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Opinions of Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Columnist: Sola Akinyede

As Nigeria borrows to finance waste

Nigeria is in dire economic straits and in one of its worst economic crises in its history as recently warned by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund last December. It is so bad that in November, the Budget Office stated that 428 of Nigeria’s over 600 agencies would be unable to pay November salaries.

In 2015, in order to reduce waste and cost of governance, the Oransanye report recommended the scrapping and merger of many of these federal agencies. For more than five years, the Buhari regime continues to fund these mostly moribund, obsolete, ineffective, duplicated, unnecessary agencies, many replete with mismanagement and corruption. How can a country that houses 87 million extremely poor people, the highest in the world, be financing 14 space agencies?

This is a picture of President Buhari’s 2021 budget proposals for a few of these agencies many with personnel costs ranging from 90% to 100% of their total budgetary allocations. Quite a number of these agencies were able to get the National Assembly to further pump up their budgetary allocations in the 2021 Appropriation Act.

The budgets for these 70 agencies out of the odd 300 agencies recommended for positive action by the Oransanye report are in excess of N500 billion. This means that since President Muhammadu Buhari was elected more than five years ago, at least N2 trillion has been wasted on these 70 agencies, and the amount that would have been spent on the 300 agencies will be in the region of N8tn over this period ($26 billion at N306 to the USD rate over that period.

Between June 2015 when Nigeria’s external debt was $11.4bn and June 2020, the Buhari regime accumulated $22 billion in foreign debts currently at $31bn from a low of $5.5bn after paying off the Paris Club in 2005. Effectively, the $22bn was borrowed to fund these 300 odd federal agencies that should have been scrapped or merged in 2015.

The World Bank has just agreed to give us another loan of $1.5bn after the IMF gave us a loan of $3.4bn in April 2020. The Buhari regime has also borrowed domestically to fund payment of allowances to the executive, legislature and judiciary and we are currently spending N600bn every year to service our debts.

In the first four years of his regime, President Buhari borrowed more money than former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan combined borrowed in 16 years and yet the economy continues to deteriorate.

There is little or no infrastructure to show for it, poverty continues to envelope more, and of course security is deteriorating because the loans are being used to finance waste. Why is this regime frittering away the future of the next generation to fund waste with a significant proportion lost to corruption? Why did Buhari present to the National Assembly for the sixth time the budgets of these agencies that continue to constitute a drain on our national resources? Why can’t the President channel the resources saved from this waste to health, infrastructure, youth unemployment and poverty alleviation?

We have a degenerating financial crisis, a deteriorating security crisis and an ominous socio-economic crisis. The World Bank on December 10, 2020 warned that if we continue with our business as usual approach to governance, our economy will go back to where it was 40 years ago and will ‘unravel’ – a diplomatic euphemism for a collapse. The authoritative Financial Times of London in its December 22, 2020 edition says Nigeria is ‘teetering on the brink of becoming a failed state –a country where the government is no longer in control'.

At number 14 out of 174 countries in the Fragile States Index and with the government hopelessly helpless with Boko Haram in the North-East, bandits and kidnappers in the North-West, and sporadic kidnappers in the South, the opinion of the Financial Times should not be a surprise.

But a day after the Financial Times Op-ed, the presidency rushed to distribute a statement around newsrooms raising an alarm about a ‘smear campaign by disgruntled politicians portraying the President as not being in charge of the country’. Portraying? Are the World Bank and Financial Times disgruntled politicians? Contrary to the understanding of Nigerians when they are in power, the word ‘disgruntled’ simply means unhappy, dissatisfied or displeased with the state of something. Nigerians in the North-East, North-West as well as the youths in urban parts of the country are justifiably disgruntled.

With the President himself saying that only God can effectively supervise the Nigeria-Niger border, is this not a tacit admission of loss of control since God has never made it His habit to come down himself to police the borders in countries? For the second year running, Nigeria has come outright last in the world in the index of 157 countries committed to reducing inequality. The index by Oxfam and Development Finance International declared that Nigeria’s budget on health, education and social protection is ‘shameful'.

The diversion of resources to these wasteful and unproductive agencies as is obvious in the 2021 budget together with the disproportionate allowances and perquisites to the elite in the executive, legislature and the judiciary is the reason for this inequality, for Boko Haram, for banditry and kidnapping and for #EndSARS. Thinking it can borrow its way out of bad governance, this regime is simply digging from inside a hole and the country continues to sink deeper into a socio-economic morass.

To many objective passengers in the ship of state called Nigeria, the impression is that with little or no maintenance, checks and the aircraft on autopilot, either the pilot lacks the required certification to operate the aircraft or/and has become comatose or at best is sleeping. The co-pilot has been sent out of the cockpit, members of the cabin crew are doing as they wish with some stealing from the passengers, while some pirates are threatening to throw out passengers who refuse to hand over their possessions.

The waste being perpetrated by the Buhari regime, and its inability to contain systemic, endemic and structural corruption is the reason things are deteriorating. Rather than blame disgruntled politicians, the politicians in the cockpit who are not disgruntled including the governors running helter skelter in search of 2023 should wake up the pilot and ask him to sit up so he can see what is happening after which he can pray to God to give him the wisdom to understand what needs to done and the will and courage to execute in accordance with the powers vested in him by Section 5 of the Constitution.

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