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Nigeria at 62: N42.84trn debt, a mortgage of the country – Babalola

 

Engineer Sunday Adebayo Babalola is a retired Deputy Director of the now-defunct Department of Petroleum Resources. He is also a former acting Managing Director of Belemaoil Nigeria Limited and currently, Director of All Grace Energy. In this interview with Emmanuel kehinde, He explains Nigeria’s economy as the nation marks her 62nd Independence anniversary.

 

 

Nigeria’s debt is N42.84 trillion as of June 2022 according to the Debt Management Office (DMO). Is this not mortgaging the future of the country?

Obviously, it is a mortgage of the future of the country. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo recognised that when he was the President of Nigeria. He understood that the country being in debt was not a good way to go and that we can not continue that way. He decided to engage in debt negotiation, paid a substantial part of the debt and later got the rest forgiven by the creditors. He succeeded in doing that and that put us in good status. But we later started borrowing afresh.

Recall that the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Mrs. Patience Oniha, had revealed that Nigeria’s domestic debt has pushed Nigeria’s total public debt stock from N41.60tn as of March 2022 to N42.84tn as of June, 2022 showing an increase of N1.24tn in three months.

According to the Debt Management Office, the Total Public Debt Stock, representing the Domestic and External Debt Stocks of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the 36 State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory, was N42.84tn ($103.31bn) as at June 30, 2022. The comparative figures for March 30, 2022, was N41.60tn ($100.07bn).
DMO had explained that as at December 2020, the debt stock of the federal, state governments and the Federal Capital Territory was N32.92 trillion, but by December 2021, it was N39.556 trillion.

This is not good at all. It is basically describable bad.

So how should it be addressed?

The people in government should be able to look at where they are going wrong and be sincere with themselves and correct those things. There are so many things that can be done. The govenrment should the right thing. The country has many untapped resources which can be harnessed and they will bring foreign exchange to the nation and create employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed or under-employed people of this country. But another problem is that in harnessing the untapped resources, corruption may also set in. So the people must change. They just have to make up their mind that they are not going in that direction and say let us change. They must know that the money they are looting now will not even serve their children because it is not legitimately gotten. I have never seen where corruptly made money has been useful to the children of the people that amassed the money. John Fellers companies are still working today. The Kennedy’s companies are still working today. And so many other people that made their money legitimately. Some may argue that some of those people did not make their money legitimately, because they sponsored politicians. It is given that you sponsor politicians to protect your business. If you do not do that and you succeed, it is part of the business. But you are not directly dipping your hands into what belongs to the commonwealth. They only protected your business and made sure that the environment was conducive for you.

Nigeria has been running a deficit budget for many years now. Is this a good national financial management strategy?

Any economist and even non-economist will tell you that it is not good. When you have N10 and you spend N15, there will be a time when the whole thing will collapse. We have seen it happen in many countries that eventually collapsed. I do think that countries are declared bankrupt just like that when they are not. When they are bankrupt so many other countries can also go bankrupt because of it as there is inter-dependence of countries. You can not continue to run on deficit. Can you drive your car with zero petrol? Is there anything like negative petrol? If you can not drive your car, how do you expect the country to move forward with negative petrol? Money is the petrol and the livewire. Money is the blood that runs the system. If you are having a negative plug or negative livewire, or negative petrol, do you think that everything will be alright? I do not think so. If we continue this way, the future is bleak.

So what should be done?

Deficit budgeting should be arrested. People who are in govenrment know why there is a deficit budget. Every leakage should be blocked. Corruption should be stamped down or at least, reduced to the barest minimum. Of course corruption will fight back and they have a lot of money to fight back. That is why subsidy has not been removed because it is fighting back. The people in it are simply fighting back.

Unemployment rate in Nigeria is over 33 per cent while youth unemployment is 42.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2022.
What does this portend for this nation?

Danger! Recall that the National Bureau of Statistic,revealed that in the first quarters of 2022, the unemployment rate of Nigeria was 33.3 per cent; youth unemployment was 42.8 per cent; under-employment was 22.8 percent while youth under-employment was 21.00 per cent.

The country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder. When it blows up, it will consume so many people. I pray that it will not consume those of us who have not done anything wrong. This is because you can not expect people to be hungry forever. An unemployed person is not working, which means he has idle hands to plan negative things. It is already happening. That is why you have banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and other kinds of vices everywhere. They are now so bold that they enter worship centres, and even cause havoc. It is a very sad situation!

Unemployment has also resulted in human capital flight from Nigeria. Nigerians go abroad and take menial jobs. It is very sad. Professionals are also going abroad, even doctors. Last year, Saudi Arabia came and interviewed doctors in Nigeria; the place was flooded. Meanwhile, we have hospitals without professionals, and nurses are flying outside. There is even no equipment they will use to perform their professional functions.

What should be done to address this unemployment challenge?

We should make sure that the system is working. We should make sure that we have good infrastructure and that they are working. Once you get things in place, everybody will settle down and find something to do. Nigerians are extremely good at being creative, innovative and hard-working. Nigerians can bring the best in every situation. We need to help the youths.

Few weeks ago, there was a controversy about the actual quantity of PMS consumed daily in Nigeria.
The Comptroller-General of Customers, Col Hameed Ali (Retd) said, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) said while NMDPRA gave another figure. How should the controversy be resolved? Should there be a forensic audit of the actual quantity of PMS consumed daily?

It shows total misalignment among the three of them because they are all present at the point where these imports are brought in. It is not that it is done behind the other. They are all present there. they all sign the ticket. They also check. Even the Immigration check non-Nigerians coming in. So there is basically no reason for this misalignment. And if that is the case, they should all sit down and scrutinise their figures, collaborate and come up with the actual figure. We did it in the now defunct Departmentof Petroleum Resources. When we gave the exact figure or national reserve figure and NNPCL gave a different figure; we said that cannot happen.

If we are talking with the same oil companies and if NNPCL is in partnership with all the oil companies, our figures should be right. So where is the difference coming from? We all sat down at the then DPR and we looked at it. We came out with a solution on how we were going to get the figure right. One of the things that we did was to ensure that before we released the figure to the public, we compared our notes, and reconciled them so that we know where the differences could have come from. Now in this age, there is measurement. All the agencies are there to measure it. NNPCL is there, NMDPRA is there, Customs officials are there. The ticket that would be issued will be given to all of them. There is no basis for these differences in the figure. All they need to do is to properly reconcile the figures. They should sit down before the announcement to the public what they got and reconcile. But somebody will say since they are sitting down together, would they not cook the figures together?

No! Those things are already there. They are measurements. Those tickets are issued by measurement equipments. For instance, if two barrels pass through, the measuring equipment will record two barrels, and not more than that. So, I think they can do it. There is no need for us to start setting up another group of people to start probing it. I think they can come up with the correct figures themselves by just working together. The machines or the computers that are measuring them are accurate unless somebody adjusted them somewhere else. If they are not adjusted and the keys are being held by the NMDPRA, if they did not open it, it will never work.

With all the agricultural potential of this country, there is still food insecurity….

There will continue to be food insecurity as people can not go to the farms because they do not know whether they will come back alive. Those agricultural resources are there superficially. The land is there, the seedling is there and the animals for rearing are there.

We have been investing in human capital through the scholarship awards of our foundation, because children are the human capital of the future or even now. When you invest in human capital, it will permeate every other investment. These children that are in schools now will eventually grow up to do what we can not do.

“There is so much that one man can do but when you develop many people, that single thing that one person can do, who goes ahead to develop many people have multiplied by many folds what those people can do. When you also do that, you also have increased the capacity of that one man that started the whole investment. That is our intention: to be able to touch the future from the present and to be able to also develop the country by doing the right thing today. So it is just our modest way of saying: we have received so much from this country, let us give back to it.”

Many of our colleagues have either partially relocated outside the country or have actually relocated totally outside the country. But we are staying here to develop the country and development of the system starts with the development of the citizens within the system. That is simply what we are doing.

In the past, the foundation had given scholarships to a total of 813 beneficiaries comprising 522 pupils from primary and secondary schools and 291 students from tertiary institutions. We are happy with the testimonies we hear from the students. We are also grateful to God for them.

ASUU has spent over seven months, not going to school, fighting for the agreements they reached with the government and other issues. Has this not negatively affected human capital development in this country? How do you feel about it?

Sometimes when I think about it, I tend to wonder if the government is not doing it deliberately. If you have an agreement with somebody, you keep to the terms of the agreement and if for any reason you can not keep to the terms, you call the other party to the round table again. You explain that when we did this agreement this was the conditions but things have changed. Make it very clear to them. They are not fools, they will look at it dispassionately, and come up with a renegotiated agreement. I think the government should keep the agreement and where they can not do it, and let them call them back to the roundtable.

Let the other party, look at the reason that the government is giving, and try to see what they can do to resolve it amicable because, at the end of the day, they are not only the ones that are suffering, the children are suffering and people that would have finished their courses in four years will be spending many more years. That is not good at all. That is why many rich people are sending their children and wards outside the country even at a higher cost. If this thing is resolved and everything is going on well, people will leave their children here.

Actually some people have their children in private universities that are not affected by the ASUU strike. That is a pointer that it is not everybody that is running away but that some people are forced to take their children to other countries. You will also remember that this education tourism is affecting our forex as many people are taking their children or wards to other countries and are paying even higher.

When those children get there, many of them do not want to come back. We, therefore, lose human resources as a result of that. there is so much human capital flight as a result of medical tourism, and education tourism. There is also human resources or human capital flight due to those things.

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