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Editorial

Nigeria’s Growing Debt Burden

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Thursday, July 15, 2021, the Nigerian Senate approved two new foreign loans of $8.325 million and
€490 million respectively. That has raised a lot of questions among many stakeholders in the country, who have equally considered the approval as a bad move in the management of the already battered economy, especially at this period of torturous debt service compulsion.
The loans are said to be part of the Federal Government’s 2018-2020 external borrowing plan. It was ratified after the Senate considered the report of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt. In May this year, President Muhammadu Buhari asked the National Assembly to endorse the loan for funding various “priority projects” in the country.
Earlier, the Senate had approved $1.5 billion and €995 million respectively. The $1.5 billion was to be sourced from the World Bank for the financing of critical infrastructure across the 36 states of the federation under the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) programme and Covid-19 action recovery plan. 
Similarly, the €995 million was to be procured from the Export-Import Bank of Brazil to finance the Federal Government’s Green Imperative project to enhance the mechanisation of agriculture and agro process to improve food security. These are aside several other loans taken by the administration since inception in May 2015. 
Statistics from the Debt Management Office (DMO) on Nigeria’s liability portfolio over the last six years show how the accumulation has progressed hazardously. According to the DMO, Nigeria’s total debt as of June 30, 2015 (the year President Muhammadu Buhari took over) stood at N12.12 trillion. As of December 31, 2020, the country had a debt portfolio of N32.92 trillion. The latest DMO statistics, covering the first quarter of 2021, indicated that the debt portfolio had increased again to N33.10 trillion. 
In addition, the Federal Government also incurred another N10 trillion in overdrafts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This overdraft, which may also be provided by printing currency, has been reconditioned to be repaid over 30 years. We wonder what the managers of the economy have up their sleeves when they take on these liabilities which have serious implications not only for the present, but also for the future generations of Nigerians. 
These allegations of printing of funds that have followed a trend across the country in recent times may be seen as apparently corroborated by this huge N10 trillion owed by the CBN. The CBN may have always relied on printing money to meet the government’s overdraft demands.
The unfortunate and highly impoverished argument still put forward by the government and proponents of increased borrowing is the country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is still sound and below 40 per cent. However, they lose sight of the fact that GDP does not pay the debt, but incomes do. GDP only reflects the size of the economy and not that a mechanism has been put in place to service the loan when it becomes due.
What the Buhari government has done over the past six years, with its incompetent economists, is reckless borrowing, and has obviously borrowed beyond its repayment capacity. That is why the Federal Government is in trouble as far as servicing the debt is concerned. It recently admitted this much, claiming it spent N1.8 trillion on debt servicing from its N1.84 trillion revenues in the first five months of 2021 (January to May).
Thus, the debt-to-revenue ratio of the Federal Government, a key measure of debt sustainability, stands at 97.8 per cent over the reviewed period. How outrageous is that? In 2016, the federal debt service amounted to only 44.6 per cent. But by 2020, the debt-to-revenue ratio had increased to about 84.8 per cent. That is why 33 per cent of the current 2021 budget is dedicated to paying down the debt. 
As debts increase for payments, the strain on incomes increases. In the 2019 budget, for instance, over N2.1 trillion was set aside for debt servicing. Also, in the 2020 budget, N2.45 trillion was dedicated for debt repayments. That was close to 25 per cent of the budget. No country can achieve development with such enormous debt settlements.
The huge amount spent on debt servicing leaves the Buhari government with little money for infrastructure. That is why it takes more loans and print money to finance the cost of personnel, pensions and capital expenditures. Since printed currency also forms part of the debt of any government, we are concerned with the staggering way the CBN has printed money over the last six years and handed it to the Federal Government. It increased sharply from N2.2 trillion printed in 2016 to an estimated N10 trillion by the end of 2020.
There is no use borrowing for projects such as railways and airports. No sane government continues to invest in such infrastructure. Investments in areas like that and many others should be led by the private sector while the government creates an enabling environment. Public funds should be expended on health, education and social welfare, not on areas better managed by the private sector.
Nigerians have always been bombarded by constant requests for loans from the President. Such loans have become too numerous and most well-meaning citizens have called for an end to the alarming tendency to incur loans infelicitously. The nation already has a huge debt burden and must not permit this situation so far aggravated by the Buhari administration.
Time and time again, the current government, aided by an implacable legislative assembly proud of its docility, has invoked various excuses to justify its borrowing frenzy. Sadly, the administration does not show creativity when it comes to reducing governance costs and consolidating the revenue base. It is all about here and now: it does not think of the future. The fiscal situation of the country is disastrous and disheartening, and it is time for the government to change course.

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Editorial

Not Only RIWAMA

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The enormous task being undertaken round-the-clock by the Rivers State Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA) would be better appreciated by those who can still recall the putrefying heaps of refuse in Port Harcourt streets and on road medians immediately before and after the exit of the erstwhile administration in the state.
About six weeks to May 29, 2015, refuse disposal in some parts of the state capital and its environs had been conducted in a slapdash manner as waste contractors insisted on the payment of their several months’ outstanding arrears before the approaching handover date. Meanwhile, the state’s monthly accruals from the federation account had suffered a free fall from an average of N25 billion to less than N10 billion, making it difficult for the state to pay workers, pensioners, service providers and also fund ongoing projects.
In any case, Governor Nyesom Wike had, on assumption of office, appointed the then state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and owner of Go Round Football Club, Bro Felix Obuah, as the sole administrator of RIWAMA. He also approved the immediate payment of all the outstanding arrears owed waste disposal contractors as to enable them go back to work.
In no time, the sanitary condition of Port Harcourt and environs was restored. Service coverage was even extended from the previous five local governments of Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor and sections of Ikwerre, Eleme and Etche to include parts of Oyigbo and Okrika, with oversight function to the others. Not quite long after, the Agency acquired additional waste bins, leading to the creation of more receptacles. Of course, this will also mean that more money had to be voted for the expanded coverage.
The refuse disposal period of between 6:00 pm to 6:00 am inherited from the previous administration was altered to last from 6:00 pm to 12:00 midnight, ostensibly to enable waste contractors conclude their refuse evacuations before the break of day.
The success of these and several other good initiatives of the new management was always undermined by the poor sanitary habits of some residents who still dumped their trash indiscriminately, sometimes pouring such into the drainages and natural water channels. Others included street traders and waste scavengers who already are notorious agents of dispersion. But of all these, the most disturbing habit was that of emptying household waste onto well-lit road medians where such eyesores were made even more visible at night.
It was once reported that the previous administration in the state had made it mandatory for refuse contractors to acquire waste compactor vehicles. But it was also obvious that those who complied with the order simply procured equipment that were imported mostly from some Eastern European junk yards and whose spare parts production had long been discontinued. Refuse evacuation has continued to suffer hiccups as these rickety trucks break down every so often while making their nocturnal rounds.
Waste management is no mean task. Even Governor Wike acknowledged this some years ago when he said: “The issue of waste is worrisome even in Nigeria.
“So far, my administration has ordered more than 20,000 waste bins to enhance proper waste collection and disposal within the metropolis and its environs.
“I am reiterating my administration’s readiness to rid the state capital and its environs of waste. We need all residents’ cooperation to restore Port Harcourt to its Garden City status. We will clamp down on street trading to boost sanitation in Port Harcourt metropolis and environs…”
Not long after this, the state chief executive raised a special task force on street trading and illegal motor parks which he placed directly under his watch.
For a while, things appeared to have improved, especially with the dislodgement of traders from the median at Creek Road Market and several other notorious points; including Education Bus Stop, Rumuokoro, Garrison, Rumuola, Bori Camp, Oil Mill Market and Ikoku. That was until reports of brazen harassment, bribery, extortion and dangerous weapons possession became rife and eventually led to the disbandment of the body. Though, it has since been reconstituted under a new leadership which also appears to have taken off well.
Perhaps, based on his observation of the deteriorating sanitary condition of the state, the governor had recently voiced out his displeasure while threatening to disband the state’s waste management authority if in the next seven days he did not see an improvement in service delivery. In apparent response to this, Obuah had threatened to sack any waste contractor who did not tidy up his operational area within 48 hours.
As a way of reducing the effect of sudden failure of contractors’ equipment, the Agency had, early last year, unveiled two refuse compactor trucks for its rapid response operations. It also announced its expectation of five more of such trucks. At the event, the RIWAMA boss was said to have attempted an appraisal of his organisation.
“I want to say without an iota of doubt that RIWAMA has achieved over 85 per cent cleanness of Rivers State even though that is not enough because we want to achieve 100 per cent.
“But with these two disposal trucks in our fleet, I am assuring the good people of the state that we are heading towards achieving 99.9 per cent,” Obuah announced.
Governor Wike may have caught RIWAMA napping at some points while pursuing the government’s objective of restoring the former glory of Port Harcourt but, like His Excellency once noted, citizens’ cooperation is also key. Therefore, let us individually and collectively do all we can to assist our waste managers improve the city’s looks and, by extension, our health.
And who said there will be no reward, maybe a shawarma for RIWAMA if the Agency achieves its rather lofty performance target before May 29, 2023? This is on a lighter side, anyway.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Editorial

For A Greater Rivers Utd FC

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About a fortnight ago, the Rivers State Government announced that one of the state-sponsored football
teams, Rivers United Football Club, Port Harcourt, would thenceforth, be under the Office of the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike. In addition, the governor appointed his Special Adviser on Real Madrid Football Academy, Barrister Christopher Green, as the sole administrator of the club.
Rivers United FC, the flagship of football club in the state and fondly called the ‘Pride of Rivers’, and campaigning in the top flight of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), transmuted from the structures of Sharks and Dolphins FCs in 2016, barely a year after Governor Wike came into power in the state.
Since becoming the amalgam of the former two heavyweight sides of the state, the current administration has tried to transform the club into one of the leading lights in club football in the country. In fact, the club has enjoyed unprecedented patronage, especially motivation, support and prompt payment of emoluments from the government. Governor Wike has severally demonstrated his willingness to ensure that the club lacked nothing in the bid to win and bring laurels to the state and beyond.
Only recently, the club joined the exclusive list of very few football clubs in the country that have enjoyed the luxury of travelling for domestic matches in ultra modern air-conditioned and branded luxury buses, a gesture that was also extended to their sister club, Rivers Angels FC. Unfortunately, Rivers United seems not to have reciprocated the immeasurable commitment, passion and magnanimity which the government under Governor Wike has showered without let on them.
The club under its former identities, even under less patronage, had tried to hold their own in the domestic scene, winning the league in 1999 as Eagle Cement, and in 2004 and 2011 as Dolphins Football Club, while also lifting the FA/Federation Cup trophies on four occasions in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
These victories, however, seem to have become a distant memory, which has made it desirable and pertinent for the club under its current identity to earn and celebrate glory imminently, if only to bring joy to the sports loving people of Rivers State and as effective recompense for the investment of Governor Wike on the club.
After failing to make the cut in the CAF Confederations Cup competition last season, losing on penalties in the last qualifying stage to Enyimba International FC in a derby match up, Rivers United is back on the continent, campaigning in the nascent 2021 CAF Champions League season, a step up from last year’s competition.
That is why The Tide believes that the decision to place the club under the Office of the Governor could not have come at a better time. More so, the appointment of Barrister Christopher Green, a versatile and experienced sports technocrat, would help drive the club to achieving their potentials.
It is expected, therefore, that, with the development, the club would enjoy closer supervision and response time from the governor. Also, the apparent proximity to their Number One fan and supporter would certainly galvanise the team and officials into going the extra mile.
Having an impeccable sports enthusiast as a Chief Supporter, one who truly understands the dynamics of sports, particularly football, has become an added impetus for not only Rivers United but the whole sector in the state. Indeed, Governor Wike has proven to be a sports apostle par excellence.
It is on record that his commitment to excellence, willingness to invest in sports development and promotion, and readiness to reward achievers in every sector, particularly sports men and women, are second to none. No wonder he was found a worthy recipient of the prestigious Power of Sports – Africa (PoS –Africa) award by the Association of International Sports Press (AIPs) in 2019. The establishment of Real Madrid Football Academy, Port Harcourt is also a testimony of Governor Wike’s commitment to the round leather game.
We are gladdened that this new move would be a tonic to the club, and some of the red tape that, perhaps, had slowed down delivery to the club and reaction to matters that affect them would now be a thing of the past.
For the players, technical crew and backroom staff of Rivers United FC, now is the time for a re-wakening: they must be ready to give their all for success. The opportunity to rise and achieve glory via the total support of the governor should not be allowed to yield naught. Rather, now is the time to take up the challenge and work hard. Nothing should be allowed to distract them from the tasks facing them both in domestic competitions and the continental scene. The yearnings of the teeming football loving Rivers people and the current administration must be fulfilled. In fact, the club should look up to the performance of some clubs in the top European Leagues which do not settle for second best owing to the quality of support they get from their benefactors.
Furthermore, we expect the new sole administrator to hit the ground running by reaching out and exchanging notes with the Sports Ministry under which the club has been all the while. He must be open to new ideas while bringing his wealth of experience to bear on the new assignment.
Interestingly, in his first outing, Rivers United achieved a rare away victory in the first leg preliminary round of the 2021 CAF Champions League game against Young Africans FC of Tanzania. Last Sunday at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium, Port Harcourt, Rivers United did the double over Young Africans, again, edging them out via a lone goal. With the victory, Rivers United qualified for the next stage of the competition, where they must survive Al Hilal of Sudan to make the money spinning group stage of Champions League. All hands, therefore, must be on deck to ensure that the club builds on the morale and confidence boosting performance towards achieving the ultimate goal.
Rivers United, with the goodwill and backing of Governor Wike, should not only gird their loins and go for glory in all fronts, now is the time for a sustained dominance of national competitions and beyond, beginning with this season’s League and Cup and CAF Champions League glory. That is the only way to justify the humongous investment the governor has made to reposition the club for greater heights, and amass the much-needed laurels for the government and people of Rivers State, and indeed, Nigerians.

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Editorial

Trans-Kalabari Road Kidnap: Not Path To Go

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The recent abduction of Lubrik Construction Company’s expatriate staff working on Trans-Kalabari Road by unknown miscreants is deplorable and profoundly distasteful. According to reports, three policemen assigned to the employees were viciously exterminated. The sad incident, said to have occurred on Thursday, September 9, along Sama Road, in Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, is painfully bewildering. It is absolutely the product of disordered minds to ward off the Kalabari people from benefiting from the generosity of Governor Nyesom Wike.
Unfortunately, such an action could be considered at a moment when the governor is trying harder to ensure that progress takes place in every nook and cranny of the state. Several projects are underway in communities across the state with little or no abduction claims. Why Kalabari land? The Kalabaris are known to be peace-loving, who know how to protect what is theirs. Why did they let this happen to such an extensive project as this, which bears direct impact on their lives?
We denounce the kidnapping and appeal to the police, including all Kalabari leaders, elders and the youth, to go after those answerable for this reprehensible and senseless enterprise. The Kalabaris should remember that they patiently waited for 15 years to witness the actualisation of the road project and must hold on to it pertinaciously. Henceforth, youths from the area should be mobilised to secure all government projects in Kalabari Kingdom, specifically the Trans-Kalabari Road, to preserve it from brigands.
Before the onset of the Wike government, Rivers State had long endured abandoned projects, both at conceptual and advanced stages. The Trans-Kalabari Road had been a neglected project from the time of Dr. Peter Odili when it was awarded for the first time for N9billion. The project was deceased even before it was perfectly visualised.
Former Governor Rotimi Amaechi also signalled a N21billion contract for the same road in December, 2012, and committed to mobilise the contractor to the location by January, 2013. That also didn’t take effect. Yet, this was the same government that used about a whopping N40billion on a white elephant project (the Rivers Monorail) which remains blight for the past six years and deserted even before he left office in May, 2015.
However, in March, 2021, the present government declared a contract for the development of Phase 1 of the project at N13.6billion. On June 24, 2021, Wike eventually flagged off the road with a span of 14 months. The road will link six communities and would be reinforced by an irrevocable standing payment request of N1billion that would be paid to the contractor monthly.
At the initiation of the project, the Chief Executive of the state pleaded with the Kalabaris to give up everything that might imperil the realisation of the initial phase of the venture. The governor spoke at the flag-off of the road at the Degema Waterfront, saying, “Do not allow saboteurs to come and kidnap the contractors and sabotage the road. If I hear that the contractors are being harassed, then it is you”.
Thankfully, the ongoing work has offered an end to the relentless promises that previous governments had made to the people about the execution of the contract. Sadly, the governor’s impassioned appeal was never taken to heart. This untoward incident could prolong the culminating date of the project, thereby, undermining the confidence of the sons and daughters of Kalabari, who look forward to the realisation of the historical undertaking.
While we demand the prompt and outright release of the expatriate, we regard the hard-featured occurrence as a huge challenge to establish reciprocity and tranquillity within all the Kalabari project communities. We strongly advise all adversaries of the Kalabari people and Rivers State to stay clear from all project locations and amenities. Law enforcement and stakeholders of the Kalabari Kingdom should enhance their endeavours to emancipate the expatriate worker.
In 2019, three Lebanese expatriate workers from the Raffoul Nigeria Limited were kidnapped in Andoni. Governor Wike immediately reacted by issuing a 72-hour ultimatum to some traditional rulers and the chairman of Andoni Local Government Council at the time to ensure the release of the engineers working on the Andoni Unity Road or be stripped. The threat paid off, as attempts were stepped up, and the men regained their freedom. We call on the governor to apply a corresponding measure in the Trans-Kalabari Road abduction saga. 
Chairmen of the three local government councils of Asari-Toru, Akuku-Toru and Degema have to work collectively to bring off the freedom of the abducted worker and not stick around, expecting the governor to prompt them to act. They need to take steps to protect contractors and workers labouring on projects in their communities. As chief executives and security officers of their respective councils, they must make certain that contractors are not seized under their watch.
Contractors and workers at construction sites must rely less on the government to assure their security. They need to discover ways to secure themselves against delinquents and portentous gangsters. The first step is to broach a security scheme that will provide a policy for an emergency and ensure that all their workers realise how to react and whom to call. Installing surveillance cameras can help monitor the site as a whole and protect lives and equipment.
Wike has always prognosticated a proclivity to move further projects to Kalabariland. But, the activities of kidnappers in the area can dissuade him. The Kalabari people should see themselves too sophisticated to tolerate brigandage in their midst. Hence, they must close ranks to bring an end to the actions of miscreants who aim to see that the development of the area is nixed. Given that the criminals did not emerge from the sky, they have to be detected.

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