Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nigeria: The Scam of being a Debt-Free Nation

As Nigeria pays off a sizeable chunk of its financial debt, I can’t help but muse on how much Nigerians have benefited from these debts. It took roughly about 20 years to acquire these debt; it started in the early 80’s during the second republic and continued unabated up till the late 90’s.

Being in my thirties, I fall into that category of Nigerians that caught and enjoyed momentarily the tail-end of the "golden years" of Nigeria- the era when “life was good” and “money wasn't the problem but how to spend it”, and the beginning of Nigeria’s debt-mania. This is my attempt, albeit a rough one, to narrate what transpired during the period Nigeria went debt-thirst and how it impacted the lives of its nationals.

The “golden era” disappeared with the emergence of 2nd republic in 1980, and almost in quick succession all sorts of austerity measures and economic adjustment programs were created to revive the economy. These reforms not only failed woefully, the lives of many Nigerians were negatively impacted, even up to this moment.

My generation lived through these periods, and was painful to see our fragile national infrastructure crumble before our eyes- the schools and hospitals were the first to capitulate. After the Naira, Nigerian national currency, had gone through series of of devaluation, the manufacturing industry started operating under par, then banks and other financial institutions started failing. Many Nigerian homes lost sizeable chunks of their meager savings.

As workers started losing their employment and sources of income, and fresh college graduates couldn't get to practice what they had spent a sizeable blocks of their lives studying in the now-decaying universities that had fast became the arena for incessant "strikes" and "occult gangs"; many frustrated Nigerians turned to chauffeurs and started using their vehicles and motorcycles as taxis, marking the emergence of "kabu-kabus" and "okada". These have come to stay and can be found in any Nigerian towns and cities today.

How can I forget the zillion of scraps called vehicles, and all sorts of electronic appliances and "used products" that all of a sudden found new homes in Nigeria, simply because the Naira had become almost worthless, and the majority of Nigerians households couldn't purchase anything new and decent.

When many Nigerians couldn't bear the pain any longer, some "checked out" of the country. Many professional took to their heels in search of greener pastures overseas. I'm sure the Nigerian readers remember the "Andrew don't check-out" slogan then. The weak ones took to drug smuggling and arm banditry. Many Nigerian women even ended up servicing the sexual thirst and hunger of European men to make ends meet and maintain families back home. And all of a sudden Nigerians that once required no visas to visit the United Kingdom and many other Commonwealth nations became undesirable elements and a menace to immigration authorities worldwide.

These were some of what Nigeria had to show for the billions of dollars it borrowed and now paying back, and from the 80's to this moment, fewer and fewer Nigerians have something to show for these billions of borrowed money.

What disturbs me the most is that a greater slice of this money ended in the pockets of a handful of retired generals and former top-level bureaucrats. Many of whom are roaming free today in the country, some have even found new careers in politics and have retraced their steps back to the cookie jar. Some have gone into business, and successfully laundered their stolen wealth in the Nigerian oil, telecom, banking and real estate sectors. These people have become the movers and shakers of the Nigerian society.

As Nigeria strives to pay off its debt, will the country witness another round of reckless borrowing now that its credit is clean? Time will be the judge.