By OBINNA EZUGWU
Prof. Anya O. Anya, Nigeria Merit Award laureate, and former board chairman, has warned that the country could go bankrupt between 2023 and 2024 if urgent steps were not taken to address its mounting debt profile and the outrageously unsustainable subsidy bill.
Anya, who is also the pioneer Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, NESG, believed that Nigeria is at cross roads and the coming election is an opportunity to pull the nation back from the precipice by electing a president, who is committed to a different way of governance.
“The minister of finance said that by June this year, we will be owing a debt of N77trn. Then, we used to talk about billions, but now we are talking about trillions, and I’m lost; I don’t even know how much is a trillion,” Prof. Anya said in an interview with Business Hallmark.
“But the important thing is that the size of Nigeria’s problem is so huge now that you need everybody’s help to get things fixed, and that is where the youths are important, because youth is a time that you dream dreams. You think you can do everything.
“We need that kind of drive coming from the youths, but we also need the experienced people to start bringing out the lessons learned from what has happened and start applying them to bring people together.”
Harping on the way forward, Prof. Anya said fuel subsidy, which he described as a scam, must be removed as quickly as possible, while wondering why the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari could not do so and now wants to shift the burden to the next administration.
“Some of us have said this over the last five years. The subsidy story is a scam at the highest level,” he said. “But scam or no scam, you need to be able to put a stop to it in order to reorganize the economy.”
The elder statesman also flayed the Buhari administration for its unchecked borrowing, noting that borrowing for consumption is a recipe for crisis, which according to him, could push the country into bankruptcy.
“You can’t be borrowing money in order to pay salaries, in order to run services. It doesn’t happen. The way you run a country is a mirror of the way you run your house. You can’t go on borrowing when you are not using it to produce more. If you borrowed in order to build a hospital or an educational institution that will produce people that can repay the debt, it’s not a problem,” he said.
“But if you are borrowing to eat, when you have eaten, it goes out. The first thing that would happen is that your creditors will turn the tap off and say the one you have borrowed, you are not able to pay back. At that time, what would you do? So, as they say, when you are in a hole, the first thing you do is to stop digging.
“But, unfortunately, that’s what this government has refused to do. It has refused to put a stop somewhere, to reorganize and start doing things little by little until we move to safer territory.
“People say the country can’t go bankrupt, but we have seen what happened in Sri Lanka, which has been declared bankrupt as we speak. And the indications are that unless we do something fast, this year, going into next year, Nigeria will join. And given the level of violence we already have, it is an invitation to chaos.
“Already, you can’t travel on any Nigerian road and take it for granted that you will get to your destination without challenge. There is kidnapping all over the place. There is violence all over the place, and this government seems to have now decided to do nothing except to postpone the evil day.”
Prof. Anya wondered why the government could not keep its promise to do away with the thorny issue of fuel subsidy. He said it could have helped if subsidy was removed as promised, as it would have helped to prevent some of the challenges now confronting the country.
“Remember, they said last year that they were going to remove subsidy, that they have no alternative than to remove it. What happened?” Anya wondered.
“They have decided that it will be in June, In June, this government won’t be in office, because they will handover by May 29. So, they are welcoming the new government with multiplied problems. The little they could have done between last year and now, has not been done.”
He, however, noted that there is hope for the nation, with the youth now determined to get the right leadership, even as he remarked that there would be sympathy for people of Nigeria because they don’t deserve what is happening to them.
“But despite these, I believe that things will settle down because there will be sympathy for the people of Nigeria. The people of Nigeria don’t deserve what they have now. And the height of it is that people, who are responsible for where we are now are are still the people, who tell you that they have the right to continue to govern you. But it’s not to govern, what they are saying is that they have the right to continue to misgovern the country.
“But when the time is ripe, many of the people that went out will come back, whether in China, India or Malaysia, the way the human psyche operates is that once you give people the confidence that change is coming and that new things are possible, you will find out that humans will rally. And that will happen in Nigeria by the grace of God.
He is hopeful that change may be coming with the election.
“God is intervening in the affairs of Nigeria. Before this time, God gave us the signal through the EndSARS movement, but the lessons were not understood. The way it was organised and carried out showed the competence and the confidence of the younger generation. And it was not violent. But the lesson you would have learned from that could have been that, young men, young women, we’ve gotten the message. We will do things differently.
“But instead, the clarion call that went among the politicians, and that’s the story they sold to President Buhari, was that these young people want to overthrow you. So, the reaction was to call on violence, which is what threatened governments do.
“If, in fact, we had followed up the youths and dialogued with them, we would have taken their plans, added with those of the elders like us and we’d have gotten to a point where everyone recognizes that things have gotten bad, but we can fix it. And it is the duty of everybody.”
“I said it first at the national conference of 2014, and I had cause to repeat it at the conference of elders that we had. There is no area of Nigeria that doesn’t have serious problems. There is no area of Nigeria that left on his own, can solve its problems, but some need more help than others.
“What that means is that if we rallied to solve our problems by helping each other, we would have come out better. But we have divisive approach to the running of the country. We have a country that is sinking, and you are choosing leaders based on who comes from where.
“For goodness sake, all we need now is who will save us, not where the person comes from. And that is why the youth movement is a catalyst because it’s a response to the elders having ignored the way society was going.”