The Federal Government has dismissed the outrage over the nation’s $83.883 billion domestic and external debt as unneceassry.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who briefed newsmen in Lagos, yesterday, dismissed the debt alarm as the handiwork of scaremongers.
“Recently, there have been concerns in certain circles about the country’s growing debt, both domestic and external.
“In the process, there has been some misrepresentations and scare mongering,’’ he said.
He said it was wrong to say Nigeria’s external debt alone is $81.274 billion.
“The public debt stock is actually a cumulative figure of borrowings by successive governments over many years. It is, therefore, not appropriate to attribute the public debt stock to one administration.
“Nigeria’s total public debt stock in 2015 was $63.80 billion comprising $10.31 billion of external debt and $53.49 billion dollars domestic debt.
“By June 2019, the total debt stock was $83.883 billion, made up of $27.163 billion of external debt and $56.720 billion domestic debt.’’
He said there was no cause for alarm because Nigeria had a debt ceiling of 25 per cent in the total public debt stock to Gross Domestic Product (Debt/GDP), which it had operated within. He said the ratio for December 31, 2018 and June 30, 2019 were 19.09 per cent and 18.99 per cent respectively.
There has been uproar over a $29.6 billion loan request the president sent to the national assembly.
In the letter where he conveyed his request, Buhari asked the lawmakers to approve the loan which he said is “critical to the delivery of the government’s policies and programmes.”
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had said Nigeria faces an impending bankruptcy with the country’s external debt ballooning by 700 per cent in four years.
Obasanjo claimed that Nigeria would need to commit half of its foreign earnings to servicing its current level of indebtedness.
While defending the move to obtain more loans, the minister said: “In the face of massive infrastructure decay, no responsible government will sit by and do nothing.
“This administration’s borrowing, therefore, is aimed at revamping our infrastructure, including roads, bridges, railways, waterways and power to help unleash the potential of the nation’s economy.
“The loans for the education sector will contribute to the development of our human capital, while the loans for the agricultural sector will help the move to diversify the economy.”
He insisted that the nation’s economy in 2019 witnessed a strong performance, building on the steady recovery since the last recession.
“In 2019, the Nigerian economy grew at an average rate of 2.2 per cent over the first three quarters, compared to 1.7 per cent over the same period in 2018. Both the oil and non-oil sectors performed considerably better in 2019 than in 2018.
“The oil sector grew at an average of four per cent over the three quarters, compared to 2.4 per cent in 2018, while the non-oil sector grew by two per cent, compared to 1.7 per cent in 2018,’’ he said.
Mohammed said the average daily oil production level rose to its highest in the last three years, reaching two million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2019, compared to 1.8 mbpd in 2016, and 1.9 mbpd in both 2017 and 2018. He said in the third quarter of 2019, the major growth drivers were: Information and communications, agriculture, mining and quarrying, transportation and storage as well as manufacturing.
The minister noted that the major growth drivers all had seen considerable focus by the government.
He said in the third quarter of 2019, a total of 34 economic activities witnessed positive expansion, same as in 2018.
He recalled that as part of efforts to block leakages and promote transparency in the management of resources, the president in the year approved additional cost-saving measures, particularly in the area of official travels.
“Under the new policy, all MDAs are required to submit their Yearly Travel Plans for statutory meetings and engagements to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and/or the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for express clearance.
“On the nature and frequency of travels, all public-funded travels (local and foreign), must be strictly for official purposes backed with documentary evidence.
“In this regard, all foreign travels must be
for highly-essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to the interest of the country.
“Except with the express approval of Mr. President, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Chairmen of Extra-Ministerial Departments, Chief Executive Officers and Directors are restricted to not more than two foreign travels in a quarter.
“Also, when a minister is at the head of an official delegation, the size of such delegation shall not exceed four including the relevant Director, Schedule Officer and one aide of the minister. Every other delegation below ministerial level shall be restricted to a maximum of three.”
He said the president also approved that Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants to the President, Chairmen of Extra-Ministerial Departments and Chief Executive Officers of Parastatals are entitled to continue to fly Business Class.
Other categories of Public Officers are to travel on Economy Class, while official trips was limited to only the number of days of the event as contained in the supporting documents to qualify for public funding.