VP’s Remarks At The Virtual 2020 EURAFRICA Forum
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, PROF. YEMI OSINBAJO, SAN, GCON, VICE PRESIDENT, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA AT THE VIRTUAL 2020 EURAFRICA FORUM ON FRIDAY 4TH SEPTEMBER 2020
I am pleased to be participating in this high-level segment of the 3rd EurAfrican Forum and bring you the very best wishes from President Muhammadu Buhari and the people of Nigeria. I thank Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President of Portugal for inviting Nigeria to be part of this landmark session.
It is a sign of the times that this session of the EurAfrica Forum is taking place virtually. It is at once a reminder that the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is very much with us, but being able to organise this virtual meeting is also proof of the resilience of the human spirit that we have been able to leverage technology in order to get on with our lives.
The EurAfrican Forum is always a good opportunity to review the state of partnership between our two regions and to share perspectives on matters of mutual interest. It is natural therefore that a lot of our discussions here are focussed on COVID-19 and its impact on our people, our countries and our regions. The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly put national health systems in both developed and developing countries under severe strain and very few economies have escaped a severe economic downturn.
In Nigeria, our priority is to ward off a deep recession. We developed an Economic Sustainability Plan consisting of measures to support local businesses, retain and create jobs and to improve the circumstances of the most vulnerable.
The Plan bolsters our health interventions and promotes the use labour-intensive methods in key areas like agriculture, light manufacturing, housing, and facilities management.
It is also aimed at increasing infrastructural investment in roads, bridges, solar power, and communications technologies. The size of the Economic Sustainability Plan is N2.3 trillion which is just about 1.5% of national income. It is not as large as we would have liked it to be but it was the best we could do given existing fiscal and monetary constraints.
Indeed, the extent and speed of the spread of the pandemic was such that the instinct in nearly all countries was to look inward for national solutions. The outcome was uncoordinated lockdowns, travel restrictions, trade embargoes and disruptions in global trade and logistics chains.
Even national fiscal stimulus plans and financial sector interventions to cope with the health and economic fall-out of COVID-19 were taken by individual states. This is perhaps understandable. But it is self-limiting and humanity can do better than this.
A global crisis calls for global partnerships. If COVID-19 exists in any part of the world, it remains a significant threat to every part of the world.
The partnership between Africa and the European Union is good platform for both sides to work together on economic recovery and rebuilding of health systems. It is also equally important that we become even stronger advocates for closer international cooperation to tackle the fall out of COVID-19.
From the African perspective, two issues readily come to mind. The first is to ensure widespread and equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine. Europe should work closely with Africa to ensure that when a vaccine is finally deployed it should not be on the basis of the highest bidder but rather be made available at an affordable and in an accessible manner. This is a matter that should not be taken for granted. We saw during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in richer parts of the world that orders for test kits and reagents by African countries were deemed too small and tended to be ignored.
Although Nigeria does not have the resources or means to pre-pay for a COVID-19 vaccine, we are fortunate to be a GAVI supported country and we urge the EU to lend support to GAVI’s effort to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX initiative. This way, poorer countries and their citizens will get the vaccines that they need at the same time as the rest of the world.
While it is true that developed countries including in Europe also face economic challenges arising from the impact of COVID-19, it is also true that they have more fiscal and monetary latitude to respond to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
For African countries on the other hand, the situation is more dire given our previous structural vulnerabilities and limitations. We continue to experience huge financing gaps, huge debt servicing obligations and foreign exchange shortages. It is clear then that we need all the help we can get.
The Debt Servicing Support Initiative of the G20 is welcome and will no doubt bring some relief to relevant African countries. However, it remains inadequate because it does not address the problem of commercial debt service obligations.
As things stand, the share of commercial debt is almost two thirds of debt service in Africa so any debt relief arrangement not involving this segment is unlikely to succeed. Getting relief on commercial debt servicing will require the cooperation of bondholders and ratings agencies which is why the African Union Special Envoys on COVID-19 are engaging with them actively. Nigeria calls on the EU to lend its weight to this initiative which is very important for Africa.
There are of course many other matters on which Africa and the EU must continue to collaborate, and to which we must use the opportunity of this Summit to move ahead on. Investment and trade, human capital development and the proper management of migration are areas in which our partnership should continue to be built.
I am confident that we will continue to deepen such relationships which must continue to be anchored on enabling both regions to attain their social and economic objectives in an increasingly environmentally friendly and digital world.
Once more, please accept my gratitude, on behalf of Nigeria, for the honour of participation. God bless the Euro Africa Partnership.
Thank you very much.