Buhari’s regime borrows N31tn, to leave N39.12tn debt for successor

by Amos Kalu

The National Assembly has approved or at least received budget estimates worth N93.453tn from the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), in eight years.

Out of the N93.453tn budgeted from 2016 to 2023, a total of N67.4tn has been committed to recurrent expenditure, including the payment of salaries and emoluments of civil servants and legislators.

This amounts to 72.1 per cent of the entire budget devoted to recurrent expenditure in the life of the Buhari regime. The administration met a debt of N12.12tn on June 30, 2015, but it increased it to N42.84tn by June 30, 2022, according to statistics obtained from the Debt Management Office. The increase represents 253 per cent growth over the period.

A breakdown shows that Buhari presented a budget of N6.061tn in 2016, his first after a populist election in 2015. The budget, however, heralded Nigeria’s first recession under the regime.

The budget was increased to N7.44tn in 2017; N9.1tn in 2018; N8.916tn in 2019; and N10.8tn in 2020. The budget for 2021 and 2022 rose to N13.6tn and N17.126tn, respectively. The estimates presented to the National Assembly last Friday for 2023 put the figure at N20.51tn.

 The debt problem

The country’s debt rose by N30.72tn between July 2015 and June 2022, according to data released by the DMO.

According to the DMO statistics, Nigeria’s total debt as of June 30, 2015, stood at N12.12tn. By June 30, 2022, the figure had risen to N42.84tn, which showed an increase of 253.47 per cent. Despite the high increase in debt over the years, the government still plans to borrow N8.4tn in 2023.

Just like the massive rise in debt, there has been a huge increase in the expenditure budget under Buhari. The Federal Government has increased the projected expenditure in its annual budget by about 238.45 per cent between 2016 and 2023, according to reports analysed by one of our correspondents.

According to data from the Budget Office of the Federation, the government budgeted to spend N6.06tn for the 2016 fiscal year. However, in the recently proposed 2023 budget, the projected aggregate expenditure was pegged at N20.51tn, more than thrice the amount budgeted in 2016.

In the 2023 budget, the government’s N17.12tn projected expenditure consists of N6.9tn recurrent expenditure, N5.9tn capital expenditure and N3.9tn for debt servicing. Statutory transfers amount to N744.11bn; non-debt recurrent costs, N8.27tn; personnel costs, N4.99tn; pensions, gratuities and retirees’ benefits, N854.8bn; overheads, N1.11tn; capital expenditure, N5.35tn, including the capital component of statutory transfers; debt service, N6.31tn; and sinking fund of N247.73bn to retire certain maturing bonds.

Despite the huge allocations, the budgets have failed to trickle down to the productive sector of the economy.

Nigerian manufacturers had slashed their investments by 56 per cent in the last seven years, reflecting a sector buffeted on all sides by poor policies and economic headwinds.

Between 2016 and 2021, manufacturers’ investments tumbled from N489.44bn to N217.22bn, according to data collated by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria.

“How many companies in our sector are still in operation? Wempco has shut down; WAHUM is struggling, and the rest are just there. When we come for meetings, we will not be more than 11,” the Chairman of Qualitek Industries, Oluyinka Kufile, who is a major player in the aluminium and steel sector, said.

Kufile attributed the situation to a combination of poor policies, arguing that Nigeria had yet to understand its true direction in economic diversification.

The Nigerian economy has witnessed two recessions within the period – one fuelled by a foreign exchange crisis and the other by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the responses of the federal and state governments to issues of the economy have been poor, according to analysts.

Insecurity has worsened over the period and the foreign exchange crisis has reached its crescendo with the naira-to-dollar exchange rate rising from N197/$ toN430-N442 in the official market over the period. A dollar sells for N735-N745 at the parallel market.

According to the Deputy President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriel Idahosa, the situation is caused by poor foreign exchange and weak policies. He urged the government to eliminate subsidies and create a more convivial environment.

Economists knock budgets

Economic experts have kicked against the huge budgetary allocations and the excessive borrowing tendency of the government.

A professor of Economics at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Uche Nwogwugwu, said the N93tn budget for eight years had made little impact. He stated, “You may look at the budget assessment in three ways: the accounting or statistical, the impact and the administrative perspectives. Administratively, the recurrent expenditure has not translated into better standards.

“Some citizens have not been paid their salaries. How then will you expect growth when people cannot spend because they are owed their incomes? On the growth level, Nigeria is still largely oil-dependent. So, nothing’s really changed. Unemployment is high and there are lots of leakages and corruption.

“The impact is not there, even though it should be there, because the potentiality of growth, which is the manpower, is not there.”

An Associate Editor of SPE Journal of Economics and Management,  Prof Wumi Iledare, said the funds had not impacted positively, as the country’s misery index was currently far higher than what was obtained in 2015.

He stated, “From your figures, it means almost one-third of the budget was borrowed during the eight-year period. Well, the good indicators of economic output usually are three indices – a combination of the inflation rate, unemployment rate and exchange rate. So, basically, these indices form what we call the misery index and cumulatively, the impact on society has not been positive from 2015 to now. This is because the misery index today is a lot higher than it was in 2015.

“Of course, you can say the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact. Oil output has been badly affected, and revenue to the government has been significantly lower because of oil output. But if you look at it from the infrastructure point of view, even though some of the projects were started before 2015, overall the impact has not been that positive.”

According to the Chief Economist and Country Manager of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dr Andrew Nevin, what is more, important is not planning or budgeting, but the environment to attract foreign capital.

“If Nigeria continues to be a harsh environment, people will not invest in Nigeria. So, you ask the question, what alternatives exist? I don’t think there is an alternative apart from making it a more attractive environment,” he noted.

The Director-General, of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Olusola Obadimu, said the Federal Government was merely borrowing to service existing debts.

“We have to start cutting our coats according to our clothes. We have to look for more ways to start earning foreign exchange. We are still dependent on this monolithic source of income, which is crude oil. But the non-oil exports are very low,” he stated.

An economist and former Vice-Chancellor, of the University of Uyo, Prof Akpan Ekpo, said it was dangerous for the country to hope to fund the budget through borrowing.

Ekpo stated, “The debts keep increasing and the amount of money used to service debts is also quite high. I recollect that about 70 per cent or so is being used in servicing debts for 2022. That is worrisome. If the government keeps borrowing to fund recurrent expenditures, it is not good for the economy. It will retard growth.”

An Associate Professor of Economics and Statistics, at the University of Benin, Hassan Oaikhenan, recently said the 2023 budget was already on its way to failing because of its heavy dependence on borrowing.

Oaikhena said, “The budget, from the look of things, will certainly fail. This is against the background that it will be heavily funded from borrowing. It is just a hollow ritual, which means next to nothing. This will just compound the failure of this administration.

A development economist, Dr Aliyu Ilias, described the budget as problematic due to the huge cost of debt service and the revenue shortfall of the government.

“Nigeria’s budget is having a serious crisis. Debt servicing is taking the majority of our budgets. That is not even the major problem. The major problem is that our own revenue is not even enough to service the debt. Looking at this now, it means Nigerians are going to suffer more,” he added.

 Tinubu’s economy vision

Meanwhile, Tinubu has promised to build a vibrant economy that will achieve double-digit growth when he becomes the President.

Tinubu said if elected, his administration would build on how the Buhari regime had helped to improve the ease of doing business in the country, making it better for the private sector to excel.

He stated, “A vibrant private sector is a prerequisite for a functional state, playing a critical role in the mobilisation of capital, expertise and innovation for the creation of economic opportunities and employment. This is why it is important for the government to give maximum support and incentives to the private sector.

“In this light, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration introduced a number of measures targeted at promoting private enterprises and businesses including the Repeal and Re-Enactment of the Companies & Allied Matters Act (CAMA), 2020, the passage of the Finance Act, 2021, as well as the implementation of over 100 initiatives to improve ease of doing business in Nigeria.

“My desire is that the next administration, under my leadership, will continue to drive forward and accelerate on the progress made thus far, taking bold steps and initiatives to encourage investments in new areas typically considered risky, and leading the way by providing the enabling environment to nurture our innate entrepreneurial spirit.

“It is essential that our nation continues to champion the rule of law and sanctity of contracts, for these are the prerequisites for creating a business-friendly economic environment.

“Whilst there must be active engagement between all the arms of government for the rule of law to prevail, it is critical for the judiciary to retain its autonomy and independence.

“Therefore, under my stewardship, the Federal Government will build on the efforts of the current administration to review, amend and/or enact the relevant laws that will engender the rule of law.

“My administration will ensure that the judiciary has true financial and administrative autonomy and strong disciplinary and integrity monitoring mechanisms.”

The APC presidential candidate noted that his administration would prioritise the training and retraining of the country’s security forces and place great emphasis on the use of a counter-insurgency doctrine and strategy by the military, adding that the government would continue to train and equip the security personnel with the resources, gear and equipment that they needed to hasten the march to a resounding victory against enemies of the nation.

“Furthermore, my administration will prioritise the use of superior aerial technology to deter criminal and terrorist activities, as well as to monitor and protect our critical national infrastructure, including our network of pipelines, our power stations, our transmission and distribution networks, our sea and airports, our rail networks and other vital infrastructure,” he added.

Atiku’s debt plan

Debo Ologunagba and Kola Ologbondiyan, spokesmen of the Peoples Democratic Party and the party’s presidential candidate, respectively, expressed the readiness of the PDP administration under Atiku Abubakar to hit the ground running, the huge debt profile of the nation notwithstanding.

The duo spoke in separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH on the growing national debt.

Ologunagba said Atiku, having walked a similar path in the past, had the capacity to repeat the feat and save Nigerians from “the shame of the past seven and a half years.”

He stated, “Government is about solving problems. Nigerians have been unfortunate to have an incompetent and irresponsible government. The PDP has policies to tackle these problems and our candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, has the capacity and experience to address the nation’s debt challenge brought upon us by the current administration.

“Do not forget that prior to 1999, Nigerians were at a crossroads. They were moving out in droves as no country wanted to do business with us.

“When the PDP took over, we started growing the economy and the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar government increased the external reserves from $2bn to over $40bn. Electricity grew from a mere 1,800MW to over 4,000MW. Interestingly, our candidate for the 2023 presidential election was the chairman of the National Economic Council.

“Today, the new slogan in town is Japa. The young and not-too-young are seeking lives outside the shores of their country. The current government has succeeded in taking this country from top to bottom, but an Atiku/Okowa-led government will take it from bottom to the top.”

Ologbondiyan couldn’t agree less as he told Sunday PUNCH, “When Obasanjo and Atiku came into power in 1999, they went round the world and successfully got us a huge debt relief.

“One of the challenges of budgeting today is lack of management. For a candidate who has made a reduction in government spending a cardinal part of his policies, you know certainly that he is committed to debt reduction to free up resources for the development of the nation’s critical sectors.

“This is why we are telling Nigerians to trust a man that has done the job before. Because he was part of the team that secured the Paris Club debt relief; he is familiar enough with the terrain to get it done again.”

Obi’s debt plan

The National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Abayomi Arabambi, also enumerated the party’s plan to manage the country’s huge debt, saying a nation saddled with debt would have less to invest in its future.

According to him, the debt burden reduces a country’s business investment and slows down economic growth.

He said, “Over the years, the Nigerian economy has deeply relied on revenue generated from the sale of crude oil for the running of government activities. This has brought about reckless spending and mismanagement of public funds in governance, which is why the Labour Party has revealed its plan to make use of the Treasury Single Account policy to manage government revenue in Nigeria and block loopholes in all MDAs to facilitate a unified structure of bank account for all government transactions and enable a debt-free nation.

“This has made the Labour party reveal its manifesto on its intention to manage Nigeria’s debt burden since we are optimistic that our candidate will win the forthcoming presidential election since we have identified that the major cause of debt in our country is because of inefficient trade and exchange rate policies, adverse exchange rate movements, adverse interest rate movement, poor lending and inefficient loan utilisation, poor debt management practices, accumulation of arrears and penalties, among others.

“Thus for us in the Labour party and our presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, the TSA system of accounting is part of the campaign for zero-tolerance for corruption as it will also guarantee timely information on cash resources on real-time and online, and also harmonises government servicing of its obligations since it will ultimately enhance and ensure transparency and accountability in government expenditure, leading to a rise in the country’s economic development.

“We believe that accountability and transparency have a major effect in improving good governance and using resources effectively because it helps to expose corruption and inefficiency in the government by summoning them to answer queries on how office funds are being spent.

“The Labour Party also affirms that the public will be provided with information on the past, current, and projected budgetary activities, including its financing and the consolidated financial position of the government, and we will regularly publish information on the stock and composition of its debt and financial assets, including currency, maturity and interest rate structure.”

Sanusi on debts

A former Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, lamented that the previous and the present governments had left a heritage of debts for unborn generations of Nigerians.

Sanusi said this at the seventh edition of the Kaduna Economic and Investment Forum on Saturday.

The ex-Central Bank of Nigeria governor stated, “Today, the cost of servicing debt in Nigeria is N2.597tn whereas revenue was N2.4tn in the first half of 2022. In other words, debt servicing is now 108 per cent of revenue. Every naira the Federal Government earns goes to service debts, and it is not enough; the government has to borrow to service the debt and then begin to borrow to pay salaries, borrow to pay overheads, borrow to build roads, etc.

“We are leaving a mountain of debt for our children. They (children) might curse us because we are taking all the money borrowed to subsidise petrol and enjoy it cheaply.

“We see the problem and we are going to continue. I’m sorry for the next president who comes in June and says I’m removing fuel subsidy after day one,”

“Every generation wants to leave a legacy so that our children and grandchildren would pray and ask God for mercy on us and not curse us. You leave them with a mountain of debt; you have not educated them; the money that should go to their education, and healthcare, you spend on fuel subsidy; even if this fuel subsidy is all genuine, we have taken the subsidy to give ourselves cheap petrol so that our children will pay the debt when we have not invested the money in education and prepared them to earn and service the debt. Even though we recognise the problem, we are saying we will continue paying until June. We have no plans to change.”

Speaking on the challenges for the next President, Sanusi said, “I am sorry for the next President who comes in June to remove the subsidy on day one. I don’t know what kind of political stability you are going to have. We have not even started retracing our steps”

Lamenting that nothing had been done to reduce subsidy payments or close the gap in debt servicing, he said, “First is to recognise that the NNPC is not a cash cow; it is a money pit. Just unbundle it, disband it and continue to implement the PIB properly and turn them into proper commercial ventures. When I say implement, it is not just leaving the same people, processes and systems under a new name. Let them pay royalties and taxes. We also need to have a successful TSA (Treasury Single Account) implementation.”

Credit: Punch News

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