It is exactly 170 days today since Boko Haram gunmen took away over 200 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno state. Even with the help of foreign governments, the Nigerian government led by President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to rescue the schoolgirls to be reunited with their parents. Today, the President and the men and women to whom he graciously handed out national honours on Monday will wine and dine in the name of celebration of Nigeria’s 54th independence anniversary.
Not long ago, too, the Debt Management Office in the Presidency released figures on the status of Nigeria’s indebtedness. According to the office, Nigeria’s overall debt stock profile stood at about US$45 billion, out of which external debts amounted to US$6 billion and domestic debt, US$39.6 billion. This represents a very rapid and disturbing growth in borrowing by the present government, particularly that, after the exit of Paris Club debt in 2006, we owed only US$3.5 billion in foreign and US$13.8 billion in domestic debts. Add to this the $1 billion foreign loan the Senate approved last week for the President to re-kit the military for the war on terror.
Nigerians are concerned that after a successful foreign debt exit, this country appears to be going down the old path, a repeat of a past of large debts. For instance, Nigeria recently signed a US$1.1-billion loan deal with China for infrastructure development, which is part of a US$3 billion facility approved. Our major concern is that the insatiable quest for loans by the federal and state governments is not reflected in tangible developments on the ground. The loans are definitely not being used for what they are meant for. Ironically, billions of Naira are yearly budgeted for servicing such loans to the detriment of the key sectors of the economy like education, health, transportation etc.
More worrisome is the fact that the huge debts are mainly for consumption and not for productive purposes with prospects of life enhancing and profitable returns. Over 70 percent of government expenditure goes to about less than 5 percent of the population, made up of politicians and public sector workers. The situation in the educational sector is the most alarming. Universities are about completing their first full academic calendar since a long strike by the Academic Staff of Nigerian Universities (ASUU). Polytechnic reopened only last month after a year-old layoff forced by striking teachers. There is thus the looming possibility that Nigeria’s educational sector will soon be shut down.
In some parts of Nigeria, even when schools are open, students can only attend classes at the risk of their lives. Attacks on schools by Boko Haram in the North-east are a daily affair. Kidnappers and robbers are daily terrorizing citizens in the south while Boko Haram ‘takes care’ of those unfortunate to live in the North. Life in Nigeria has suddenly become cruel,” brutish and short”.
In this season of despair, Nigeria’s leaders – the over pampered and corrupt politicians – carry on as if all is well. A year to the next general elections, they have all abandoned governance and all we hear from them is about 2015. In these grim days, Nigeria’s 54thanniversary calls for sober reflections, not exaggerated celebrations.