Saturday, 26 January 2013

Living on Loans

The revelation that the Federal Government of Nigeria, the State Governments and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) are seeking loans totaling $4.8 billion, $3.39 billion and $1.5 billion respectively in order to finance welfare and development of the country at a time of high crude oil prices have made majority of Nigerians to question the basis of the bourgeoning debts in their name. Besides, investigations have revealed that the authorities concern has began the process of securing the loans before coming to the National Assembly to seek approval. Perhaps that accounts for the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debt headed by Ehigie Uzamere on Monday warning against the reckless borrowing of money which would enslave future generations of Nigerians. What has Goodluck Jonathan’s administration done with all the loans taken so far, as it appears that majority of Nigerians cannot point to any on-going projects to justify the mountains of debts being stacked up in their name?

 Conversely, it is not the loan that worries; it is how the money is going to be spent if they are actually needed? Can they be utilized for the purpose advanced? We have a government which is as reckless in its public spending as it is shameless in its silence over some of the financial scandals already exposed to the Nigerian public. It threw away more that N2 trillion fuel subsidy scam last year and the N4.4 trillion collected by the MDAs between 2006 and 2009 which was not remitted into the Federation Account has remained shrouded in mystery. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) also reported that oil companies failed to pay into the Federation Account about $10 billion from 1999 to 2008. The Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue and Special Task Force revealed that the nation was short-charged to the tune of almost $100 billion. What happened to all these monies? Are all the people indicted in the case of Siemens, Halliburton, pension scheme, ghost workers and other scandals not walking freely? The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which was involved in the illegal withholding of the N4.4 trillion diverted from the Federation Account by the MDAs is daily cooking up issues such as sacking 50% of civil servants, banning all socio-cultural and religious organizations and so on to divert attention of Nigerians. All are frantic efforts to  cover up the role of the apex bank in the illegal release of N2.3 trillion for fuel subsidy in 2011, when actually N245 billion was appropriated. What an illegality?

Yet the Federal Government wants N1.8 trillion loans from array of sources including China, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. Apart from its conflicting figures we were told that only a meager N29 billion oil subsidy scam was recovered.  The revenue from the privatization and commercialization processes have not only remain unaccounted for by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) but our moribund refineries, the steel industry, transport and energy facilities have continued to be drain pipes on the nation’s economy in the hands of corrupt government officials.  The $12.4 billion gulf war oil windfall was public money used to fill the pockets of individuals. What a shame?

The reckless manner in which the Excess Crude-Oil Account (ECA) is being managed also call for caution. The governors are not only demanding for the release of the $1billion ECA funds, a week after the three-thiers of government shared about N567.70 billion from the same account. The speed with which the Federal Government withdrawn $1 billion from the same ECA account in December to pay subsidy to oil marketers even when the dust raised by oil subsidy scams is still high in the air leaves more to be desired.   What happened to the N161 billion supplementary appropriation that was approved by the National Assembly late last year for the government to take care of the shortfall in the fuel subsidy budget? If NNPC owes major foreign oil traders, including Glencore and Mercuria about $3.5 billion is the $1.5 billion loan and the mortgaged 150,000 barrels of crude oil daily (as long as the debt lasts?) meant  to offset this “pointless” debt? Who is fooling who?

Again, if according to People’s Democratic Party (PDP) National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, the approved external borrowing of $7.9 billion in the 2012 budget covered expenditure over a three-year period ending in 2014, why is the PDP-led government asking for more loans (payable in 40 years) with the intention of rising Nigeria’s loan profile now?

It is not enough for the Senate to merely warn against creating debt burden for future generations of Nigerians but to ensure that they stop the excessive borrowing. We are aware that during the President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s IMF loan debate Nigerians chorus a louder NO to the loan abracadabra but the government nodded silently and went behind to collect the loan at the detriment of Nigerians. Nigeria exited the Paris and London Club at great pains in 2005. Why dragging Nigeria back to that unfortunate economic era when Nigeria groaned under the debt burden? Must we always live on credit? Is Nigeria cursed to live on loans? As representatives of the people, the National Assembly must act decisively to check this frivolous but wicked borrowing. A borrowing ceiling should be pegged by appropriate legislation and enforced, and any breach thereof (without necessary amendment) be made impeachable offence. This is the only way to check the excesses of our leaders who are bent on amazing wealth at the expense of the nation.    

Those outside the country who may get to know how reckless our leaders are will certainly hesitate to give the money except those interested in enslaving this and future generations of this country; or, the kill-and-divide-cabals who would not mind milking a dead cow to satisfy their greed. The political leaders of China and other countries to whom we may be looking for help do not live in luxury as do our political leaders in Nigeria. What rights have we then to call on them to help? How can we convince them that we really need the money when we show that we live in extravagance?

 

Nigeria is a country blessed with tremendous human and natural resources, but corruption, lack of good governance has left the nation impoverished so that currently Nigeria ranks as the 13th poorest nation in the world. This ugly trend can be reversed with good governance, transparency and integrity on the part of Nigerian politicians and top government officials.

The National Assembly, traditional rulers, religions leaders, leaders of thought, women and youths organizations, students and the general public should rise up to say NO to more senseless loans. The issue should be seen as very serious matter of State. They border on good governance, accountability, transparency, and diligent management of State resources and national development. This is an opportunity to properly place these matters. Let us not miss it. We must stop this borrowing jamboree!

We say No to any plan to return this country to pre-Paris and London Club days. Stop committing Nigerians to debt. Enough is enough!

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