Vivian Bellonwu, Head, Social Action, a civil society organization in Abuja examines the recent report by the World Bank which says Nigerians are among people living in extreme poverty. She argues that the report shows that Nigerian leaders that have churned out great Gross Domestic Product ,GDP figures have been relying on voodoo statistics.In particular, she says the World Bank report should serve as a basis for the bank to stop granting loans to Nigerian leaders.Why? Find out what she said in this interview with Danlami Nmodu, publisher/editor in-chief, Newsdiaryonline.com on Monday ,April 7th 2014.Excerpts:
Q:Let’s start by getting your reaction to The World Bank Report of extreme poverty in Nigeria.What does that mean to you? Was it a fair report or an exaggeration?
A:…That report is very very incisive.That report is absolutely accurate.The report is right by every standard and by every indicator.And I say it against the backdrop that over the years,we have stated variously that all the development indicators for this country, that Nigeria has not met any of the development indicators,be it in the human development index and all that.And this report just goes ahead to enforce what we have been saying.So this report is very very correct,it is not an exaggeration in any way whatsoever.Nigerians are living in extreme poverty, the report is correct.
Q:But I can see some government officials already feeling very uneasy, trying to explain what they think the World Bank has said..
A:No,no no ,no.The World Bank is not trying to patronize anybody.It is not trying to patronize either the government or the citizens.I think this report is very non-sentimental,it is devoid of any form of sentiment and it is without apology to anybody and it is very instructive because this is the first time that the World Bank will be making a report that I can say is pro-people,that really takes into consideration, the realities on ground and not just base its figures on statistics that does not exist,statistics that were framed up in a board room.But then ,the world Bank in itself is not completely innocent of the situation in which we’ ve found ourselves today in the sense that..
Q:Yes, before you get to that,let’s look at this:the World Bank has told us we are among the people living in extreme poverty like people in India,China and others.But our own government has been telling us our economy has been been growing at the rate we never had before and yet we are having this report of people living in extreme poverty.How do we compare this?
A:The difference is just irreconcilable.I mean, when you look at the figures and all the statistics that the government is churning out,it just doesn’t add up.You have a situation whereby unemployment rate is very high,industries are comatose,production level is very poor.The costs of overheads of industries are extremely high ,many industries are collapsing and then you are telling us that your GDP is one of the best in the whole world. GDP doesn’t fall from the moon .There are factors that come together to make up this and all the factors that I have mentioned,their indicators are very bleak.So you coming to contest what the World Bank is saying or giving your own figure that is contradicting what WB is saying absolutely wrong and it’s false ,because all the economic indicators… we all know what happened for instance when the Immigration service conducted an interview,you saw the volume of unemployment in this country.These are the factors that add up to produce such reports.So this report is absolutely right.
Q:….Just a few days after this report painting Nigeria as belonging to the extreme poverty level,suddenly Nigerian government has done what they called rebasing of our economy and Nigeria now has the largest economy in Africa.Something apparently is not right.
A:That is exactly what Iam saying.That the GDP is not produced in isolation.That there are factors that come together to produce the GDP,that is the Gross Domestic Product of a country.The GDP that Government is claiming is not true.It’s not real …I don’t know where they got the figures or the statistics that they use but just as I mentioned to you, if you take into cognizance the production level of a country, you and I know that production in Nigeria is at very minimal level…Many companies are folding (up).Unemployment rate is very high.Overheads of these companies are very high.And this naturally brings down the production output.And so these are the factors that add up to GDP and these factors are very ,very negative and yet you are telling us that you GDP is one of the best in the whole world.I mean it just doesn’t add up.
Q: Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa ,by what they announced yesterday,based on the rebasing….I remember reading Dr Jibrin Ibrahim and his allusion to Nollywood.
A:Exactly.This is the kind of figure that if I will borrow a word from even the information minister himself.This kind of figure is what they call voodoo statistics,because it does not match the reality on ground.
Q:Now back to the World Bank Report ,you were trying to tell us that even the world Bank itself cannot be exonerated from some of the lapses..
Vivian -Social Action 2A:Yes,it has just come out with a report (of) about 100million Nigerians living in poverty and their president, Wednesday last week went ahead to rate Nigeria among the extremely poor country.But while that is true,it’s quite unfortunate because on the part of the World Bank,it’s kind of hypocritical.It’s kind of double standard.Now I say this against the backdrop that this is an institution that has been at the forefront..the World Bank is the most implicated in giving Nigeria loans,in advancing loans to the government of this country.And we have had cause severally to make representations to the World that these loans that you are giving to Nigerian government, that these loans do not in any way go for what they are meant for.In the first place , these loans are largely collected under the guise of implementing one infrastructural project or the other and we have done several studies and several analyses and we came out clearly to tell the World Bank and other (financial) institutions that offer this country loans that these loans are only going to further enrich the already rich.These loans largely, they go into elections.Politicians largely loot these loans to fund their political campaigns..
Q:You mean politicians use foreign loans to fund their elections?
A:Exactly,to advance their electoral, political cause
Q:Are you suggesting that the World Bank should stop giving loans to Nigerian leaders
A:Exactly.Henceforth,in fact, it doesn’t need any more prompting.This assessment that it has done for itself, by itself has shown clearly that there is no basis whatsoever why it should continue to advance Nigeria loans.So the World Bank should only do the responsible thing, it should only do the right thing by stopping forthwith any further advancement of loans to Nigeria.These loans have largely been looted.These loans have not gone to better the lives of the masses.These loans have further impoverished Nigerians,because Nigerians bear the burden of paying these loans.And so, the money that is supposed to be used to upgrade infrastructures is being diverted into paying loans.And that is what (has resulted) in the impoverishment of Nigerians that the World Bank is talking about.So you can see the connection,politicians loot these funds while the masses inherit the burden of paying it.For instance ,in the 2014 budget over N700billion has been penciled down,for servicing debts.The seven hundred and something billion (Naira) is fund that should have been released and channeled into upgrading hospitals,educational infrastructures, roads,water sanitation and all that .But now with these loans, Nigerians will be deprived of these infrastructures.Why?In order to pay World Bank, to pay IMF,to pay Chinese Export Import Bank and others that advance Nigeria loan.And so the masses in this way get further and further impoverished.So that is the connection.So the right thing for the World Bank to do now and not later is to cancel these loans,and it should stop, not just to cancel the existing ones,but it should stop (granting more loans) because Iam aware that there are plans by Nigerians to even further acquire more loans.The Minister of Finance has been giving indications that the country was going to ask for more loans.
Q:They should cancel existing ones and stop further loans
A:The existing ones and stop further advancement of loans to Nigeria.So far, this government cannot point at any measurable identifiable project with any significant impact on the country.It cannot.So why continued and you have assessed and said that this is true.So why continue to advance loans?
Q:But I have also listened to Okonjo Iweala (Minister of Finance) saying that given our debt profile we can still afford to take loans…
A:That is the grammar that has plunged us into where we are today.Nigeria’s acquisition of loans dates back into decades.Governments will just acquire loan.We are going to sell oil.We are going to sell oil.We have the capacity to pay and all that.The question in the first place why borrow when you have the means of providing your needs.Why borrow?Why are you acquiring debts?
Q:Let me ask you that question:Why do you think our leaders can’t exploit our own resources and resort to borrowing that put us in perpetual debt trap?
A:You are asking me the same question that I just asked you.It just doesn’t make common sense.Nigeria is a very rich country.It’s so richly endowed,there is no further answer to that question than simply corruption, mismanagement.Why ?Because there are a lot of loopholes.You and I know.Everyday you keep hearing about looting of N2billion and then the next day you hear of pension scam,police scam
Q:And $20 billion missing
A:These are holes from where the nation is being bled.And so with proper management, if these holes are blocked and then good fiscal policies adopted,Nigeria doesn’t have any business borrowing for Christ’s sake.It has enormous potentials for self fulfilment ,doesn’t have any business borrowing money.Agriculturally,our exports alone should be able to go a long way in meeting our needs.And then by the time you add other factor here and there to the oil,we don’t have any business borrowing.So may be you should channel this question to the managers of the economy because it is not for me.
Q:Iam still interesting in the aspect that loans should not be granted because they are being looted.Is only for election purposes these funds are diverted or also simply into private pockets,or other things?
A:Well, any money that is not applied to what it is meant for,that money has been misappropriated.And whether the looted fund ends up in private pockets or private interest..
Q:That brings me to the next issue:The World Bank should have its own mechanism for tracking the loans and funds they have given to Nigerian leaders.Because if they can track ,like it is possible to do under exiting financial system, rather than telling us that we are extremely poor and they have been giving us loans,why won’t they help expose how our funds are being looted ,so that there will be naming and shaming for leaders will do the right thing?
A:(Chuckles)Exactly.Your question is kind of dicey.Why because the World Bank..well in the aspect of tracking, they are meant to do tracking.And that is part of what they have done by coming out with this assessment.The assessment did not just come from the moon.They traced the funds that they have released over the years and for what purposes they have been released and then with all the other factors put together, they arrived at this.That is part of the tracking.They are meant to track.They are supposed to track.But then don’t forget that the World Bank is a commercial institution.Commercial in the sense that it is interest-oriented.It is not a charity organization.That to some extent is to help you understand the limit to which they can go,the interest that come into play in this loan issue.Now they have funds.The World Bank is set up to make profit.Like I told you,it is not a charity organization.It is a profit making organisation just like any other bank.So when you hear this loan that they are advancing,it is not on a platter of gold.The conditionalities attached with these loans ,these are the areas they make there interest,from which they get back more than double of whatever loan that they have advanced to countries.So it is not in the interest of the World Bank not to offer loans ..It is in their interest from that perspective because the more loans they offer.
Q:So whether we steal the money or not is none of their business?
A:Exactly.It is a profit making venture.The more loans they offer,the more profit they make.
Q:I heard you saying the World Bank report came at a timely period because you are also coming out with a related report
A:Yes ,on Nigeria’s debt….
Q:Could you give us a preview of that?
A:Well the report we are doing is actually an update on the one we released in 2009 where we called for a moratorium on any further acquisition of loans.We asked the National Assembly to place a moratorium on further acquisition of loans by Nigeria,because this issue of loans is very very worrisome.It is one of the fundamental reasons why the country has remained the way it is because it is being tied down by debts.If you look at the current budget,2014 budget over 70% is going to recurrent expenditure.And when you talk of recurrent expenditure,paying debts and all that.So what is left for infrastructure,for capital development which is what actually provides the multiplier effect on the economy, nothing.You see where the problem lies and the country cannot be run(like this) it is not sustainable to run a country with such lopsided balance of budgetary allocation.But that is where we find ourselves. Even where we have gone through such difficult steps to exit Nigeria from loans and debts,the country presently keeps enmeshing itself into these debts.So we are coming out with a report that will take a look at all of these and make some recommendations.