In the last quarter of every year, Social Action selects up to 150 young activists from different parts of the country to participate in its camp meeting. The Annual Camps are part of Social Action’s programme for Political Education and Mass Mobilisation for Nigeria and have been designed to restore alternative education, build solidarity, and provide skills and tools required to campaign for social change. Discussions focus on the connections between local concerns and global issues and explore alternatives to neoliberalism.
Recently, the conversation on the need or otherwise of restructuring the Nigerian state has gained renewed prominence in contemporary Nigerian discourse, especially with the emergence of groups seeking various degrees of structural changes, including the Indigenous People of Biafra and the Niger Delta Avengers. In response to the need to interrogate the different contending issues, Social Action and the Claude Ake School of Government, University of Port Harcourt jointly organised the Nigeria Social Action National Conference in December 2017 in Port Harcourt.
This collaboration stemmed from the need to provide space for serious and constructive dialogue between scholars and thought leaders in the civil space, as a measure to provide clarity and understanding of the critical issues bordering on the restructuring of the Nigerian state. Specifically, the Conference provided space for leading scholars and civic activists to present papers and lead conversations on various sub-themes relevant to the restructuring question with the purpose of engendering a new perspective to the issues as well as developing literature on the subject.
The National Conference which held on the 11th of December 2017 in Port Harcourt, brought together leading Nigerian academics and civil society actors including Prof. Adele Jinadu, Prof. Basil Nwankwo, Prof. Andrew Efemini, Prof Eme Ekekwe, Prof Okey Ibeanu, Dr. Sofiri Peterside, Dr. Yakubu Jae and author of the book We are All Biafrans, Chido Onumah.
Professors Eme Ekekwe and Adele Jinadu
Declaring the Conference open, Acting Executive Director of Social Action, Ken Henshaw said “every year the Social Action National Conference is organised to provide spaces for critical voices to discuss one topical issue facing the Nigerian state. This year, the question of restructuring is by far the most contentious of them all. Since the end of the civil war in 1970, never has Nigeria been so deeply divided along the lines of separation and secession. This Conference aims to dive deeper into the various issues toward creating clarity, understanding and policy alternatives in approaching the issue”.
The representative of the Claude Ake School of Government, Dr. Sofiri Peterside in his welcome address stated that “in recent time the call for a restructuring of the Federation had been swelled with two of the dominant ethnic nationalities leading the demand. This brings to the fore some thought-provoking questions about the nature of Nigeria’s federalism: What is the problem with federalism in Nigeria, and what ought to be done about it? Is the problematic the reference to federalism, as such, or to its Nigerian variant? Or is the problem not with federalism, as such or with its Nigerian variant, but with the underlying causative factors that gave rise to it and with which it interfaces, like the antinomies between identity and authority? What should be the federating entities in Nigeria – regions, states, zones or nationalities? What are the salient and historically deep-seated characteristics of the country’ political economy? The preceding questions underscore the complexity of the problem, which federalism poses to the future of Nigeria. Recent calls for a return to an undefined ‘true federalism’ has complexified the ongoing national debate in the context of federalism as an ideology, a political system or as a form of government, or even in the specific context of Nigeria’s constitutional theory or political history. It is in the above-stated context that this Conference is both timely and essential”.
Papers presented at the Conference will be edited into a book on the theme of Restructuring of the Nigerian State, to be published in 2018.
Professor Andrew Efemini, Chido Onumah and a cross-section of participants
Without a doubt, one of the most significant challenges confronting Nigeria is corruption. The stealing of public funds by persons entrusted with public offices and other forms of mismanagement of public resources has unfortunately become a key reference point when Nigeria is in the conversation. By some estimates, up to 80% of public revenues end in the private accounts of less than 1% of Nigerians who are linked to the structures of political power. In the Niger Delta region where most petroleum exploitation takes place, widespread corruption has ensured that most residents in the urban areas and rural communities live in poverty and misery. Countrywide, about 70% of Nigerians live in poverty, as a result of corruption. Consistently on global corruption index, Nigeria ranks as one of the most corrupt countries on earth. The cost of corruption reflects in public institutions that cannot deliver services, dwindling standards of education, international disrepute and embarrassing beggarliness.
2017 Anti-corruption Rally held in Port Harcourt
Social Action’s response to this problem is a regional anti-corruption campaign aimed at ensuring that those responsible for addressing corruption, do their jobs and that corruption is criminalised in Nigeria.
The anti-corruption rally which held on the 11th of December 2017 at the Mile 3 Motor Park in Port Harcourt City purposed to create awareness about the problem of corruption leveraging on the 2017 global Anti-Corruption Day and recruiting volunteers for a mass anti-corruption movement which is grassroots-driven and benefits from information and supports citizens.
2017 Anti-corruption Rally held in Port Harcourt
The rally which was organised in conjunction with the local branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers featured speeches, distribution of flyers and stickers as well as a march around the Park. Alongside the building of awareness, the rally created the opportunity for Social Action and other partners to mobilise volunteers for an anti-corruption movement being established. At the rally, 103 persons enlisted to join the Anti-Corruption movement.
The Open Budget Week 2017 of Social Action included activities aimed at educating the citizens on the need to support the call on the state governments in the Niger Delta to ingrain an open budget culture and enshrine the practice of citizens participation in all the phases of the budget cycle. The week-long budget advocacy campaign was targeted on the one hand at ensuring that citizens become interested in fiscal issues while pressuring subnational governments to become more engaging, transparent and accountable in the management of public resources.
In November 2017, Social Action and partner organisation, YARAC organised citizens’ dialogues in Maiduguri and Yola as part of the ongoing effort to identify alternative solutions to social and ecological crisis in north-eastern Nigeria.
Participants comprising civil society groups, development experts, academia, governmental and non-governmental actors have identified the correction of structural imbalances embedded in the socio-economic, political and ecological configuration of north-east Nigeria as fundamental to engendering genuine and lasting development in the region. They said any effort to sustainably re-build the region must incorporate concrete mechanisms for tackling ecological issues while incorporating solid frameworks for socio-economic development and sound governance principles with active elements of citizens-focused accountability mechanisms.
By Isaac Botti, Programme Officer, Social Action, Abuja.
The Nigerian federal government on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, presented its 2018 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly for consideration and approval. The 2018 federal budget is tagged “Budget of Consolidation”, developed to consolidate on the achievements of the 2017 “Budget of Recovery and Growth”. Taken together, the impression is that the government crafted the earlier budget to revamp and stabilise the economy, while the current proposal is to solidify those gains.
On the 1st of November 2017, Social Action joined members of the Umuechem Community in Etche local government area of River State in solemn activities to mark 27 years after what became one of the worst manifestation of oil company and government crimes against the people of Nigeria. November 1, 1990, the community was invaded by members of the Nigeria Mobile Police Force at the behest of Shell, the AngloDutch transnational oil company. In what is referred to as the Umuechem Massacre, the Mobile Police burnt down the entire town and killed everyone they could find.
Ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany, Social Action organised its School of Ecology and Climate Action in Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria in October 2017. Through this space, Social Action worked with Nigerian communities and civil society groups to advance alternative discourses and popular mobilisations aimed at building community-led platforms for ecological justice in in the country. Specifically, the School of Ecology and Climate Action promotes grassroots understanding of the interconnectedness of livelihood losses, environmental abuses and conflict within the broader climate change discourse; while providing opportunities for civil society and environmental actors to plan and take action towards challenging prevailing climate change and environmental management paradigms.
The text of press briefing on Nigeria’s debt profile and management by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), Abuja, Nigeria, October 19, 2017.
At a National Conference on Public Debt Management in Nigeria organised by Social Action in November of 2015 in Abuja, Social Action presented an advocacy research report on Nigeria’s debt profile and management, including state-level debts. Social Action warned that the indicators emanating from across the economic sectors do not support any further ramping up of debts. We called for action to towards sustained reduction in the debt profile of both the national and sub-national debts.
Rather than heed this intrinsic warning, government, making some shallow explanations, predicated on equally irreconcilable calculations and projections, embarked on a borrowing spree that saw the country’s debt shoot up from N12.06 trillion at the end of 1st quarter of 2015 to N19.6 trillion in June of 2017. Today as they say, the rest is history; we are all witnesses to the slumping of the economy under pressure, and how it went into recession.
Suffice it to say that loans or borrowing (as the case may be), is not and would never be a substitute for astute economic management. This is particularly true of a country like Nigeria where corruption and mismanagement have held the nation by the jocular. If it were, with the volume of money the country has borrowed in the past decades, Nigeria would have been an epitome of economic prosperity.
At this juncture, permit me to have us take a cursory look at a run-down of some of the loans taken by the country in the past 4 to 5 years;
Table 1: External Debt Outstanding by Economic Sector as of March 2014 (Amount in USD Millions)
• Source: Debt Management Office
Table 2: 2012 Borrowings
Source: The Sun (2012).
Table 3 2016-2017 Borrowings
From this table, we can all see for ourselves the nature and manner of loan acquisition in Nigeria. Whereas the law specifies in Section 44 (1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) that;
“Any government in the Federation desirous of Any Government in the Federation or its agencies and corporations desirous of borrowing shall, specify the purpose for which the borrowing is intended… detailing the economic and social benefits of the purpose to which the intended borrowing is to be applied”.
The loan table (we had just reviewed) shows that many loans obtained are merely amorphous. With no clear-cut heading, project or purpose, they simply flout the Fiscal Responsibility Act. The FRA was abundantly clear when in S.48(1), it provided that; (1) The Federal Government shall ensure that its fiscal and financial affairs are conducted in a transparent manner and accordingly ensure full and timely disclosure and wide publication of all transactions and decisions involving public revenues and expenditures and their implications for its finances.
And so while it is the intent and purpose of the FRA to entrench transparency in the conduct of Fiscal and financial affairs including debt management, government has been in breach of these legal provisions. It is in this guise that Appropriation bills merely stating that part of budget revenue would be sourced from borrowing without specifying which activities and projects the borrowing would be applied have been severally prepared and passed by the legislature (in both Federal and State levels) in clear violation of the law. This same impunity has also been displayed towards S.41 (1) of the FRA which held unequivocally that (a) “Government at all tiers shall only borrow for Capital expenditure and human development…”. Loans have been taken to fund items that fall strictly under recurrent expenditure line including payment of salaries, overheads, funding of foreign trips etc. Till date, past and present governments have refused to set borrowing limit (Cap) for loan acquisitions as provided by law or allow popular input into loan acquisition decision-making process.
Loans and Nigeria’s Development
While the past administration did not display much responsibility as regards to borrowing, the present administration simply made a bad situation worse. Within a space of two years, the Nation’s debt profile shot up by an alarming 58% with no signs of relenting (going by the frequency and volume of loan requests going to the National Assembly). The federal government has been borrowing heavily and consistently over the years while refusing to hinge debt sustainability on realistic principles of revenue generation capacities of an economy instead of a mere academic ruse of debt to GDP ratio. Add this to unbridled sleaze and mismanagement, problems naturally set in: Nigeria has consistently for the past years now operated a deficit budget even as it devotes a painful chunk of budgetary allocation to debt servicing for projects or services the citizens hardly ever enjoyed. And so while Nigerians bemoan poor budgetary performance year after year, our creditors simply smile to the bank. A look at the figures tells this painful story;
Debt Serving Figures
At this juncture, let me draw your attention to a looming danger facing us all as citizens of this country; the government has initiated moves seeking to amend the laws to enable it formally borrow for Recurrent Expenditure. This is a looming danger to our economic health.
The story of Nigeria and debt is well known I believe to all of you and the experience of hardship and near economic strangulation in the hands of committee of creditors including the Paris Club, World Bank and the IMF in the form of austerity measures is still too fresh in our memories as Nigerians for us to go to sleep.
These monetary bodies including the IMF which are traditionally reticent especially in matters like this have come out openly to admonish the government to refrain from further borrowing stating clearly that the nation’s economy was not doing well enough to support such level of debt acquisitions and consequent debt servicing. We note that rather than the accumulated debts translating to real growth and development for the nation and by extension to better condition of living for the teeming population, it has continued to remain a burden as monies that could have been used to finance capital projects that would benefit the future generation are used to service existing debts.
We therefore reiterate our position that rather than acquiring more vague loans that does not impact on the lives of the citizens but of which the burden of repayment is shifted to both them and the future generation, government should put in place mechanisms to investigate and recover the several past failed loans, plug leakages which still abound in the system and ensure fiscal prudence; put in place policies and frameworks to activate the real sectors of the economy that have the capacity to engender growth and development such agriculture, manufacturing, mining, etc. Also, monies recovered from looters of public purse should be efficiently deployed to serve the need of the nation rather than borrowing.
1. We call on the Nigerian Parliament to show leadership and place moratorium on further borrowing by the country and order immediate investigation into the usage of the past borrowings. The report of the investigation should be made available to the public.
2. If it becomes absolutely necessary to borrow, details of the project to be executed with the borrowed fund be made public. The precise amount, interest rate and period of repayment should be published alongside in compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
3. Monitoring/Progress reports of projects for which money was borrowed should be made available to the public regularly as stipulated by law.
4. Special audit of project implementations be carried out by the Debt Management Office in conjunction with the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and civil societies and findings made known to the Nigerian public who bear the burden of debt.
5. We also call on the Fiscal Responsibility Commission to stand up to its responsibility of effectively ensuring prudent utilization of all borrowed funds, particularly at state levels.
Head, National Advocacy,