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Nigeria’s pensioners as ‘Paris Club’ members

By Matthew Agboma Ozah
16 December 2020   |   3:43 am
One of the most significant ways in which the President Muhammadu Buhari administration try to bring Nigeria up to speed in infrastructural development is to borrow money from whomever, wherever and at whatever cost.

One of the most significant ways in which the President Muhammadu Buhari administration try to bring Nigeria up to speed in infrastructural development is to borrow money from whomever, wherever and at whatever cost. Therefore, it would not be inappropriate to describe President Buhari government’s appetite for loan as ambitiously desperate, irrespective of the administration’s claim to rescue the nation’s infrastructure from decades of neglect with the loans. However, despite the continued outcry that has greeted the country’s debts burden the Buhari government continues with its romance with loans. Nigeria’s debt is getting out of control and government has to do something urgent about it before reaching its ceiling. In September this year, the Debt Management Office (DMO) puts the country’s total public debt portfolio as of June 30, 2020 to N31 trillion. Nevertheless, it may sound very complacent especially from government quarters to learn that the next loan expedition may likely be organised domestically. In that case, the loan would come with less stringent conditions and could be paid back in the end of time.

No doubt, these borrowings have some interesting policy implications. But the major concern among the people is how government can look away from loans as well as purge itself from the huge earnings and allowances associated to public office holders. With the current hardship and the insecurity situation in the country, it is hard to believe if Nigerians still has the hope and optimism that greeted the Buhari administration that rode on the crest of Change Mantra, with expectations of a better and improved living condition. The alarming level of the nation’s debt has made the Buhari administration to appear as the worst government in terms of the country’s indebtedness. It is disheartening to learn that politicians have turned borrowing into an art whereby the demand for loans are designed and presented at a public exhibition, strategically fashioned to woo the people as the only means in delivering dividends of democracy.  Regrettably, no sooner than most of these loans are signed that the people begin to notice strange elements that seems like a mortgaged future of generations yet unborn. A case in point is the Chinese rail project loan.

At the moment, in the eyes of the 36 states governors, the pension fund seems to position itself as a one-stop shop for alternative government finance. Hence, they stood in unionism under the umbrella of Nigeria Governors’ Forum in agreement to borrow 17trillion naira from the pension fund after being briefed by Nasir el-Rufia, Kaduna state governor who is Chairman, National Economic Council Ad Hoc Committee on Leveraging Portion of Accumulated Pension Funds for Investment in the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority. To the delight of the governors over their morally degrading desire, the pensioners’ savings lies the infrastructure salvation of the country. Despite their bold initiative and well thought out plan, it would be foolhardy for pensioners to spare the governors the opportunity to borrow their hard-earned-savings in the so-called rescue of infrastructure decay across the country. This is because over the years, no person of consequence not even those from the corridors of power paid any serious attention to the pensioners’ plight.

No doubt, roads and other infrastructure are important, but they are not everything. What is urgent now is how to save the pension fund from the vultures. Therefore, pensioners have to be mobilised to stand up for their rights, to exploitation in any form by the gluttonous political elite.

Hence, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) believes that allowing the governors to borrow from pension fund would be detrimental to the interest of the beneficiaries of the funds, especially given the vulnerability of pension fund to corruption in Nigeria, and the transparency and accountability deficits in several states. Now, the frightening threat by the desire of the governors is causing pensioners irregular heartbeat. They fear for their lives if their hard earned savings goes down the drain through executive borrowing that may be explained away as misappropriation of fund by another government’s inability to pay back. The above fear has necessitated the umbrella body of the Nigerian workers, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to vow that it would resist any attempt by the states governors to borrow from pension fund. The NLC president, Ayuba Wabba during the National Executive Council meeting of Medical and Health Workers’ Union of Nigeria (WHWN) said: “We will not agree for governors to dip their fingers into the pension fund…less than five per cent of the whole states of the federation are contributing to the fund. The governors cannot reap where they have not planted any seed…” Despite the various oppositions there is no shame or remorse on the part of the intended borrowers as the governors continue to defend their position in their search for easy money and leisure.

It is unfortunate that the governors who are quick to point out and argue against the Nigerian youth inability to be self reliant over their constant desire to seek the elusive white collar jobs in government ministries cannot themselves function without loans. In all this, the moral question comes up once again. Why can’t the governors think outside the box other than to borrow or tax the masses through fuel hike, VAT, education among other ‘blood sucking’ levies? There is plenty in every state beneath the earth, from which they can tap wealth like Zamfara state is currently doing with its gold. What stops the governors in their so-called Governors’ Forum to come together and fight the federal government to give the states autonomy over their mineral resources than hunting around pension fund?

Of late, it is saddening to observe that great political ideas have been drifting far apart from politicians in Nigeria. This has made the people to increasingly feel like they are living in a different planet. Rather than the political elite think of people oriented programmes that would help to alleviate the sufferings of the masses, they are well concerned about their selfish interest. Indeed, borrowing from pension fund is politically fantastic but as a democracy prescription the governors should try to align with the people in their chase for the pension fund. It would be better for the governors to conduct town hall meetings and find out if majority of Nigerians would buy the idea of borrowing from pension fund. It is worth restating for the umpteenth time that the way things are moving, the President Buhari administration is sure to go down as the most careless about the people’s plight. Mr President should therefore warn the governors to desist from the pension fund so that retirement will be sweet after labour for Nigerian pensioners’.