Tinubu inherits Nigeria’s high debt — an economist analyses what this means for the country’s future

Nigeria’s exterior debt inventory —what it owes non-residents — was $41.69 billion in 2022

Because the sixteenth president of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu inherits an economic system that’s grappling with inflation, chronic unemployment, extreme poverty, crumbling infrastructure and insecurity.

Nigeria’s debt profile stands out amongst these issues like a sore thumb. The nation’s exterior debt inventory — what it owes non-residents — was $41.69 billion in 2022.

Multilateral lenders accounted for nearly half of this determine. Eurobonds accounted for about 38per cent of Nigeria’s exterior debt. Exim Financial institution of China accounted for $4.3 billion, or 86 per cent of the $5 billion in bilateral debt.

The nation’s public debt inventory — what the federal government owes in complete — was about $100 billion in 2022.

Exterior money owed current an even bigger burden as a result of they’re denominated and serviced in foreign currency echange. Adjustments in change charges, equivalent to forex depreciation in a debtor nation, can increase curiosity funds and negatively have an effect on a rustic’s funds. And rates of interest could rise.

As an economist, I argue that, whereas the nation’s debt profile ought to be a priority, it needn’t hamper Tinubu’s capacity to revitalize the Nigerian economic system and to cut back unemployment and poverty charges.

Probably the most salient query is whether or not the present debt ranges are sustainable.

Debt sustainability

Though economists use various indicators to find out a rustic’s debt sustainability, two of these measures are extensively used. One of many indicators is gross debt as a share of gross home product (also called the debt-GDP ratio).

In Nigeria it was 38 per cent in 2022. The typical for sub Saharan African international locations was 56 per cent.

A World Financial institution research reveals that debt begins to harm an economic system, particularly financial development, when the debt-GDP ratio exceeds 77 per cent. Given this threshold, the debt-carrying capability of the Nigerian economic system continues to be sturdy.

Average and prudent additions to the nation’s debt inventory wouldn’t push it over the precipice of debt unsustainability, at the least within the subsequent few years. This doesn’t imply that the nation ought to go on a borrowing spree to finance frivolous and vainness initiatives. It merely signifies that the present debt stage doesn’t stop financial development, employment era and poverty discount.

Though the US is totally different from Nigeria, it has demonstrated that debt needn’t constrain financial vitality. The US debt-GDP ratio is about 120 per cent, nevertheless it has been capable of scale back unemployment to 3.4 per cent, whereas holding inflation at 4.9 per cent.

One other indicator of debt sustainability is the debt service ratio. That is the proportion of export earnings that’s used to service a debt — that’s, to pay again the principal and the curiosity. A wholesome ratio is beneath 18 per cent.

Nigeria had a debt-service ratio of 16.2 per cent in 2021, in comparison with 3.2 per cent in 2015. The 2021 quantity reveals that Nigeria is getting nearer to the purpose the place servicing its debt would turn into an issue.

However the Nigerian scenario isn’t as dire as many African international locations’, with a mean debt-service ratio of 19 per cent in 2021.

Income and spending

To ease Nigeria’s rising debt burden, the Tinubu administration should deal with the nation’s declining income. Nigeria has the fourth lowest revenue-GDP ratio on the earth.

Authorities income as a percentage of GDP has declined from 13.5 per cent in 2010-2014 to only 6.9 per cent in 2020. The averages for sub-Saharan Africa and the world in 2015-2020 have been 20.1 per cent and 24.2 per cent, respectively.

Nigeria’s reliance on oil as a significant income implies that revenue will proceed to fall, given uncertainties within the international oil market and rampant theft of oil within the nation. The World Financial institution’s forecast of sluggish financial development (beneath 3 per cent) within the subsequent three years would additionally worsen the nation’s capability to generate income.

In the meantime, authorities expenditure has been rising (besides in the course of the COVID period) sooner than anticipated. The deficits should be coated by borrowings. Extra borrowing signifies that an growing proportion of revenues generated might be dedicated to debt service.

Due to dwindling income, Nigeria’s debt-revenue ratio was 80.6 per cent in 2022, which is much increased than the 22.5 per cent really helpful for growing international locations by the World Financial institution.

The ratio is predicted to exceed 100 per cent by the tip of this yr. Excessive debt-revenue ratios create a perpetual cycle of debt. Since revenues are used to service debt, the nation should borrow to finance authorities expenditures. Because the debt grows greater, extra income is dedicated to debt servicing, which in flip will increase the debt-revenue ratio.

Whereas Nigeria’s debt-revenue ratio could be very excessive, the ratio of exterior debt service to income is average at 20 per cent and beneath that of many different African international locations.

Which means, for each 100 naira in income, 20 naira is used to service exterior debt, leaving 80 naira for presidency expenditure and home debt service.

Though Nigeria’s debt-GDP ratio is sustainable and beneath the degrees specified by the IMF, it’s worrisome that the exterior debt-GDP ratio has been rising in the course of the previous decade.

It was simply 9.3 per cent in 2010, 5 years after Nigeria reached a historic settlement with the Paris Membership of creditor nations for debt aid value $18 billion and a $30 billion discount within the nation’s debt inventory.

The debt-GDP ratio is now 38 per cent and is predicted to succeed in 43 per cent within the subsequent 5 years. . Given dwindling authorities revenues, gradual financial development and rising expenditure wants, there are issues that the federal government will proceed to depend on borrowings to finance financial growth.

Digging out of debt

The Tinubu administration ought to be cautious to not worsen the nation’s debt profile.

The incoming authorities ought to handle Nigeria’s debt very prudently and keep away from going again to the period of the early 2000s when the nation’s debt-GDP ratio exceeded 50 per cent.

It ought to scale back the excessive price of governance price, get rid of wasteful spending and rein in corruption.

Perennial borrowing to unravel financial issues can plunge the borrower into unsustainable and damaging indebtedness.

Given low income and the numerous initiatives wanted to advertise financial development, employment era and poverty discount, the Tinubu administration should proceed with the coverage of deficit spending, financed primarily by home and exterior borrowing.

The query won’t be whether or not to borrow, however how a lot.

Drastically decreasing the price of governance might be tough if political patronage continues.

A protracted-term resolution to Nigeria’s debt drawback is to discover new sources of income. To alter the current narrative about how dangerous Nigeria is, the Tinubu administration ought to introduce insurance policies that enhance Nigeria’s financial fundamentals.


A rustic’s debt inventory doesn’t matter as a lot as the standard of its financial insurance policies. Financial insurance policies might lead to funds surpluses that can be utilized to repay debt.

A place to begin is to spend money on bodily capital and infrastructure (particularly roads and electrical energy); present entry to capital for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; and help agricultural growth.

There’s additionally an pressing have to diversify the economic system, make it much less reliant on oil and broaden the nation’s very slender income base.

One technique is to resuscitate the moribund factories in Nigeria and promote agro-processing industries, in order that the economic system would generate extra income from non-oil sources to finance authorities spending and initiatives.The Conversation

Stephen Onyeiwu, Professor of Economics & Enterprise, Allegheny College

This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.


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