President Muhammadu Buhari last week sparked public concerns when he returned to the Nigerian Senate on Thursday to seek approval to borrow additional $29.96 billion loans.
Buhari had sent the loan request initially to the 8th Senate in 2016, but it was rejected by the lawmakers.
When Mr President returned with the loan request last week, not a few Nigerians were rattled.
Are we helpless?
Buhari’s return as a civilian President in 2015 had seen a significant spike in volume and frequency of borrowing to shore up funds available for developmental purposes.
In March 2015, two months before he took office on May 29, the Debt Management Office (DMO) website showed that Nigeria owed a total of N12 trillion.
A month after taking the reins of power, the debt rose slightly to N12.1 trillion ($63.8 billion). Two years later, specifically by the end of June 2018, the debt got almost doubled at N22.4 trillion ($73.2 billion).
As of March 2019, the first quarter of the year, DMO report placed the country’s debt profile to have risen to N24.947 trillion ($81.27 billion).
The public outcry, therefore, may not have been out of order considering that a fresh $29.96 billion loan might push the country’s debt profile to above $100 billion.
Borrowing for what?
In its report on Nigeria’s national debt in 2017, DMO had said in justification for government borrowings, “While Nigeria’s total public debt stock is relatively low vis-à-vis the country’s GDP, the increased funding requirements needed to sustain the economic recovery, address the infrastructural deficit, as well as meet budget financing requirements, would entail enormous funding resources, including borrowing.”
While many Nigerians are not against borrowing, however, speculations remain rife that fiscal indiscipline on the part of drivers of the economy may see much of the income diverted to salaries and overheads.
The debt trap
The challenge with borrowing, some analysts argue, is that the debts cannot and should not be allowed to accumulate ceaselessly, They say, there is a need to have a check on it.
Not acting right, they say, could see the country walking into a debt trap that would enslave its present and future generations.
The question then remains, when would, (and should) President Buhari stop borrowing?
Four other things
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also sparked some conversation last week as he put in kind words for his principal, Buhari, describing him as an embodiment of religious tolerance.
According to Professor Osinbajo, “Every Sunday, my family and over 100 Christians attend service in the Chapel at the Villa.
“The Chapel is located in the premises of the President and his family. It is located a few seconds away from the First Lady’s kitchen. Sometimes when I see the President on a Sunday morning, he asks me whether the service is over already or I am escaping from the service!
“That is the sort of the tolerance that we need in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and it is the duty of leaders to show that sort of example.”
Osinbajo, who stated this at a Muslim event, then called on Nigerians to emulate the president and be religious tolerance.
The Vice President’s comments has since drawn some flaks with many asking if, indeed, Buhari had a choice about location of the chapel as it had come as part of Aso Rock’s original design. Drawn by by this fact, they argue that Osinbajo’s seeming hypothesis is a weak correlation, therefore, between allowing such worship centre close by and a measure of religious tolerance.
The First Lady, Aisha Buhari, known for her outspokenness, once again called out Nigerian leaders and urged them to sit up and do what citizens expect of them because “things were getting completely out of hand”.
Aisha, who spoke at the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) General Assembly and National Executive Council (NEC) meeting had said, “We should either fasten our seatbelts and do the needful or we will all regret it very soon because at the rate things are going, things are getting completely out of hand. The VP (Yemi Osinbajo) is here, some ministers are here, they are supposed to do justice to the situation.
“People cannot afford potable water in this country while we have governors. Since this is the highest decision-making body of Islamic affairs, for those that are listening we should fear God, and we should know that one day, we will return to God and account for our deeds here on earth.”
Different media platforms in their reports made the governors appear as the weeping boys in Aisha’s outburst. But was Aisha only referring to governors as ‘failures’?
No doubt, Aisha shook the table violently. However, her harsh words speak to everyone, and anyone, in the corridors of power who directly, or otherwise, has been responsible in wrecking the Nigerian state.
Adesina’s faux pas
Interestingly, Nigerians last week were told by Mr President’s special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, that Buhari doesn’t want anything from Nigeria but came to give everything.
Adesina, who spoke at an event in Abuja, said Buhari’s concern remained how to make Nigeria greater and not what he would get from the country.
The question on the lips of many, and for which they demand an answer from Adesina, is whether Buhari has now become the Almighty that gives everything for nothing?
The daughter of President Buhari, Zahra Indimi, got in the centre of the ring too. Her position on the controversial social media bill was another talking point for Nigerians.
Like her mother, Aisha, who also last week backed the bill seeking to regulate social the media; Zahra said it was necessary that that media space got regulated.
She said, “2015 was when I knew what bullying was. It started with my photos going viral. I was actually having a yoga class and I was sweating but people were busy sending my pictures up and down. People used it for their gain during the campaign.
“But the issue changed the way people looked at my dad because they didn’t know that we were educated, we could speak English, and we could dress. So it changed a few things for good. It showed another light. People then understood that in the North not everybody is illiterate.
“The 2015 elections went well. After 100 days, then the blow started coming. ‘Zahra your father did this… Zahra, your father did that. But seriously, am I in the office with him? Do I take any vital decision?
“Whatever it (the bill) is, you need to understand and know the implication of the bill. So that’s what we need to do as young people.
“We need to research more, understand what is going on instead of just making silly comments now and then and blaming people for no reason. So I am in support of regulations, but fair regulations.”
While Zahra fumes, Nigerians are also querying the real motive for regulation of the social media space, with many expressing fears over a descent into human rights abuses and curtailing of free speech as enshrined in the constitution.