Barely after her erstwhile boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, delivered a scathing review of the dismal performance of the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), the former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, dropped a terse, but caustic remark about the booby-trap 2023 budget.
Obasanjo asked Nigerian youths, about 65 per cent of registered voters, to take back the country from the old leeches, and own the political space. He finally came out more publicly and categorical in endorsing Peter Obi of the Labour Party for president.
Following is what Ezekwesili said: “This is the summary of the hopeless budget (that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari [retd.]) signed into law: Total expenditure is N21.83tn, total revenue N10.49tn. You all better get your permanent voter cards ready because…”
In other words, only the average John Doe on any street, any town in Nigeria can save the country from the oppression of incompetent leaders who justify the so-called project-tied loans with the inadequate infrastructure and social services they provide for the people.
Everyone knows that the government takes the loans to sustain the appetite of the big government that they run for their own benefits. From 2013, loans taken and the amount spent on loan servicing have generally been higher than the amount budgeted!
With a 2023 budget based on a misleading N435.57 exchange rate to the American dollar (more N700 in the parallel market), N6.3tn debt servicing, and N4.99tn personal emoluments and other overheads, but a mere N4.99tn on capital projects, Nigerians have entered ‘gbese,’ or debt abyss big time!
When you factor in the N11.34tn deficit that the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and her team embedded into the 2023 budget(up from the N8.7tn earlier projected), you are tempted to ask them to ‘kuku’ borrow the whole amount of the budget.
Everyone will then know that Nigeria is a chronic debtor nation that enjoys borrowing to finance its big government with a penchant to spend more on overhead costs than on long-term revenue-generating assets.
That way, Nigeria can justifiably run on debts, and lazy drones who run all tiers and agencies of Nigeria’s government can just snore away their time on the job because they are not expected to use their brains while pretending to run the country.
For this purpose, you could rework the definition of democracy suggested by American President Abraham Lincoln to “government of the debtors, by the debtors, for the debtors,” and you would not have been at fault.
Those conversant with the Yoruba language know that when anyone asks you to ‘kuku’ do something, it means that they have given up and couldn’t care whatever you eventually did. They’ve washed their hands off you.
The regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) is packed full with a lot of people who hardly know what they are about. It must be because the President does not always provide leadership.
Instead of taking decisive steps to end crude oil theft, fuel subsidy, and importation of petroleum products, Buhari kicks the can down the road for the next government.
He provided N3.36tn fuel subsidy to end in June 2023, though the budget estimates revenue from crude oil as N192tn. Can you see what discerning minds are seeing?
Buhari or his aides have resorted to hiding their inability to remove fuel subsidy with the excuse that it might cause social upheavals like throwing some workers into the unemployment market and lead to higher costs of consumer goods.
That is the explanation you expect from a government that thinks about economic policies only in one dimension. Subsidy, as you know, is just one of many options of economic policies available to a government that is willing to resolve economic issues in the favour of the masses.
So much for the new sheriff who came to town on a white charger, and in shining armour, with the promise to right practically everything that is wrong with the Nigerian polity.
Each time one thinks about his dismal failure, what comes to mind is that he neither understands the problems nor has the solutions. He seems to think governance ends with the provision of infrastructure.
Buhari’s preferred option of running the nation on debt fuel is getting more scary, so much that nonagerian Afe Babalola, who thinks the 1999 Constitution won’t help Nigeria grow, is offering (maybe tongue-in-cheek) to rally Nigerian billionaires and trillionaires to contribute to defraying the N42.84tn debt that the Buhari regime has racked up for generations of unborn children.
That is one way that a large portion of the N6.55tn that the President admits will be spent on debt servicing in the 2023 budget will be avoided. And if members of the incoming administration are also profligate, they too will use the rescue plan of the Babalola collective to underwrite their own debts.
Zainab recently revealed that N5.24tn or 80.6 per cent of the N6.5tn revenue received by the Federal Government in 2022 went into debt servicing. This is way above the 22.5 per cent benchmark recommended by the World Bank for low-income countries like Nigeria.
Note that Buhari is trying his best to browbeat the National Assembly into converting the N23.7tn short-term ways and means debt that his government prised off the Central Bank of Nigeria into a 40-year long-term loan.
He argues that if the NASS agrees with him and approves the conversion, the government will have to make additional provision of N1.8tn for debt servicing in 2013. This will be separate and additional to the N6.55tn already recognised in the budget.
The Debt Management Office has honestly admitted that if you add this N23.7tn and other debts to the N42.84tn already publicly declared as owed, you will be looking at N77tn total public debt.
The Director General of the Debt Management Office, Patience Oniha, puts it this way, “Considering reports that the next administration may inherit a total public debt stock of about N77tn, the estimated figure can be expected only if the ways and means advances from the CBN are securitised.”
You can deduce from the ways and means loan owed to the CBN, the other domestic loans and the foreign loans, that Nigeria is running full-cylinder on loans. The NASS should just take it to the more ridiculous extent of legislating that Nigeria’s budgets should be financed by loans.
The NASS should even insist that inflows into the budgets should come from debts, while outflow should be made after debt servicing and the maintenance of big government have been satisfied. That way those who prepare the budgets won’t have to hide their intentions to run Nigeria on loans.
Clearly, the Bible’s admonition that believers should neither be lenders nor borrowers does not apply to those who run the budget-making process in Nigeria. They have done this debt game for so long that they now think it is normal.
Though accountants and finance experts describe loans as leverage if they will contribute to increased income, Nigeria’s loan binge seems to be a veritable exercise in taking good money and throwing it into the ocean.
These profligate days must end very soon.