Nine days ago, the House of Representatives mandated some of its committees to investigate all China-Nigeria loan agreements from 2000 to date. The intention of the green chamber here was to ascertain the viability of the facilities, then regularize and renegotiate them, especially as the country is expected to slide into recession this year.
There and then, Ben Igbakpa, one of the legislators, moved a motion on the need to review and renegotiate existing China-Nigeria loan agreements. The motion was adopted.
Why it matters…
Igbakpa argued that the agreement should be investigated as there were global concerns about the alleged fraudulent, irregular, and underhand features of Chinese loan contracts with some African countries, which had resulted in a new form of economic colonialism foisted by China.
Meanwhile, Nigeria has obtained 17 Chinese loans to fund different categories of capital projects, and Nigeria will still be servicing the Chinese loans till around 2038, which is the maturity date for the last loans obtained in 2018.
The lawmakers’ concern is worthy to be considered. Nairametrics found that the history of Chinese loans, especially in Africa, is a growing concern. Several observers, including some of the United States Representatives, have warned many nations on what they described as Chinese Debt trap diplomacy, as the Asian nation allegedly used finance as a weapon in many developing countries.
Victims of Chinese alleged Debt trap diplomacy
Since all Chinese loans are tied to infrastructural developments, some of the African nations have had to forfeit their stakes in the infrastructure, which they used as collateral, after they defaulted. For instance, $7.4 billion of Zambia’s total $8.7 billion foreign debt is owed to China, representing a large debt burden, given the relatively small size of Zambia’s economy. It was reported in late 2018 that the Zambian Government was in talks with China that might result in the total surrender of the state electricity company ZESCO as a form of debt repayment since the country had defaulted on the plethora of Chinese loans for Zambia’s infrastructure projects.
Also, Kenya may soon lose its largest and most lucrative port, Port of Mombasa to its creditor (China) after it defaulted in the refund. This could force Kenya to relinquish control of the port to China.
One of the most cited examples of alleged debt-trap diplomacy by China is a loan given to the Sri Lankan Government by the Exim Bank of China to build the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port and Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport. The state-owned Chinese firms’ China Harbour Engineering Company and Sinohydro Corporation were hired to build the Magampura Port at a cost of $361 million, which was 85% funded by China’s state-owned Export-Import Bank at an annual interest rate of 6.3%. Due to Sri Lanka’s inability to service the debt on the port, it was leased to the Chinese state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited on a 99-year lease in 2017.
Can Nigeria refund the loans? Expert say …
Nigeria owes China about $3.1 billion, more than 10% of the $27.6 billion external debt stock. Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed in February that the Federal Government decided to go for a $17 billion loan from China as the World Bank and the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) failed to show much interest in Nigeria during the recession.
But can Nigeria refund the loan? Experts think otherwise, as they argue that if care is not taken, the nation may fall into the Chinese Debt Trap.
In an interview with Channels TV, the Director of Centre for Infrastructure Policy Regulation and Advancement (CIPRA), Lagos Business School, Dr Bongo Adi, explained that Nigeria lacks accountability, transparency, and responsibility to refund the loans. He noted that when it comes to loans, Nigeria has failed to implement the three factors in its engagement with the Chinese.
According to him, Chinese Exim Bank has offered $6.6 billion to Nigeria and that is quite significant. He said:
“We have to look at the total debt and the capacity to repay not just to China but to our creditors. Our Debt independent revenue is at 96% now. That means for every N1 we earn, 96 kobo is used to refund loans. That has passed a critical threshold.
“What it means is that we lack the ability and we don’t have the headroom anymore to repay because our independent revenue has been strangulated by our enormous debt hanging over the Federal Government as it stands now.”
READ MORE: A Post-COVID Economy
He also expressed concern that increasing Chinese loan is an indication that the nation has not considered the history of Chinese loans. He said:
“Out of 64 countries that host the Chinese Belt and Road initiative projects, 20 have gone under distress and 8 are about to lose their sovereign debt sustainability if they should take any further loan. If that were supposed to be a good guide, it means Nigeria needs to be very careful when we are borrowing from the Chinese.
“We have seen this Chinese cycle and need to be careful. What normally happens is that the Chinese will begin to take over infrastructure asset, which is what some call Chinese Chopstick Imperialism and the experience is not just pleasant. Chinese strategically tie loans to infrastructure and that is with the intention of taking possession of the infrastructure asset if there is the default, as such asset became their collateral.”
Meanwhile, contrary to the belief of some pro-government pundits that the Abuja-Kaduna rail was a success, a Chartered Accountant, Peter Adebayo, said that It depends on how the success is qualified. He said:
“When you look at the economics of the project, questions have been asked. Minister of Transportation has said in a forum that government subsidised the project by 60%. Now, that the cry all over is for the government to remove subsidy, will the project continue to be sustainable if the subsidy is removed?
“If that is the case, will we be able to repay the debt? What is the impact of all these, we need to be careful. We should look away from PPP and focus on Blended finance. It is a strategic move where you bring in development finance with some philanthropic funds to activate private capital into infrastructure development. Our debt is high and it is a precarious situation for everyone. We cannot do without taking loans but the government has displayed incapacity and incompetence to manage projects.”
Productivity-enhancing reforms are required for quick economic recovery – World Bank
Productivity-enhancing structural reforms key to quick economic recovery.
The World Bank has revealed that a slow recovery of the global economy is not an inevitability and can be avoided through productivity-enhancing structural reforms.
This is contained in the Bank’s flagship report – Global Economic Prospects.
The Bank believes structural reforms are capable of offsetting the pandemic’s scarring effects and lay the foundations for higher long-run growth. It agrees that the global economy appears to be emerging from one of its deepest recessions and beginning a subdued recovery, beyond the short term economic outlook, following the devastating health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
According to the report, policymakers face formidable challenges — in public health, debt management, budget policies, central banking, and structural reforms, as they try to ensure that this still-fragile global recovery gains traction and sets a foundation for robust growth and development.
- Growth in Nigeria is expected to resume at 1.1% in 2021 – markedly weaker than previous projections – and edge up to 1.8% in 2022, as the economy faces severe challenges.
- Investment is projected to shrink again this year in more than a quarter of economies – primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where investment gaps were already large prior to the pandemic.
- Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rebound only moderately to 2.7% in 2021 – 0.4% point weaker than previously projected, before firming to 3.3% in 2022.
- Relative to advanced economies, disruptions to schooling have, on average, been more prolonged in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs), including in low-income countries.
What the World Bank is saying
- “In the longer run, a concerted push toward productivity-enhancing structural reforms will be required to offset the pandemic’s scarring effects.
- “The intended productivity-enhancing structural reforms encompass promoting education, effective public investment, sectoral reallocation, and improved governance. Investment in green infrastructure projects can provide further support to sustainable long-run growth while also contributing to climate change mitigation.”
Are we ready to adjust structurally?
The World Bank has identified key areas that could trigger quick economic recovery. A close look at events in the country appears to suggest that we may be far from ready in terms of adjusting structurally.
A cursory look at the structural adjustment areas suggested by the Bank indicates that in Nigeria, for example, and maybe elsewhere, the single most important factor is improved governance.
All other factors appear to be contingent on this, as the Bank admits that improved governance and reduced corruption can lay the foundations for higher long-run growth. Policymakers and politicians in the country are therefore advised to pay close attention to activities geared towards reduced corruption and improved governance.
Another key area is public investment. Even though most public enterprises and related establishments are usually plagued with corporate governance problems, there are several ways by which the problems could be curtailed.
The issue of education, especially tertiary education, has been problematic with governments failing to meet the demands of university unions, resulting in strikes, almost on a yearly basis. It is hoped that a lasting solution to this springs forth soon.
Nigerian government spends equivalent of 83% of revenue to service debt in 2020
The Federal Government of Nigeria achieved a debt service to revenue ratio of 83% in 2020.
The Federal Government of Nigeria achieved a debt service to revenue ratio of 83% in 2020. This is according to the information contained in the budget implementation report of the government for the year ended December 2020.
According to the data seen by Nairametrics, total revenue earned in 2020 was N3.93 trillion representing a 27% drop from the target revenues of N5.365 trillion. However, debt service for the year was a sum of N3.26 trillion or 82.9% of revenue.
Nigeria’s debt service cost of N3.26 trillion has now dwarfed the N1.7 trillion spent on capital expenditure of N1.7 trillion incurred in 2020. This is also the highest debt service paid by the Federal Government since we started tracking this data in 2009.
The total public debt (External and Domestic) balance carried by Nigeria as of September 2020 stood at N32.22 trillion ($84.57 billion). Included in the total debt is a domestic debt of about N15.8 trillion.
What this means: Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio is estimated at about 22%, one of the lowest in the world and much below what is obtainable in most emerging markets.
- However, the challenge has always been the debt service to revenue ratio, a metric that reveals whether the government is generating enough revenues to pay down its debts as they mature.
- Since the first recession experienced in 2016, Nigeria has struggled with a higher debt service to revenue ratio as revenues slid in direct correlation with the fall in oil prices.
- Nigeria’s government spent about N2.45 trillion in debt service in 2019 out of total revenue of N4.1 trillion or 59.6% debt service to revenue ratio.
- At 83%, 2020 ranks as the highest debt service to revenue ratio we have incurred. Before now it was 2017 with 61.6%.
Breakdown of what debts were serviced
The following amount was spent on debt service during the year
- To service domestic debt, the government spent N1.755 trillion in 2020 as against a budget of N1.87 trillion.
- For foreign debts, a sum of N553 billion was spent against a target budget of N805.47 billion. The drop here is likely a result of lower interest rates on foreign borrowing as well as very limited borrowing from the foreign debt market during the year.
- The government only contributed N4.58 billion into its sinking fund instead of the budgeted N272.9 billion.
- The sinking fund is required to set aside funds that will be used to pay down on other loans such as bonds when they mature in the future.
- Finally, a sum of N912.57 trillion was spent on servicing CBN’s loans, granted via its Ways and Means provisions.
- Nairametrics reported last week that a total sum of N2.8 trillion was extended by the CBN to the FG as Ways and Means.
What happens next: In 2021, the government projects a debt service of N3.1 trillion against revenue of N6.6 trillion or debt service to revenue ratio of 46.9%.
- The government plans to spend N4.3 trillion on capital expenditure during the year.
FG receives N144 billion in dividends from NLNG in 2020
NLNG, paid the Federal Government a dividend of N188 billion in the fiscal year ended December 2020.
Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Company, NLNG, paid the Federal Government a dividend of N144 billion in the fiscal year ended December 2020.
This is according to the information contained in the Ministry of Finance Budget implementation report for the period of January 2020 to December 2020 and presented by the Minister for Finance Dr. Zainab Ahmed.
During the year, the Federal Government budgeted a sum of N80.3 billion as its share of dividends from NLNG, however, the actual sum received as its share was N144 billion, N63.2 billion more or 79% higher than projected.
The year 2020 was a difficult year for the government as the fall in crude oil prices and the economic shutdown that was triggered by the Covid-19 Pandemic dented projections and ravaged revenues.
NLNG Dividend Bliss
The dividend received from NLNG was a major bright spot in the government’s revenue performance for the year.
- During the year, the government projected revenue of N5.36 trillion but only received N3.9 trillion in revenues representing a shortfall of N1.4 trillion or 27% for the year.
- The huge dividend windfall received in 2020 is a stark contrast from 2017 when Nigeria just exited a recession triggered by falling oil prices and a sharp exchange rate devaluation.
- In that year, the Federal Government’s share of dividends from Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) dropped by as much as $687 million, from $1.04 billion in 2015 to $365 million in 2016, a 65% drop.
- The N144 billion received in 2020 topped the amount received from signature bonuses only N78.2 billion and complimented the N192 billion received by VAT.
- It is the most effective form of revenue generation for the government.
Back in July Nairametrics reported that the House of Representatives planned to investigate the alleged illegal withdrawal of $1.05 billion from the NLNG account by NNPC without its knowledge and appropriation.
- They had accused the NNPC of illegally tampering with the funds at the NLNG dividends account to the tune of 1.05 billion dollars thereby violating the nation’s appropriation law.
- NLNG is a company jointly owned by Nigerian owned NNPC(49%), Shell (25.6%), Total (15%), and ENI (10.4%).
- The company is located in Bonny Island and has six trains with a total capacity to process 22 million tonnes of LNG a year and as much as 5 million tonnes of natural gas liquids.
- NLNG currently accounts for about 7% of the total LNG supply in the world. Nigeria is ranked as the 4th exporter of Natural Gas in the world.
Upshots: The FG is targeting a revenue of N208 billion from NLNG as dividends in 2021. If this materializes, it will be a significant payout in dividend (in naira terms) competing with the N238.4 billion expected from VAT.
- Important to note that the recent devaluation of the naira will increase the naira value of dividends and other government revenue, as it did in 2020.
- The government also targets N6.6 trillion in revenue for the period under review.
Updated: An earlier version of this article captured the dividend as N188 billion instead of N144 billion. It has now been corrected.