The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has reintroduced a request to the National Assembly to borrow up to $22.74 billion from the international markets.
The government’s case has many merits which we can summarize as follows:
The Federal Government’s organic cash flow is exceptionally weak
Bloomberg reported that since 2015, the fiscal revenues flowing to the FGN has underperformed by 45%. The FGN crude oil and gas revenues, make up about 45% of the total revenues but 70% of foreign exchange earnings; however, the obligations of the FGN, including mandatory obligations e.g. Salaries and Debt Service, have eaten up 100% of the crude oil revenues. The FGN thus must run a deficit budget to fund capital projects and other obligations; the 2020 annual budget, for instance, is budgeted at N2.18 trillion deficit financing.
The FGN tax collection is also very weak
The GDP to tax revenues ratio of the FGN, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a grouping of the world’s leading market economies, was put at 6% as at 2016 (The World Bank measures at 3.4%). Compared to Kenya and Ghana at 18% each, and South Africa at 29%. This leaves the government with borrowing as the only real solution to raise revenues.
Why borrow externally in foreign currency?
The FGN has been financing her fiscal deficits by issuing Treasury Bills for shorter durations and Bonds for longer durations. These instruments have interest costs from 9% for Treasury Bills to almost 15% for long-dated bonds. The FGN, however, has issued Eurobonds at much lower interest cost, e.g. the 2025 Euro bond was issued at a coupon of 7.62% but payable in USD not Naira, thus incurring foreign exchange risk. However, the FGN is also looking at concessionary and bilateral loans which are not issued at commercial rates.
To summarize, the FGN needs to borrow for capital projects, because her tax revenues are low and oil revenues are already spoken for. The FGN also seeks to borrow in foreign currency because cost of foreign currency obligations is lower than locally issued debt instruments. Good so far.
So, the FGN borrowing of $22b is justified? Not quite.
Questioning the amount and cost of the loan is the wrong debate. The real debate is why the FGN should be borrowing on her balance-sheet to build a railway. The debate is should the FGN own and maintain railways, or should the private sector? If you agree that the FGN should build, own and operate railways then sure, the $22 billion borrowing is apt. However, if you take the view that railways can be built, owned and operated by the private sector, with strong government support, then there is no need to add $22 billion to the FGN balance sheet.
Nigeria has a corruption problem, but I posit that a bigger problem Nigeria has is the entry of the FGN into commercial business. You will struggle to find an asset owned by the FGN or State Government that is being successfully run.
Examples abound. Let’s look at Nigeria’s number one forex earner, crude oil and gas. Consider the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas Company (NLNG). The latter is 49% owned by the FGN, thus FG is a minority shareholder. The FG does not manage NLNG, which, in a strong show of financial strength, offered the FGN N60 billion as “contribution” to build a road in Bonny.
However, NNPC is owned and managed 100% by the Nigerian Federation. In June 2019, NNPC reported Group operating revenue of N518.18b with a trading surplus of just ₦3.92 billion, that’s a net position of just 0.75%, (less than 1%).
Let’s talk about steel, which is essential for industrial development. Quantity of steel produced is an indication of national strength. Nigeria has about two million metric tons of iron ore reserves, the second-largest iron ore deposits in Africa and 12th largest in the world (iron Ore is used to make steel). So how have we fared with making steel? The Federation built the Ajaokuta Steel, the Delta Steel and three steel rolling mills in Jos, Katsina and Oshogbo… they were all dead when owned by the Federation.
Yet, a Nigerian owned company, Kamwire Industries Ltd, has built a cold steel mill in Kwara. African Foundries Ltd, a flagship of the African Steel Mill group, commissioned in 2011 and located in Ogijo, Ogun state is a steel complex. That complex began export of about 5,000 metric tons of TMT rebar to Ghana in 2013. Dana Steel bought the moribund Katsina Steel rolling mill and turned it around.
I can go on and speak about the Eleme petrochemical plant, or the ports in Lagos recently concessioned to private operators both now with improved efficiency and productivity, paying taxes to the FGN. The point is simple, the federation has not managed the oil industry, steel or ports, this is the economy of Nigeria. But there’s more… the Federation has not been able to stop cholera or conduct a census without controversy. It cannot even maintain its own national stadium. The Federation has shown repeatedly that it is incapable of delivering results.
Now, does it mean all privatized assets managed by the private sector have been successful? No! Air Nigeria comes to mind. But you can’t point at any federally owned asset, company or enterprise, that is delivering as planned. That is telling.
What to do? It’s simple
The Federation should lay off business …the business of government is not business. How can we do this? Models already exist. I like the model we currently have in the pension industry, with the private sector as the OWNER and OPERATOR, and the government as REGULATOR.
Such a model applied to the loan will see the FGN simply put out proposals to the private sector to enter partnerships to develop these projects on Public-Private Partnerships. This means only projects that have a revenue basis will be approved. Loans may come, but not on the FGN balance sheet.
Has the President erred in stopping CBN from funding food imports?
What implication does the President’s directive to the CBN hold for the economy?
The President of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, last week said, “I am restating it that nobody importing food or fertilizer should be given foreign exchange from the Central Bank. We will not pay a kobo of our foreign reserves to import food or fertilizer. We will instead empower local farmers and producers.”
Why is the president stopping the CBN from funding food imports? The answer is simple. The CBN Exchange rates are cheaper than autonomous sources. The CBN lists the exchange rate for the Dollar at $1 to N379, however the Naira is being sold on the parallel market at N440. Hence, importers prefer to access CBN funds to import, because it reduces the cost of those imports. In effect, at N379, the CBN is subsidizing those imports via a ‘strong Naira’
The President’s directive is thus in line with his new overall push to eliminate all subsidies especially subsidies funded by the scare US dollar. In this aspect, the President is simply seeking to protect the foreign reserves which are paying for other imports. So, he is right.
Is this a wise strategy?
Nairametrics earlier reported on the NBS recently released report on Nigeria’s total spending, which indicated that about N22.7 trillion was spent on food in 2019. This is 56.7% of the total spending (N40.2 trillion) for that period.
Where does the food Nigerians eat come from? Clearly Nigeria has a large agricultural base, but a significant proportion of Nigeria’s food is imported, and the cost of those imports have risen, as the value of the Naira has depreciated in relation to the US dollar.
According to data from the NBS, Nigeria’s spending on food and drink importation increased from $2.9bn in 2015 to $4.1bn in 2017, but dipped in 2018.
Have these imports plus local production met local demand on a consistent basis? The answer is no. Take rice for instance, the BBC reports that, “Between 2015, when the foreign exchange restrictions for rice came into effect, and early 2017, the price of a 50kg bag of rice went from $24 to $82 and fell in mid-2017 to $34, but in June 2019, the price stood at $49.”
The law of supply in economics, states that when the price of a commodity increases, its supply also increases. Hence, there is a direct relationship between price and supply of a commodity. In other words, if the price of rice goes up, more suppliers will enter the market to supply rice.
However, In Nigeria, as the price of food is rising, the NBS in the latest Inflation report, says the composite food index rose by 15.48% in July 2020 compared to 15.18% in June 2020. This rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of Bread and cereals, Potatoes, Yam and other tubers, Meat, Fruits, Oils and fats, and Fish. (essentially everything). The NBS says, the average price of 1kg of rice (imported high quality sold loose) increased year-on-year by 37.72%.
So why has the supply of rice not risen to correspond with rise in prices? Well, because the supply of rice and other foodstuff have indeed risen, but the problem remains logistics processing & storage.
In Nigeria, you only eat corn during corn season, same with mangoes, and tomatoes. Prices fall during harvest, then rise after harvest. The problem is not just with the harvest, but getting that harvest to market, storing the excess, and processing its supplies all year round. Therefore, imports are needed to plug supply holes.
Nigerians in 2019 alone spent N1.9trillion or 4.7% of their budget on rice alone. When the President banned food importers from getting the CBN dollar at N379; he simply pushed them to import rice at N440; a N61 difference that will be added to the cost of imports, and will fuel imported inflation.
Where the president got it wrong is trying to fix a local logistics problem with a foreign exchange fix.
The solution is to go back to the various food supply value chains, de-risk and de-cost them. If food is cheap and plentiful, there will be no need for imports and inflation will fall.
Can Agriculture replace Oil in Nigeria?
To truly diversify from oil and create proper value, agriculture must give birth to an industry.
Over the years, Nigerians have clamored for a diversified economy, that is not over-reliant on crude oil. Recently there have been several talks about agriculture being on the front-burner of our exports.
But the reality is that there is a gulf in difference between the revenue agriculture can bring in and what Oil currently generates. Despite the steady growth in the value of Nigeria’s agricultural exports over three years (2016 to 2018), the country’s agricultural exports to total exports remained below 2%.
During the period of independence, Nigeria was a major exporter of food to West African nations; Unfortunately, she has morphed into a net importer. With the advent of oil in the 1970s, fiscal and economic policy was one-sided, and the country’s domestic and foreign investments were on oil, at the expense of other sectors of the economy. Inadvertently, Government revenue has increasingly come from oil and remains hostage to volatile oil prices.
In a recent report, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) claimed that Nigeria earned close to N289.3 billion from the exportation of the top 10 agricultural produce between April 2019 and March 2020. The report asserted that both commodities (sesamum seeds and cocoa) accounted for over 60% of the country’s exports as they are the most sought after internationally. Comparatively, the top 10 agricultural produce made N289.3 billion across three quarters. These figures are relatively low compared with the Q2, 2020 proceeds of crude oil which stands at N1.6 trillion.
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From the above diagram, Oil generated N1.6 trillion in Q2 2020, while the other commodities combined to record about N612 billion in Q2 2020. One trillion naira lesser (considering Oil prices were significantly low during that quarter). A 2018 report from PWC showed that oil revenue accounts for more than 80% of total value of annual Nigerian exports. Ironically, the agriculture industry contributed an estimate of 25% to total GDP in 2018, while the oil’s share of GDP was 8.6% over the same period. Since the agriculture sector is the largest contributor to Nigeria’s GDP, it has potentials to contribute a larger percentage of our annual export revenue.
Explore the Nairametrics Research Website for Economic and Financial Data
Agriculture toppling Crude oil as our main export might be a tall order, but if we want to truly diversify from oil and create proper value, agriculture must give birth to an industry.
If agriculture currently employs, say, one million Nigerians; the agro-allied industry can employ five million in the value chain. In a monetary context, if Nigeria produces cocoa beans, which recorded over N30billion revenue in 2018, an industry that processes cocoa to chocolates & beverages would produce double the revenue or more.
Oil would be the main commodity for a long time, but it is possible to create more financial values from other commodities.
CBN Vs NESG: Waving the white flag for the benefit of Nigerians
As Nigerians face up to what is likely a fresh round of recession, all stakeholders in the economy must come together to ensure that our economic recovery plans are well thought through, backed by empirical data.
On Monday, September 7th, 2020, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) published a press release titled “Matters of Urgent Attention”, in which it x-rayed the state of the national economy and expressed a number of reasoned concerns over the poor state of performance of some critical economic indicators affecting the country. Treatises like the release have become, for several years now, a common feature of the country’s dialogue on the economy.
They serve an extremely useful purpose because these publications permit individuals and organisations that embark on this course, not only the opportunity to ventilate important, topical, subjects in the widest possible manner but also to enable those views to come to the attention of several organs of governance responsible for policy formulation and implementation.
It is also the case that the reaction to these exercises would often be gauged by the credentials of the author whose antecedents will, typically, determine the depth and appreciation of the reading audience. That thermometer reading, therefore, is dictated by credentials of the author. The more accomplished; the greater the interest in the contents. This, it appears, is what happened following the public circulation of the NESG press release.
The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) is a private sector-led think tank that was incorporated in 1996 as a not-for-profit organization to promote economic reformation and policy advocacy that positions the Nigerian economy for sustainable growth and global competitiveness. For 24 years, it has provided a platform for bringing together private sector leaders and senior public sector officials to collaborate and dialogue on the imperatives of deepening the Nigerian Economy.
Comprising some of the most influential economic and financial actors outside the government, its views, in the past and now, have conveyed some of the most incisive commentary on the economy of Nigeria. As such, it has become very highly respected. Understandably, therefore, its comments were always likely to attract both attention and comment with all kinds of flavours.
The Press Release, importantly, commended the efforts of the Federal Government at creating short term jobs across all facets of the economy as well as recognized the willingness of the Federal Government to work with the private sector in the design and implementation of national economic development plans.
In addition to calling for re-evaluation and re-tooling of the country’s security architecture to address the dire challenge of in-country insecurity; raising the emphasis on reopening national borders because of the negative impact its protracted closure has had on free flow of legitimate trade among sub regional economies, NESG’s analyses touched on various policies, decisions and actions of a number of other key national institutions, including, majorly, the Central Bank.
It expressed deep concern with what it described as CBN’s opacity in managing foreign exchange transactions; loan disbursements regarding its special purpose monetary interventions, and price fixing without providing adequate clarity on policy objectives; trends and practices which are not in tandem “with evolving developmental roles of central banks around the world especially as it concerns resource allocations”.
Fairly swiftly thereafter, NESG also published a letter it had written to the President, in which it specifically raised issues with some of the provisions of the bill for an Act to repeal the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) 2004, and to re-enact it and other matters connected therewith, 2020. Although the BOFIA Act has been 29 years in the making, it had been recently passed by both houses of the National Assembly and was awaiting presidential assent when NESG appealed to the President for intervention.
NESG ‘s contention was, among other things, that certain proviso’s in the amended Bill, if not “deleted or amended, may be inimical to the fulfilment of the mandate of formulating and implementing policies and programmes which attract foreign and domestic investments”. Among other issues, it highlighted specifically, sections 2(5) (a) and (b), 12(6) and 57(1) and (2), which, respectively, extends CBN’s regulatory oversight outside the scope of “banking business”; grants it immunity from restorative orders and promotes overreaching by the Central Bank. NESG concluded that these policies and interventions, if assented to by the President as is, over-regulates the economy and gives sweeping powers to the CBN Governor, which are prone to abuse.
The CBN, in its well-publicized response debunked the claims made by NESG, and in defense of its economic policies over the last 5 years explained that “access to credit is listed among the three major challenges faced by farmers and businesses in Nigeria”, hence, it was vital for it to “address an area that it had sufficient ability to impact upon, while the Federal Government seeks to address issues such as access to electricity and logistics”. On the allegation that its lending process is devoid of a proper framework, it stated that recipients of intervention funds from CBN go through “extensive” due diligence process supervised by participating financial institutions (PFI), followed by additional assessment process by the CBN before disbursements are provided.
However, in its response, the Central Bank resorted to the use of vitriolic, derisive and even contemptuous language that, almost regretfully, personalized a hugely important dialogue. It was language that, potentially, may have caused the CBN to dip below its exalted status as a foremost regulatory institution in Nigeria. Aside painting NESG as an irritant, CBN’s argument may have recorded limited success in fully addressing the concerns raised. Whilst the CBN has every right to defend the integrity of its policies against what it perceives as an “ignorant or malicious” attack and false claims by the NESG, the comportment and communication of the response presents a cause for apprehension, especially, given the gravity of the issues at stake.
With most economic indicators pointing southward; rampant and widespread insecurity in the midst of insurgency; domestic and international terrorism; banditry and proliferation of arms which has led to softened sovereignty in some parts of the country; endemic corruption; runaway inflation: poverty and illiteracy; food crisis and insecurity; burgeoning unemployment; community clashes with attendant rise in brigandage and carnage; needless to say, the fault lines of our nationhood has never been more barely exposed as they currently are. Our depiction as the “poverty capital of the world” is because millions of our citizens continue to wallow in despondent poverty and disease over the effect of some of the negative consequences of the economic policies about which NESG – and, it has to be said, many others before them – have spoken to.
What appears to have now transpired is that important and crucial dialogue about the quite serious problems we, as a nation, are now confronted with, ran the unfortunate risk of being “diverted” and supplanted by a “collision of intellectual egos”. To be clear, we, the National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity do not believe that to score points, it is permissible to rely on assertions that are either flawed or out rightly untrue. Nor do we consider that it is acceptable – or permissible – that the reading audience should be misled by self-serving or manipulated interpretations of issues being discussed.
To the extent that these postures exist in any of the respective parties’ public explanations, we demur and deprecate such conduct and commentary. That said, we maintain the view that NESG and its members, in their capacity as an economic and policy advocacy body, reserve individual and collective rights to comment on matters of the economy; directly criticize and express contrasting opinion about the policies and interventions of the Federal Government and, or its agencies, including the CBN.
The resignation of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of 3 prominent Nigerian banks from the Board of NESG coincided uncomfortably with the emergence of these differences between NESG and CBN. Whilst it appears that there may be well-informed reasons for the CEOs actions, it is only logical that there may be those who will see this as having occurred, not without certain influence or pressure connected with sentiments arising out of this situation. As Nigeria’s apex banking and financial regulatory institution, CBN must be mindful of its utterances and comportment, as its body language may inadvertently create an environment that censures instead of extracting value from opposing views, ideas and counsel.
We are not insinuating any direct link between CBN, NESG and the resignations, but the enormous regulatory and other powers it wields over banks and the speed at which the resignations were effected creates an inescapable wireless connection between the two. These kinds of rancorous conduct, which are inimical to deliberate knowledge integration and management to deepen policy responses, must be avoided in the future. It is critical that the strangulating poverty which threatens average Nigerian families today does not drown in the sea of rhetorical vitriol.
Like all very anxious and concerned Nigerians, we are entitled to – and expect – constructive engagements that will lead to the enactment of economic policies that create production-based jobs so the national economy can grow sustainably. As Nigerians face up to what is likely a fresh round of recession, all stakeholders in the economy must come together to ensure that our economic recovery plans are well thought through, backed by empirical data. The CBN should muster the humility to admit the fact that some of its policies have failed to deliver the expected outcomes and rather than create more jobs, have made the economy more atrophied; impoverishing more Nigerians than it has lifted out of poverty.
We hereby call on the Federal Government; CBN, NESG, and other well-meaning institutions and stakeholders in the country to focus their energies on activities and commentary that galvanize the immense intellectual capacities that are available to the country to enact policies and intervention that provides very desperately needed socio-economic relief and support to long suffering Nigerians.
Nigerians need jobs, not invectives!
National Association of Seadogs