COVID-19 and the changing times, By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

Posted by News Express | 22 April 2020 | 745 times

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•Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

You must have observed as I did, that there is some sort of leadership transformation going on in Nigeria presently. Our leaders have suddenly embraced some form of accountability, to the people. Separated from the usual crowd of sycophants by COVID-19, some Governors have stopped hearing the voices of flatterers and their yes men, some legislators have come face to face with the voters, in the course of distribution of the essential commodity now termed palliatives. Leaders are compelled by the unfolding circumstances to address their followers, either through state broadcast or the social media. They cannot travel, and they cannot run or hide. For the very first time, we are all in it together. It just demonstrates the fact that given the right orientation and circumstances, our leaders can rule well, if they choose to. To build world class hospitals is not rocket science after all, to supply electricity for at least twenty hours per day has never been the issue with the Gencos, Discos and TCN, as we can now see, even before the rainy season. Believe it or not, it is actually not difficult for the Telcos to guaranty efficient and cost-effective data regime. But beyond all these, the big question on everyone’s lips right now is: what happens post-COVID-19?

Not long ago, the International Monetary Fund announced some financial reprieve for some African nations by way of debt relief. The story goes thus:

“IMF Executive Board Approves Immediate Debt Relief for 25 Countries:

Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued the following statement:

“Today, I am pleased to say that our Executive Board approved immediate debt service relief to 25 of the IMF’s member countries under the IMF’s revamped Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) as part of the Fund’s response to help address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This provides grants to our poorest and most vulnerable members to cover their IMF debt obligations for an initial phase over the next six months and will help them channel more of their scarce financial resources towards vital emergency medical and other relief efforts.”

The CCRT can currently provide about US$500 million in grant-based debt service relief, including the recent US$185 million pledge by the U.K. and US$100 million provided by Japan as immediately available resources. Others, including China and the Netherlands, are also stepping forward with important contributions. I urge other donors to help us replenish the Trust’s resources and boost further our ability to provide additional debt service relief for a full two years to our poorest member countries.

The countries that will receive debt service relief today are: Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, D.R., The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Tajikistan, Togo, and Yemen.”

For one reason or the other, Nigeria was excluded from the list of nations to benefit from this package and the Nigerian Labour Congress has been campaigning for the IMF to forgive Nigeria. Whether this plea is heeded or not, there is no doubt that the times are changing. Earlier on during the Presidential broadcast of March 29 2020, at the height of the COVID 19 incursion into Nigeria, the President declared that the federal government has granted a three month moratorium for all government funded loans.

He said: “As part of its efforts to cushion the economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Federal government has granted a three-month repayment moratorium for all government funded loans. This was disclosed by President Muhammadu Buhari in the nationwide presidential broadcast on Sunday evening. The moratorium will cover the Tradermoni, Marketmoni, Farmermoni and all loans issued through the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.

“I have directed that a three month repayment moratorium for all TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans be implemented with immediate effect.

“I have also directed that a similar moratorium be given to all Federal Government funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Nigeria Export Import Bank.”

The president explained that the economic effects of the pandemic, which has been described by the World Health Organization as a worldwide emergency, could not be ignored, hence the decision of the federal government to introduce the palliative measures.

He noted that the government had directed financial institutions to discuss with international and multilateral development partners, and negotiate similar concessions for the borrowers.”

Some private entities like the banks, have since heeded the President’s directive, to grant similar relief to their customers. Below is an example:

“Guaranty Trust Bank (GTBank) has placed a hold on its loan repayment plan for all Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that have obtained credit facilities from the bank.

The financial institution took the decision to alleviate the heat of the Coronavirus pandemic on the operations of the SMEs amidst the lockdown.

The lender explained that businesses that obtained Food Industry Credit and Fashion Industry Credit would be issued a 90-day moratorium from repayment of loan. GTBank also afforded individuals who obtained Quick Credit for business the same benefit.

What it means: Small businesses that fall within the aforementioned categories don’t have to repay their loan in the next three months but the interest rates on the facilities will still be paid.

“We have put on hold all repayment on SME loans as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and because small businesses have had to stay closed to stay safe, we are giving a 90-day moratorium on repayment of loans.”

The point in all of these is that pending obligations should be reviewed and renegotiated, in the face of the reality of the COVID 19 pandemic, as that is most probably the only way that such businesses can thrive. The appeal therefore is to all our financial institutions to consider the IMF option, of not just suspending the repayment of the loans, but to consider outright waver of interest thereon and in deserving cases, total cancellation. This is the time for the banks and other financial institutions to demonstrate loyalty and understanding, of the times and seasons, otherwise the courts will be jammed with law suits seeking to interpret the effect of COVID-19 on businesses and other commercial agreements.

OBSEQUIES

COVID 19 has taken its toll on our land, with about twenty deaths recorded so far. Two of those deaths hit the legal profession in very serious ways. Dr. Kole Abayomi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former Director of the Nigerian Law School, succumbed to the cold hands of death in far-away London. He was such a jolly good fellow, combining academic excellence with sound legal practice. At the Law School, he was always a great sight to behold, cascading down into the minds and intellect of his students with such depth of knowledge and skills. Though he was by all means an aristocrat, he didn’t allow that background to detract from his commitment to mentoring young lawyers. Nigeria lost an astute administrator and an erudite scholar.

Before we could settle down to digest the news of the death of Dr. Abayomi, SAN, the nation was hit with the passage of Mallam Abba Kyari, who was at the time the Chief of Staff to the President. A lawyer and consummate banker, many Nigerians did not have the opportunity of knowing his real worth until his death. Judging by the glowing tribute showered on him by the President and many others, no doubt Nigeria has lost a rare gem. Maybe because of the nature of his job, he took on all accusations in his stride, not given to public discourse on national issues and he paid the supreme price for his fatherland, in trying to fix the monster of electricity supply in Nigeria. He will surely be missed. May their gentle souls rest in peace.

CAUTIOUS CELEBRATIONS

Ever before we got into the real mood of COVID 19, two eminent Nigerians had cause to celebrate their birthdays, both having clocked 68 years. Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu has, without any controversy, become the face of modern Lagos. He has indeed graduated from the regional politician to become a national godfather and even traversing some regions in Africa. Even though a lot has been written and is still being said of and concerning him, one thing that is clear about this political icon is that he has mentored several successors, all too numerous to mention here. And that is leadership. As the clock is ticking towards seventy, it is good for the national leader of the All Progressive Congress to re-invent the wheel of what he has been known for all the years, that is true federalism, restructuring and progressive politicking. Enough of these political summersaults.

Comrade Adams Oshiomole is not a strange name to the people of Nigeria, especially workers and the masses, given his track record as a labour activist per excellence. The diminutive Comrade fought the good fight for all workers whilst he was at the saddle as President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, a maverick of some sort and an accomplished orator. What Nigerians did not bargain for was his foray into politics, both in Edo State as a two-time Governor and now as the Chairman of the ruling party. As the Comrade is moving towards the minimum three score and ten prescribed by God, he should painstakingly take good time to review the Manifesto of his party and thereafter mobilise his party men and women in power to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. Himself and Asiwaju owe us that sacred duty, most urgently, to crown their celebrations.

  • Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN) writes from Lekki Lagos.


Source: News Express

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