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Issues in Africa’s Rising Debt

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Debt is part of human life and existence. Debt is also as old as man and so are defaulters.

Most of the time, debt is not a major problem, but sometimes it can become catastrophic.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) database, there is only one country in the world that is debt-free.

That country is Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of greater China.

Seven of the world’s big economies rank among the 20 countries with the highest external debts.

These are: United States (28.9 trillion dollars), Russia (280.1 billion dollars), United Kingdom (2 trillion pounds), France (3 trillion dollars), Germany (5.
9 trillion euros), Japan (12.2 trillion dollars) and China (7 trillion dollars).

African countries are not left out. Many of them are collecting loans from the World Bank, the IMF, China and other countries of the world to fund various development projects, but the trend has become a source of great concern among analysts.

The concern among the analysts is borne out of the increasing indebtedness of many countries in the continent.

They are quick to raise questions about the implications of this huge debt on the lives of Africans and future generations.

According to the Economic Times, Africa’s debt to China exceeded 140 billion dollars as at September 2021.

Meanwhile, the IMF estimates that additional financing of up to 285 billion dollars would be needed from 2021 to 2025 by African countries to step up their spending response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign affairs experts say that while China’s role in global trade is highly publicised and politically polarising, its growing influence in international finance has remained more obscure, mostly due to lack of data.

Over the past two decades, China has become a major global lender, with outstanding claims now exceeding more than five per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to the analysts, research, based on a comprehensive new data set, shows that China has extended more loans to developing countries than previously known.

This systematic underreporting of Chinese loans has created a “hidden debt” problem – meaning that debtor countries and international institutions alike do not have a complete picture of how much countries around the world owe to China and under which conditions.

In total, the Chinese state and its subsidiaries have lent about 1.5 trillion dollars in direct loans and trade credits to more than 150 countries around the world.

This has turned China into the world’s largest official creditor – surpassing traditional, official lenders such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or all creditor governments of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) combined.

According to the IMF, more than 20 low-income African countries are in debt distress or at risk of debt distress between September and December 2021.

The fund identified Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe as some of the countries that have had long track records of development distress and have had to continue to borrow and invest.

The debt of low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa increased to a record 702 billion dollars in 2020, according to a new World Bank report released on Oct. 11, 2021.

This is the region’s highest debt in a decade.

In 2010, sub-Saharan Africa’s debt stood at around 305 billion dollars.

According to informed sources, since 2010, Chinese financial institutions have funded an average of 70 projects every year in Africa with an average value of 180 million dollars.

The resource guarantee infrastructure financing has been focused on minerals and hydrocarbon-rich African states including Zambia (copper), Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Algeria, Mozambique, Egypt, Sudan (oil & gas), South Africa and Tanzania (gold).

China currently is a leading bilateral lender in 32 African countries and the top lender to the continent as a whole.

In 2020, the African countries with the largest Chinese debt were Angola (25 billion dollars), Ethiopia (13.5 billion dollars), Zambia (7.4 billion dollars), the Republic of the Congo (7.3 billion dollars) and Sudan (6.4 billion dollars).

As at 2021, the total external public debt in West Africa amounted to around 164 billion U.S. dollars.

Nigeria and Ghana recorded the highest levels of debt in the region, at approximately 79.54 billion dollars and 21.91 billion dollars, respectively.

But the debts have been triggering repayment crisis. China owns around 72 per cent of Kenya’s external debt which stands at 50 billion dollars.

Over the next few years, Kenya is expected to pay 60 billion dollars to the China Exim Bank alone, sources informed.

Mombasa port could be lost if Kenya defaults on the loan re-payment, according to Kenya’s own auditor general.

The National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani, denied that Kenya had offered the strategic national asset as collateral for the 3.2-billion-dollar loan sourced from the Export Import Bank of China (Exim China) to finance its Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project.

Although he maintained that the government was servicing the SGR loans, concerns are mounting that runaway public debt could see Kenya default on its loan obligations, a risk that could expose the port to seizure by China.

In a report to parliament, the auditor general said that the assets of Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) were used as collateral for the SGR loans.

In 2015, it was reported that there was widespread discontent in Angola because of oil repayment loans from China, leaving Angola with little crude oil to export.

The Ugandan government also had to postpone the construction of ‘Kampala-Entebee expressway after the political opposition raised concerns over the country’s rising debt profile.

In Djibouti, China has provided nearly 1.4 billion dollars which is 75 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to reports.

Between 2010 and 2015, Nigeria’s debt to China grew by 136 per cent from 1.4 billion to 3.3 billion dollars and the country had to spend 195 million dollars in 2020 as debt repayment to China.

Meanwhile, Credit rating agency, Agusto&Co, in its Economic Newsletter January 2022 edition said that Nigeria’s foreign debt could rise from about N15 trillion to N18 trillion if the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) devalued the naira at about 20 per cent.

The firm added that Nigeria has assumed a hawkish foreign exchange policy stance since 2015 and this has been elevated from 2020 to date.

“We project foreign debt could rise from about N15 trillion to N18 trillion if the CBN devalues at about 20 per cent.

“However, we note that the Federal Government’s borrowing stance creates a disincentive to review this hawkish foreign exchange policy stance,’’ the firm said.

Today in Nigeria, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organisation is demanding probe into the lending practices in the country and calling for a review of ‘sovereign guarantee clause’ in loan agreements with China.

Again, Nigeria has to repay 400 million dollars on a loan provided by China for the ‘Nigerian National Information and Communications Technology Infrastructure Phase – II Project,’ signed in 2018.

Former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Loans, Sen. Shehu Sani said loans were indispensable in the  21st century economic development but “we should only borrow when it is necessary.

“It is impossible to say you want to develop your country without borrowing, but as a developing country, there is a need to prioritise borrowing.

“It was just a decade and a half ago that Obasanjo’s administration worked hard and gracefully freed Nigeria from the burden of debt and today, we have moved from zero debt to where we are today.

“Economic experts will always argue that we are within the threshold of a safety net, whereby we can still borrow, because we can pay.

“But if you continue to borrow there will be a time when you will not be able to pay.

“This is what is happening to Argentina; this is what is happening to Lebanon. We should borrow only when it is absolutely necessary.

“You want to borrow to build an airport, when you know very well that you can devise a mechanism, where the private sector can build an airport and you concession it to them and collect royalties from them later?

“You want to borrow to build a dam. But have you explored the possibility of foreign or local investors building a dam for electricity or for agricultural purposes and you go in to enter into a partnership with them?

“That is the question, we have what is called debt management Act, where conditions for borrowing are clearly stipulated.

“Before you borrow, we first want to know how much do you want to borrow. What you want to use the loan for, and what are your debt servicing plans?

“If you are heavily indebted and if you still want to borrow, you are strangulating the economy, the state, or the country?,’’ Shehu said.

He added: “Of less concern is the borrowing from China, it is easier to borrow from China than to borrow from the rest because when China lends you money, they will simply be expecting you to pay back.

“But when western institutions are to lend you money, they have to check your finances, financial discipline, stability of your government, impact of the project you are borrowing \for on the community.

“Sometimes they look into your human rights record. But ask yourself, how long will it take to service such loans and at what costs? Lebanon today is strangulated because of a 100-million-dollar loan it took.

Meanwhile, DMO’s Director-General, Mrs Patience Oniha has faulted the IMF report and a similar one by foremost Pan-African Credit Rating Agency, Agusto & Co.

She said that both reports failed to consider the challenges experienced by Nigeria in recent times.

“There were challenges such as two recessions, sharp drop in revenues and security challenges.

“Even more, the analyses do not acknowledge the improvements in infrastructure which have been achieved through borrowing, as well as, the strong measures by the government to boost revenues,” she said.

She reiterated the fact that the Federal Government was already implementing policies towards increasing revenues and developing infrastructure through Public Private Partnership arrangements, both of which will improve debt sustainability.

She noted that the Federal Government had active and regular engagements with the IMF on borrowing and debt management.

The DMO explained that the country’s total debt of 92.9 billion dollars, and a debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio of 35.51 per cent were within sustainable limits.

The DMO clarified that Nigeria’s loans from China stood at 3.59 billion dollars (or 9.4 per cent) of the country’s total foreign debt stock.

It also clarified that the loans were largely concessional, as no national asset was tagged as collateral.

She explained that before foreign loans were contracted, very sensitive steps were taken by multiple institutions of government to ensure that they were beneficial to the nation.

“Before any foreign loan is contracted, including the issuance of Eurobond, they are approved by the Federal Executive Council and thereafter, the National Assembly.

“An important and extremely critical step is that the loan agreements are approved by the Federal Ministry of Justice.

“An opinion is issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice before the agreements are signed.

“Several measures which operate seamlessly have been put in place to ensure that data on debt are available and that debt is serviced as at when due. Provisions are made explicitly for debt service in the annual budgets,’’ she said.

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has rejected allegations that Beijing was luring African countries into debt traps by offering them massive loans, dismissing the idea as a “narrative” pushed by opponents to poverty reduction.

Wang who spoke ahead of tour of Beijing funded projects in Kenya in January, said China’s considerable lending to Africa was “mutually benefiting” and not a strategy to extract diplomatic and commercial concessions.

“That is simply not a fact. It is speculation being played out by some with ulterior motives,” he told reporters in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.

“This is a narrative that has been created by those who do not want to see development in Africa.

“If there is any trap, it is about poverty and underdevelopment,” the minister who spoke through an interpreter stressed.

Available records showed that at least 18 African countries have been re-negotiating their debts, while 12 others are in talks with China for restricting an approximate 28-billion-dollar loans.

Emmanuel Yashim

News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

NEWS

Benue First Class Chief, Abu King Shuluwa Dies at 79

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From Attah Ede, Makurdi

The Tiv Area  Traditional Council has announced the passage of a first  class traditional ruler, Tor Sankera, Chief Abu King Shuluwa. He died Tuesday at the age of 79 at the Federal Medical Centre  where he was receiving medical attention.

Secretary to Tiv Traditional Council, Shinyi Tyozua in a statement said the departed monarch will be buried February 10 in Katsina-Ala

Shuluwa was Chairman of the Sankera Traditional Council, which comprises Katsina-Ala, Ukum and Logo LGAs as well as member of the Benue Council of Traditional Rulers.

Before his ascendancy to the throne, Shuluwa had a fulfilled career in the public service and politics of Benue state.

He was educated at the famous Government College Katsina-Ala and Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna after which he proceeded to the Atlanta University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA where he obtained M.Sc in Social Works.

He was also at  the London School of Economics and University College Swansea, Wales, UK for further studies in the course of his civl service career with the Benue state government.

While in the service of Benue state, he was appointed to numerous positions including Chairman, Katsina-Ala LGA, Commissioner for Sports, Youths, Arts and Culture and  Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

 In 1999, he was appointed by President Olusegun Obasanjo as  National Commissioner of Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission(RMAFC), a position he held for one term of four years.

The late Shuluwa had an equally engaging  career in  politics as he  played active roles in the formation of the defunct Social Democratic Party(SDP) in the aborted third republic and was a frontline governorship aspirant of the party in Benue state.

Although he failed to clinch the governorship ticket,  he became the party’s sole administrator in 1991 and successfully led it s campaign to victory at the polls to return the candidate, the late Rev Fr Moses Adasu as Governor.

He was on the governorship bloc again in the 1999 and 2007 election circles on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, when he again vied for the governorship position without success.

He was an influential politician and political strategist, whose capacity to electrify the crowd at campaign rallies was unmatched by his peers. He played various other roles in the politics of Benue state and the nation at large.

When the Sankera First Class Chieftaincy stool was created in 2019, he became the first occupant of the revered stool, the position he occupied until his demise.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs Elizabeth Shuluwa, a retired Permanent Secretary and former Commissioner of Agriculture in Benue State, children and grand children.

Th

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NBS and the Task of Delivering Reliable National Data

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By Okeoghene Akubuike

The role of data in the national development of a nation cannot be overemphasised, it is the bedrock on which policies that have a meaningful impact are developed and sustained

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) is the agency responsible for the gathering and management of official statistics for Nigeria.

It is the authoritative source and custodian of official statistics in Nigeria.

The NBS meant to coordinate statistical operations of National Statistical System in the production of official statistics in all the Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), State Statistical Agencies, and Local Government Councils.

The NBS responded to this in various ways, including its monthly and periodic release of socio-economic statistical data on all aspects of development in Nigeria.

However, on many occasions stakeholders have disagreed with NBS.

In 2021, then Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige disputed the unemployment data in the country as released by NBS, questioning the agency’s data collation methodology.

The Labour Force Statistics report published by the agency had shown that the unemployment rate jumped from 27.1% in Q2 2020 to 33.3% in Q4 2020.

“We have a virtual meeting of the National Economic Advisory Council with the World Bank to look at Nigeria’s modalities for employment statistics data collection.

“There has been a little confusion there as to the accuracy of data generated by the NBS.

“So, we want to align everything tomorrow. The World Bank says the NBS methodology doesn’t conform with the global standard, especially the ILO format of arriving at such Employment Index.’’, he said.

He spoke while receiving the leadership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM) in his office.

As part of its efforts to do things better, NBS recently held a National Stakeholders’ Workshop on the Production of National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) Phase III 2024-2028 in Abuja and Uyo.

The objective of the workshop is to assess the National Statistical System (NSS) at the national and sub-national level, harness inputs and proffer recommendations for the development of NSDS.

It was held in collaboration with the World Bank under the Fiscal Governance and Institutions Project (FGIP)

The NSDS is a strategic document for the development and management of statistics.

The Statistician-General of the Federation, Mr Adeyemi Adeniran, at the workshop promised to build a stronger and more vibrant statistical system that would ensure the economic development of the country.

He said that it was crucial to forge a robust strategy to guide the growth and development of the system that would be responsible for producing the data that the country would depend on.

Adeniran who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the NBS said the 2024-2028 NSDS would serve as a guiding light to steer the country towards a modernised and transformed statistical system.

“Statistics, often hailed as the ‘silent language of governance,’ form the bedrock of an informed and thriving society. They guide policy formulation, resource allocation, and progress evaluation.

“Let us recognise that statistics go beyond mere numbers; they articulate the narrative of the situation in society, inform decisions, policies, and programmes, and pave the way for a brighter future.

“The accuracy and quality of our statistics are paramount. We must continuously strive for excellence in data collection, analysis, and dissemination to maintain the trust and confidence of our data users and policymakers.

“We will continue to work together to build a stronger and more vibrant statistical system that is capable and well-resourced to produce and facilitate the use of data in our progress toward sustainable development“, he said.

The Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Sen. Abubakar Bagudu, said the new NSDS would bridge existing gaps and challenges in the statistical system, as he called for a robust, and inclusive national statistical system in Nigeria.

“Over the years, the NSDS has played an instrumental role in enhancing the quality, relevance, and accessibility of statistical data in Nigeria.

“It has also provided the necessary guidance for the systematic and coordinated development of statistical activities in our great nation.”

“It is our collective endeavour to ensure that the new NSDS not only addresses the strategic issues of the past five years but also anticipates and adapts to the evolving statistical landscape.”

He said that statistics would play a vital role in assessing the implementation of the Federal Government’s policies and projects.

“Hence, strengthening the statistical system is paramount to evaluating the current position and subsequent progress of the current administration”, he said.

Biyi Fafunmi, NBS’s Director, ICT, said to effectively review the last NSDS and facilitate the development of an inclusive new one, the bureau had engaged sets of consultants.

Sen. Yahaya Abdullahi, Chairman, Senate Committee on National Planning and Economic Affairs, called on the Statistician-General to deploy methodologies in data gathering and processing.

The private sector is crucial in data gathering, processing and usage and Mr Dakuku Peterside, urged NBS to ensure that its data are reliable.

Dakuku Peterside, former Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency said `statistics is the compass that guides us in the labyrinth of national planning and development`.

“The NSDS is not just necessary but crucial, as a well-developed statistical system is essential for effective governance. It empowers policymakers with accurate and up-to-date information to make informed decisions.”

Peterside called on the NBS to pay attention to climate change in the development of the new strategy, saying that climate change has an impact in almost every sector such as health, transportation, and agriculture.

Utz Pape, the Lead Economist and Lead Poverty Team at the World Bank said it was important to look at the national statistical system in an integrated way.

According to him, it is important not to stop at the federal level but move vertically to the state level to have an integrated statistical system.

“This is why it is really important to not just think at the federal level but think about the states and how this can become an inclusive and integrated national statistical system based on data”, he said.

Prof. Olusanya Olubusoye, a professor of economics, University of Ibadan, in an inaugural lecture delivered at the University of Ibadan, had canvassed that to attain genuine national development and progress, political leaders must harness the power of statistics.

In his lecture titled “From Data to Wonders: Unlocking the Extraordinary Powers of Statistics”, Olubusoye described statistics as the golden thread that weaves through the fabric of knowledge, progress, and innovation.

The role of data and statistics in national development cannot be overemphasized. The NBS has a pivotal role to play in the availability of reliable data of every aspect of the nation.

Stakeholders agree that the NBS can achieve this through an improved, robust, inclusive, well-developed national strategy which would help build a stronger and reliable statistical system. (NANFeatures)

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Oil and Gas: What Lessons for Nigeria from Russia?

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With over 200 trillion cubic feet (tcf) Nigeria has the largest gas reserves in Africa. It is ranked 9th globally.

Given our high dependence on oil and gas for industrial and domestic energy the global transition from carbon fuel to sustainable energy sources poses a significant threat to Nigeria’s economy.

Most African countries, including Nigeria, are still facing energy availability problems as their energy consumption is several times below the world’s average.

Experts estimate that Africa will account for over 60 per cent of global population growth by 2050.

In view of urbanisation experts forecast that Africa will experience significant economic growth to be accompanied by two-fold increase in natural gas demand.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) exporter lacks access to energy and since gas is the energy transition fuel, it is only logical that its development, availability and utilisation be enhanced.

Natural gas offers effective solutions to major areas of activities causing air pollution, including power generation, transport and household applications.

It can replace coal in power generation and oil products in transport; as for household applications, natural gas substitute Biomass (firewood) which according to experts account for up to 45 per cent of Africa’s energy mix

Apart from being used for cooking, transportation (in vehicles), heating and powering machines, industries among others, the gas is also a valuable raw material for the production of fertilisers.

A trip to Russia by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on the invitation of its state-owned, Gazprom Energy Company revealed that partnering and emulating Russian Gas Projects and Gazprom’s competencies along the entire value chain of gas business is paramount for Nigeria’s gas development.

Russia has the largest proven natural gas reserves in the world, worth 47.8 trillion standard cubic meters. Iran and Qatar follow, with more than 30 and 20 trillion cubic meters.

Gazprom, its state-owned energy corporation, established in 1971 with sales of over 120 billion dollars is ranked as the largest natural gas company in the world and the largest company in Russia by revenue.

NAN discovered that the company operates many active oil, gas and condensate fields with cluster of producing gas wells, comprehensive gas treatment unit, booster compressor station, and transportation and power infrastructure.

Gazprom is the main supplier of natural gas to the country and to other countries. Under its Gas Infrastructure Expansion and Unified Gas Supply System, gas is supplied to millions of households and public utility enterprises.

The Russian government is also committed to its All-Russia Gasification Programme which started in 1960 and had promoted clean energy and energy security till date, according to Mr Buzin Vyacheslav, Diretor-General, JSC, Gazprom Distribution.

Vyacheslav said the total length of Gazprom’s Gas Distribution Networks transmitting gas to end consumers was more than 800,000 kilometres.

“To make clean energy widely available to Russians, Gazprom is actively bringing gas to cities and villages, by building gas pipelines stretching from major gas trunk lines to the land plots of consumers.

“Gas infrastructure expansion is the most ambitious socially significant project of Gazprom that helps improve the living standards of people and the main benefits of pipeline natural gas are convenience of use, eco-friendliness –reliability and cost efficiency.

“Uninterrupted delivery and safety are the main principles of Gazprom as regards gas supplies, both construction and operation of gas infrastructure facilities are performed in compliance with stringent requirements.

“Pipeline natural gas is the cheapest energy source available in Russia today. For instance, gas prices for the population are regulated by the government which makes them as affordable for households as possible“, he said .

According to Vyacheslav, gas infrastructure expansion is a powerful driving force behind the development of regional economies.

“Owing to the access to pipeline gas, availability, larger tax payments; growth of employment and increase of living standards and better environmental conditions are achieved,’’ Vyacheslav told NAN.

He also said gas infrastructure is being expanded extensively across Russia, adding that by 2030, gas networks will be present in all places of Russia where it is technically possible.

Vyacheslav said for Nigeria to achieve gasification, technical and technological designs are involved to ascertain the cost.

He said it would also involve geological survey to identify rocky areas which might not be penetrated hence other options could be applied.

The energy company had expressed readiness to partner African countries, including Nigeria on gas technology, infrastructure and development, according to Dobycha Nadym, Mr Dimitry Stratov, its Deputy-Director General, Prospective and Development.

Prof. Stanley Onwukwe, an Oil and Gas Expert, said it was unfortunate that Nigeria had the resources and projects like the National Gas Development Strategy, Trans Sahara Gas Pipeline Project among others which were yet to be fully harnessed.

Onwukwe said Russia was proactive and had supplies gas to almost all the western world.

Onwukwe, a professor in the department of  petroleum engineering, Federal University of Technology Owerri, said there were blueprints established for gas developmental projects to thrive in the country but lack of political will hampered such projects.

“Nigeria has Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) already being used in Benin, most cars in the state are running on CNG.

“Initially the conversion of vehicles was free but they later started collecting almost a million naira which put people off.

“Such should be replicated nationwide while CNG refill stations should be established in various places for refilling but no such thing.

“The problem is not to have your vehicle’s engine converted for natural gas use but to see where to refill if you are on transit.

“It is a global village; just that the government does not have will power to implement such developmental projects after contract award,’’ he said.

He said the facility including gas base infrastructure for industries were necessary for distribution of gas but required proper investment and finance.

Dr Chijioke Ekechukwu, an economist said it would take a strong political will and implementable policies for Nigeria to attain such feat as Russia including having all our vehicles converted to CNG.

According to Ekechukwu, piping gas to homes is also possible if the supply is guaranteed.

He said it would be win-win to have policies in place towards achieving this, especially the fact that we have an abundance of gas.

“Only recently, the Nigerian government inaugurated a committee to convert cars and buses from petrol and diesel to CNG engine that can be used by these vehicles.

“We have an abundance of this gas, which is flared and wasted. Gas consumption both at home and by vehicles is climate friendly and should be encouraged,’’ said.

Also speaking, Mr Yusha’u Aliyu said Russia and EU have an excellent working policy on energy production and consumption, saying that technological advances also added value to their efforts.

“Gas is cost effective and environmental friendly. We have to develop a strategy and culture of commitment and efficiency to thrive,’’ he said. (NANFeatures)

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