STAR PLEA: "One in five Africans live in Nigeria - and need aid" - Okonjo-Iweala
One in five Africans live in Nigeria - and need aid
Monday January 31, 2005
This is a pivotal year for Africa; Britain has set up a Commission for Africa; the Make Poverty History coalition is campaigning for the poor in my continent and around the world; and more far-reaching debt cancellation is once again on the table as the G8 group of rich industrialised countries meets in London this weekend. Given that one in five Africans is Nigerian, it would be a travesty if Nigeria were left out in the cold.
Nigeria desperately needs debt cancellation and a new start. But we are hobbled by misconceptions, which are understandable given past decades of misrule and instability. People think that because Nigeria has oil, it is a rich country, and that debt cancellation would be wasted because the money would disappear into a black hole of corruption. I want to persuade you otherwise.
Nigeria is invariably described as oil rich. Yes, Nigeria has oil but it is not rich. The money earned is spread across a population of nearly 130 million people; our revenues are equivalent to about 50 cents a day for each Nigerian. To put that in perspective, it is roughly equivalent to Cameroon, which is defined as heavily indebted and deserving of debt cancellation.
The fact is that Nigeria is very poor. Seventy-four million Nigerians live on $1 a day or less. Nigeria's income per head per year is $300, compared with an average of $450 in "low income countries"; life expectancy at birth is 47 years, compared with 58. About the world, 10 million children die before the age of five; one million of them are Nigerian.
Yet Nigeria gets the least aid of any sub-Saharan country, at about $2 per capita, compared with the average of $28 in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, because of large debt service bills, a net $12 per capita goes out to developing countries.
Nigeria owes $34bn, much of it in penalties and compound interest imposed on debts that were not paid by the military dictatorships of the 1980s and early 1990s. We make annual debt repayments of more than $1.7bn, three times our education budget and nine times our health budget. We have every intention of continuing to fulfil obligations to creditors but this debt is unsustainable. Nigeria cannot meet the Millennium Development Goals without debt cancellation.
The simple fact of being poor will not be enough to make our case. Nigeria has to convince the world that it is capable of using the resources released by debt cancellation wisely. We have already put tracking of poverty reduction expenditure into the budget.
Nigeria is not an easy country to manage. It is almost the size of western Europe, its 130 million people live in 36 fiercely independent states and speak 374 different languages.
But it has successfully conducted two democratic elections since 1998 and President Obasanjo has put economic reform and battling corruption and vested interests at the heart of his programme. Internet scam criminals have been arrested and jailed and their funds confiscated; senior political figures and government officials have been dismissed and will face prosecution if investigations reveal corruption. Across government, we have cleaned up our act, embedding accountability and transparency.
A highly professional debt management office was put in place to reopen a dialogue with creditors and ensure debt repayments are smoothly made. The president is pushing through fiscal responsibility legislation to entrench budget discipline.
In 2004, with an assumed oil price of $25 a barrel, our budget deficit was about 2% of GDP, much lower than deficits in Germany, France, Britain and the United States. Taking into account additional oil revenues because of higher real prices, we actually ran a surplus. The extra revenues have been earmarked for investment in education, health and infrastructure and against a future drop in prices and revenues.
Changes have not been popular with vested interests and there is a real fear that without the support of international creditors, disillusion and resistance will overwhelm our dedication to democracy, to rooting out corruption and to reform. We desperately need to invest more in public services. We are asking for debt cancellation to help us succeed.
· Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the finance minister of Nigeria
Pled like a true "mother" that she is, "un cris de couer" ! The only problem is that the "father" (whoever that metaphorically is) is oftentimes profligate, using family money to drink beer, smoke cigarettes, give away cattle, and chase other women....
Nigeria has a good chance of significant debt reduction or even outright cancellation, particularly under the ongoing Gordon/Blair sympathy crusade, but it must truly curb corruption at home (not just talk about it and set up all kinds of commissions) and stop acting too big abroad. Both of those send conflicting signals about Nigeria indeed being a "poor country."
We are watching....