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Editorial

Checking Nigeria’s Debt Profile 

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The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has revealed that Nigeria’s public debt would hit over N38 trillion by December 2021. She made the statement while defending the 2021 budget proposals at the sitting of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans, recently.
Further, the Finance Minister disclosed that the total public debt stock comprising external and domestic debts of states and the Federal Government as well as the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), stood at N31.01 trillion ($85.90 billion) as at June 30, 2020.
According to her, the debt would rise to N32.51 trillion by December, 2020 and N38.68 trillion by December 31, 2021. This means that Nigeria will borrow N6.17 trillion in 2021. Zainab also hinted that the Federal Government would borrow $2.1 billion from Brazil to finance agriculture.
The recurring circle of borrowing is so much today, that it has left many Nigerians wondering whether the government is actually on a rescue mission. This appears so when the interest of the next generation is not being contemplated. We equally wonder whether the authorities in Abuja are interested in the repayment of these loans.
Indeed, the current state of our growing public debt profile is scary. Official data indicate that total debt grew from N12.118 trillion in May 2015, to N12.6 trillion in December, 2015, N17.36 trillion in 2016, N21.725 trillion in 2017, N24.387 trillion in 2018 and N27.401 trillion in 2019. The figures sky-rocketed to startling levels in 2020 with the active collusion of the Ninth National Assembly, (NASS).
In the early years of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, figures from the Debt Management Office (DMO) indicated that Nigeria’s total debt increased by about 90% between December 2015 and March 2018, from about N12.6 trillion to about N22.71 trillion, and that total domestic and external debt stock of the federal, 36 state governments and the FCT stood at N22.38 trillion or $73.21 billion on June 30, 2018.
Recall that this particular NASS approved a whooping N10.08 trillion or $28 billion loan for the Buhari administration within a year. With the latest public borrowings of N8.7 trillion and N5.51 trillion accompanying the approvals of the 2020 federal budget, the overall public debt position has risen to about N41.6 trillion.
These recent loans have come from various sources; $3.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, (IMF), $2.5 billion loan from the World Bank, $1 billion loan from the African Development Bank, (AfDB), N850 billion domestic capital market loans and a host of others.
The Federal Government had earlier in the year planned to take N2 trillion from the current N10 trillion pension funds to finance the development of infrastructure, following a decision taken at a recent meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) under the chairmanship of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. An articulation of the current borrowing strategies of this administration demonstrates the downward and questionable direction of the economy.
The situation has generated more questions than answers. It is sickening that the government has been pig-headedly proceeding with the procurement of these liabilities despite reservations by stakeholders in respect of the equitable spread of the projects, possibilities of seamless repayment plan and viability of some of the projects for which the loans are being sought.
The usual response by the authorities is that following from the debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio criteria, the country is currently under borrowed. They, however, fail to educate Nigerians that the debt service-to-revenue ratio is unfavourable. The present debt service-to-revenue ratio is alarmingly over 50%. With this huge debt and repayment quotient, what will be the country’s future creditworthiness?
Are issues of repayment considered when these loans are approved, particularly when it is obvious that any incoming administration in 2023 will be inheriting a heavy debt burden and thus, will find it difficult to operate? Again, in the event of a future sovereign default, what remedies are in place to address the problem or what national assets would have to be sold to service the debts? The unfortunate public debt situation in Zambia and Kenya that ran into serious crises in this regard are quite instructive.
The role of NASS in this matter has intensified the problem. This NASS does not appear competent to query any loan or other agenda of Buhari. Where then are the expected benefits derivable from the checks and balances of the presidential system of government, which is designed to enhance governance in the pursuit of the common good?
No one is against obtaining loans if they are attached to viable projects. However, we are disturbed about the borrowing spree under President Muhammadu Buhari. Something drastic has to be done to arrest this undesirable trend. Who will save us from this menace? Since the current government came into power in May 2015, its mantra seems to be that of “borrow, borrow and borrow” until there is no more money to borrow anywhere.
What the government should do now is to set up monitoring mechanisms on the performance of loans, and mobilise funds within the country to stop the borrowings, at least in the interim. Nigeria can do better without these loans. We urgently need to understand that we are in a dreadful race to the bottom with the current ungoverned craving for a loan.

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Editorial

In Support Of Exclusive Breastfeeding

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As the world commemorates this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the need to encourage
breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world has again been spotlighted. World Breastfeeding Week is annually celebrated from August 1 to 7. It is observed by 170 countries to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed until they are six months or possibly two years old.
Every year, this week is celebrated with a unique theme and this year’s theme is, “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support”. As humanity observes the event, it is vital to spread awareness about the significance of education and support for breastfeeding. It is not a social stigma, but a requirement that shapes the totality of a child’s wellbeing.
In a joint statement by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Catherine Russell, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the World Breastfeeding Week, UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergencies.
Health professionals point out that breast milk contains all the nutrients a newborn needs for normal development early and later in life. However, pressure from family members and friends to drink water in addition to breast milk prevents mothers from exclusively breastfeeding their babies. This stress is not good for the child, as health professionals advise breastfeeding to be valuable for both mother and child.
Colostrum, in particular, the yellow, custard-like milk produced in the first few days of life, is described as the baby’s first immunity because it is very rich in anti-infective substances that protect the baby from potentially harmful diseases. Likewise, breast milk is an ideal food for babies and infants because it contains the right amount of nutrients and is easily digested, giving them all the nutrients they need to survive.
Besides, it is safe and contains antibodies that assist in protecting infants from common childhood illnesses, such as respiratory tract infections, diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are the two primary causes of child mortality worldwide. Exclusive Breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of coeliac disease and chances of developing asthma, and other allergic crises.
Breastfeeding also prevents obesity in childhood and adulthood, as well as diet-related chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and cancer. In addition, breastfed infants are known to show better vaccine responses when vaccinated against childhood diseases. Compared with infant formula-fed babies, they performed better on intelligence tests.
For mothers, starting breast milk early can speed up the expulsion of the placenta, while breastfeeding helps burn extra calories and lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases hormones that support the return of the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding is also associated with a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes and postpartum depression in mothers.
According to the 2018 Nigerian Demographic and Health Survey (2018 NDHS), child mortality accounts for 52 per cent of all under-five deaths. The child mortality rate was 69 per 1,000 children surviving to 12 months, while the overall under-five mortality rate was 132 per 1,000 live births. Fifty-one per cent of all deaths among children under the age of five in Nigeria happen before the child’s first birthday, and 30 per cent of these occur in the first month of life.
It is worth reiterating that breastfeeding is not a woman’s job alone. A mother needs the support of her husband and family. Therefore, Nigerian men should show greater commitment to ensuring that their babies are successfully breastfed for at least the first six months of life. Men should plan active roles for themselves and ensure their babies do not miss out on the many benefits of breastfeeding.
The Rivers State Government had earlier highlighted the need for nursing mothers to engage in exclusive breastfeeding to promote healthy baby growth. This was contained in a goodwill message from the Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo, on the event. She said breast milk is nature’s food and ensures a baby’s health and quality of life from childhood to adulthood. This reveals that Governor Nyesom Wike cares about the health of nursing mothers and their babies.
Since it is recommended that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months, the breastfeeding policies that are already in place in the country should be bolstered such that the maternity leave should be a minimum of six months. Moreover, the legislature should enact laws to protect the breastfeeding rights of working women to enable them to exclusively breastfeed.
Employers should be involved as well. They need to create an enabling environment by providing childcare or crèches. Governments at all levels should also protect breastfeeding by enforcing regulations on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. All formula labels must state the benefits of breastfeeding. Authorities must also express dissatisfaction with the distribution of free breastmilk substitutes to mothers and health workers.
A participatory approach to promoting exclusive breastfeeding is imperative. There should be an enlightenment campaign, planning and information sharing on the benefits of breastfeeding by the governing authorities. This should include the relevant stakeholders within their socio-cultural networks. The initiative will in turn lead to improvement in the uptake of breastfeeding among nursing mothers in the country.

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Editorial

Investing To Bridge Food Gap

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The rise in international market costs for major food items almost reflects that of the 2008 food crisis, presenting a global threat to food security. The situation is especially terrible in Africa, where the COVID-19 pestilence and now the Russia-Ukraine crisis have uncovered the susceptibility of food systems of many nations like Nigeria that rely profoundly on imports of vital staple foods such as rice and wheat.
Nigeria is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of people in food crises. According to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises, 12.94 million people were in acute food insecurity from October – December 2021. In a recent joint report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), both international bodies warned that acute food insecurity will likely worsen in Nigeria and 19 countries from June to September 2022.
Similarly, a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that Nigeria’s inflation rose in June which is its highest in more than five years, induced by rising prices of food and the high cost of diesel. The inflation rate surged to 18.60 per cent in June, up from 17.71 per cent in the previous month. The composite food index rose to 20.60 per cent in June 2022 on a yearly basis, the NBS also said.
Recent statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria have indicated that Nigeria’s food import bill has risen to N1.1 trillion ($2.7 billion) in 12 months, representing an increase of about 45 per cent. In 2020, about $1.87 billion was spent on food imports. However, the latest CBN data on sectoral utilisation of foreign exchange showed that Nigeria spent $2.7 billion on food imports from January to December 2021, representing an increase in over $840 million.
The drive by the government to mitigate the food deficit is being jeopardised by nature. Uncontrollable flooding destroyed crops in the food-producing states. In Edo State, flooding swept away 280 hectares of rice plantation in Ovia last August. The rampaging flood wreaked havoc on farms in Adamawa, Kogi, Benue, Kebbi, Niger, Delta and Bayelsa States last year. In 2017, the authorities said 10,000 small-holding farmers had their crops washed away by flood after seven days of torrential rain in Benue State.
Since the advent of banditry in the Northern part of the country, farmers have found it difficult to access their farms, and in most cases, have to pay the bandits taxes before they can go to their farms. The situation is gradually getting out of hand to the extent that the Zamfara State Government recently directed residents of the state to obtain guns to defend themselves against bandits ravaging the state. The government should encourage ranching, deal decisively with the bandits, and enable the use of technology to process farm produce.
Terrorists are driving away farmers from their homes in the North-East. President Muhammadu Buhari stated in 2016 that over two million people were in internally displaced persons camps. The North-Central, which includes Benue and Plateau States, suffers gravely from cyclical Fulani herdsmen attacks. The effect of the assaults on food production is damaging. The insecurity demands a fresh impetus for farming to flourish.
All this leaves Nigeria in a desperate situation. The nation has been taking the easy way out with food imports, even where it has a comparative advantage. Therefore, urgent remedies are required to reverse the deficit. An integrated transport system to enable harvests to reach their destinations on time is imperative. The rail sector should be opened to global investors to encourage foreign direct investment and aid the movement of produce and goods.
The frightening situation in the agricultural sector now makes it necessary for the governors to rally round farmers in their states by providing for basic needs and adequate security to enhance massive food production for the populace. We have observed that many governors are only paying lip service to the development of agriculture. Specifically, there has been no coordinated plan to increase the production of food. These and other factors have led to the regular hike in food items.
Demonstrating commitment to agricultural development in Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike kick-started an agricultural revolution from inception by encouraging the private sector to re-engineer the 12 agric-related projects it inherited from previous administrations in the state. The government also worked with key partners to complete and put on stream the Rivers State Cassava Processing Plant in Afam, the Oyigbo Local Government Council headquarters. Other governors should do likewise to properly utilise the nation’s capacity for food production.
Interestingly, the cassava processing plant has since been completed and commissioned. It has placed Rivers among the top five cassava-producing states in the country. This factory will be fed with feedstock from 3,000 farmers within the farming communities and other farmers far and wide from neighbouring communities. The cassava plant will address the challenges of value addition of the crop in the value chain sub-sector, creating massive jobs.
Besides, the plant will generate increased incomes, and livelihood, ensure healthy cassava food processing activities and serve as a new page to achieve the desired result in the 10 per cent cassava flour inclusion policy as well as food and nutrition security. It will contribute to food security, and in line with the Federal Government’s policy, build an agribusiness ecosystem to address the challenges in the sector in partnership with all stakeholders. The governor should consolidate on the visible gains to boost agriculture.
To check the rapidly deteriorating food situation, the CBN has to support the food production initiative to increase local output in line with the Federal Government’s resolve to diversify the economy through agriculture and reduce pressure on the nation’s foreign reserves. Efforts must be made to address concerns about staple food items to reduce the country’s import base and make food available for Nigerians. The apex bank should critically look at rice, wheat, fish, and other significant food items that are taking a toll on the country’s foreign reserves.

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Editorial

Insecurity: Before Nigeria Is Consumed

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For many Nigerian citizens, a disturbing outbreak of violent crimes has become the stark reality of
life. From North to South, East to West, the country, once a sanctuary of peaceful coexistence, has transmogrified rapidly into a territory of annihilation. In the first 10 weeks of 2018, there were 591 vicious deaths in the North-East, 270 casualties were recorded in the North-Central and 193 in the North-West.
Of greater disquietude is Nigeria’s fragile security system, which, as currently fudged together, cannot secure the citizens. Certainly, prospects of traversing the gap between the North and the South will remain overly difficult if the nation does not rescue itself. The Federal Government should be bothered about its loss of coercive powers to criminals and quickly roll out techniques to advance the existing state of affairs.
Indeed, there is palpable fear of danger across the board, regardless of the improvised preparatory measures citizens take to protect themselves. All that the police and the government offer the public are limping explanations. And, viewed from Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution, which says: “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,” the prevalent security infringements portray Nigeria as a failing state.
The awful situation is a throwback to Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature, appropriately described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Even the well-heeled, who are by some means immune by a clot of police details, still feel unsafe. It is becoming jejune discussing the security situation in the country, fused with banditry, kidnapping and terrorism. Even worse is the obtrusion of white-collar crimes like the drug trade, human trafficking, cybercrime and trading in human parts.
The kernel of the existing anarchy was ploughed long ago, but its utmost manifestation became evident in 2009 when Boko Haram earned traction in the North-East. It challenged an unprepared state to a contest of supremacy. Although the Islamists have not entirely attained their ambition to create a caliphate, at their ferocious worst, they have massacred more than 100,000 persons in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
Boko Haram is just one leg of the monster. Another is cross-border banditry. From Zamfara State, it has berthed in Kaduna. The bandits, who sometimes immure in neighbouring countries, butchered 2,992 persons between June 2016 and June 2018; sacked 682 towns and villages; burnt or eradicated 2,706 farms; stole 2,244 motorcycles; 13,838 cows and 11,088 sheep and goats. With the state coming off confused, banditry has escalated to once-peaceful Sokoto, Katsina and Niger, where many have been murdered.
Fulani herdsmen are squirting rivers of blood in the North-Central states. Niger State Governor, Sani Bello, confessed that terrorists occupied swathes of the state, with Shiroro Council the worst hit. Despite anti-open grazing laws in several states, rampaging herdsmen continue to kill and supplant thousands. Boko Haram and its more deadly splinter, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) still rule parts of the North-East. Increasingly, they are dispersing westwards and southwards, forming alliances with herdsmen and bandits.
For many Nigerians, daily life is precarious. Currently, attention is riveted on the bloody violence raging in Kaduna, the North-West state that hosts the highest number of security formations in West Africa. Within 48 hours, terrorists blasted the Kaduna International Airport and the Abuja-Kaduna train in quick succession. On July 18, 2021, bandits shot down a Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter jet on the border between Zamfara and Katsina States. It was the first time terrorists assailed Nigeria’s air and rail transportation systems.
A terror attack at St Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State in South-West Nigeria, unlocked a new chapter in the parlous security situation in Nigeria. The terrorists strategically chose a church and a location to make a statement that its reach had gone beyond the North, as was previously assumed. With the Owo massacre, which claimed between 30 and 70 worshippers, worship centres across the country will no longer be at ease.
Nigeria’s insecurity took a more bizarre dimension as non-state actors initiated daring attacks on numerous government institutions and officials including those working with President Muhammadu Buhari. The raid on a presidential convoy led to at least two injuries. The most notable of the incidents was the invasion of the Kuje custodial centre by armed members of ISWAP who freed more than 60 of their members and hundreds of others.
The South-East is another killing field. Criminals, riding on the back of self-determination agitation, have taken to incendiary tactics and aim to impose their writ through illegal sit-at-home orders, murder, and destruction of public facilities. A sure sign that the regime is losing control is the frequent butchery of soldiers and policemen, who themselves are fair game for deviants and can hardly defend the people.
The underwhelming performance of the police is traceable to their outdated operations. In the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Europe, the police drive their operations through intelligence. In the United Kingdom, automated surveillance holds sway. There are 5.9 million CCTV cameras deployed in surveillance activities. In the aftermath of the August 2011 London riots, police analysed 200,000 CCTV images to identify the suspects.
The enervation of the military and the Department of State Services (DSS) has to be addressed. Rather than concentrate resources on gathering and acting on actionable intelligence on the location, movement, funding and logistics of the terror groups, the DSS distracts itself with self-determination groups and regime critics. Self-determination groups are not as noxious as terrorists. The nation’s secret police have to re-focus on effective intelligence-gathering and neutralisation of terrorists.
We enjoin all federal and state lawmakers, with the backing of state governors, to invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ and amend the 1999 Constitution to expedite state policing. This obliges states and communities to contrive their security capacity to control crime. The current system is an aberration of true federalism. By all peaceful and legal means, Nigerians must, in unison, strongly demand action before total anarchy ensues.

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