JONAH ONUOHA, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
JUSTIFICATION OF THE STUDY
How did Nigeria and the Paris club arrive at the decision to negotiate for debt relief? What are the terms or conditions for this debt relief? Finally, what are the costs and benefits of the deal on the political economy of the Nigerian state?
These questions have been necessitated by three interrelated ^reasons. First, most third world countries, including Nigeria perceive the creditor countries as the “devil”; this is because they give with one hand, and take away with the other. Recent study seems to confirm this position. For instance, the total amount borrowed by Nigeria from members of the Paris club from 1965 to 2001 was of equivalent of US $13.5 billion. She paid the equivalent of US $41.273 billion to service the debt by December 2001. Yet, as at December 31, 2001, she owed the Paris club member countries the equivalent of US $22.092 billion.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly, in July 2000 when Nigeria reached a one-year debt consolidation period agreement with the club, her debt stock stood at US $22.416 billion. Over the agreed period, Nigeria paid back about US $ 1.457 billion. Yet, at be end of the period, the country’s debt stock remained virtually unchanged at $22.046 billion. This was due to moratorium interest arrears amounting to about US $1.086 billion, resulting from the rescheduling.
Finally, Paris club agreements are contingent on a country having a standing arrangement with the IMF. This arrangement requires progress in meeting benchmarks relating to macro-economic reforms. The requirements for the speedy attainment of certain macro-economic performance benchmarks relating to balance of payment, deficit financing and inflation, although desirable, are not flexible to take cognizance of the trade-off with government pursuit of social development objectives and the difficulty it faces if it abruptly cuts down on existing levels of public expenditure needed to sustain social services. The measures, fiscal and monetary, implied by this demand, are in conflict, at least in the short run, with those implied by rigid requirements for sharp curtailment of deficit financing, control of inflation and other measures which are called for under the medium-term option.
While this controversy rages, two schools of thought have emerged to x-ray the costs and benefits of the debt relief deal, namely the liberal and radical schools.
The liberal scholars led by the finance ministries, Okonjo-Iweala (2005) and Ariyo Ajaja (2005) are of the view that the country is fortunate to have been considered for this type of concession. According to them, the deal will save Nigeria from making interest that would have totaled S8 billion on the $ 12 billion payment that we are expected to make now. Consequently, the debt relief has the capacity of transforming the country from poor and Parish nation to an industrialized sovereign state.
On the other hand, the radical school led by Femi Falana (2005) and other human rights activists is of the view that what Africans rightly need is the payment of trillions of dollars as reparation for slavery and colonialism, instead of begging, cap in hand, for debt relief. According to them, capital flight from Africa began with centuries of slave trade followed by colonialism. They noted that if accounting is done properly with history was guide, the credit balance should be in favour of Nigeria and other African countries that were victims of slavery and colonial plunder.
While the controversy rages, this paper will attempt to evaluate the impact of debt burden, including the recent debt relief on national development. More importantly, the paper will criticallyanalyses the terms of agreement for this debt relief and the impact on the political economy of the Nigerian state.
To achieve this dream, the paper is divided into four Subsections Section I is the introduction. Section II will quickly x-ray the genesis of Nigeria debt crisis, including the Paris Club debt trap.
Section III will evaluate the impact of the debt burden on National development. We shall summarize, conclude and suggest strategies for sound debt management for Nigeria in the 21st century in section IV
HISTORY OF NIGERIA’S DEBT CRISIS
In the late 1970s and 1980s, countries of the South, particularly African countries experienced severe savings gap and shortage of funds for investment. In the face of low international interest rates, some countries succumbed to the temptation of resorting to external borrowing. Nigeria was one of those countries that went a-borrowing. Olukoshi 1990, Nweke 1990 and Oni 1990 noted that Nigeria’s external debt problems are structural, arising from its peripheral nature in the world capitalist economy. Being structural in nature means that the problem has a long-run character. That is why mainstream economics approach to solving the problem with financial, monetary and trade policies can only act as temporary palliatives at best, not a permanent solution. At independence, Nigeria owned N82.4 million and by 1970, Nigeria’s external debt stock was less than one billion dollars. By the second half of the 1980s, the debt profile had deteriorated seriously due to persistent inability of the country to meet its external debt service obligations. This resulted in mounting arrears and unmanageable growth of the debt stock relative to available resources. The external debt stock, which was about US$9 billion in 1980, grew to nearly USS19 billion by 1985. Correspondingly, the debt stock as a percentage of total export earnings and GNP rose to uncomfortable levels of 151% and 24 %, respectively. In that year, the debt service payment due was a little above USS4 billion which was about 33% of the total export earnings; however, the actual debt service payment for the year was about USS 1.5 billion. By 2001, the debt stock as percentages of total export and the GNP was 149% and 83%, respectively.
HOW NIGERIA GOT TRAPPED
How did the country get into this exponential debt spiral? The bulk of Nigeria’s debt had been incurred at non-concessional terms during the late 1970s and the early 1980s, during a period of significantly low interest rate regime when the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR) hovered between 3 and 4 per cent. The debt grew rapidly through the eighties for two main reasons. The first was accumulation of debt service arrears due to worsening inability to meet maturing obligations. The second was the escalation of market interest rate. LIBOR peaked at 13 per cent in mid-1989. As a result, the pre-1984 debt of most developing countries, Nigeria inclusive, quadrupled by 1990. The collapse in oil prices and the ever-rising prices of imported (manufactured) goods, poor economic policies, bad management and unfavourable loan terms made it extremely difficult to service the mounting external debt obligations, particularly those due to the Paris Club. Hence, despite three rescheduling arrangements in 1986, 1989 and 1991, arrears continued to mount, which further aggravated the debt problem. Some progress was made however in restructuring the commercial debts and Nigeria has continued to service that category of debts as and when due.
The trend of the external debt highlights the fact that much of the country’s external debt is owed to fifteen creditor countries belonging to the Paris Club; as a percentage of the total external debt, Nigeria’s indebtedness to this group rose almost consistently from about 30% in 1983 to about 80% in 2001.
DEBT RELIEF INITIATIVES
To address this unwholesome situation Nigeria has since 1986 been having negotiations with the Paris Club and other groups of creditors. In December, 2000, following a second round of negotiations, Nigeria reached agreement with the Paris Club. The rescheduling Agreed Minute was structured in Houston Terms, which applies to lower middle-income countries with per capita income of between USS785 and US$3125. (Nigeria has a per capital income of US$260 in 2000). The Agreed Minute provides for the rescheduling of Nigeria’s Paris Club debt of about US$21.4billion over an 18 20 year period. ODA credits are to be rescheduled over 20 years at interest rates that are no less unconcessional than the debts original interest rates and enjoy 10 years’ grace period. Commercial credits are to be rescheduled over 18 years at market-based interest rates, including a three-year grace period.
IMPACT OF DEBT MANAGEMENT
Ordinarily one would have expected that Nigeria be on the path of progressively declining debt burden. However, this is not so because while the Houston Terms allow for a deferral of payments, they do not have provisions for any debt reduction. They are insufficient to address Nigeria’s debt problem and have led to an endless cycle of restructuring. Thus, Nigeria’s debt overhang remains un-assuaged.
This apprehension comes out clearly in External Debt Service Projections, 2002-2011, based on the agreed December 13, 2000 Agreed Minute rescheduling. The figures show that Nigeria’s debt service remains unbearably high under the arrangement. They are, therefore, inadequate to provide an escape from the debt trap. The crux of the matter lies in the incongruent nature of the dynamic relationship between the debt burden and available resources. Particularly, from 2002 to 2006, the projected debt service, though declining progressively, still remains so high that even the lowest figure is as high as US$2.4 billion (2006) while the highest is over US$3.0 billion (2002).
Nigeria’s precarious economic position is even more glaring when one takes into consideration, the volatility of oil export revenue. Oil accounts for as much as 98% of Nigeria’s aggregate export of goods and about 78% of government revenue. These indices highlight the need to incorporate oil price volatility into any realistic decision on what Nigeria can reasonably afford to provide for debt servicing and why it is necessary, therefore, to grant Nigeria real concessional relief.
SUSTAINABILITY ANALYSES OF NIGERIA’S DEBT
The grim reality is that even with the fourth rescheduling, Nigeria’s external debt remains unbearable and would continue to hamper economic growth and poverty reduction through the distant future if urgent remedial action is not taken. To buttress this point, a preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) conducted by the IMF has indicated that without further rescheduling Nigeria debt service to export ratio will remain above the Highly indebted Poor Country (HIPC) threshold until 2006: it would increase £ om 13% in 2001 to 21 % in 2002 and almost 30% over the medium term.
A separate recent study on debt sustainability carried out for the Debt Management Office by Crown Agents corroborates the IMF results as it concludes that “Nigeria’s debt, based on HIPC targets, is not sustainable after the current Paris Club negotiation.” Unless the debt burden is significantly reduced, the goal of reducing poverty by half by the year 2015 may be difficult to achieve. The picture is so bad that the London-based Jubilee Plus, a member organization of the New Economics Foundation declares that: “Even if Nigeria’s debt is entirely written off, it will still need additional aid to meet the internationally agreed poverty targets for 2015.” So the minimum that is required is substantial debt reduction. The Debt Management Office has accordingly been making enormous effort to achieve this objective.
Unfortunately, Nigeria does not qualify for debt relief granted to Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) as it is classified as a lower middle-income country. But it has good economic, political and moral arguments to make a case for maximum debt relief Nigeria is currently among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with socio-economic and debt profile closely paralleling that of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs). The country’s per capita income is only about USS853. Over 70 percent of the country’s population earns less than $ 1 dollar a day. About 91 % of the population lives on less than $2 dollars a day. An average GDP growth rate of about 2.7% over the second half of the 1990s left little room for per capita income growth. This has increased only unimpressively in the early 2000s to a little above 3%. Nigeria’s extreme poverty level is also reflected in its Human Development Indicators (HDI), which are among the lowest in the world. She has been ranked 151st out of 174 countries in 2001 UNDP HDI ranking. The adult literacy rate of 52% for males, 49% for females and life expectancy of 52 years are among the lowest in the world, while infant mortality at 77 per 1000 and maternal mortality at 1000 per 100,000 live births are among the world’s highest. From the political angle, it should be noted that Nigeria is a polity in transition having just emerged from fifteen years of military dictatorship. The new democratic government is facing a revolution of expectations from the people to urgently and substantially enhance living standards. “The measures, fiscal and monetary, implied by this demand, are in conflict, at least in the short run, with those implied by curtailment of deficit financing, control of inflation and even privatization and commercialization of state-owned enterprises, which are some of the conditions required by multilateral financial institutions, development partners and creditor countries as a basis for debt relief negotiations.
The new democratic government needs to pay adequate attention to the mood of the populace in order to safeguard the nascent democratic dispensation. There is surely a dilemma in this regard. It would be important for creditors and multilateral financial institutions to find ways of letting these circumstances moderate their requirements vis-a-vis Nigeria’s debt servicing and access to concessionary loans and development assistance.
PARIS CLUB DEBT RESCHEDULING TRAP: THE NIGERIAN EXAMPLE
The Paris Club emerged as a cartel of official creditors for negotiations over debts owed by a number of developing countries including African countries. The importance of the Club to the African situation is highlighted by the fact that for example, about 80% of Nigeria’s debt totaling about US$28.35 at the end of 2001, was owed to this group. The experience of Nigeria with the Paris Club arrangement, which is predicated mainly on debt rescheduling, clearly demonstrates the jeopardy faced by Third World debtor countries a trap of endless cycle of debt burden.
The total amount borrowed by Nigeria from members of the Paris Club from 1965 to 2001 was of the equivalent of US$13.5 billion. She had paid the equivalent of US$41.273 billion to service the debts by the December 2001. Yet, as at December 31, 2001, she owed the Paris Club member countries the equivalent of US$22.092 billion. Another illustration of the debt conundrum: In July 2000 when Nigeria reached a one-year debt consolidation period agreement with the Club, her debt stock stood at US $22.416 billion.
Over the agreed period, Nigeria paid back about US S1.457 billion. Yet at the end of the period the country’s debt stock remained virtually unchanged at US $22.046 billion. This was due to moratorium interest arrears amounting to about US $1.086 billion resulting from the rescheduling. It is therefore imperative that for rescheduling to be meaningful, it has to be interest free.
Agreement with Paris Club provides rescheduling as a way of providing debt relief for debtors but as we have seen, the strategy is virtually a fiasco. After four rescheduling with the Paris Club since 1986, Nigeria’s external debt burden today has not gotten any lighter. The Club has, in fact, turned out to be a debt enhancing rather than debt reducing association.
Another strong defect is that the Paris Club arrangement emasculates bilateral approach to the resolution of the debt burden. A debtor country can only negotiate with a Paris Club creditor country within the general agreed guidelines defined by the club. This negates the peculiarities of each debtor- creditor relationship. Hence, there is loss of initiative and creativity for finding mutually acceptable solutions.
Moreover, the arrangement encourages procrastination in bilateral negotiations. In the attempt to exploit the equal treatment clause usually contained in the agreed minutes of the Paris Club, each creditor under a game-theoretic psychology delays concluding its own agreement so as to take a cue from other creditors agreement terms.
Another problem is that the Paris Club creditors often rely on projected export revenue in insisting on minimum debt service from the debtors. But they do not take into account the volatility of such earnings in the case of such countries like Nigeria, which depends on oil for over 98% of its aggregate export earnings and for about 78% of government revenue. The crux of the matter lies in the incongruent nature of the dynamic relationship between the debt burden and available resources. These indices highlight the need to incorporate oil price volatility into any realistic decision on what Nigeria can reasonably afford to provide for debt servicing. Provision ought to be made for paying lower in debt service if export revenues fall below projected levels.
A related issue worth considering is that Debt SustainabilityAnalysis calculations on which rescheduling relies are based on narrow definitions and arbitrarily fixed targets, which are increasingly being questioned. The definition of debt sustainability should be broadened to encompass the full range of development needs of the country, with current poverty levels and human development considerations incorporated. In-addition, a case could be made for some degree of flexibility in setting lower target ranges for certain countries in transition, such as those emerging from a r conflict or unusual governance (as Nigeria did recently), natural disaster or other exceptionally difficult circumstances.
Paris Club Agreements are also contingent on a country having a Standby Arrangement with the IMF. This arrangement requires progress in meeting benchmarks relating to Macro-economic reforms. The requirement for the speedy attainment of certain macro-economic performance benchmarks relating to balance of payment, deficit finance, and inflation, although desirable are not flexible to take cognizance of the trade-off with Government pursuit of social development objectives and the difficulty it faces if it abruptly cuts down on existing levels of public expenditure needed to sustain social services. The measures, fiscal and monetary, implied by this demand, are in conflict, at least in the short run, with those implied by rigid requirements for sharp curtailment of deficit financing, control of inflation and other measures which are called for under the medium-term option.
The inescapable conclusion from the foregoing is that Paris-Club-style debt rescheduling as a means of lessening the debt burden of Third World sovereign creditors is a huge failure. This induces one to re-echo the recommendations of the International Conference On Sustainable Debt Strategy held in Abuja in May 2001 thus:
Cancellation of the entire debt to free up resources fordevelopment.
Increasing of ODA to debtors especially by way of grants.
Increasing Nigeria’s unconditional access to Western marketsfor non-oil exports.
Reforming of the global financial architecture to ensure thatlooted funds are not safe anywhere;
Setting up of an international arbitration court to adjudicatedisputes between donors and creditors.
In summary, the terms of agreement as explained by finance minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on 30 June 2005, speech in Abujaare as follows:
- Nigeria would clear arrears of about $6billion on its $30billion Paris Club debt, following which there would be a stock reduction on Naples Terms and a buyback of the remainder so as to provide an exit from the Paris Club.
- The whole package is such that we can expect debt relief of about 60% on our current Paris Club. We expect to pay off the balance of about 40% through a buyback operation.
- This effort would represent a write-off of close to $18 billion for Nigeria, which compares favorably with the $40 billion write-off for 18 low-income heavily indebted countries out of which 14 are Africa.
THE IMPACT OF THE DEBT CRISIS ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The social and economic pedigree of Nigeria is replete with strange ironies. Despite the abundant natural and human resources, the country continuously wallows in pitiable penury and hopeless under-development.
For example, in terms of human endowment, Nigeria is reputed to have a population of about 120 million to 135 million people, thus making it the 1 Oth largest country in the universe.
The workforce of Nigeria alone is put at about 66 million people. The country can boast of about 90 universities, of which about 50 are publicly owned (that is, owned by state or federal governments) while about 40 are owned by private individuals and corporate institutions.
In terms of crude oil, the country is said to have an estimated reserve of about 32 billion barrels and an estimated gas reserve of about 174 trillion barrels. It is even said that if Nigeria’s natural gas is depleted at the current rate, then the reserve can last for the next 110 years. The World Bank survey shows that out of the 137 billion cubic meters of gas flared worldwide, Nigeria flares about 17 billion cubic meters.
Despite the presence of abundant mineral resources in the bowels of Nigerian soil, the country’s poverty rating is still pathetically high.
Out of the 177 countries surveyed by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nigeria is ranked 158th on the human development index. The implication of this report is that we have fared woefully in the areas of living a long and healthy life, provision of qualitative education and having a decent standard of living. This report is really embarrassing, scandalous and a performance red-card for a country that is ranked as the 6th largest producer of crude oil on earth.
The latest annual country report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Nigeria is distressing and disheartening but very factual. The report puts the country’s economic performance at the lowest ebb. Out of the 102 countries covered by the survey on global competitiveness, Nigeria was rated 98th. This abysmal position was attributed to graft in public sector, disregard for the rule of law, shady and questionable enforcement of contracts. The report was unambiguous on the declining standard of education in Nigeria when it states “while Nigeria’s public school system was considered among the best in Africa in the late 60’s, 30 years later, it has become one of the worst in sub-Saharan Africa.” (IMF annual report – 2004).
The rating of our country as reported by the South African Press Agency (SAPA) is even more damning. Just last week, the agency published a story titled: “Nigeria, a risky prospect for South African banks.” The story graphically presented the country’s parliament’s finance committee resolution on Nigeria, which states, “that South African banks that choose to do business with Nigeria, run the risk of tarnishing their reputation.” I have gone this far to show you that Nigeria should have nothing to do with poverty if our resources are properly harnessed and prudently managed. In fact, the nation’s macro-economic policies, which could have brought about balance of payments equilibrium and by implication, the elimination of unsustainable external debts, are badly implemented, thereby culminating in balance of payments deficits.
The external debt stock of Nigeria does not seem to be diminishing in any appreciable sense. For a whole decade (1993-2002), the external debt unfortunately hovered at between $28 billion to $20 billion. It just seems as if the country is not making any repayment at all. The balance of payments of course appears in a perpetual state of deficit. In the light of the above, the poverty index has been increasing from 42.7 per cent in 1992 to 65.6 percent in 1996 and 70per cent by 1999.
All the social indicators that enter into the poverty index confirm that poverty has really been rising. For instance, life expectancy is only 43 years while infant mortality is 77 per 1,000 births, maternal mortality is 704 per 100,000 live births and this is one of the highest in the whole world. Only about 10 per cent of Nigerians have access to essential drugs and as many as 100,000 people can only share less than 30 doctors between them. Of children below the age of five as many as 30 per cent were classified in 1999 as being underweight.
All available indices of performance therefore point to the fact that the Nigerian economy has laid prostrate for well over a decade. The appropriate question is which is the way forward?
The solution lies in shrewd and prudent management of the country’s resources. Such shrewd management involves planning and budgeting to ensure that available resources are harnessed for optimum productivity and performance.
HOW NIGERIA CAN ESCAPE FROM THE DEPT TRAP CONCLUDING REMARKS
With the debt burden imposed by the IMF and Western club of creditors, a number of propositions have been suggested for overcoming Nigeria’s debt problems. The propositions can be grouped into three; namely: the Patriots’ proposition; the Nationalists proposition; and the Western proposition.
- PATRIOTS’ PROPOSITION
The main argument of the patriot’s proposition is that in order to tackle the debt problems realistically, we should first begin by keeping our house in order. To the patriots, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. We should, therefore, not heap all the blames on other nations for our present plight.
According to them, most of our debt problems were started by Nigerians. Foreigners only collaborated. The patriots’ proposition include stringent economic reforms coupled with rearrangement of our priorities. We should eliminate all forms of waste, especially in the public sector. Corrupt government officials and fraudulent businessmen should be identified and punished and where necessary made to disgorge what they illegally appropriated. The sources of leakages such as the Central Bank, especially the Foreign Exchange Department, the ports and customs, should be reorganized for efficiency. The importation of items not considered necessary for the well-being of Nigerians should be banned. Local raw material sources should be developed so that Nigerian industries can continue to produce at full capacity, to generate output and to maintain reasonable level of employment. Meanwhile, further borrowing should stop until the authorities had sorted out and reconciled all outstanding debt disputes with or creditors.
Nigeria should not repudiate any genuine debt; rather talks should be opened up with our creditors with the purpose of finding long-term solutions to the debt problems.
- THE NATIONALISTS PROPOSITION
This proposition represents the radical view. Why should Nigeria bother about so-called debt? We should repudiate them. Those Nigeria owe had exploited the country’s resources for decades without compensation. There should be no question of debt rescheduling. Debt rescheduling will only tie us to the aprons of the Western economies. The Sovereignty of Nigeria is not negotiable. According to them, borrowing from the IMF is completely out of question. IMF and the World Bank are imperialist institutions designed to mislead the Third World nations, making it difficult for them to find their political and economic directions. The Nationalists also argue for the Castro Option. Nigeria should cease repayment of matured debts. Let the debts accumulate, Nigeria will repay at their own rate.
- THE WESTERN CREDITORS POSITION
The Western Creditors insist that they hold the key for getting out of debt-traps and for any economic recovery. Debtcountries have only one option, and that is to negotiate with themon their own, (creditors) terms. They are made up of the Paris Club of official (insured) Creditors; the London Club of mainly bankers; the correspondent banks and the uninsured creditors. These four different groups of creditors work hand-in-hand with the IMF and I World Bank. The Paris and London Clubs are the leading groups.
The main objective of the Paris Club is to negotiate the deferment or rescheduling of payment obligations on credits. Debt countries are usually compelled to request for debt-rescheduling negotiation with creditors, be they of Paris or London Clubs or any other that refused to extend any new financing to the debtor. From the analysis so far, it is clear that debt burden has dealt a staggering blow to the Nigerian economy.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The message is that in spite of Nigeria’s oil wealth, its social indicators are among the lowest in the world, with a Human Development Index ranking of 152nd out of 175 countries in 2004. The government’s own statistics indicate that the poverty rate has increased from an average of about 27 per cent in the 1980s to over 70 per cent in 2003. The current life expectancy is 54 years and infant and maternal mortality rates remain high at 77 and 7 per 1000 births respectively. There are fewer than 30 doctors per 100,000 citizens and the proportion of children fully immunized against the five most lethal diseases has dropped from 30 per cent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2003.
In conclusion, recent Industrial Development Report (2004) has revealed that as at 1999, Nigeria had an estimated US$ 107 billion of its private wealth held abroad. With about 70 percent of Nigeria’s private wealth held outside of the country, it is clear said the report, that the failure of development has not been due to shortage of financial capital. Our position is, rather than borrow from Western Creditor Clubs; Nigeria should explore ways of recovering looted funds and invest them in national development. The current practice of looting from the already recovered loots should stop. Until then, the debt burden will continue to impede development.
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DEBT: A Challenge to Nigeria’s Sustainable Development