DEBTS: Teacher AGF, Teach Your Boss

Banditry: The Ministerial Idle Talks
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I actually played the iconic song of Fela Anikulapo Kuti titled ‘Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense’, throughout the period of drafting this piece on the most recent position of Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi on the dangers to the nation’s economy posed by the unprecedented rise in foreign debts in Nigeria.

But instead of passing the verdict of asking the learned gentleman, Alhaji Lateef Fagbemi,  SAN not to teach me nonsense,  I chose to kindly remind him that the best person to receive his teaching on indebtedness, is no other person but his boss, who is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

As you read through the article, you will realise why the best student to attend the lecture of Lateef Fagbemi on indebtedness is his boss. Well, it is because like myself and most struggling Nigerians, we are not in the same ‘category’ as Tinubu and Fagbemi just as Fela sang to that celebrated teacher in his iconic song- Teacher, don’t teach  me nonsense.’ Tinubu and his justice minister are amongst the political elite seen by most struggling people as the oppressors.

Come to think of it, what did Lateef Fagbemi say about debts? The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), decried the rising debt profile of the country, warning that such an increase poses a serious danger to the country’s economy.

To this end, he has advocated the need for personnel of governments at all levels to acquire and possess relevant skills and training in the area of agreement drafting.

Fagbemi spoke Tuesday in Abuja, at the Body of Attorneys-General Conference and the Meeting of the General Council of the Bar.

“I also need to comment on the increasingly rising debt profiles of government at all levels, which pose serious danger and challenge to our national economy and existence as an independent nation.

“The Federal Ministry of Justice has, against this backdrop, initiated a collaborative framework with specialist firms, to enable legal officers involved in drafting MoUs and other forms of binding agreements to acquire required skills to identify possible areas of dispute or liability, which could lead to avoidable litigation or arbitration costs and judgment debt.

We are willing to extend the support to legal officers in the various states to achieve these objectives.

On the same day that teacher Lateef Fagbemi was dropping his Explosive teaching material on debts, his boss President Bola Ahmed Tinubu,  the Jagaban of Borgu, was already in the front of the National assembly with his cap in his hand to ask the legislators in the lower chamber to approve his insatiable quest for foreign debts.

President Bola Tinubu on Tuesday, asked the Senate to approve the sum of $8,699,168,559 and €100 million foreign loans which the Federal Executive Council (FEC) ratified during the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Tinubu said his request was part of the 2022-2024 borrowing plan.

Tinubu made the request in a letter to the red chamber which was read during plenary.

Part of the letter read: “I write in respect of the above subject and to submit the attached Federal Government 2022-2024 external borrowing plan for consideration and early approval of the National Assembly to ensure prompt implementation of the projects.

“The Senate may wish to note that the past administration approved a 2022-2024 borrowing plan by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) held on May 15, 2023.

“The project cuts across all sectors, with specific emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, water supply, roads, security, and employment generation as well as financial management reforms.

“Consequently, the required approval is in the sum of $8,699,168,559 and €100 million.

“I would like to underscore the fact that the projects and programs in the borrowing plan were selected based on economic evaluations, as well as the expected contribution to the social economic development of the country, including employment generation and skills acquisition.

“Given the nature of these facilities, and the need to return the country to normalcy, it has become necessary for the Senate to consider and approve the 2022- 2024 external abridged borrowing plan to enable the government to deliver its responsibility to Nigerians.”

Last week, the upper chamber of the legislature in Abuja unilaterally approved the same request for Tinubu without public knowledge.  It means that the letter sent on Tuesday was merely a formality.

But reporters who got wind of this development, including a senior editor of a reputable newspaper had sought my opinion on this outrageous borrowing plan of Tinubu that the Senate approved and I responded that this is unfortunate. How can President Bola Ahmed Tinubu send such an outrageous, insensitive,  irrational, and irresponsible request to borrow such a humongous amount of money when his finance minister only yesterday told us that the government is netting in at least one trillion Naira from revenue sources monthly since the subsidy on petroleum products was withdrawn?

Or was the finance minister telling cheap lies? If not, why show this sort of toxic intention to borrow and why is the Senate becoming slavish to the point that the Senators do not interrogate requests or communications sent to the legislative chamber by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu? It is becoming evidently clear that the constitutionally protected checks and balances amongst the tiers of government have given way to the totalitarianism of the President.  That the Senate constantly does the bidding of the executive arm of government is an egregious breach of the principle of separation of powers as enshrined in sections 4, 5, and 6 of the Nigerian constitution which clearly spells out why the three tiers must be independent and patriotic to a point that what should matter to the public office holders in these tiers of government is only the public good and the National interest of Nigeria.  It is against the country’s national interest that the Federal and state governments will continue to indulge in the bazaar of collecting loans from all parts of the World.

How else should any sane person rationalise this insane addiction to foreign loans by the current administration which was the same social affliction that affected the immediate past Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s government which actually participated in the massive looting and diversion to private pockets of resources of the people of Nigeria?

We are very much miffed by this insane tendency to go cap-in-hand borrowing and then lavish these loans on the costs of running a very expanded administration with almost 60 cabinet-level appointees who also have over 60 other special assistants attached to them.  Remember that only in September that the Debt Management Office said Nigeria’s total public debt hit N87.38tn at the end of the second quarter of 2023. These figures are troubling. To add to this embarrassing situation by approving such a massive borrowing plan is insane and absolutely unacceptable.

We need to recall that the figure from the Debt management office represents an increase of 75.29 percent or N37.53tn compared to N49.85tn recorded at the end of March 2023.

The DMO in that most recent report said the debt includes the N22.71tn Ways and Means Advances of the Central Bank of Nigeria to the Federal Government.

The DMO stated, “Nigeria’s total public debt stock as of June 30, 2023, was N87.38tn ($113.42bn). It comprises the total domestic and external debts of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the thirty-six states, and the Federal Capital Territory.

“The major addition to the Public Debt Stock was the inclusion of the N22.712tn securitized FGN’s Ways and Means Advances.”

The DMO in a report said the debt includes the N22.71tn Ways and Means Advances of the Central Bank of Nigeria to the Federal Government.

The statement also noted that other additions to the debt stock were new borrowings by the Federal Government and the sub-nationals from local and external sources.

It added, “The reforms already introduced by the present administration and those that may emerge from the recommendations of the Fiscal Reform and Tax Policies Committee, are expected to impact debt strategy and improve debt sustainability.”

The DMO had earlier projected that Nigeria’s public debt burden may hit N77tn following the National Assembly’s approval of the request by former President Muhammadu Buhari to restructure the CBN’s Ways and Means Advances.

The Ways and Means Advances is a loan facility through which the CBN finances the shortfalls in the government’s budget.

What all these tell you, is that President Tinubu is progressively pushing the country into the abyss and precipice of a heavily indebted third World nation. What will become of Nigeria if, for instance, we default in repaying China’s massive loans? Would China not be tempted to take over ownership of strategic national assets of Nigeria like the Seaports and Airports and of course the Nigeria Railways just so they run these businesses and recoup their investments by way of loans to the central government right from the Buhari’s government up until now?

Writing about debts that lead to mass poverty, our attention is drawn to the emerging report that the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has just called on African countries to take urgent action to end poverty and mismanagement of natural resources if they want to earn the respect of the global community.

Adesina made the remarks while delivering his speech titled “For the world to respect Africa” at the 40th anniversary of the Guardian newspaper in Lagos.

Adesina lamented the fact that Africa, despite its abundant natural resources, remains a continent plagued by poverty.

“Africa will not earn respect globally until we end poverty at scale. We have allowed poverty to linger pervasive, and the major complaints are that our nations are resource-rich, yet the majority of our citizens remain poor,” Adesina stated.

“In most cases, we often tend to accept poverty as normal. Let me be unequivocally clear. Poverty is not normal. It is abnormal, especially when we have so many resources and when it has been pervasive for so long, and that is why I believe Africa shall not become a museum of poverty. “

He criticised the use of the term “poverty alleviation,” arguing that it implies that poverty is an acceptable condition. Instead, he called for the eradication of poverty and the creation of wealth.

“We do not mean the so-called poverty alleviation. Because that is a term that I reject in its entirety. We cannot be comfortable with poverty,” Adesina said.

“If you’re sick from malaria and you visit your doctor, who says, “I will alleviate your malaria,” please get out and look for a better doctor. I do not believe in poverty alleviation. If someone moves from $1.30 per day to $1.50 per day, they move to $1.60 per day. They are still poor.”

Challenging the notion of a “natural resource curse,” Adesina argued that the issue lies in a lack of leadership and governance.

He cited examples of resource-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Norway that have successfully managed their natural resources, highlighting the importance of governance, transparency, accountability, and sound resource management.

Adesina also questioned the accountability of African leaders who claim public good by showcasing modest achievements, such as installing boreholes, on national television.

  • By Emmanuel Onwubiko; head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and former NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA

 

 

Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of  v. The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”

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