Human nature varies. Some people like things easy. Others like to work hard for whatever they will get as reward. Some like bitter pills, juice and alcoholic drinks; others would prefer either sour or bitter ones. That is at the level of individuals. It is all a matter of taste and choice.
For nations, national interests also vary. There are nations that pursue their interests in aggressive manner. Others are more subtle or diplomatic. Some are imperialistic; others not. Some prefer the capitalist path, while others prefer the socialist path. There are countries that have natural resources and manage them efficiently believing that is the true path to prosperity; while others would do as they pleased not minding whether they are efficient or not. While some countries do not see anything wrong with borrowing, whether they are rich or poor, there are those which believe that there is nothing wrong with borrowing. It is a matter of national interest as determined by the ruling class’s representative—government.
Whether at individual or national levels, debt is not a rosy engagement. It is nothing to be proud of. Debt, however we perceive of it, is invariably a poison. No nation that has steeped itself into it, as Nigeria has, has come out of it unscathed or in good health. Debt, whether domestic or foreign is bad, negative; it means something structural has gone awry and something must be done to rectify it. No one who is healthy goes to the hospital for medication.
For developing countries, debt means a condition: liberalization of the economy. That is, introducing macroeconomic policies that, according to Noreena Hertz, are, “… at odds with growth and development.” These policies lead to high prices of goods, commodities and services (energy, education, health care, water, telephone, petroleum, kerosene, etc.) They lead to unemployment, hyper inflation, poverty and decline in the quality of life of the great masses of the people. Unemployment leads to so many things: child and adult prostitution or lesbianism and homosexuality, militancy and terrorism, etc., among other things. This is as a result of government devoting, usually, a high percent of the annual budgetary allocation for servicing of debts, instead of same for health, education and other social services. It is the reason why the federal government always claims it does not have enough money to fund education and is always at loggerheads with university administrators and lecturers and other stakeholders in the education sector. It is the reason why government officials, senior politicians and generally the elite would prefer to spend billions of task payers’ naira to embark on foreign medical tourism rather than provide adequate health facilities for Nigerians.
The story of debt has always been a story the victims of debts would not want to recount; it’s always a nightmare. For those who have had an experience with debt, it is a negative phenomenon; it is associated with everything that has to do with pain, sadness and sorrow; it is pure evil.
So much pain, and so much evil in their purest forms: that is the case of Nigeria. For, since the 80s when the various administrations scurried off to the IMF, the World Bank and other Western commercial banks for all manner of loans, the country has never witness social progress compared to the size of the loans it obtained.
Let us assume, for example, that Nigeria obtained a total loan of just $36.5 billion about just as much former president Olusegun Obasanjo paid off before leaving office. (We know it was far more than that. Let us also assume that this is all the loans we received since 1970. We know all our loans put together are more than $150 billion.) Assume, also, that the various administrations claimed that they obtained the loans for development purposes. Then, let us ask this question: what were the monies used for? What has been the impact? This question is relevant in view of the fact that between 1979 and today, no single problem of national significance has been solved by any administration. Rather, all administrations have had to pile up more and more debts without let and hindrance. In their strides, they also piled up heap and all, problems and problems of all types and magnitude.
Of course, these problems were as much political as they were economic and social. They include poverty, inadequate social services including education, health care services, good and clean drinking water, efficient power supply and decent housing, among others. So, in effect, rather than easing off poverty, frustration, and suffering for Nigerians, the various administrations, through their policies and the management of the loans, aggravated their already harsh reality of their existence. They willfully imposed unsolicited pain and the scorching ravages of poverty on the majority of Nigerians whose only crime is that they are citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and are powerless to resist their whims and caprices. And it must be said that poverty is perhaps the greatest evil known to mankind. Hertz tells us that“… makes people sick, people become poorer because they are sick, and then sicker because they are poorer, It truly is a vicious circle.”
There are countries, as we shall see later, that deride loans and the very idea of indebtedness. But, on the other hand, there are those that believe they cannot do without debt. The argument in recent past has been whether there is any virtue in debts or perennial indebtedness. The great leaders of the past who are today revered in their countries and beyond, such as Simon Bolivar, leader of the Andean Spanish colonies of Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador; Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand; Mao Zedong of China; and Atal Behari Vajpayee, former prime minister of India all rejected the idea of debts. They experienced the dark pang, the humiliation and the vicissitudes of debts first hand and the suffering of their people thereof and promised that while they still wielded power and influence, their countries would never have anything to do with loans and debts.
Every country that has had an experience with debt as have China, India, Thailand and the Latin American countries of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, must have, consequently, experienced extreme poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, inadequate social services including health care and education. In most instances, debt brutally demeans its victims, that is, the lower strata of the receiving country; it, also, questions their humanity through atrocious inadequacies and the violence that such engenders. The only country that is an exception to this rule is the US because of the uniqueness and vibrancy of its economy. In virtually every other instance, the debtor nation always goes to the creditor pan in hand and does not have a bargaining power even though the loans being sought would still be repaid.
Almost always, the story of debt is that of pain, pain and sorrow. Debt is a ball and chain that weigh down the debtor, or the victims of debt. Debt erodes community fabric. Debt engenders poverty, suffering, inequities, iniquities and humiliation in varying degrees. Debt engenders social, economic and political strife. And anywhere there is a case of debt, life expectancy is low; there is violence; there is desperation and frustration; there is insurgency and or militancy (e.g. Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan); there is high a thriving industry of criminality: kidnapping, robbery, ritual killings, violent rape, drug and human trafficking, murders and assassinations; there is terrorism, extremism, fundamentalism and black bigotry. And debts lead to HIV-AIDS risks, large armies of economic refugees and social catharsis because there are little resources left for health care, education and housing.
Debt is synonymous with sadness, frustration, despair, evil and mass deaths. For Nigeria and Nigerians, the last 40 years of our romance with debt, it has never brought to us, or given us anything worthwhile. It has not benefitted the poor; it has meant suffering and more suffering for them. It has been a bonanza to politicians, their khaki counterparts, the elites and other members of the ruling classes, and their allies through contract inflation, over-invoicing or outright abandonment of contracts after collecting mobilization or all of the money, diversions or upward review, and administrative costs/expenditure.
A summary of what debts have meant to Nigeria and Nigerians is: it has heightened poverty from relative to absolute despite so-called alleviation programmes; it has recruited record numbers of regular and officer cadres in the special forces of the unemployed; it means permanently inadequate, substandard and decaying infrastructure; it has meant a dead on arrival model of industrialization. Today it means the collapse of hope, the battering of personal and national identities; it means hopelessness, frustration and despair for the majority of Nigerians.
Look around the world and see what debts do to peoples and nations. Is it not true that the countries that have experienced turmoil, strife, revolutions and insurgency and or militancy are those that have had a romance with debts especially in the last 30 years? The list is impressive: In Asia there are Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Philippines, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Thailand; South/Latin America has Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Argentina and Colombia; North America has Mexico; while Africa boasts of Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, Cameroun and yours truly, Nigeria.
Despite what the GEJ administration wanted the world to believe, the truth, if it be stripped of nuances and said as bare as it should be, is that the Niger Delta militancy and the Boko Haram menace and insurgency are a direct consequence of decades of debts various administrations piled up. Servicing these debts strained governments and the resources meant provide the basic needs of the majority of Nigerians. Militancy and insurgency are not only acts of criminality; they are a consequence of the criminal neglect of the basic responsibility and duty of governments to the citizenry. This is a reflection of the structural decay, rot and failure of the state to guarantee the welfare and security of society.
Insurgency and militancy, let me volunteer, are the consequence of decades’ vulpine appetite for debts, servicing them and rescheduling them every once in a while. Servicing and rescheduling our debts meant that both federal and state governments collectively diverted a hefty chunk of resources that could have been invested in social services to make life worthwhile for the majority of Nigerians to repay the debts. The consequence is what we have seen in the last decade: an ever enlarging army of destitute, frustrated and despairing Nigerians harassed by unemployment and perennially declining but high cost of living.
Look around the world once again; what do you see? All the failed and quasi failed states, today and in the immediate past, are or were indebted; in fact intoxicated by the whiskey of debt. The list is also interesting: Bolivia, Peru, Haiti, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras (South America and the Caribbean); Yemen, Iraq, Indonesia, Afghanistan (Asia and Middle East); and Liberia, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Burundi, Sierra Leone and DR Congo (Africa). I leave you with the benefit of placing Nigeria where you think, or believe, it belongs. Or, in which direction it is headed to.
Let me digress a little bit. Between 1960 and 2010, these counties, in the same way and manner of Nigeria, borrowed heavily from institutional lenders and Western commercial banks; they were indebted. In their normal characteristics, western governments, through different agencies, guaranteed the loans which were disbursed to preferred clientele states for geopolitical reasons. In virtually ALL cases the loans were not used for development as was initially claimed; rather, just like ALL the loans obtained by various Nigerian administrations in the past, they were used for other purposes. The monies were used to beef up the power bases of the leaders in particular and the ruling classes in general through the armed and secret services.
Apart from the above what really pains is not only the negatives, the fire and brimstone of social existence rendered a debacle and a lifetime struggle, but the humiliating manner the victims of debt are treated with impunity. It is the humiliation Nigerians suffer in Europe and America at the mere disclosure of their identity; and this is the “giant” of Africa; and the word’s “hottest investment hub”. The debacle and humiliation of the debtor, from the onset, begins when the potential debtor literally begs the creditor to help out of a difficult situation; that is when the potential debtor begs for a lifeline despite its status. Unfortunately, that status, even if it was formally “a giant” has consequently been reduced to the same level with that of a Lilliputian. And because the debtor is in a weak position and cannot bargain, the creditor sets very stiff conditions for the loan.
In effect, it is not just about the potential debtor, or a fully certified and incurable debtor like Nigeria, lowering its “giant ” voice and status to that of a banana republic, it is in the way and manner the “giant” has to stoop low in order to secure the loan. Importantly, too, the conditions most often are inimical to the debtor; they are poison, and are terrible pills to be swallowed. Once swallowed, independence, sovereignty and pride go out the window. It was this kind of situation that convinced Bolivar, Zedong, Shinawatra, Vajpayee and other leaders that they should shun, forever the loans sharks.
Further to this is the fact that, as history has pointed out, no country that had romance with debts ever got off its multi-pronged cleavers, or repaid the loans under the terms spelt out. This is because the conditions are always skewed in such a way that the debtor must pay back five to ten times more than they borrowed. It is also because it has become a policy in the Western world that every once in a while the dollar and interest rates MUST fluctuate “under market determinants”. Very importantly, Hertz tells us that, principally, debts are used “ … as a tool of subjugation, whereby countries are kept in debt specifically to keep the weak, the poor, the powerless, not only to maintain preexisting social and economic hierarchies but also to strengthen and reinforce them …”)
The fluctuations, in addition to the perennial inflation, make it mandatory for dollar adjustments. Usually, adjustments are upwards and not sideways or downwards. Why does this always happen? Interestingly, unlike what we are told, western countries regulate or interfere with their currencies, at the appropriate time. Any time the dollar, for example, fluctuates or falls, the impact is to the advantage of Western economies and a disadvantage of developing debt afflicted countries. This is because when the dollar rises there is a corresponding rise in Europe and the USA.
When that happens, “the developing world’s borrowing in dollars become significantly more expensive to service, and developing countries have to jack up the interest rates to levels they can ill-afford on new bond issues.”This happens in the full glare, and with the full knowledge of the receiving government; the federal government pretends everything is okay; justifies it or turn their eyes and minds the other way, or even feels that there is nothing wrong with that, what needs to be done is adjusting. And the creditor doesn’t even give a hoot about it.
Meanwhile, one of the key conditions for the debt to be advanced is strict adherence to the laid down rules of liberal economics of the World Bank and the IMF. Often this conditions do not impact positively on the intended projects, that is assuming the recipient country actually want to execute projects. Importantly, too, is the fact that up to 70 percent of the loans must be spent in the originating country through consultancy and allied services, and equipment/machinery, spare parts, etc. Another issue is the fact that the loan/debt account must be operated within the domiciled source and not elsewhere; the funds are never transferred to another country; not even an account in the receiving country. The consequence is a complete manipulation adding to the capital flight that is constant from the moment a country gets indebted.
Often, the creditor has enough and is willing to part with as much; on the other hand, the potential debtor is hamstrung and needs the fresh funds. It is this hapless situation that the creditor capitalizes on to lay out the conditions which favourable to him/it and unfavourable to the uncaring potential debtor. Of course, the leaders know only too well that they will not be the ones to pay the debts; they may be dead when the debts are due.
Between the creditor and the debtor everything is not equal; the creditor has clout over the debtor; in fact by obtaining loans from the creditor on the latter’s terms, the former surrenders or acquiesces itself to the whims and caprices, that is the conditions, of the creditor. The debtor is always at a disadvantage in one way or the other. Between the two, the relations are unequal. Before and even during and after the negotiations, the officials of the potential debtor nation are humiliated; they are looked down upon; they are told what is good for them and instructed not to even argue or put their case across.
Interestingly, while some countries are running away from loans and debts, such as I have mentioned above, and recently in the example of Pakistan, and Mexico, others such as Nigeria, Turkey, Greece, Ghana, Cameroun and Tunisia are racing towards to the West to obtain as much as they can, or is available for the asking.
There are many reasons, on the side of the lender and the borrower, as to why there is excitement between them. For the creditor, whether institutional or commercial lender, the reasons are not farfetched, In the case of the commercial bank, it is purely a business activity where the bank believes that given the favourable conditions usually guaranteed by the home country, it can make very good business.
Apart from guarantees by the home government, profit from the deals often result in good returns, while the interest charged add to the profits. In addition, the conditions often attached make it a sure banker that there is a possibility of a default. The defaults are always obvious: the possible fluctuation of the dollar every once in a while is as obvious as day and night, just as it is clear there will always be a rise and fall in interest rates. This situation ensures that there is always the possibility for rescheduling; and rescheduling comes with conditions as well.
An institutional creditor extends the facility purely for political reasons; that is, to have some influence over the recipient state. Indebtedness usually creates a crisis situation in the indebted nation; it may be at macro or micro levels and either of both is determined by the existing social conditions and the level of consciousness. This crisis (strikes, demonstrations, inflation, etc.) itself is usually a recipe for distortions in the economy which leads to default. This is usually not in the interest of the receiving country.
There is another reason why the creditor is eager to provide a facility is that it fosters a dependency syndrome; that is, the debtor perennially relying on the creditor, thereby being less creative in exploring available options towards resolving the country’s socio-economic problems. Usually, it is in the interest of the borrower or the lending country.
One other reason for the interest in advancing loans to countries like Nigeria, is to either maintain or strengthen the neocolonial structure of the victim economy; this means the continuation of the same pattern of economic dependency and a culture of producing essentially primary commodities or raw materials, not for the domestic industries but Euro-American and Asian industries. This then continues to hold back the process of development, meaning the continuation of depending on the outside world, specifically Europe, Japan and America for industrial goods, food, services, machinery/equipment and the much needed technology.
Closely related to this is that because of the conditions imposed by the creditor, the loans to be advanced will have nothing, or little, to do with projects that can promote the industrialization process of the debtor. For example, the creditor will almost certainly not grant loans meant for research and development, manufacture of industrial goods that can lead to self-sufficiency in aviation, telecommunications, construction, transportation, agriculture, education and the military, spares and machinery/equipment. The creditor’s home government won’t allow that to happen.
Another reason, probably a fall out, for the aggressive pursuit and willingness to grant loans is the opportunity to limit capital accumulation in as many strategic countries as possible. In every capitalist country or outpost, capital is the cord or the umbilical cord of the economy; without it, there is no economic activity not to talk of prosperity and development. Without capital, you have a situation where you have capitalists without capital; this situation means continued total dependency.
For a geopolitical and economic strategic country like Nigeria, the capitalist giants of Europe, America and Asia would rather Nigerian capitalists remained toothless bulldogs and uncompetitive. This is because the day they have huge enough capital and there is a patriotic and nationalistic government in place, Nigerian capitalists will be in a position to acquire the necessary technology and other wherewithal to be competitive with their foreign counterparts who are now being favoured over them.
Now, we could, thus, ask why Nigerian officials are religiously inclined to foreign loans. Why do they insist that this country, in spite and despite its enormous resources and potentials must go bowl in hand begging for loans? Why can’t we look inwards? In virtually every instance, loans only favour the elites; the poor, who the loans the government claims to be obtaining to serve their interests, actually are not consulted in the first place, neither do they in any practical way benefit from it. And as we have seen debts only aggravate their already harsh living conditions. Since they are not consulted, but the loans must be obtained, it means that the vanity of the Three Horsemen of Financial apocalypse must be behind such penchant. These are: Greed, Myopia and Delusion.
Hertz suggests that the financial sharks are always on the lookout, “to lining up the pockets of the elites,” and “… corrupt or self-seeking governments who used the borrowed money with no care for how the accumulated debt will be repaid.” This is because, “debt has so often been a story of the rich made richer at the expense of the poor, of politically corrupt ruling classes grabbing what they can from their broken constituencies …” Examples of this group of people abound. They include Zaire (now DR Congo) under Mobutu Sese Seko; Ukraine under Tudman Kuchna; Argentina under Carlos Menem; Nigeria under Sani and Ibrahim Babangida Abacha; and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, among others. As Hertz notes, nothing viable was done with the monies these leaders collected from Western commercial banks and government agencies. The agencies included the British Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD), ExImBank (US), SACE (Italy), Japanese Ex-ImBank and COFACE France).
Rather, the monies were used for strengthening and making the secret services and militaries of those countries as they launched one tyrannical campaign after the other to sustain themselves in power and privileges of their allies.
The Myopic group include, “… those governments who fail or actively disregard the long- term picture, borrowing monies so as not to have to make cost savings, exercise budgetary prudence, or seek out new ways to generate internal resources, although, to keep potential investors happy they will often pay lip service to doing so.” The best example of this group is Nigeria under GEJ; the others are Tunisia, Greece, Cameroun and Kenya.
The last group, Delusion, includes, “… those borrowers who are excessively optimistic about their debt-servicing capabilities, calculating them on the basis of best possible scenarios rather than more tempered and realistic ones.” (p132) The best examples of this group include Argentina, Egypt, Mexico, Turkey and Mexico.
Meanwhile, back to the subject matter.present.
A very important observation was made by the Nigerian economic consultant, Nicholas Okoye in an article he authored in 2014. He made a graphic observation of the tragedy of debtor nations and the conspiracy of western bankers and their governments. He noted that there was a conspiracy between these two to encourage African, Asian and South American to embark on a borrowing binge even when it was clear that the leaders were going to embezzle monies being borrowed. He said, “Billions of dollars were borrowed for white elephant projects which had little or no economic value to the nation borrowing the money. In fact, in many cases the projects only existed on paper and whereas huge funds were borrowed there was nothing on ground to demonstrate that these funds were borrowed.”
Interestingly, Okoye adds that such attitude which was repeatedly displayed by leaders of the nations borrowing such huge sums was known to the western banks who knew that it their own attitude was unethical. “This goes to show that the funds did not go to buy any machinery or fund some major infrastructure project, but simply went into the pockets of the dictatorship regimes’ members…
“The banks extended credit lines to these dictators without any limits giving rise to the entire Third World debt situation to change from less than $100 billion in 1970 to over $600 billion by 1980 in just ten years. The entire situation was similar to a drunken feeding frenzy in which the drunken bankers just could not help themselves and just kept approving loans to these dictatorships knowing well that the funds were being stolen. It is either the bankers were compensated for every Third World nation they put into this trap or it was an orchestrated attempt by the western world’s banking fraternity to impoverish the nations of Africa and the rest of the Third World.”
Okoye has also explained in graphic details how these western countries encouraged their banks to lend developing countries loans. Using the case of Mexico as an example, he disclosed that, “In 1982, the government of Mexico announced that it could no longer service the huge debt it had been saddled with and it would be defaulting on the debt repayments. This, of course meant that the banks that held the Mexico debt could go out of business which in turn would threaten the entire chain of dependents including many US based businesses including companies that supplied the USA with its basic requirements. So the United States government stepped in and tried to negotiate the debt and did everything possible to get Mexico to continue with the repayments and tried to prevent default. When Mexico made it very clear that it simply did not have the money and that in fact it was defaulting on the debt, the US government did something that was unprecedented in the world financial markets at the time. The US government paid off the US private banks for all the Mexico debts owed and instructed the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to step in alongside the US bail out. This, in effect transferred the holders of Mexico debt from the reckless drunken western bankers to the government of the United States, the IMF and the World Bank.”
Since the 80s, Nigeria has carved for itself the less enviable reputation of a debtor nation. That is despite its enormous resources and potentials. No administration after 1985 addressed the issue of Nigeria’s spiraling debts until former president Olusegun Obasanjo paid off our loans just before he left office. But shortly after GEJ took over we went back to old ways; in fact, old ways of the old days.
Looking back at the 80s, and today’s reality, it is puzzling that a rich nation with a healthy balance of payments and enough foreign reserves to keep the economy running steadily on all fours for years was so badly mismanaged to the extent that by 1990, Nigeria was one of the most highly indebted nations in the world.
Remarkably, in four years, 1979—1984, the Shagari administration ransacked the treasury with reckless abandon to the extent that we had to start borrowing feverishly in order to stay afloat. As our lack of planning and reckless spending continued into the 90s, it was only too clear that in order to survive we not only had to continue borrowing, but also keep servicing the old and new loans.
Yusuf Bala Usman et al noted in The Nigerian Economic Crisis: Causes and Solutions, the administration did not plan; in fact it had no plans for the nation other than just marginally survive. Nigeria was just a nation adrift the sea going somewhere but particularly nowhere.
The authors observed that, “Only two decades ago, Nigeria was able to produce substantial amounts of food to feed itself. Now it has to import massive amounts. Huge foreign exchange reserves of billions of dollars disappeared as fast as the groundnut pyramids did: leaving the country with nothing to show for it, except the repayment of dubious debts, annually draining away further billions of dollars. Unemployment, increasing poverty and hunger seem to be the fate of most Nigerians, and the condition which future generations are likely to meet from the way the economy is going now.”
“Our success in overcoming the desperate situation we are in now depends on a thorough and realistic grasp of what has brought us into it, in the distant and immediate past. It depends on our ability to comprehend the nature of the vested interests, economic, social, political, moral, academic, and ideological, which have fettered, and still fetter, the development of this country. It also depends on our will to take determined action to expose and uproot these vested interests and ensure that new economic, social and political relationships, organs and institutions, created and controlled by the majority of the people of Nigeria, from where they live, and from where they produce, are built. For, it is such institutions and organs alone that can ensure genuine and self-sustaining national development.
“The period 1970—1983 … was marked by the twin push (a) by the ruling class in Nigeria to accumulate wealth through importing foreign food products, machinery, fertilizer, livestock eggs, poultry feed, chemicals, pesticides, agricultural equipment and mills; (b) foreign firms wanting to sell cereals, particularly wheat and rice, fertilizers, equipment and machinery. The high rate of the accumulation of wealth by middle-men from imports and distribution of these items encouraged those in control of government to sustain this negative process.”
Finally, they suggested that it was important to be aware of the fact that with different ideological postures and colouring, “the oil-glut”, “mismanagement”, “indiscipline” and “the world capitalist crisis” have been, and are still being used deliberately to obscure the real causes and nature of this crisis, in order to cover-up the domestic and external interests which benefit from it.”
In his book, Peril and Promise, John Chancellor makes reference to the consequence of not planning and mismanagement which often leads to borrowing and indebtedness. According to him, “A government that is deeply in debt has fewer weapons to fight a recession.” For Nigeria, the consequences have always been dire. Since the advent of the military in the governance of the country following the overthrow of the Shagari’s administration in 1983, the ogre of not planning has devastated the nation. It has meant that the nation has ploughed the path of nationhood haphazardly without direction, without aims, targets or national goals; just groveling, meandering and wandering through star bright and starless nights of our existence.
There is a truism in economics that subsequent administrations since 1984 have been shy of that is significant in managing an economy such as ours. That is, when a country incurs some debt, whether low or high, interest on it is always high thereby having a negative impact on inflation. Inflation, we all know, is not a friend of anybody and certainly not business or the economy in general. That means interest on loans leads to inflation which is bad for the economy. This leads to recession and unemployment. Chancellor notes that, “Unemployment and lower savings caused by a recession would make servicing the huge private debt more difficult.”
The picture is less clear and palatable for the Nigerian economy. This is because the structure of the economy is weak and hanging on stilts; it is a laboratory economy of trial and error; there are huge public and private debts, including foreign loans, and in the past five years there has been a less coordinated feverishly sloppy transformation agenda that is anchored on aggressive commercialization, privatization of national utilities and institutions and acquisitions and mergers.
Since 1999 Nigeria has been riding on a wild wonder tiger economy. The tiger is untamed, wild and still unused to the normal world of humans. The tiger is excited to have been discovered and efforts are being made to tame and domesticate it. The tiger still relies on its raw strength and survival instincts. Every once in a while the tiger is hungry and homesick. But the tiger is desperate and hopeful that things will turn out for the better.
Our first debt was the trap of colonialism. You have to pay the debt of colonialism. You have to pay to be free. Our colonial experience was a bitter one. We were slaves in our land. The economy was anchored on slavery, it was a slave economy. It was an economy serving the interests of the colonial master.
In effect we were slaves operating an economy in which we were mere observers even though we were labourers on the farms and plantations. It didn’t matter that before the colonists’ arrival on the farms and plantations, such belonged to our great grandparents. It didn’t matter to the colonists that no compensations were paid for the seized farms and plantations. It didn’t matter to the colonists that our great grandparents were not consulted about and on the use of the land they were being forced off. Neither did it matter to them that morally they were to at least pay our great grandparents wages for the work they were forced to do. And, of course, it didn’t matter to the colonists that what our great grab parents were being programmed to produce on the farms and plantations were not for domestic consumption but for the metro pole.
Today, we are slaves to the Euro-American capitalists who rampage the globe in search of fortunes and new frontiers of plunder. Today, our governments are busy borrowing huge sums of money from greedy money lenders who hold us in slave conditions of existence. We are modern slaves operating in difficult if different conditions and circumstances. On our mother and fatherland we have been transformed from colonial slaves into post colonial, modern slaves producing industrial raw materials, as before, for European and American industries. They will produce goods and ship them and sell them to us. Our politicians, their allies, and the elites will buy them because they are the ones who have amassed so much (from stealing and foreign borrowing) and can afford to buy them.
Yes, we are builders who won’t be welcomed in the houses we build. We are tailors and sew clothes that others wear while we go half naked. We are the tillers of the ground who are forced to grow cash crops but are denied cash to survive with. We are the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for the politicians, their allies, and the elites. We are the ones that yawn because we are hungry, and they are the ones that vomit because they have eaten too much. Finally it doesn’t seem to matter if, as the hero proclaims in Ngugi wa Th’iongo’s MATAGARI:
The worker produces goods.
Foreigners and parasites dispose of them.
The worker is left empty handed.
Where are truth and justice on this earth?
That means we were trapped in a debt of production, and a trap of colonialism. That meant we had to, and did, build houses for the colonists even if we would not, or could not sleep in the houses, it did not matter. It meant, and it actually happened, that we sew clothes for the colonists even if had to go half naked. It meant that we had to till the ground to produce the cash crops the colonists needed even if it meant us going hungry or half fed, and this often happened. It was a debt that we had to pay off, as a subject people, to be free whether we liked it or not. We were slaves even if on the land of our ancestors.
Under colonial rule, the colonized were not free; they did what they were told to do. To be free, you have to pay the price of independence and freedom. Today, the story is not better. In fact it is almost the same. We gladly go to borrow from slavers whose mien, disposition and character is the same with those in the days of the African Slave Trade. But unlike our ancestors who paid the price, Nigerian leaders are borrowing today to put it their pockets and pass on the responsibility of payment to our children and their children’s children.
Our post colonial experience was our second debt trap. It was a debt that had to be paid to make progress. The post colonial era led to the second debt trap. Our experiences were that of disappointment, hopelessness and desperation. But curiously, our leaders continued with the old regime and the political independence in 1960. They continued with the practice of producing for the “home”, that is, colonial industries. So the umbilical cord, rather than being cut off, was strengthened. We were steeped deep into a debt trap; we had to continue wallowing in that debt trap.
The SAP of mid-80s to mid-90s was our third debt trap. The GEJ era put us into our fourth debt trap. Remember that between 1980 and 1997, more than $300 billion was looted from the Nigerian treasury and stashed abroad in foreign accounts. The post colonial Nigerian economy retained the pre colonial structure and character. There were the bogus “import substitution” and the overwhelming Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP.
Between 2010 and 2014, the GEJ administration strengthened the open veil policy which ensured that more than 500 Nigerian manufacturing firms and companies folded up. And while they are folding up government was (i) encouraging multinational companies to come and buy them, or (ii) establishing their own companies where as an option. The administration encouraged Nigerian farmers and agro-allied commission agents of foreign conglomerates to step up production of cash crops “to earn foreign exchange.”
The fourth debt trap is the auction of public utilities and foreign direct investments, is as tenacious and dangerous as all the others. The auctions were in the key sectors: telecommunications, finance, banking and power/energy. Talks and modalities for foreign invasion into the agricultural sector are on-going. The telecommunications sector is now ninety percent in the hands of foreigners with the balance going to Nigerians. In the finance and banking sector, seventy to seventy-five percent is foreign owned.
Although the auction process in the energy sector is about sixty percent, ninety percent of that number is already in foreign hands. It is another dangerous trap. This development puts our national security at risk because every sensitive thing is now in foreign hands. It is another trap in the sense that when all the critical sectors are in foreign hands we will not be independent of foreign antagonism, we would be dependent on foreigners, or foreign powers to survive.
Imagine a foreign company deciding what agricultural products or foods will be produced or consumed in Nigeria by Nigerians; how these would be produced—quality and quantity and probably when and how they would be consumed. Imagine another foreign company determining energy or telecommunications policies for Nigeria: the volume of generation, transmission and or distribution, the management of the environmental impact of its operations, etc. and the type of equipment to be used in the various processes. Imagine the implications of the international financial operations of Nigerian but foreign owned financial institutions. Apart from all these, imagine: huge foreign and domestic debts, complete foreign domination of the economy and huge annual capital flight!
A country like Nigeria, in the last 30—35 years has developed a penchant for everything foreign and relies on foreign loans to anchor its economy on. Nigeria today relies on foreign ideas to solve its problems including education, politics, hunger and poverty, etc. just as it relies on foreign technology for agriculture, business and general commerce, and socio-political and cultural activities, etc. That is not all. We depend on foreign direct investment for socio-economic development and have trade imbalance without major trading partners—France, Canada, Britain, Italy, China, Germany, Russia and the US. This is a problem that portends danger to any patriotic leadership. There is no better and guaranteed insurance for dependency than being a dependent satellite economy: Nigeria has become a plantation where foreign capital is brought in to produce goods and services for internal consumption and exports, with Nigerians as plantation workers.
The direct negative impact of capital flight, through over-invoicing and debt servicing, amongst others, is that it transfers the surplus in Nigeria, where it is generated, to the home country of the investor or creditor where such could never have been generated. In transferring the “profits”, or debt service payments, the investor or creditor is also transferring jobs from Nigeria to the creditor country thereby creating more savings opportunities, wealth creation and greater capacity for research and development. This means that by commission or omission, the federal government collaborates with foreign investors or creditors in the generation of profits in Nigeria; then such profits are repatriated to the home countries with the knowledge and tacit collaboration of the GOVERNMENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA which leads to the creation of jobs, savings opportunities and wealth elsewhere.
Another unwholesome practice by different Nigerian governments since 1999 is the penchant for granting the so-called tax breaks, or what is euphemistically referred to as tax havens. This practice deprives government of tens of billions of dollars that would otherwise have been used to develop infrastructure, education, agriculture and provide quality health care.
ActionAid Nigeria country director for Nigeria, Ojobo Atuluku, in a report noted that Nigeria gave away $3.3 billion to European oil and gas companies in 1999 to 2015. According to Ajuluku, “… that amount is the equivalent of twice our national education budget and service and thrice the health care budget for 2015.
“This calls for serious concern in a country where 20 million children do not go to school and almost 15 out of one hundred children die before their fifth birth day.”
Ajuluku added that ActionAid research in 2013 showed that, “the tax incentives cost developing countries at least $138 billion every year, part of which is an estimated amount of $2.9 billion, or a whopping N577 billion Nigeria forfeits every year as a result of tax incentives.
“There is incontrovertible evidence from research conducted in many developing nations that corporate profits are soaring, and corporate investments in low income countries had tripled since the 1980s. Yet, the corporate tax revenues of the countries where these profits are generated have flat lined as a percentage of their GDP.” The NATION, January 20, 2016 Page 11
In effect, what this situation leads to is the promotion of heavy investments in research and development by the benefiting companies. In a nutshell, money that could have accrued to the Nigerian government as revenue is consciously and deliberately left to them.
If all our utilities are in the hands of foreign investors (who are backed by their governments) operating in line with capitalist code of conduct and mode of production, and particularly with profit as the operating principle, we are not free, we are bound by their interests, their whims and caprices. We cannot be free or independent or sovereign. We are not free, we are dependent and interdependent; we are not sovereign, rather, we are a dependent satellite nation or better put a dependent entity.
Nigeria’s recklessness and voluptuous appetite for debt was typified by the GEJ administration. Before he left office in 2007, former president Olusegun Obasanjo paid off all of Nigeria’s foreign debts. Thirty months after taking the oath of office from his predecessor, Umaru Musa Yar Adua, promising good governance and accountability, Jonathan’s administration kept piling debts upon debts. By 2013, Nigeria had logged a debt profile of $6.3 billion. At different for a, minister of finance and the coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the Debt Management Office, Abraham Nwankwo and other senior government officials kept telling Nigerians that $6.3 billion was not bad; that compared to our GDP and other instruments/indicators, that figure was insignificant.
The administration achieved that unenviable record at a time, between 2009 and 2013, Nigeria earned record revenues oil. During this period, the country earned an average of $40 billion annually. Since 2012, the administration has been borrowing an average of $1 billion every six months. If this trend is sustained, our foreign debt, from 2014, would rise to at least $20 billion by 2020, that is, the year this country expects to be one of the largest 20 economies in the world.
More worrisome is the fact that with dwindling revenues from oil, and the administration’s lack of creativity to diversify into alternative sources of revenue, that figure may be much higher at a time in the future when future generations will need to be taking off for their own future. We are talking about an overhang of something in the region of $23—$25 billion.
But questions we must begin to ask. Between 1998 and 1999, the conscience of the world was riveted to the evil of foreign loans and debts. More than 15 million activists under the banner of The Jubilee Coalition around the world campaigned for the cancellation of $70 billion owed rich countries by the poorest nations on earth.
The morality of the campaign was that the debts were dubious in the first place because of the nature, circumstance and conditions of the loans. Among the campaigners were Nobel laureates, celebrities, human rights campaigners and moralists, politicians of different persuasions, trade union activists and religious leaders. They invested so much money and energy and travelled over 100,000 kilometres to rouse the conscience of the world to the greed and immorality of the world’s financials Sherlock Holmes.
So, the very first obvious question is: why did these men and women of good will sacrifice their valuable time, energy and resources to campaign against such an evil, but which our leaders would deliberately refuse to see as evil? Why would a patriot like former president Olusegun Obasanjo brave the pain to clean off Nigeria’s debt slate before leaving office so that we can have a forward match take off foundation only for the GEJ administration to plunge us back into the stygian sea? Are we appreciating the good work that late Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Prof Wole Soyinka, Bob Geldoff, Prof Jeffrey Sachs and Sen. Edward Kennedy, amongst others, did to salvage human dignity and decency when the GEJ administration jettisons their wisdom by reverting to old ways? How did we get to the point of helplessness that within 30 months of his presidency, Nigeria is climbing steadily, the ladder of loans despite Nigeria flourishing in oil windfall as late as 2010 and still earning more than $30 billion per annum? What went wrong?
What the GEJ administration has succeeded in doing is mortgaging the future of not only unborn generations, but the present youths. This is because before they are even born, they have already been trapped in a net of debt; in fact in a debt that they will spend their entire lives repaying; that is, paying back what they were not consulted and or responsible for directly or indirectly.
Another fact is that they will not start from a clean slate; they will start on those slates that are already cluttered with Greed, Bigotry, Chauvinism, Sentimentalism and Frustration. They will be without breathing space, the luxury of fresh air, and without strength because the cartilage of their existence have been decimated and pulled out of their bodies.
Where unborn children of other countries, especially in Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa, will start their lives most probably in hope and in sanity, our children will not. While the youths of other countries are savouring the prospect of prosperity during their life time, our youths are scavenging their livelihoods in the cocoons of desperation, frustration, helplessness, illiteracy, joblessness and poverty. While others will be born into promise, our children will be born into despair, hopelessness and wearing necklaces of debt and possible death. Instead of coming into the world to be avatars of their time, they are already programmed to be docile slaves.
The problems associated with debts, or countries wholly depended on loans like Nigeria, are legion. One of these negatives is that it strips the debtor nation of its integrity and dims its pride. For example, can the self acclaimed Giant of Africa go to the international markets, cap or pan in hand with lowered voice pleading and begging for loans? Why would a rich country like Nigeria make it a cardinal principle that it must borrow every time; in fact that it must be a debtor nation?
Because of the menace of debt, “People are dying every day in developing nations because of debt: babies, mothers, children, and teenagers are dying because the rich world is insisting upon a continual transfer of wealth and on a continual application of policies that have a detrimental health effect, especially on the poor. They are also dying because the poor world’s governments are allowing the situation to continue by not joining forces to stop the pillage, and because their people are too sick and tired to do anything to shake their leaders out of their resignation or complacency,” observes Hertz.
First we obtain the loans on unfavourable capitalist terms, that is, where the giver/provider of the loans is not charity, it is in business and wants to exact as much profit as the law would allow. In simple language this means that the loaner will want a very high return in repayment.
Second, our experience with loans shows that throughout our history, no administration has ever utilized such in the interest of the majority of Nigerians: much of it has always found its way into the pockets of the officials and their allies while the other frittered back into the country of origin of the loans.
Third, as we have seen in the case of Nigeria, relying on loans every time means that the Nigerian ruling classes have never ever been creative in tapping our vast resources, they lack the commitment and patience and the will for long term planning, investment and management of our resources. They only know how to collect and embezzle, not how to generate, invest and manage for regeneration.
Fourth, the key sectors of the economy: construction, banking and finance, agriculture, telecommunications and real estate are likely going to be controlled by foreigners. Already, we are witnesses to this: virtually all the major banks in Nigeria have foreign investors or partners with between 30 and 45 per cent stakes in the banking and finance sector; atop this is the fact that there is a reasonable of Nigerian fronts serving agents of foreign interests in the sector.
Tens of billions of dollars flow into the country through these sources, and through them, again, billions are repatriated in the form of capital flight. One of the direct fall out of this development is that Nigerians are relegated to junior partners in business and economic activities in their own country on the one hand, on the to other hand they muzzled out of business because their capital base is weak and government prefers to encourage foreigners instead of Nigerians.
Fifth, controlling the critical sectors mean controlling what is produced and sold; or not sold; when; where and how. In all this, the Federal Government of Nigeria will be a bystander, a junior partner in the joint venture development of the Nigerian construct/project, while Nigerians are relegated to either spectatorship or labourers on the big national plantation known as the Nigerian economy.
Sixth, in a situation like this, national security is compromised. Investors will always give conditions for investing in the economy; these conditions, no matter what government says, are antithetical to national interests. Money laundering will be common place no matter what government says it is doing or putting in place while production and marketing (export) policies will always be skewed in favour of the multinational firms or the local firms they operate. Importantly, too, reliance on everything foreign will encourage government to neglect research and development which is critical to every nation.
Seventh, directly or indirectly, national values are compromised. Diligence, hard work, patriotism, loyalty, and honesty are eroded in one way or the other. This becomes the reality when foreign values, particularly those that border on morality and honesty are trampled without let or do. Nigerians no longer believe that they owe their allegiance to their families and communities but the foreign or multinational firms they work for; they are willing to compromise to safeguard their interests and those of the entities they work for than those that promote and sustain Nigeria.
The danger for Nigeria is not just being in debt, but in swimming in it. Rather than doing without loans, we have elevated a penchant for indebtedness to a national pastime. While most countries of the world would want to wriggle out of debt, the Nigerian ruling classes prefer to wallow in it. This is dangerous. As John Chancellor has observed, “When debt is … high, when just paying the interest costs many billions of dollars, a recession becomes more than a dip in the business circle; it becomes a threat to the long-range health of the economy. A government that is deeply indebted has fewer weapons to fight a recession.” And recession is a permanent feature of the Nigerian economy.
We have seen the obvious disadvantages and consequences of debt. What we find irrationally difficult to comprehend is the insistence by the GEJ administration that we MUST be a debtor nation. Morally, this is as reprehensible as it is irresponsible. There is no justification for this other than the fact that the administration, after four years in office has been unable to generate sufficient ideas to enable it taps the vast resources of this great nation despite its universally acknowledged potentials. More than at any time in our history, it has become more glaring that the ruling classes are after their personal and class interests and are incapable of solving the simplest challenges confronting the nation. All they believe in is primitive accumulation.
Nigeria is earning record revenues, and it has expanded the non-oil sector which now accounts for more than 30 percent of our foreign exchange earnings. Therefore, there is no reason why we should be both a beggar nation and a debtor relying on the whims and caprices of the Sherlock Holmes of the Western world. It is surprising that the administration is attracted to debt slavery; that is the idea of borrowing and borrowing and borrowing.
Nigerians must stand up and challenge this irresponsible conduct. We must muster the courage to confront the ruling classes to stop mortgaging this country and its future because if we allow them to continue like this, we’ll wake up one day and discover that the ruling classes have mortgaged both the country and future generations. We have to if we want to develop; if we want our children to have a future, and one in which they will be able to hold their heads high in the comity of nations. There is no sentiment about it; our survival as a people and the nation known as Nigeria depends on how we creatively resolve our problems without mortgaging anyone or anything.
The campaign against foreign loans and more foreign loans have nothing to do with where the president comes from as Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Anthony Anenih and others from the South south and South east are making out of it. It is not about one part of the country against another. It is about our prestige; it is about our pride; it is about our claim to be the “giant” of Africa, for you cannot be a giant while you are prostrating before the international public (read community) and begging for loans to be in debt and to be a slave to it. It is not about an individual Nigerian being a superman or not, or a commander-in-chief who is afraid of confronting a real or imagined lion whether in the creeks and deltas, or in the plains and the Sahara.
Debt is a monster. Debt is sadness. Debt is pain. Debt is evil. Who wants to be afflicted with a SAP Syndrome? Who wants to be friends with a Monster and Evil? Debt is a drain in our dreams, our visions and our energy. Debt is a drain on our God- given and hard earned resources and wealth. Our attention must be drawn to at least one of the dangers of debt. “Today, through the debt crisis, capital is drained from the periphery to the centre through ‘the international none-oppressive state apparatuses, the IMF and the World Bank. Indebtedness continues to foster de facto dependency and poverty by imposing major constraints on development efforts, as precious export earnings are used to finance debt repayment.”
We should have the effrontery to tell the government in any way it can understand, or who it will listen to that we do not need foreign loans. Loans and debt are a curse; only a resource rich country that is cursed will go to the international market place pan in hand to borrow.
We are where we are, that is, in a hopeless mess of anarchy and bankruptcy because of the greed of the leaderships we have at all levels. They have failed because they are bereft of creative ideas. This is because they have enough to steal, but not enough to fund education, health care, transportation and other social services that are fundamental to the daily existence of the majority of Nigerians. The debt threat is real and it faces us now. Countries weighed down by unmanageable debt burden are already sicker, poorer, more economically unstable, more politically volatile, more fractured than they would otherwise be, Hertz tells us.
When you are an incurable debtor, it is possible the unpalatable will happen:
The builder sleeps in the open,
The worker is left empty-handed,
The tailor goes naked,
And the tiller goes to sleep on empty stomach.
Fadason, a former editor of New Nigerian Weekly, can be reached on 08091634680.