Front Page headline news: “Nigeria’s Debt Vulnerable Costly, World Bank Alerts”, was not quite a cheering news in a new year (The Tide, Wednesday, January 5, 2022). We were told that the World Bank disclosed that Nigeria’s debt, which may be considered sustainable for now, is vulnerable and costly. Further concern was expressed about debt servicing disrupting public investment and critical service delivery spending. The Debt Management Office disclosed that Nigeria’s public debt was N38 trillion as of the end of third quarter of 2021. This does not include arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities of civil servants and retirees.
An average Nigerian would rarely appreciate the long-term implications of these issues and challenges, especially in view of current spending habits, with no inclination to make serious adjustments. A Costa Rican clergyman once said that the attitude and level of productivity of citizens of any country are usually influenced by the lifestyles of the political elite, which in turn also affect the value of the nation’s currency. Therefore, the “vulnerable, costly” implications of Nigeria’s debt profile include the long-term effects on the attitude and productivity of the Nigerian masses. And consequently future economy!
The issue of restructuring Nigeria, like the issues of the nation’s debts and other challenges, are usually treated as if they are not serious issues. Some Nigerians would even equate restructuring with creation of more states, “to balance political imbalances”. It is quite easy to see the hollowness or hypocrisy in the perception of an average Nigerian, whereby serious issues are viewed with levity or dismissed with a wave of the hand. Behind such repudiation lies some fear and apprehension to face the reality boldly. Thus, issues that demand urgent attention are postponed.
Within the context of Nigeria’s current realities and situation, restructuring would entail the following issues: the economy, which is considered to be parasitic and predatory in nature, with fiscal federalism, resource-generation and sharing, subsidies, taxation system etc, featuring as areas that demand serious attention. Like the remediation of the soil of Ogoniland, Nigeria’s political economy had been systematically toxified, such that the masses become the burden bearers of the collective acts of greed of a few clever Nigerians, with the collaboration of some foreigners. Mineral oil and gas provided grounds for the scramble, albeit, an internal or local one.
For example, the issue of subsidies and the need to balance imbalances, affect not only fuel but also include meals, electricity and inexplicable tax waivers for some favoured few. It is understood that a large number of the Nigerian population do not pay electricity bill, but consume a high rate of energy. Among such favoured Nigerians are the personnel of the armed and security forces. With the current commercialisation of electricity generation and distribution, who bears the brunt of electricity subsidy enjoyment?
As for fuel subsidy and the mantra about its removal, has any Nigerian taken the task of finding out how many political office holders consume free fuel, and the volume of fuel involved daily? The same officials who get free fuel also enjoy travel allowances, with hardly a limit set on how far abuses of such privileges can go! Would a country not bleed where millions of naira can be spent daily as subsidies for electricity, fuel, meals, etc? The case of free meals for school children is a scandal!
Apart from the economy, there is gross profligacy in the way that public finances and resources are spent. A high-level public official once said, many years ago, that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was not allowed to become president largely because of his “strict and stingy” attitude towards public finances. Surely, there is an endemic culture of an unmerciful “squandering” of public resources by political and state officials, arising largely from availability of “petro-dollar”. Such abuses and profligate spending are quite many, including budget padding, demand to be blocked. Foreign travels too!
Bloated workforce and ghost-worker syndrome also come under what a restructuring of the Nigerian system should entail. It is quite scandalous and insensitive to the well-being of this nation if records of payroll fraud can be dug out in federal and state public services. It is a pity that the mechanism of this malfeasance is such that the cartel involved constitutes a vicious mafia in the civil service. Neither can a public inquiry achieve any success. A manuscript by a Nigerian author, titled Contractocracy was rejected by publishers because “it was too strong”, the use of “awardee and PPP” raised serious arguments. The author explained that “PPP” meant “political party in power”, which gave publishing companies the ground to reject having the work published, for fear of litigation.
It is not enough to lay a solid foundation to ensure transparency and accountability, but there must be an independent audit structure, so that no individual or institution of state should enjoy immunity from probe. Like a countervailing provision, audit of all functions and state officials should provide no loop-hole for any abuse of position or power. Political office holders, from presidents, governors and members of the National Assembly, no one should be allowed to hide under the cover of power, ethnicity or religion, to get away with any wrong-doing. Neither must any scandals be covered up.
A major issue of widespread concern is that the current system being operated in Nigeria is too lax, such that it breeds impunity and arbitrariness. There should be strong institutions where the law would be no respecter of any individual and where money and power would not provide a shield for anyone. Have public officers not committed impeachable offences? But how many have been impeached? The issue of recovered loots and how they were spent call for serious scrutiny, as well as why the huge revenue spent by Jonathan’s administration in an effort to reposition Nigeria, must be allowed to waste away.
Revenue sharing, whereby population and land mass feature as criteria for allocation of funds, must also be an issue in a restructured Nigeria. To say that current population figures of the country put doubts in the minds of many Nigerians, is to put the matter mildly. Profligate spending of public resources and other forms of mismanagement of the nations’ affairs must not continue. The masses have borne enough of the burdens arising from uninspiring leadership. A restructured Nigeria entails recognition and utilisation of merits of individual Nigerians. No sinecure!
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Nigeria: The Need To Address Debt Overhang
It does not need any rigorous analysis for the world to know that Nigeria has been caught in a labyrinth of debt for the past one and a half decades and still counting. Economists in Nigeria have dispassionately diagnosed the reasons states get involved in a debt peonage.
Most of the factors leading to heavy borrowing bother on the massive expansion of public bureaucracy and the uncontrollable rise in recurrent expenditure. The earlier argument that a decline in oil revenue led to the procurement of foreign loans is no longer tenable .What is perhaps indisputable is that Nigeria depends so much on imports for her economic survival. The over- dependence on imports is a direct result of the nations inability to leverage on the economic potentials that abound in agricultural, solid mineral resources, technology and divestment in the real sectors of the economy. In the past fifteen years, so many multinational corporations also dumped Nigeria in favour of Angola, South Africa and Ghana as preferred investment destinations. The neoliberal explanation is clear.
Nigeria suffers acute infrastructural deficit in terms of power supply, good roads, transportation and more importantly, the recurring security challenge accentuated by insurgency and banditry, has conspired to render the investment climate very unfriendly. There is also the problem of rising unemployment leading to a high dependency ratio, dwindling incomes, a decline in earnings and spiraling inflation. Today, the Naira has been devalued to the point of overkill.
In 2005, Nigeria’s external debt stood at $20.8 billion. By June 2021, Nigeria’s debt had reached $33.5 billion. When the internal debt of N21 trillion is added to the external debt, the total debt stands at N35.5 trillion. Whereas external debt is owed to the IMF, China, the Paris Club and other international financial institutions, domestic debt is sourced from the commercial banks and other financial institutions.
In 2005, under the Obasanjo administration, the Paris Club granted Nigeria a debt relief and the citizenry thought the relief would free-up resources for investment, this was not really the case. Now, Nigeria’s economy has been over-burdened by a huge debt and debt servicing. Recently, most Nigeria’s even past presidents have expressed grave concern that Nigeria’s debt is unsustainable.
As a nation, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) indicates that the country is in a deep financial problem. The 2022 budget which has been passed by the National Assembly is predicated on borrowing. The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, has projected that the N16.39trillion budget was based on borrowing, as revenue could barely accommodate services. Obviously, revenue from non-oil sector have not increased as expected.
The projections of 2022 budget would have a deficit of N6.258 trillion and this could be financed by new borrowings of N5.012 trillion draw down on projects-tied Multilateral/Bilateral loans. Verily, Nigeria has been burdened by debt and unless the debt crisis is addressed, it would snowball into a full-scale financial crisis.More than ever, it has become necessary for government to make concerted efforts to invest in agriculture to create employment and maximise its value chain.
Rejuvenating moribund industries like the Ajaokuta and Aladja Steel Rolling Mills will help boost the productive capacity of the economy. In addition, government should take investment in physical infrastructure seriously. This will create a conducive atmosphere for investment. The development of infrastructure such as roads, the rail system, power supply will also attract foreign direct investment with their attendant spillover.
Over the years, there were efforts to reduce the cost of governance by pruning down layers of inefficiency. However, this has not been achieved. Government must as a matter of policy reduce recurrent expenditure by way of consciously reducing the number of ministries, agencies and departments to cut the cost of governance. This can be achieved by merging government MDAs especially agencies that perform similar responsibilities to avoid administrative overlap.
Public procurement rules and principles must be adhered to in order to reduce waste and inefficiency. Government can reduce interest rates to stimulate the economy by generating more tax revenues. Reducing interest rate will make it easier for small scale businessmen to borrow money and invest. The Central Bank of Nigeria can adjust the fiscal and monetary policies to strengthen the exchange rate of the naira in pursuance of job creation and poverty reduction.
Nigeria is undergoing a harrowing experience like a woman undergoing labour pains. There must be a drastic reduction on spending, especially on recurrent expenditure and to increase the capital component of the budget.
As it was under the Obasanjo administration, Nigeria may plead for debt forgiveness but this is also tricky. So much depends on the attitude and character of those running the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which does remittances of our oil revenues. For politicians, the idea of reducing the cost of governance can be polarising. With our crude oil selling at above $80 per barrel, Nigeria can negotiate a debt buyback with bilateral creditors and allow our recent oil windfall to settle some of the nation’s external debts.
The nation’s debt has reduced both public and private investment. More than ever, there are fewer economic opportunities for Nigerians. Unemployment has increased astronomically and this is a threat to national security. A more enduring strategy for addressing the impending debt crisis is to increase revenues in agriculture, mining of solid mineral resources and other non-oil sectors of the economy.
Nigeria must follow the rugged path of import substitution to promote homegrown products and services to realise sustainable economic growth. The future of the Nigerian nation is mindlessly tied to dead-weight debts, and of course, a borrower is a servant to the lender. In fact a nation in debt is like a real slave, doing the bidding of the creditor.
The political class should not contemplate development without making sincere efforts at reducing the huge debt index of the nation. A nation that is eager to develop must address the challenges of debt crisis, which is capable of undermining policies designed to accelerate economic growth and social progress.
Nigeria must take budget implementation seriously to avoid waste. It is now imperative to cut the cost of governance, exploit the non-oil sector and evolve well thought-out policies to revamp the ailing economy.
We must get out of the debt trap before we trap future generations of Nigerians. However, as more and more loans are being taken by the Federal Government it remains to be seen if Nigeria will wriggle free from this burden.
John is the Executive Director, Human & Environmental Right Dynamic Advocacy Dev. Initiative.
By: Idumange John
The Next Cabal
What if we are witnessing the formation of the next Cabal? What if President Buhari’s government and the cabal controlling it, as alleged by the First Lady, some time ago is only a dress rehearsal for what is to come in 2023? When it comes to coincidences, I am an agnostic, and I have never believed in arbitrariness. This position of mine was reinforced by a TV series I saw last year, titled, “Numbers”, which sharpened my mind to the extent that I am always on the lookout for hidden patterns in seemingly unrelated events. My major takeaway from that TV series was the idea that even the mud splatter on an object on the side of the road, coming from a poodle driven through by a fast-moving car, could be explained mathematically. Therefore, if one extrapolates this idea to our country, Nigeria, the so called chaos, and wanton killings and destruction in every part of the country are all interrelated to some degree. The patterns are evident, even with only a cursory look.
The patterns are already telling the story of our future; the future of a country in the stranglehold of a group of oligarchs. The telltale signs are everywhere for those who care to see. In Russia, Vladimir Putin and his cronies control everything, while the people are only allowed to pick up the crumbs. With all the brains Russian has, it is rare to find any major scientific or economic breakthrough coming out of Mother Russia. Even in International University Rankings, it is hard to see the best university in Russia ranking higher than their counterparts in China. As a result, the oligarchs send their children to universities in the west. In Nigeria, the oligarchs have destroyed the public primary and secondary school system, and they are now working very hard to sink the public universities while propping up their own private universities, which are now more than Federal and State universities put together. Meanwhile, all their children are in the best universities abroad. The relevance of this little narrative might seem farfetched, but this is exactly the current story of Nigeria; and the future is likely going to be worse, especially using the ASSU interregnum as a case study
The exorbitant cost of APC’s expression of interest and nomination forms have signaled the institutionalisation of corruption in Nigeria. It is unfortunate that this same party which gained ascendency in 2015 with the mantra of change, has indeed brought about earth-shaking changes, but not in the direction we envisaged. Buhari’s policies and body language could be felt in every nook and cranny of this country, not for upliftment, but for destruction.
In response to an array of criticisms, APCs National Chairman, Mr. Abdullahi Adamu, had said that the purpose of the skyrocketing cost of presidential forms was to weed out jesters who are only out to cause trouble. But, this line of thought or defense is lame, or an outright joke, because if we assume this to actually be the party’s position, then people like Dr. Chris Ngige, and other credible candidates who withdrew due to the N100 million price tag, are all jesters and trouble makers.
Most of the presidential candidates have claimed that their forms were bought by support groups. For instance, it was learned that the form of the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, was purchased by rice farmers. Nigerians would want to know who these rice farmers are, how they are able to raise N100 million in the space of a month in our current economic climate; and maybe, what they intend to do now that Emefiele’s form was not returned.
To pacify Nigerians, the EFCC was in the news saying what the average Nigerian wants to hear. It claimed that it was going after the accounts of so-called form purchasers. But we already know it would amount to nothing. From the signs available, this is pure racketeering happening before our very eyes; and it has been orchestrated both by those in the open and those in the shadows, and almost everyone who purchased the APC presidential form is either a bonafide member of the next Cabal or is standing proxy for an interest group.
With the level of damage done to the country already, (some of them irreversible), the apprehension some of us are having, as we observe the formation of, and the possible installation of a new cabal is palpable. Some might think we are beside ourselves, but this is de Ja Vu. We were here in 2014 when we saw a mishmash of interest groups coming together, just for the purpose of grabbing power. That power was handed to a destructive force, called Buhari.
If we are to take our reading of the 2022 Electoral Act at face value, it means that all the underworldly behaviour we are used to during elections could now be a thing of the past. Consequently, if ballot box snatching and thuggery are now impossible; what other options are available to the APC oligarchs? Vote buying is the only possible option for APC after President Buhari had presided over the hemorrhaging of the country for seven years.
The 2023 election is actually a do-or-die affair in an existential sense for every cheated, exploited, attacked, and impoverished Nigerian, because if we get it wrong from either side of the aisle, be it APC or PDP, we are finished. Every Nigerian on the street knows what is at stake; therefore, the idea that APC has amassed a war chest in the neighborhood of N30 billion from the sales of forms alone should be an issue for concern. Again, N30 billion is a pittance, compared to how much has been stolen in that ministry where Buhari is the Minister. So much has been said about the Ministry of Petroleum and the NNPC, yet nothing has happened, in fact, based on the data presented to the National Assembly by the Auditor General of the Federation on the misappropriation, mismanagement, and misrepresentation of trillions of Naira by NNPC, and the latest suit brought against President Buhari’s Government by SERAP, challenging the N1.48 trillion spent between 2015 and 2020 on the maintenance of NNPC refineries with zero results, I am sincerely hoping that Saint Buhari would face the same fate as former Minister for Petroleum, Deziani Alison-Madueke, because under him as Petroleum Minister, NNPC has become the epicenter of corruption in Nigeria.
They have seen the handwriting on the wall; therefore they are leaving nothing to chance, but their war chest of trillions of Naira will fail them, because Nigerians will disappoint them, by rising with one voice to demand real change in 2023, they will dismantle both the old and the emerging cabal.
By: Raphael Pepple
Of ‘Bandito Muchacho’
After the publication of an article: “Professional Banditry” (The Tide: Monday, December 6, 2021) there came a reaction from a reader, probably a high cleric, with some Italian or Spanish connection. His purpose was to remind me to add, for public information, another species of bandits missed out, namely, the “Muchacho” variant. Like a hit squad, this variant of bandits are actually vicious terrorists who use violent means to pursue and advance political interests and ideological mindset. Usually faceless, they operate like mercenaries, hired and sponsored by groups or powerful interest bent on having their way, no matter the havoc caused.
The caller who also sent a text message, said a number of things that one dare not publish, pointing towards the fact that “bandito Muchacho” use “repentant posture” as a means to gain more grounds. It was not a surprise when military source, same day, told Nigerians that repentant groups of insurgents are not sincere about their claims. Whatever “muchacho” means, from the tone of my caller, violence, aggression, the use of force to make demands, etc, are implied in that expression. Neither is one sure about the actual pronunciation: Muchacho or Muchacha!
The history of insurgency movements in Nigeria can be an interesting study. Beginning with the history of British occupation of Nigeria, it was interesting how the Oil Rivers Protectorate which stretched from Lagos to Calabar, expanded to include the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. Under the Royal Niger Company territories, with administrative headquarters in Asaba and seaport at Akassa, there arose a trade war among European nations resulting in a Raid on Akassa in 1896.
Nobody talked about banditry then, even though activities of European traders, explorers and fortune hunters could be called acts of violence, aggression and force, with local people of various communities being at the receiving ends. Michael Crowder, in his West Africa Under Colonial Rule, told us that the Royal Niger Company, largely interested in trade and no aggressive military policy, resorted to “occasional bombardments of those hostile to its commercial policies”. Those hostile to its commercial policies included local communities which resisted the occupation of their lands by foreigners.
By 1895, trade and commercial interests and policies expanded to include ideological issues. Thus, with Joseph Chamberlain as British Colonial Secretary, the use of force took a hypocritical form. Chamberlain’s view was that “You cannot have omelettes without breaking eggs; you cannot destroy the practices of barbarism, of slavery, of superstition which for centuries have desolated the interior of Africa, without the use of force.” Therefore, the use of forceful aggression as an instrument of colonialism used the claim of “barbarism, slavery, superstition”, etc as excuses to attack and take possession of the interior of Nigeria.
One would ask: who began acts of barbarism and slavery in Africa? Wole Soyinka would remind us that our ancient invaders and enslavers were the Europeans and Arabs. Without going into how history was distorted to present Africa in bad light, it would suffice to say that the anonymous caller who introduced the issue of “Bandito Muchacho”, demanded that current trends of neocolonialism be studied. It cannot be denied that powerful interest groups pursue their goals using economic and political influences, whereby weak and unsuspecting groups remain at the receiving ends.
It is a known fact that between 1899 and 1919, there were organised opposition by various local communities in West Africa, against colonial invaders. It is known also that despite the official abolition of slave trade, the slave culture continued in some communities, necessitating organised efforts to stop the practice in the hinterlands. Thereafter the sight of a few” White men with gun-carrying local militia” in the hinterlands evoked suspicion and some hostility among the local communities. Missionaries did their best to help, but the fear arising from past slave raids caused suspicion and hostility among local people.
A part of what my anonymous caller demanded to be investigated included the possibility of armed and security agencies being in the league of “bandito Muchacho”. Obviously the caller was quite serious and wanted to provide some vital clue for further investigation. It was particularly important that a former Army Chief of Staff General T. Y. Danjum, could say that the armed forces are not neutral in the issue of insecurity in Nigeria. For a Muslim group, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), to indict security chiefs for insecurity in the country could not have been without some reasons or facts.
For armed bandits operating in Zumi Local Government Area of Zamfara State to impose a N10 million fine on Zamfara Communities would imply the presence of a parallel government within the Nigerian states. A BBC Hausa Service report was that there was a reconciliation meeting between the people of the communities and representatives of the bandits where loyalty was pledged to the bandits for peace to reign, on payment of the money. Whether the bandits are Boko Haram or any other group of insurgents, their goal or mission is ideological loyalty rather than money.
Like the Muslim group, the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) in 19 Northern States condemned the recent gruesome murder of innocent travelers by bandits in Sokoto State. Truly, how can people be productive when they are living in fear both in their homes and anywhere they go? According to CAN, security agencies have all it takes to defeat the bandits, but why has such feat not been achieved yet? The concept of Bandito Muchacho comes in where there is a suspicion of complicity between official security agencies and the sponsors of insecurity in a country. Afgharistan was cited as an example, where the military supported insurgents.
A coalition of Northern Ethnic Group Assembly (NEYGA) was quoted as lamenting that “Nigeria has been turned into a killing field by these bandits terrorising the country where innocent civilians looking for their daily bread are forced to live in perpetual fear”. That was in response to the setting ablaze of 23 travellers in Sokoto State. Many concerned Nigerians have asked and wondered why it has become so difficult to deal decisively with the menace of banditry and terrorism in Nigeria, despite the fact that some of the insurgent and their sponsors are known to some state authorities. There are unknown sponsors too. Faceless people!
My anonymous caller, reacting to the article on Professional Banditry, stated specifically that there is more to the “politics of banditry than meets the eye”. He went on to ask why there is some reluctance in “naming and shaming sponsors” whose identities are open secret. Thus he wanted readers to be told that “Bandito Muchacho” is an old hide-and- seek business. Whether a business or not, banditry is a serious menace in Nigeria which must be addressed now.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
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