(Vanguard of Sunday, July 31, 2005)
This is the picture before us – we borrowed a total of $17 billion. We have paid $22 billion. We are told that we have $36 billion to pay! Of this sum, we are owing the Paris Club $30 billion. If we pay $12 billion today, the $30 billion would be written off.
The President and his team have done a wonderful job and we should not deny them the accolades for their unprecedented effort. But let us look at the proposal to pay $12 billion upfront from four different angles — the Present Loss Scenario, the Future Gain Scenario, the Bad Debt Scenario and the Reparation Scenario.
Scenario One is the Present Loss Scenario which demands answers to what in practical terms we stand to lose today if we parted with $6 billion, which is the first payment we must make to update our debt service obligation?
Let us not bring in the second $6 billion.
Let us revisit what the President promised to do in 1999 when he was sworn in. He said he would, within six months of his tenure, start tackling our debt problem, the supply of water and light, the construction of roads and houses and barracks; the problems of armed robbery, drugs, the Niger Delta et al.
In 2002 we spent about 92 per cent of all we earned on recurrent commitments and we had only 8 per cent for capital development and patronage to party hangers-on. The cost of running government has not decreased, and did not seem to have been the pre-occupation of the National Political Reform Conference.
Some people even asked for the creation of more states and were hostile to the collapsing of the 36 states into six regions to reduce the cost of governance. In spite of our inability to meet our basic needs in health, roads, light, education, water, we had by 2004, spent $5 billion servicing the debts and not one dollar had been forgiven!
The President was angry and he showed it to all of us on television. Then there were increases in the price of oil and our foreign reserve started to rise. And almost from nowhere, the proposal emerges that if we pay $6 billion and negotiate to part with another $6 billion, our $30 billion debt to the Paris Club would be forgiven!
This sympathy was not there when our President was told that his country could conveniently pay the debt because Nigerians had more than $300 billion salted away in foreign banks!
By parting with $6 billion today, we are voting for the neglect of our crying needs which can be located in the many areas of unfulfilled promises. In the next 15 years, therefore, we would be without the good which the reserve would have been put into to empower our people.
And our ‘prophesied’ breakup would have been fulfilled because by failing to attend to the needs of the present, we endangered the future. But what in practical terms can we gain if we retained the money instead of parting with it?
Take the senatorial district as the unit of empowerment with leaders of thought from there moderating the funds allocated there for provision of basic infrastructures like roads, water, healthcare, education; the establishment of cottage industries, skills development for self employment; also the development of sports, culture and tourism, to mention just a few areas.
At N135 to the dollar, we have as a special People’s Empowerment Fund the sum of N810 billion. Each of the 109 senatorial districts will be entitled to N7.5 billion which if spread over 15 years, not even making allowance for returns from investment, will provide N500 million each year for disbursement.
We shall establish Empowerment Commissions that will monitor the programmes in their areas of policy formulation and implementation. Targets will be set in different sectors for senatorial districts whose Leaders of Thought-in-Council will determine areas of need for the district.
We can freely borrow from what socialist countries did to catch up with the developed West, and this has nothing to do with ditching democracy.
It even satisfies a key section of our Constitution – that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government, and that the participation of the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. See section 14(2)(b) and (c).
So are we ready to “throw” away $6 billion today when we should empower our people who will be so active and productive that within the first five of the 15 years duration of working the Empowerment Programme, they would generate billions of dollars from which we can service any level and volume of debt?
Take another example of meeting present needs to moderate future demands. Nigeria has six ecological zones that can grow any crop under any tropical climate. If we called in the farmers sent out of Zimbabwe and asked them to establish farms all over the country and grow food for export, can you imagine how much we can generate to service debts ten times the present amount!
Specifically, if we put thousands of hectares of land to growing cassava for export, would we not earn the billions that would reduce the tension generated today by resource control arguments!
How much of the land we have in this country is there lying fallow? There is even another way out. Can we not get our able-bodied men working by putting money into rail development so that in five years we would have rail lines all over the country – north-south, east-west— and we would reduce the carnage on our roads!
There is so much to lose if we give out this money to the Paris Club that we should spare no effort in organizing a full-blown debate on it! The short message of this scenario is that we invest the $6 or $12 billion in income-yielding ventures that will set the whole population working and active, and we shall generate enough money to service, even pay the debts.
Scenario Two is the Future Gain Scenario. This is the scenario of the President and the Minister of Finance and her team that had worked so hard for our debt of $30 billion to be written off if we parted with a total of $12 billion today.
What this means to the non-professional like me is that we buy the $30 billion of today for $12 billion so that the debt will not continue to grow even if we continued to service it.
In the next 15 years, therefore, we would be saving the $30 billion plus at least $15 billion which we would have spent servicing the debt, plus another $15 billion which would have increased the debt to $45 billion. This future gain scenario is attractive and seems to be seen to have an edge over the Present Loss Scenario.
From the very impressive address the President gave at the National Assembly on July 26, I have decided to devote more than a few paragraphs to the other two scenarios, the Bad Debt Scenario and the Reparation Scenario.
This is because the President’s reasoning is so persuasive and unassailable on the face that we may accept what our creditors are doing as the greatest blessing that has come our way since independence.
And we would ignore the spiritual tsunami that man of today is experiencing, reminding him forcefully that he is in error to believe that he is in charge of a creation in which he is no more than a creature.
In discussing the other two scenarios, we will take a step or two up the ladder of life and look at the non-material aspect to the present manipulation that had been schemed deliberately to place us where we can retain our imposed status of hewers of wood and drawers of water for a humanity that had chosen the way of Satan.
(Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary, Vol. 2, pages 10 – 13)