Monday, April 5, 2010

By the late 1990s, late fees and penalties forced the country's debt to exceed $35.94 billion and it was growing. However, in 2006, Nigeria became the "first African nation to settle with its official lenders" when it arranged to have most of its debt erased by the Paris Club. With the erasure of 100% of the nation's Paris Club-debt, yearly debt service payments fell from $1.8 billion to $0.8 billion.[1] The expectation was that the money saved would go towards national development. However, almost 4 years later, a majority of Nigerians continue to live below the poverty level and infrastructural challenges continue to plague the country. And now, it appears the country's debt portfolio is, once again, on the rise.

When the nation paid off what it owed to the Paris Club in 2006, remaining debt stood at $3.5 billion. It rose steadily to $3.6 billion in 2007, then to $3.72 billion in 2008. At the end of 2009, Nigeria's external debt reached $3.97 billion and it is crucial to note that foreign debt jumped by approximately $87 million in the last quarter of 2009 alone. This staggering increase in debt begs the question of where that money was/is supposed to go and when.

N1.85 billion of Nigeria's current debt total was accrued by state governments. States like Cross River, Lagos and Nasarawa are spending significant amounts of their government allocated funding towards debt repayment services - 10.4%, 7.78% and 7.04% respectively. The fact that states can take out international loans with little to no input from the federal government is capable of returning the country's total debt to high levels if left unchecked. Additionally, a history of ineffective loan utilization and corruption furthers concerns over the benefit of such loans at both the state and federal government level.

With the Nigerian government opting to borrow its way out of the economic downturn, it will take discipline to prevent a return to the debt burdens of the pre-2006 era. In addition, the apparent inability to limit states from accruing more debt places the federal government in a precarious position. Will the federal government have to step in to pay state loans or would it have to follow in the footsteps of Dubai which refused to pay Dubai World's debtors? Whatever the case may be, unrequited borrowing and leaving states to borrow from international sources without the federal government's input are potentially dangerous for a country that must strike a healthy economic balance to achieve development.

[1] - Adegbite, E., et. al., The impact of Nigeria's external debt on economic development, International Journal of Emerging Markets, 14.

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CodLiverOil said...

If we have not leant the lesson of debt accumulation, then we are truly stupid. I am no fan of the Obasanjo administration, but he did wipe out the foreign debt (his one good achievement for which he deserves credit).

State governors as we have seen are largely irresponsible. They are a law unto themselves (and pander to very narrow constituencies) and create all sorts of unnecessary chaos, one only has to look at Plateau state as an example.

State governors should not be allowed to borrow money externally. As they have proven to be short-sighted, greedy and incompetent. They don’t see the bigger picture (of Nigeria). They should learn to better use the money allocated to them from Abuja, and learn to reduce their dependence by creating revenue generating schemes that are sustainable, not micro-loans for basket weaving or other cottage industries, but something more substantial, like food production that affects more people. There are a few exceptions like Fashola, Akpabio and Saraki, but the rest are generally no good.

The process of applying for loans needs to be reviewed ,tightened and narrowed, it should be made transparent, it needs to submitted to one central authority (for approval). That way there is less room for abuse and corruption. so as to prevent loans being taken which have exorbitant interest rates and unattractive conditions attached to them.

In short we need an independent apolitical body, made of experts (Nigerians from abroad of international repute), who can formulate economic policy that will be followed by whoever the government of the day is. This way we won't see constant reversals of policy and the accumulation of unnecessary loans as we have of the past.

Greg's NCO Financial Junk Debt said...

Wow, Nigeria too?! Is there any country NOT in debt?

townncrier said...

I totally agree with your views and concern.There should be better fiscal discipline at all tiers of government,and until corruption is significantly reduced their should actually be a moratorium on borrowing.Of course capital projects like power , iron and steel do require borrowing:Problem is;will the money be applied judiciously or not ?

Anonymous said...

How do they do this? Did you watch Blood and Oil? Any thoughts?

- Zoebeliever from Twitter

F said...

I never knew state governments could borrow money to this extent with little or no confirmation from the FG. My question is what is all this money used for? What are they using $1.85 bn for exactly? Na wa o...

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