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Nigeria: The Need To Address Debt Overhang

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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

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Opinion

Understanding Luciferian Antics

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It is obvious to keen observers of events in Nigeria that the country is standing at a cross-road, neither should we remain blind to the fact that forces of light and darkness are contending for supremacy. Storms and dark smokes began gathering about 1965, such that the intervention of the military in the nation’s politics in 1966, was not a surprise to keen observers of the trends building up in the country. While blaming colonial administration for laying the foundation would not be a realistic solution, it would be pertinent to say that reluctance to address structural deficiencies is a factor in the Nigerian situation.
Some of the fundamental differences include educational imbalances and cultural diversities and orientations. Western and Islamic education went side by side in the colonial era, and, the fact that the civil service was dominated by personnel with Western education, was not a surprise. The fact that by 1960 there were imbalances, man-power wise, obviously gave rise to some fear of domination in some quarters. Reactions to the imbalances included the strategy of holding on to political power by the section of the country that did not have controlling power in the civil service.
No matter how we may deny the truth, the military coup of 1966 was seen as “a slap and an affront” in some quarters, and consequently, a battle line was drawn. It is necessary to add that some external forces and interests were instrumental in making the situations worse than they actually were locally. Some foreign interest groups provided details of oil and gas deposits in some parts of Nigeria, introducing “new approach”.
Thus, the genesis of Nigeria’s intractable challenges and apparent inability to address the fundamental issues, can be traced to external influences. Those who knew what happened between 1966 and 1970 would say that the Nigerian Civil War was not an exclusively Nigerian affair. Some foreign advisers, strategists and consultants were actually engaged in some quarters, to work out the “way forward”. Would it be a “hate speech” if one reveals that one of the ways forward prescribed by strategists was to “make the country ungovernable for any southern leader”? Obviously this would be denied!
Without digressing too far from the theme of this article, the above preambles are meant to point out one of the antics of forces of darkness, as being the use of duplicity. This strategy involves going to a negotiation table with multiple and hidden agenda, which may be described as “cloak and dagger” strategy. Luciferian antics include preying on points of strength and weakness, by dethroning the strong and using promises of strengthening the weak as snares and baits for destruction. The use of equivocation, intellectual sophistry, chicanery, blusters and terror are ready antics of dark forces that want to pull as many people down as possible.
In the case of Nigeria as a country, anyone who has read a unique book: From The Heart of Africa, would agree that this country is a vital flash-point in a new and emerging scheme of consciousness. Seeing possibility of such awakening from far before now, forces of darkness would obviously place Nigeria as a target of attack. The purpose is definitely to place obstacles and create fears, confusions, animosities, etc, to destroy a transformation.
The battle for supremacy goes beyond what average persons would know or figure out easily, whose basic accoutrement include the use of religion and politics as instruments of blusters and camouflage. The real intention is to divert attention away from key failures and misdirections, using various antics for that purpose. The use of religion as a cover in the pursuit of base ends has been an old strategy, especially because of the awe which religion evokes in the minds of many people. The worst atrocities on earth had been carried out under the invocation of the name of the Deity.
We cannot deny the fact that darkness does not want to see the light wherever there is the prospect of serious awakening and radical change of consciousness. Rather, through fanaticism and bigotry, fears and animosity are created so as to keep as many people in darkness as possible. For individuals who become stubborn and unable to bow to threats, various antics are used to break their will and continued resistance. A study of the history of the Inquisition would confirm that severe tortures were used to break the will of those who refused to bow to the agents of darkness.
Where severe tortures, dehumanisation and aggression fail to break the will of stubborn people, then “doping antics” become alternative means to break the will of strong challengers of dark forces. Doping antics consist in the use of narcotic drugs and other psychothropic substances to alter the consciousness of individuals. This is usually administered without the victim knowing when or how it is done. Thus a human can be turned into a zombie.
Acts of illegal abuse and alteration of the human will and consciousness are often committed here and there by agents and tools of darkness, and often with impunity. Apart from breaking the will and resistance of stubborn persons, doping antics are meant to narcotise the consciousness of individuals or destroy the feeling of shame. Victims of such therapy, whether forced or self-induced, become helpless and bestial in action and thinking. There is also another way of using blood transfusion to alter the behaviour and consciousness of victims of such illegalities. Blood poisoning is common!
The purpose of bringing many people under the control or influence of the doping antics is to have a large army of accomplices in the service of dark forces. It is unfortunate that leaders in various walks of life, religious, political, security, etc, often rely on the doping antics as means of having a large workforce to serve their purposes. From bandits and terrorists, to suicide bombers, many people who engage in such missions are rarely themselves, but acting under some influences. Rev. Jim Jones of Guyana used indoctrination rather than doping antics to enslave the minds of his followers.
The battle between light and darkness in Nigeria is an issue rare for many people to comprehend but it is an issue of concern. Unfortunately some of the accomplices in the warfare are leaders in spheres and walks of life that should serve the light rather than darkness. The lure for money and power drive some into the arms of dark forces. Every Nigerian needs to be cautious and vigilant.

By: Bright Amirize

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

 Plague Of Micro Corruption

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In 2009, late President Umar Yar ‘Adua launched the rebranding campaign project for Nigeria. The project called us to move beyond the hitherto giant of Africa slogan to a brand that codifies our aspirations of ”good people, great nation”.  The branding was not about where we were as a people, but about where we could be, if only we could embrace the vision and allow it to consume us on a national scale. Sadly, this laudable vision is only alive in the realms of aspiration. Since independence, we have not had the good fortune of being led by completely honest leaders. We are not unique in this regard as corruption is a global phenomenon. However, almost 62 years after our independence, instead of building stronger institutions and providing basic public service, we have allowed corruption to become a way of life. In fact, it is estimated that between 1960 and 1999, as much as $400 billion has been lost to corruption in Nigeria; and with the current crop of politicians since our return to democracy, the amount is unimaginable.
In the past three years, Nigeria has been dropping points in the global corruption perception index (CPI) published by Transparency International (TI). According to their 2022 report, Nigeria scored only 24 points out of 100 points – ranking 154 out of 180 countries. In 2019 Nigeria scored 26 points, but dropped down to 25 in 2021, implying that corruption is on the increase in the country. According to TI, corruption is defined “as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. It further notes that corruption can take many forms, including the demand for money or favours by public servants in order to render services, and misuse of public money by politicians among other things. From the view of TI, we can therefore infer that there are two strands of corruption in the public sphere, namely: corruption by politicians and corruption by administrators or civil servants; as evidenced in bribery, nepotism, favouritism, over-invoicing, various forms of indiscipline, and abuse of office.
The corruption by politicians is always grand in scale, whereas the corruption by civil servants is petty, or at the micro-level. While the thievery of political big wigs denied us needed infrastructure, the leeching tendencies of public operators in government agencies, in consonance with various kinds of middlemen places a heavy burden on the citizenry.
In 2014, businessman, Arthur Eze, described Nigerian politicians as morally bankrupt and selfish. In his words, “our politicians don’t care, they are criminals and they are greedy.” It is really sad that even those we might otherwise view as saints and call honourable, are also morally bankrupt and undistinguished when observed at close quarters. These men and women, aside from using their privileged position to enrich themselves, they also steal public property.
During an interview conducted by Zakaria M.B and Button M. in 2021, a senior official of the Code of Conduct Bureau, who was a respondent,  painted a picture that aptly describes the state of corruption in Nigeria. He said, “ We are now in a situation whereby  corruption is pervasive, humongous, institutionalised to the extent that corruption is rewarded where as in many circumstances,  one is even required to be corrupt; one will not get his licence to do anything if done through the normal process. It is more difficult than if one just bribes, which means it is required. If one needs to get electric meter, it is easier if one bribes than if the normal process is followed, which means it is required. Therefore, corruption is rewarded and even required in many instances of public functions”. A while ago, someone correctly noted that “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us”. The prevalence of a culture of corruption affects everybody, including generations unborn. And the blending of corruption into our cultural fabric has sentenced us to a vicious cycle, such that there is scarcely any one who can be trusted so long as he or she is one of us. We are already at Golgotha The pervasiveness of micro corruption in Nigeria is only second to the air that we breathe; and it is one of the major drivers of unemployment, which is now around 33 per cent.  MSMEs are dying because of the activities of staff, and prospective entrepreneurs are apprehensive due to the reportage on employee theft and sabotage. The level of dishonesty and underhanded activities associated with staff at small businesses across the country is mind bugling. They shortchange customers, driving them away; this, in turn, leads to declining revenue and eventual collapse.
We are really in trouble because even domestic staff is even involved, according to a story I heard from a laundry business owner. According to him, the domestic staff of a particular customer moved his job to another laundry because he refused to connive with them to inflate the invoice of their boss. It was a rude awakening to me to know that this plague is alive in our houses. The World Economic Forum estimates that as much as 25 per cent of the cost of procurement is lost to corruption. But as Nigerians, we are aware that the figure might be as much as 100 per cent in so many cases. In fact, that is the singular reason for the elephant project phenomenon; and the result is poor or dilapidated infrastructure. But at a micro-level, it is one of the major reasons why almost every activity that supports life in Nigerians is becoming almost unaffordable.
The widespread and insidious nature of corruption is already killing Nigerians in their millions. We are the poverty capital of the world, and there is no crystal ball to see when our fortunes would change, considering the fact that the foundations of this current quagmire have long been laid. The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, once commented that “the money stolen  through corruption every year is able to feed the world’s hungry 80 times, it denies them the right to food, and in some cases, their right to life. Corruption kills, especially when it undermines our ability to live a normal life.
Corruption is the biggest challenge we have in Nigeria, and if we do not untangle, and extricate ourselves from its deadly claws we might not survive. We can start by changing our perception of the disease. We must remember that no one accepts a disease because his neighbour has it. In the same manner, we must view corruption in the same light; we should face it with the same abhorrence we had for the COVID-19 pandemic. We could also start by asking the simple question  – what would my son say if he sees me taking or giving this bribe.
Our future is bright even now, but if we continue to allow corruption to thrive, our first-world aspirations would remain only a reflection from a distant land.

By: Raphael Pepple

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Opinion

Nigeria Will Unite If… 

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The phrase; unity of Nigeria, has almost become a cliché in Nigeria. Most leaders in the country at any suitable opportunity pontificate on national unity even when their commitment to its ideals remains in doubt. Our leaders claim that the unity of the nation cannot be negotiated even as their actions and inactions negate national cohesion.
During his nationwide broadcast to mark the nation’s 61st Independence Anniversary recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the umpteenth time, emphasised that the unity of the country is not negotiable. Many other political leaders have often also toed that path. When they want to claim to be patriotic, mostly for their own selfish gain, they call up the introductory statement of the Nigerian Constitution which reads; “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: having firmly and solemnly resolved to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation …”.
On the contrary, they hardly highlight the fact that being a federation, there are certain elements which must be seen in the country. Chiefly among them is that there must be devolution of power. Power should be shared proportionately between the various levels of government or the component units. There must be some measures of independence and autonomy for the component units. Do we have all these features in Nigeria’s federation? The answer is no!. In our country, the devolution of power is disproportionate. We have a situation where the government at the centre has overwhelming power in comparison with the states and the local governments. The federal government has control over the natural resources in any part of the country. This has given rise to the age-long agitation for resource control ,particularly by the oil-producing areas that bear the brunt of oil exploration, from whose backyards oil, the main source of Nigeria’s economy, is derived, yet they live in squalor.
Ours is a country where a state that cannot generate enough money to cater for its needs has nothing to fear because at the end of the month, finance commissioners will converge in Abuja to share the allocation for the month. We are aware of the ongoing legal tussle between the Government of Rivers State and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) over Value-Added Tax (VAT) collection. Some states are given back the total sum of money generated from VAT, while other states are given a minute fraction of what was generated from their domain. While we wait to see how the issue pans out at the supreme court, we cannot help but wonder how there can be true autonomy and development of the various states in this manner? There is also the issue of a centralised police force where, though there are police commissioners in the various states, they take orders from the Inspector-General of Police in Abuja. The governors are called chief security officers but they are not in charge of security of their domains in the real sense of it. We have seen instances where some governors cried out that, though they are called the chief security officers of their states, they are almost helpless in the face of serious security challenges in their domains because the police commissioners do not obey them when they give orders concerning the situation; hence, the unending call for state police which will engender effective policing of the states and reduce insecurity in the country
Similarly, Section 14 (3)and(4) of the 1999 Nigeria’s constitution as amended, provides for federal character, a principle that was introduced to engender a feeling of inclusiveness, such that all the people that make up the country will have the feeling that they are part of the country. It states: “The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”
Incidentally, today, we see the opposite of this constitutional provision playing out in the country. People from certain ethnic groups are seen at the helm of affairs of government agencies, parastatals and all that. All the key security, intelligence and defence officers and all the three arms of government in this country, are headed by citizens of northern extraction who are also of the same religion. (with the recent resignation of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, a southerner now occupies the position in acting capacity) Some ethnic groups continue to be in power while other groups, particularly the minority groups, are hardly considered. Despite regular complaints from leaders of other regions in the complex diversity, the president has failed to defuse tension arising from the negative perception that our leader is overtly promoting sectionalism. I recall the coordinator of the Southern and Middle Belt Forum (SMBF) and immediate past President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, expressing shock and disappointment at President Buhari’s exclusion of Igbos in the appointment of the current Service Chiefs.
Some other minority ethnic groups have equally complained of being swallowed up by the three major ethnic groups in the country – Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba in many affairs of the nation. With the exception of former President Goodluck Jonathan through an act of fate, the position for the president of the country had rotated among the three major groups, they claim. As the 2023 general elections draw near, all manner of arguments are being put up by people from the northern part of the country, a region which who has been in power in the past seven years in defence of another northern president come 2023. So, in as much as one agrees that there are enormous benefits in Nigeria remaining as a united entity, it goes without saying that in view of the challenges and some structural problems associated with our federation, some of which have been highlighted, which is responsible for the endless calls for devolution of power, restructuring, resource control, state police, division of the country and many others, it is imperative that people from various parts of the country should come together and negotiate how to stay and move on together as one country.
We can remain a united and one indivisible nation but there is an urgent need to renegotiate the terms of the unity, so as to make every group feel more secure in the union. Renegotiating the terms of existence will bring more development to the country and solidify its unity. Many other countries like the United Kingdom, the former Soviet Union and others toed and continue to toe that path and there is no doubt that Nigeria will be better if we emulate these countries.
It is high time our leaders, both at the federal, state and local government levels worked their talk. The problem with the unity of Nigeria does not lie with the citizens because several instances are there to prove that the citizens love themselves. A typical example is an accident scene, when it happens, People keep all tribal or religious sentiment aside in order to save lives. The major impediment to the nation’s unity is the leaders who due to their selfish gains do not want the country to move forward. The nation cannot forge ahead with growing complaints of marginalisation, suppression, intimidation, distrust among various ethnic groups.
The truth is that Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from a negotiated term of existence as an entity which hopefully will make room for the much-canvassed restructuring of the country and devolution of power, and a practical federal structure where all tiers of government will work as they ought to. Real autonomy of the states will definitely engender growth and competition among the states. The president and other leaders of the country should therefore, prove that their constant preaching of Nigeria’s unity is not a mere lip service by ensuring that the negotiation is not further delayed.
Presidential and governorship flag-bearers of various political parties in the forthcoming general elections should also consider the nation’s unity in picking their running mates. Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian tickets will certainly not bring the much-needed unity and peace in the country.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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