By Ismaila Uba Misilli
The ravaging coronavirus pandemic hit the world suddenly, thereby becoming one of the biggest threats to humanity, global economy and financial markets.
The World Health Organization’s report revealed that the virus, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has infected over one million people in at least 120 countries with more than 60,000 deaths recorded globally so far.
The acclaimed World Powers such as United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and others are becoming overwhelmed with increasing cases of the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) daily.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 did not spare Nigeria as the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) has confirmed over 200 cases with 5 deaths as at 5th of April, 2020. The escalation of COVID-19 forced many nations to shutdown their economy as well as lockdown the streets to curtail spread of the communicable disease.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari last week announced additional measures including lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and Federal Capital Territory coupled with stay at home order to prevent the spread of the pandemic, while in Gombe state, Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya had taken proactive steps, including constituting a Taskforce with adequate funding, closing of the state’s borders and engagement with traditional rulers, religious leaders and all relevant stakeholders to ensure that Gombe maintains clean record and prepare for any eventuality.
No doubt, Coronavirus pandemic is having negative effect on Nigeria’s economy, making Gombe and other states to feel the heat.
For instance, the global crude oil price has dropped to less than $30 as against $57 projection in 2020 budget and millions of Nigeria’s oil barrels are on the high sea waiting for buyers. Also, revenues from non-oil sectors are affected, including Value Added Tax due to shutdown in some countries which is slowing down the economy.
Unsurprisingly, the recent FAAC meeting indicated about N50billion decrease in revenue available for sharing among the Federal, States and Local Governments. The ongoing Stay at home/lockdown would further deplete our revenue, thereby reducing allocation to each state. We are in this cloudy situation together, hence a good leader must restrategise and act fast!
Therefore, Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya seems to be in agreement with United States Army General, General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) who said: ”A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others’. The Governor is already restrategising, rethinking and working out modalities to ensure the state stays strong and continues to meet its financial obligations amidst this crisis.
Gombe State Government is now putting in place measures aimed at mitigating the economic impact, including minimizing recurrent expenditures in order to save cost and make funds available for projects amidst Coronavirus crisis.
In a recent interview with journalists, the state Commissioner of Finance and Economic Development, Alhaji Muhammad Gambo Magaji said, “We begin to plan ahead for those months that will be extremely difficult.”
He hinted that the quick-fix measures being taken by the state government were to strengthen the Internally Generated Revenue base to ensure that it meets most of its needs in terms of the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
He said the state had commenced reviewing its 2020 budget to reflect the effect of the pandemic on the economy with a view to maintaining financial discipline as allocation from Federal Government dwindles.
“For us in Gombe, we have started to look at our budget for 2020 and already in the process of reviewing it to reflect the changes that have already been adopted by the Federal Government.
“Our budget should also reflect the reality, so that we capture correctly what we expect as revenue from federal allocation and that of course, translates to a reduction in the overall revenues accruable to the state.
He said that the suspension of the N30,000 minimum wage after due consultation and deliberation with labour leaders in the state and slashing the salaries of all political appointees are part of the measures to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. The Commissioner said the worst days were yet to be seen but, “as a responsible government, we will try to ensure that we are able to meet our obligations within these periods”.
“The suspension of new minimum wage implementation was a painful decision for the governor but the current administration acted in good faith after due consultation with labour leaders”.
Interestingly, Governor Inuwa Yahaya since assumption of office has shown commitment to workers’ welfare as can be attested to in prompt payment of salaries, clearing of outstanding wages including those of staff of State Owned Higher Institutions, taking over full payment of higher institutions staff salaries and payment of backlog of gratuity to state retirees.
The process of reviewing the 2020 budget is ongoing but priority projects such as roads, education, health, rural development and others will continue to receive attention for common good. It is noteworthy that some of the projects initiated or inherited by this administration will be ready for commissioning soon. Also, prudence in governance and effective utilization of funds will remain the hallmark of Inuwa Yahaya’s administration, as such public funds would not be deployed for frivolous activities.
Having said this, the diversification of Gombe state economy through revamping of agricultural sector, industrialization drive by setting up of an industrial park and attracting investors, revitalizing government owned companies such as Gombeline and resuscitating others like Manto as well as boosting of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) are the routes towards building stronger economy for our dear state.
It may be recalled that Governor Inuwa Yahaya had recently effected change in the management and affairs of Gombe State Board of Internal Revenue and deployed technology for its operations with the view to strengthening it and blocking leakages as well as sharp practices in manual revenue collection. Just last week, the new management of the Board Internal Revenue uncovered a syndicate printing fake e-receipt to shortchange the state government and indeed the people of the state. Without mincing words, the strengthening of the revenue collection agency is already yielding good fruits with increment in State IGR and the revenue will be used to augment government purse.
The lesson from the impact of the coronavirus on the nation’s economy only reminds us of the need to diversify by encouraging people to move into other sectors to harness the potentials there.
Gombe state is already moving on high speed to diversify its economy and this is the reason Governor Inuwa Yahaya is passionate about the Gombe industrial park which has already started attracting investors even before it comes on stream.
With these and many more initiatives and measures, one must agree that Gombe state is already on a sound pedestal to absorb the consequential effects of the coronavirus pandemic as Governor Inuwa Yahaya continues to take far-reaching and multi pronged steps to address the challenges of the state and in particular the concerns of covid-19, which is threatening lives and means of livelihood of the citizenry.
Misilli is the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to Gombe State Governor.