Despite criticism back in Nigeria over his numerous loan requests in the past few years, President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday appealed to ”rich nations” and international financial institutions for outright debt cancellation for countries ”facing the most severe challenges in the wake of the COVID-19”.
He particularly urged G20 countries to extend their debt suspension initiatives to all developing countries, least developed countries and small island developing states facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.
He made the appeal during his speech at the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The president’s plea comes amid criticisms from Nigerians over his administration’s consistent borrowings.
His most recent request for an external loan was sent to the Senate on September 14.
In his letter, the president sought the lawmakers’ approval to borrow $4 billion and €710 million loan from bilateral and multilateral organisations to fund the deficit in the 2021 budget.
He had said the loan request, an addendum to the 2018-2020 borrowing plan, is needed for some “critical projects.” He also asked the lawmakers to approve grant components of $125 million.
The request came barely two months after the National Assembly approved his earlier request to borrow $8.3 billion and €490 million loans contained in the initial 2018-2020 borrowing plan.
It triggered outrage from the opposition party, PDP.
While the party cautioned the NASS against approving the request, saying it could set the country’s debt profile skyrocketing without a feasible repayment plan, the APC said the loans are for “the good of the country” and well-being of the citizenry.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Borno senator, Ali Ndume, who belongs to the ruling APC, also faulted the president’s borrowing plan describing it as ”increasing and worrisome”.
The president’s handlers have always argued that the government is only borrowing for capital projects and not for consumption as done by past governments.
But, developing countries, Mr Buhari said, have been faced with unsustainable debt burdens even before the pandemic.
‘‘The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of a new wave of deepening debt, where vital public financial resources are allocated to external debt servicing and repayments, at the expense of domestic health and financing for critical developmental needs.
‘‘I must commend the current initiatives by the international financial institutions and the G20 aimed at significantly mitigating the economic situation of the indebted countries and urge for more efforts in this regard.
‘‘Therefore, there is an urgent need to consider expansion and extension of the debt service suspension initiative to include all developing, least developed countries and small island developing states facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.
‘‘In addition, a review of the eligibility criteria for debt suspension, including outright cancellation, is needed for countries facing the most severe challenges,’’ Mr Buhari told world leaders at the assembly.
The Nigerian leader called for reforms of international trade that would engender recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, build resilience to future shocks and pursue transformative development strategies that can deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
‘‘Nigeria reaffirms that international trade is an engine for development and sustained economic growth, as well as the global eradication of poverty.
‘‘My delegation would like to reaffirm the critical role that a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system can play in stimulating economic growth and development.
‘‘Fair and equitable trade would eventually eliminate the need for aid.
‘‘My country and indeed all African countries do not intend to stay indefinitely looking for aid. All we need is a fair and equitable system of international trade,’’ he said.
Equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines
The president also used the occasion of the speech to renew his advocacy for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, outlining steps Nigeria had taken to achieve ‘‘moderate success’’ in containing the virus and halt its deadly onslaught in the country.
He added: ‘‘Nigeria remains grateful for the assistance received from our partners and friends all over the world. Vaccination is the key to our safe emergence from the pandemic.
ALSO READ: FOR THE RECORD: Buhari’s speech at the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
‘‘We fully support the COVAX initiative from which we have benefitted. We also thank the United States of America, Turkey, India, China, European Union, and others for the vaccines provided.
‘‘Despite the acknowledgement, however, I would like to reiterate my call for a fairer and more equitable distribution of vaccines to all countries so that, together, we can fight and contain the pandemic.
‘‘The rising wave of newer and more contagious strains makes this even more urgent. No country can afford the socio-economic implications of a prolonged shutdown. It is imperative to underscore that no one is safe until everyone is safe.’’
He said Nigeria had intervened to halt the pandemic, adding, “at the outset, we recognised detection and contact tracing to be important tools in combating the virus.
‘‘In this connection, from a mere four laboratories with testing and detection capacities, we ramped up the facilities to over 140 centres today.
‘‘Similarly, we built isolation centres and emergency hospital wards in record time all over the country. We carry out genomic sequencing in designated laboratories across the country with a view to detecting variants in circulation.
‘‘In addition, over 40,000 health care workers have recently been trained on Infection, Prevention and Control measures with the support of various partners.
‘‘Through the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, we have established 16 infectious disease treatment centres located within our Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres”, he said.
Fight against terrorism
On terrorism, Mr Buhari told the UN General Assembly that Nigeria’s security forces had recorded considerable success in the fight against terrorism.
‘‘As a result of the renewed vigour of Nigeria’s military, many terrorist fighters are voluntarily surrendering to our security forces,’’ he said.
The president noted that while terrorism continued to dominate security discourse worldwide, in Nigeria, Boko Haram terrorists group, though fragmented by internal strife and weakened by our defence forces, is still active and preying on soft targets.
‘‘Nigeria will continue to work closely with the UN Counter-Terrorism bodies and entities with a view to bringing this scourge to an end,’’ he added.
The country would spare no effort in addressing the challenges of terrorism posed by the activities of Boko Haram in North-east Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, as well as banditry in the North-West and North-Central Nigeria, the president said.
‘‘I and three other Nigerian Heads of State served actively as peacekeepers and Nigeria continues to support peacekeeping efforts. We know the sacrifice involved; we also know how important peacekeeping is for those in vulnerable situations.
‘‘Nigeria will continue to play its part fully in supporting UN peacekeeping operations within Africa and beyond,’’ he said.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To advertise here . Call Willie +2347088095401...