The Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum, Salihu Lukman, says that despite all the outrage over the mounting external borrowings, President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been more prudent than all the PDP governments between 1999 and 2015.
Lukman in an opinion article entitled ‘Nigeria’s Debt and Struggle for New Nigeria’ argued that everything considered, all the indices of Nigeria’s fiscal management between 1999 and 2020 indicate more prudence under the six years of President Buhari than during the eight years of former President Obasanjo, notwithstanding the claims of cancelling Nigerian debts then.
He said Nigeria’s borrowing, both with reference to debt/GDP and debt/revenue ratio is still below the permissible economic threshold of below 60 percent and 46 percent respectively.
“By the time the analysis is expanded to cover specific issues of projects executed, under the current administration of President Buhari, Nigerians would need help from former President Obasanjo, former President Goodluck, all PDP leaders and their supporters to highlight what specifically they were able to give Nigerians in terms of projects executed in return for their ‘prudent’ management of the national economy during their sixteen years tenure,” he contended.
Lukman said much of the debate about Nigeria’s debt has been based on the absolute value of the amount Nigeria owes, ignoring the variables of both GDP and revenue.
Though he admitted that some of these concerns expressed are legitimate, especially in relation to problems of exchange rate, which has further increased Nigeria’s debt burden, in terms of looking at other critical variables such as revenue profile and even performance of the economy, the debate has been excessively politicised.
He contended that even with the rising debt profile of the Buhari administration, the ability of Nigeria to pay back its debts is not lower than it was under former President Jonathan.
According to him, President Buhari is implementing one of the most ambitious National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) in the country since independence.
Under the programme, with the goal of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, he said millions of poor Nigerians are benefiting from these initiatives.
“One of the components of the programme, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), N36.9 billion in interest-free loans of between N50,000 to N350,000 has been disbursed to more than 2.3 million Nigerians.
“Under another component of the Programme Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, 9.9 million primary 1 – 3 pupils in 54,952 public primary schools in 35 states have benefited. Additional 107,000 cooks have been engaged.
“In the case of Conditional Cash Transfer, the third component, more than 3 million poor and vulnerable households have been registered on the National Social Register, out of which more than one million families are currently being paid N5,000 monthly.”
The PGF DG said in the area of infrastructure, APC-led administration of President Buhari has increased annual budgetary allocation for Federal Roads to about N260 billion as against the allocation of 18 billion Naira in 2015 under PDP administration.
He argued further: “Significantly, more resources were devoted to construction of road and transport infrastructure than any other administration since 1999, and the results are roads, bridges, highways, rail lines and stations, and air and seaport upgrades.
“Work has since resumed on several stalled, abandoned or solution-defying road projects that were inherited, like the Loko-Oweto Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Sagamu-Benin Expressway, the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, Kano-Maiduguri Expressway, Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Expressway, Obajana-Kabba Road, Ilorin-Jebba Road, Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki Road, and several others are in progress, with some already close to completion.
“A brand-new bridge in Ikom, Cross River State, was completed, which replaced the dilapidated steel truss bridge originally built five decades ago, as was a new border bridge linking Nigeria and Cameroon, in the spirit of regional integration.
“Construction work on the Second Niger Bridge, a contract awarded multiple times between 2002 and 2015, under PDP administration, but constantly stalled for lack of funding, finally kicked off in 2018, with guaranteed funding, for the first time in the history of the project.
“In 2017, construction finally commenced on the Bodo-Bonny Bridges and Road (linking Bonny Island to the Rivers Mainland), a project first mooted decades ago, and awarded several times without success, prior to the Buhari APC led Administration. Currently, according to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, there are around 900 active road contracts, covering the construction, reconstruction or rehabilitation of more than 13,000km of Federal roads and highways across the country, out of a total of 35,000km of Federal roads in existence.”
In the agricultural sector, he listed specific initiatives of the APC led government of President Buhari to include National Food Security Council (NFSC), Agriculture for Food and Jobs Plan (AFJP), National Livestock Transformation Plan, The Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI), and Creation of an Enabling Environment.
“The PFI has produced and delivered to the Nigerian market over 30 million 50kg bags equivalent of fertilizer, at reduced prices; and resulted in the revival or construction of no fewer than 40 moribund fertilizer blending plants across the country.
“That Nigeria today has 44 functioning blending plants, with more on the way, is solely due to the success of the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI),” he added.
Lukman concluded: “Notwithstanding all these and ignoring all the years of lost opportunities under sixteen years of PDP, public debates around comparative assessments of performance of six years of APC government under President Buhari as compared to sixteen years of PDP get unfairly dominated by allegations of recklessness and incompetence.
“PDP may wish to go beyond the manipulative strategy to rewrite the realities of incomparable achievements of President Buhari led APC government as against all the PDP administrations between 1999 and 2015 by coming out with a clearer empirical account than can present new evidence.”