Like a “Me too” charade, Nigeria joined other West African states in their ECOWAS union to plead for debt relief from creditor nations. But Nigeria, as a mark of its seriousness if not desperation, took the matter to the tele-conference of Non-Aligned Movement. Specifically, such pleas are made by leaders of the beggar countries purportedly on behalf of the people, who were never part of of the events leading to the inability to repay the debt.
Only less than 20 years ago, the same Nigeria obtained debt relief from creditor international agencies, such that the proper lesson should not only have been driven home but also acquired to make it a matter of shame for Nigeria to be, so soon, among those seeking debt relief. That is why creditor nations and international agencies should be wary of straying into routinisation of loan, state squandermania and consequent lamentation for debt relief every time.
Nigeria, with its omnibus rich resources, ideally should need no foreign loan but, if obtained, such facility should be more of bonus to be judiciously utilised for the improvement of society. And in any case, compared to other countries in Africa and, indeed, the developing world, Nigeria should never be run aground to the level of seeking debt relief all the time, a disgraceful reputation, which seems to be fast becoming our hallmark. Why must we tolerate a situation in which, even in some cases, known upstarts would be catapulted into public office (by political godfathers) as state governors, ministers or members of National Assembly, from where they would emerge as billionaires, far richer than the institutions and states they served? What accounts for the indebtedness and indeed bankruptcy of states and institutions, while those who presided are never indebted? Such lucky fellows leave office richer than state governments or public institutions over which they presided.
The worrying aspect is that, every four years, since 1999, Nigeria produced at least 36 state governors, at least 36 ministers and many members of National Assembly. By 2015, at least 288 of them had passed through public offices. How many of them have been made accountable? A serving minister went on national television and accused a predecessor of disappearing with N2 billion grant from a state government for the rehabilitation of a federal facility. The minister should either be correct or false in his claim. If the minister was correct, why are federal attorney-general Abubakar Malami and EFCC chairman Magu keeping quiet? If the minister made a false allegation, he should be proved wrong by either Malami or Magu. Until then, the minister must be presumed to be correct. That, therefore, is one of the reasons (that is, theft of public funds) why Nigeria must be made to account for past debt as a condition for any relief. We just cannot continue in this wise. Embarrassingly for President Muhammadu Buhari, he popularised the disgusting situation in which “Monkey de work, baboon de chop.”
Of course, there are other factors, which could have depleted public funds, including loans in Nigeria. The only tenable example is the crash in oil price in world market. But the disastrous effect of coronavirus is merely circumstantial and also not peculiar to Nigeria. What is more, nuances of fresh loans or debt relief were already rife in Nigeria, long before coronavirus, the only holding factors being the conditions set by creditor nations or agencies, withdrawal of oil subsidy, cut in public expenditure, devaluation of the naira, etc, all of which have either been effected or are imminent. There are, therefore, other compelling reasons why any fresh debt relief is unwarranted or should be conditional on complete change on the emolument and other perks of National Assembly members.
To be blunt and to say the least, the existing salaries and allowances are such squandermania of monumental scale that even Buhari, for all his famous courage, will neither touch nor disclose to Nigerians. Accordingly, this unjust situation must be a condition for any requested debt relief. A debt cannot be written off to enable a set of public office holders in Nigeria retain their opulent status. The minimum confirmed by Senator Shehu Sanni is N13 million every month for every member of National Assembly. A government sympathiser, Itse Sagay, on the other hand challenged National Assembly members to deny earning over N30 million each every month. Whichever is the case, how can a country seeking debt relief justify such scandal? Yet, there is nothing to show that these fellows, in their daily deliberations, consider anything dedicated to the interest of the average Nigerian.
As if that was not bad enough, at a time Nigeria was negotiating new IMF loan of almost three and half billion dollars and simultaneously seeking a debt relief, the House of Representatives was taking delivery of almost 340 brand new vehicles purportedly for the oversight function of each member of the House. Oversight function in whose interest? Definitely, not in the interest of the average Nigerian. The scandal of providing these vehicles borders on the criminal. False pretences.
Nigerians cannot forget that the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo monetised virtually every perk for National Assembly members. Accomodation, costume, (imagine) furniture, TRANSPORT, newspapers and what not. If, therefore, National Assembly members already collected allowances in lieu of transport, why should they be provided new vehicles, and each of them for that matter? That is a questionable decision for which creditor nations and international agencies should not grant any relief.
Did former House Speaker buy vehicles for each member even for oversight functions? If he did, where are those vehicles? Are they no longer functioning after only four years? The truth is that, if he bought the vehicles, members who benefited took the vehicles away as personal. If Dogara never provided the vehicles, it was only because Obasanjo already monetised transportation for National Assembly members. Why then did new Speaker Gbajabiamila buy new vehicles for his colleagues, if they already collected transport allowance? In a country seeking debt relief and taking new loans from various sources?
To demonstrate his seriousness in seeking debt relief, Buhari must stop the distribution of those vehicles. He cannot, in the name of separation of powers, continue to acquiesce in criminal profligacy. Nowhere in the world does such extravagance exist. It is unreasonable that emolument and perks of Nigeria’s National Assembly members are the highest in the world. Recklessness in public expenditure is also unmatched. The chances are that in the next four years, if unchecked, the same House of Representatives will buy another 340 new vehicles for a new set of members similarly for oversight functions. By the way, it is a question of time for the Senate to buy new vehicles for all the 109 members. Is that what loans and debt relief are meant for?
Admittedly, coronavirus is but a convenient excuse for Nigeria to seek all sorts of assistance and relief with which to ameliorate whatever economic setback. Otherwise, before the disaster, Nigeria never displayed any financial discipline in public expenditure. Now is the opportunity for creditor nations and agencies to whip Nigeria into line or withold any relief. In the absence of such firmness, free spending will continue and Nigeria will be back pleading to be pampered once again with debt relief within a decade.