By Rotimi Fasan
Nigeria appears to be drowning in debt. This view is fast turning into a consensus among Nigerians.
The fact that the projected N6.258trn 2022 budget is to be financed with borrowed money is a pointer to what rough patch we are in.
I see the issue from the angle or analogy of a householder who plans to feed and generally run their household with borrowings.
Which parent, indeed, worthy of that name boldly plans their family’s future entirely on other people’s money.
It’s that stark. Although a country is not an individual and can be expected to take loans.
Even the wealthiest individuals survive on loans-at least their businesses do.
But what is the point of staking one’s or a country’s future plans entirely on loans that are often laced with stiff conditions?
Where is the wisdom in that except to say it’s a sure sign of a serious malaise?
There are Nigerians who think that the country’s debt profile is a cuff on the wrists of future generations of the country’s youth, who will remain permanently shackled to creditor nations and organisations that are only waiting on the side line to take over projects their loans helped to finance.
There are even fears in some quarters that the country may be permanently damaged and may never recover from the loss of sovereignty that such debts may bring on it, unless it disavows its debt or its creditors choose to forgive repayment of the debts.
But no matter what anybody says the Muhammadu Buhari-led government believes there is nothing to worry about.
The government appears to relish the very idea of taking more and more loans. It seems to be in possession of some knowledge that the rest of the country knows nothing about.
At the crossroads of our economic journey today, who knows who or what is right?
Everything seems out of joint but the government boasts it borrowed its way out of the recession the country was recently plunged into as a result of the dip in the price of oil and ancillary issues.
This situation was thereafter exacerbated by COVID-19.
As far as this debt issue is concerned the Buhari administration is headed in the opposite direction that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration travelled.
While Obasanjo was committed to paying what Nigeria owed western countries and the Bretton Wood institutions and thereafter stayed off debt, the Buhari government is convinced that its salvation, Nigeria’s survival, lies only in more borrowings.
And so, it takes loans upon loans and is telling whoever cares to hear that the 2022 budget will be financed essentially through loans.
The more Nigerians worry about the frequency with which the government resorts to loans as a way of running the economy, the more it digs in, insisting loans are the only way to execute the smallest task of a responsible government.
There is often a sense of conviction, almost a desperation on the side of the government, that without the loans no progress could ever be made.
Abuja avers it is investing in infrastructure by taking these loans and appears perched on a moral and intellectual high ground that conveys the impression that the rest of Nigerians are economic illiterates who know next to nothing about the importance of loans to a growing, apparently decrepit economy like Nigeria’s, in need of infrastructure.
The government is never tired of pointing to its achievement in the building of infrastructure.
While Nigerians are ready to cut the government some slack, conceding that the government has done well in some areas, this is due largely to the personal drive of two ministers among many whose relevance in government is known only to the president who appointed them in the first place.
Babatunde Raji Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi, respectively of the Works and Transport ministries, have a few major projects they can point to as part of their achievement but which this government would say were only made possible through loans acquired over time.
There are also new road networks around the country including the Second Niger Bridge and the railway projects scattered in different parts of the country.
These two ministers and the projects they have executed on behalf of the present government have given the government some bragging rights as to what loans could achieve.
But these projects are about the only things Nigerians could see as an achievement of sorts.
Otherwise, the situation staring them in the face is the soaring rate of inflation and a scarcity of foreign exchange worsened by the decreasing value of the Nigerian currency.
The naira today is at an all-time low, exchanging for a dollar at between N410 and N570 in the official and parallel markets respectively.
The value of the naira relative to the dollar or pound has never been this bad.
Nigerians can swear that nobody including the best economists of the present government can tell the direction the country is headed economically, judging by the exchange rate metric.
The fact of this uncommon inflationary trend is about the only thing that defines the Buhari administration.
The government is associated with suffering, the scarcity of goods and services or their affordability in reasonable terms.
Nigerians remember with nostalgia that a bag of 50kg rice was N5,800 at the tail end of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
That same bag of rice now goes for about N30, 000. While so much has been said and written in official quarters about Nigerian-made rice, its availability does not appear to have had any effect on the price of imported rice.
Abuja boasts Nigeria produces enough rice to meets its need but not many people appear to be eating Nigerian-grown rice. As with rice, so it is with other commodities that are staple products of Nigerian homes.
The economy is in a flux and speculations have replaced sound fiscal theories. These are times that remind one of the past, of a similar time under the Ibrahim Babangida regime.
After what looked like interminable experiments with the naira and economic policies that pauperised Nigerians, General Babangida openly confessed to his ignorance of the logic that had sustained the economy.
Not so the Central Bank under Godwin Emefiele or the All Progressives Congress-led administration of Muhammadu Buhari. They would not own up to any error.
For them there is only one answer, an all-purpose cure to the numerous troubles of the economy, symbolised by the battered state of the naira – loans.
While Abuja believes the naira is artificially undervalued, it is not ready to face the consequences of devaluation.
As Nigeria remains an import-dependent economy, one wonders where the scarce foreign exchange that the government sorely needs even as it loses the little it has through round-tripping and other corrupt activities would come from.