable people to retain their employees and if you do that between now and December, we write off certain percent of your taxes. The second part is to give more… to mortgages and loans and the third is basically to drop duties and charges for all medical goods, equipment. 

Gbajabiamila said the passage of the first Emergency Economic Bill and the introduction of the second document in a matter of weeks was meant to prepare for the shock that would trail the pandemic, as countries are expected to run into recession.

“The second Emergency Economic Stimulus Bill which is in the works right now that affects a lot more people (the middle class) so to speak, that should be on the table in a couple of weeks on the floor of the House. 

“A lot is going on in the House, there is a lot of moving part, we can’t fix these in one day but as we continue with our post-COVID-19 team in the House of Representatives, we begin to channel legislations, which is our primary responsibility to deal with the disruptions of our daily lives. 

“There’s a takeaway from this. In every bad experience, the most important thing is to learn from it and I think we all agreed that and on the same page that healthcare delivery infrastructure requires priority and a lot of work. 

“That’s why in the Amendment to the 2020 Appropriation Act that was brought to the House a couple of days ago was focusing primarily on our health infrastructure. So, there will be adequate funding and a lot of research will be going into it.

”These are all measures we have taken in the House to confront a monster, a very tiny monster but a monster nonetheless that has the potential of destroying the people and destroying our country and it’s a fact that we all must be a part of, it’s not just for the government but for every one of us,” he added.

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