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The descent into another debt trap

THE announcement by the Federal Government in November last year that it borrowed N9.18tn in just 10 months should send a shock wave throughout the land. That amount is more than the budget for 2017 and even exceeds the 2018 recently presented to the National Assembly.

On November 30, 2017, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had explained in a statement from her media office that the amount was borrowed to cover the 2016 and 2017 budget periods.

A year earlier, President Muhammadu Buhari had requested for accelerated approval of a whopping sum of $29.960 billion or N9.12 trillion which, economic analysts believed, would increase the nation’s external debt by as much as 150 per cent.

The President had argued that the humongous borrowings would be devoted to the rapid upgrade of our national infrastructure, which has seriously fallen far behind the needs of our ever-increasing population.

The Federal Government and its apologists have always hinged their argument on the assertion that the nation’s debts are low compared to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, which hovers around $405bn.

While true, it does not quite present a holistic justification for our unguarded and impulsive piling-up of our debt stock.

Nigeria’s N405bn GDP, for a country with a population now approaching 190 million, compares unfavourably with several countries. For instance Argentina, with a population of 43.85 million has GDP of $546bn; Turkey with a population of 80 million has a GDP of $858bn. Brazil, which has a population of 208 million, has GDP of $2tn or four times that of Nigeria. None of these countries has borrowed the equivalent of a year’s budget for any reason.

They wouldn’t do it because they are aware that debts are not repaid from GDP but from income earned. A nation that perpetually spends more than it earns is digging a debt grave for its citizens. Buhari’s government needs to be kept on its toes on the danger that this portends for Nigerians, including our future generations. More worrisome to us is that as we approach the general election year of 2019, the Federal Government has suddenly chosen to walk away from its austerity mode of keeping the government as small it could afford to.

It is reconstituting the boards of Federal agencies. It is giving more jobs to politicians, stoking the fear that the bulk of the moneys we are borrowing might end up in private pockets as emoluments.

We, once again, call on the National Assembly to be on the side of Nigerians while looking into the Federal Government’s borrowing plans. It should bring out the full weight of its constitutional authority in considering what to approve and how the proceeds of the loans are spent, always putting the interests of the people first.


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