One in Five Africans Live in Nigeria - And Need Aid
This is a pivotal year for Africa; Britain has set up a Commission for Africa;
the Make Poverty History coalition is campaigning for the poor in my continent
and around the world; and more far-reaching debt cancellation is once again on
the table as the G8 group of rich industrialised countries meets in London this
weekend. Given that one in five Africans is Nigerian, it would be a travesty if
Nigeria were left out in the cold.
desperately needs debt cancellation and a new start. But we are hobbled by
misconceptions, which are understandable given past decades of misrule and
instability. People think that because Nigeria has oil, it is a rich country,
and that debt cancellation would be wasted because the money would disappear
into a black hole of corruption. I want to persuade you otherwise.
invariably described as oil rich. Yes, Nigeria has oil but it is not rich. The
money earned is spread across a population of nearly 130 million people; our
revenues are equivalent to about 50 cents a day for each Nigerian. To put that
in perspective, it is roughly equivalent to Cameroon, which is defined as
heavily indebted and deserving of debt cancellation.
The fact is
that Nigeria is very poor. Seventy-four million Nigerians live on $1 a day or
less. Nigeria's income per head per year is $300, compared with an average of
$450 in "low income countries"; life expectancy at birth is 47 years, compared
with 58. About the world, 10 million children die before the age of five; one
million of them are Nigerian.
gets the least aid of any sub-Saharan country, at about $2 per capita, compared
with the average of $28 in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, because of large debt
service bills, a net $12 per capita goes out to developing countries.
$34bn, much of it in penalties and compound interest imposed on debts that were
not paid by the military dictatorships of the 1980s and early 1990s. We make
annual debt repayments of more than $1.7bn, three times our education budget and
nine times our health budget. We have every intention of continuing to fulfill
obligations to creditors but this debt is unsustainable. Nigeria cannot meet the
Millennium Development Goals without debt cancellation.
fact of being poor will not be enough to make our case. Nigeria has to convince
the world that it is capable of using the resources released by debt
cancellation wisely. We have already put tracking of poverty reduction
expenditure into the budget.
Nigeria is not
an easy country to manage. It is almost the size of western Europe, its 130
million people live in 36 fiercely independent states and speak 374 different
But it has
successfully conducted two democratic elections since 1998 and President
Obasanjo has put economic reform and battling corruption and vested interests at
the heart of his programme. Internet scam criminals have been arrested and
jailed and their funds confiscated; senior political figures and government
officials have been dismissed and will face prosecution if investigations reveal
corruption. Across government, we have cleaned up our act, embedding
accountability and transparency.
professional debt management office was put in place to reopen a dialogue with
creditors and ensure debt repayments are smoothly made. The president is pushing
through fiscal responsibility legislation to entrench budget discipline.
In 2004, with
an assumed oil price of $25 a barrel, our budget deficit was about 2% of GDP,
much lower than deficits in Germany, France, Britain and the United States.
account additional oil revenues because of higher real prices, we actually ran a
surplus. The extra revenues have been earmarked for investment in education,
health and infrastructure and against a future drop in prices and revenues.
not been popular with vested interests and there is a real fear that without the
support of international creditors, disillusion and resistance will overwhelm
our dedication to democracy, to rooting out corruption and to reform. We
desperately need to invest more in public services. We are asking for debt
cancellation to help us succeed.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the finance minister of Nigeria