By Tordue Salem – Abuja
In response to the devastating impact of Covid-19 on Nigeria and other developing countries’ economies, Speaker, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila, has pleaded with international development partners on the Debt Cancellation Campaign Initiative (DCCI) under the umbrella of Conference of Speakers and Heads of African Parliaments (CoSAP).
The development partners at a roundtable held at the National Assembly at the behest of the Office of the Speaker, agreed to support the CoSAP debt cancellation lobby for African countries.
Present at the roundtable was the World Bank’s Country Director in Nigeria, Shubham Chaudhuri, as well as delegations of other international development agencies operating in Nigeria, including the European Union; ECOWAS; the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP); the FCDO Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL), and the FCDO Engage Citizens Pillar (ECP).
Also in attendance were the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Mercy Corps; GIZ Nigeria, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
While introducing CoSAP to his guests, Gbajabiamila noted that foreign debt cancellation for African countries was topmost on the group’s agenda and solicited their support to make it a reality.
Gbajabiamila specifically sought the views of the World Bank Country Director, Chaudhuri, on debt cancellation, considering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on African economies.
The speaker, who stressed that foreign debt was strangling African countries individually and collectively, noted that “we can all sit here and talk about revamping the economy, develop the infrastructure in terms of health, education and all of those things, which are great and wonderful
“But, we may be doing it, and it would be, hopefully not be an exercise in futility because these things require money and if all your money is going toward servicing debt, then how are we serious about this (Legislative) agenda?
“So, one of the main issues we are dealing with in that association is debt forgiveness in the form of debt cancellation. In other words, pressing the reset button; we made commitments, we’ve done a lot, so, we are here to take responsibility in terms of transparency and accountability. We even signed an Accountability Pledge in ensuring all freed up resources will be spent wholly on addressing the social and economic pains our people bear.
“We consider this debt forgiveness if we do get it, as money in hand and we have to channel these towards the development of the continent.
“So, my question is when I said I want to tap your brains, how feasible is this, what role can you play in terms of helping us advocate for debt forgiveness? Not debt relief because debt relief, as far as I’m concerned, is just basically kicking the can further down the road; you are still going to go and pick it up later.”
Responding, Chaudhuri expressed that the issue was being pushed by the World Bank President, David Malpass, before the Group of Twenty (G20).
He said transparency and accountability had been an issue dating back to the previous debt cancellation initiative between 1995 and 2005 for highly indebted countries globally.
As such, he said, CoSAP had a major task of convincing the creditors, especially the bilateral official debt to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economies or the Paris Club, on the commitment to transparency and accountability to the terms of the agreement.
According to him, Africa has been piling up commercial debt, adding, “What has happened over the last 20 years is that the debt levels have built up.
“For Nigeria, as you may have known over the issue of financing, does not have debt problem but for other sub-Saharan African countries, the debt level has actually gone up again to a very high level. But this time, a lot of them are commercial debts and official bilateral debts or a kind of semi-official bilateral debt.
“So, the G-20 and the World Bank President have put up on the agenda that that also needs to be approached, especially given the global crisis.
“The problem is, there is a very different set of creditors that we are talking about and it will take a lot more work. That’s one thing that has changed.”
While commending the frank response of the World Bank’s Country Director on the issue, the Speaker said all hands have to be on deck to make debt cancellation a reality.
Gbajabiamila disclosed that some members of CoSAP have signed an Accountability Pledge on the issue that would be shared with them for a better understanding of the position of the continental legislative body.