Nigeria needs to compile a solid economic recovery plan with the right foreign-exchange policies to convince the World Bank to approve a $1.5 billion loan to support the country’s budget. The government has to assure the lender’s shareholders it is doing all it can to prop up Africa’s largest economy amid the devastation brought by the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reports, citing comments from the World Bank country director in Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri. The country had expected the loan to be released earlier this year to help cover a widening budget shortfall. “The way that our board and our shareholders approach this kind of budget support is to say: ‘Has the country that’s requesting the support done all it can to help itself?’” Chaudhuri said in a webinar, when asked about the loan. “There needs to be a little bit more.” The pushback comes after Nigerian Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed told Bloomberg TV on 27 November that the loan was in the final stages of approval as the government had fulfilled the bank’s conditions. The country is asking for financial help to overcome a crisis that could sink an extra 7 million people into poverty. Solid exchange-rate management and macroeconomic policies are key for the World Bank to assist the continent’s top oil producer, Chaudhuri said. Two separate loans worth another $1.5 billion earmarked for Nigerian states will be considered by the lender’s board on 14 December.
The Federal Government has asked COVID-19 treatment centres across the country to prepare for reopening. Some of the centres were shut after the country recorded a decline in cases. However, there has been a surge in COVID-19 cases, with warning that there might be a second wave of the pandemic in the country. Speaking at the briefing of the presidential task force on COVID-19 on Thursday, Osagie Ehanire, minister of health, said he had directed health workers to be on red alert. “We are seeing the increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last few days, which we have frequently alluded to in recent times. This rightly suggests that we may just be on the verge of a second wave of this pandemic. Last week, we recorded 1,843 against 1,235 two weeks before that and 1,126 the week before that,” he said. “In the past 24 hours, 474 new confirmed cases and 2 deaths were recorded, with an indication that this week’s figure will beat last week’s. As at today, we have crossed 70,000 mark with a total of 70,669 confirmed cases of which 65,242 have been treated and discharged. Sadly the number of deaths has now reached 1,184 as against 1,167 two weeks before. “The US, UK and other countries are going through very difficult times, and we do sympathise with them. To prepare ourselves, I have directed that all Isolation and Treatment Centres, which were hitherto closed due to reduced patient load, to be prepared for reopening and the staff complement put on alert.”
Oil prices touched their highest level since March on Thursday, as hopes of swifter-than-thought vaccine roll-out fuelled bullish expectations of strengthening oil demand early next year. As at Thursday afternoon, Brent Crude, the international benchmark, sold at $50.55 per barrel, for the first time since the first days in March, when Saudi Arabia and Russia broke up the previous OPEC+ pact, contributing to massive slides in oil prices exacerbated by the demand crash in the lockdowns in the spring. WTI Crude price also hit its highest level since the price crash, and traded at $47.16, up by 3.66% on the day. This is good news for Nigeria as crude oil accounts for half of the government’s income and about 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. The nation’s economy has continued to battle foreign exchange scarcity following plummeting crude oil prices in the international market caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The rally in prices was boosted by Canada approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, joining the United Kingdom (UK). Canada’s health authorities approved the vaccine on Wednesday, with the first doses of the vaccine expected by the end of this year. The UK has already started vaccinating vulnerable people and essential personnel, with the first person receiving the vaccine on Tuesday.
Israel and Morocco agreed on Thursday to normalise relations in a deal brokered with U.S. help, making Morocco the fourth Arab country to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past four months. It joins the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in beginning to forge deals with Israel, driven in part by U.S.-led efforts to present a united front against Iran and roll back Tehran’s regional influence. In a departure from longstanding U.S. policy, President Donald Trump agreed as part of the deal to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory. The Morocco deal could be among the last that Trump’s team, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and U.S. envoy Avi Berkowitz, will negotiate before giving way to Biden’s incoming administration. Under the agreement, Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations and resume official contacts with Israel. “They are going to reopen their liaison offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv immediately with the intention to open embassies. And they are going to promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies,” Kushner told Reuters. Trump’s agreement to change U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara was the linchpin for getting Morocco’s agreement and a major shift away from a mostly neutral stance. In Rabat, Morocco’s royal court said Washington will open a consulate in Western Sahara as part of Morocco’s deal with Israel.