By Ismaila Chafe
President Muhammadu Buhari has described the past 18 months as the most difficult period in the history of Nigeria since the civil war.
The president stated this in a nationwide broadcast to mark the nation’s 61st Independence Anniversary on Friday in Abuja.
He noted that the nation had never witnessed more heightened challenges than what happened in the past 18 months.
President Buhari identified the devastating impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s economy as one of the major challenges facing the country.
“Fellow Nigerians, the past 18 months have been some of the most difficult periods in the history of Nigeria. Since the civil war, I doubt whether we have seen a period of more heightened challenges than what we have witnessed in this period.
“Our original priorities for 2020 were to continue stabilising our economy following the deep recession while restoring peace in areas confronted with security challenges.
“But the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on all nations meant we needed to shift gears and re-strategise.
“Nigerians came together as one to fight against COVID-19. It is this attitude and by the special grace of God, we continue to survive the pandemic as a nation and indeed, provide leadership and example at regional and international levels.’’
The Nigerian leader, however, assured citizens that his administration had successfully invested heavily in response to COVID-19 to tackle possible future outbreak of pandemics in the country.
He said: “The doomsday scenario predicted for our country never came. Even as the Delta variant continues to spread, we have built the capacity we need to respond now and into the future.
“I will, therefore, appeal to Nigerians not to take COVID lightly, adhere to public health and social measures, put your mask on and get vaccinated.
“We can control this pandemic, but it requires effort on everybody’s part. The investments we made in response to COVID-19 will also serve our country to tackle any future disease outbreaks or pandemics.’’
According to the president, despite the global inequity in access to vaccines, the Federal Government has continued to explore all available options to ensure Nigerians have free access to safe and effective vaccines.
He revealed that already five million vaccine doses had been administered to Nigerians through efforts led by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency.
The president assured that the government would continue to explore options for purchase or acquisition of vaccines such as through COVAX and the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust.
“I will take this opportunity to remind the global community that the current state of access to COVID-19 vaccines is unacceptable. We cannot afford a situation where a handful of countries keep the global vaccine supply to themselves at the expense of other nations.
“We must act now to accelerate equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. This is the message I conveyed to the international community in New York last week.
“As we push to source vaccines for our immediate needs, we shall invest more to support our pharmaceutical and research agencies to come up with ideas for locally developed vaccines. Should another pandemic arise in the future, our question is simple; will Nigeria be ready?
“Accordingly, I have directed the Ministries of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Health, Education and Science and Technology to work with Nigerian and International pharmaceutical companies and research organisations to enhance Nigeria’s domestic pharmaceutical capacity,’’ he said.
President Buhari disclosed that already, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority is raising a 200 million dollars fund for the initiative that would complement the Central Bank of Nigeria’s ongoing N85 billion Healthcare Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme.
According to him, this is to support local researchers in the development of vaccines and drugs to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases, including COVID-19.
On his administration’s approach to food security, the president said: “I am proud to announce Nigeria has commenced its journey to pharmaceutical independence.
“This journey, which will take years to achieve but will ultimately result in Nigeria-based companies developing the active pharmaceutical substances and competence needed for us to make our own drugs and vaccines.’’ (NAN)