The nation’s total debt profile as at December 31, 2016, was $57.39 billion (N17.36 trillion). A breakdown of the debt component indicate that the external debt stock stood at $11.41billion (N3.48 trillion), while on the domestic side the nation’s debt stood at $45.98 billion dollars (N13.88 trillion).
This debt profile is made up of debts of the Federal Government, the 36 States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
This debt situation is, expectedly, generating controversy in government circles as the debate on whether to borrow or not to borrow lingers.
The Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun had, in the midst of it all, argued that diversification of revenue base would ensure that the nation did not continue to rely on debt to fund her budget spending over the long term. She insisted that Nigeria has got to get her budget bigger and to do that she could not solely depend on borrowing in the long term anymore.
What this entails, in her opinion, is that the country simply has to generate more revenue, plug the leakages and improve tax collection so as to be able to manage her borrowing.
Adeosun pointed out that the nation has a headroom to borrow and will be doing so in an aggressive manner to stimulate growth.
This is the situation Ms Patience Oniha met as she assumes duty as the Director General of the Debt Management Office (DMO).
With her background as a former director in DMO, she is coming on to a familiar terrain and can be said to be firmly grounded.
Thus, it is doubtless that the new Director General will hit the ground running. And the reasons are obvious. She was part of the success story of the DMO prior to her retirement.
During that period, DMO scored a number of firsts in its operational efforts to manage the country’s debt profile through the issuance of bonds and other instruments locally and internationally.
Oniha is expected to consolidate on those achievements of the past 10 years and even extend the frontiers.
There are indications that the government is inclined to borrowing about N2.32 trillion to finance the N7.29 trillion 2017 budget, which has now been raised to N7.44 trillion by the National Assembly.
We are aware that with every change of chief executive, it is expected that operational, managerial style and momentum are bound to change.
Already, her emergence as the DMO chief is eliciting enthusiasm and excitement among stakeholders who are also optimistic that she is coming with a lot of energy, intellectual capacity and a team spirit that is usually required for success in debt management.
We are moved to suggest that in addition to what she’s bringing to the table, Oniha must ensure a public buy-in to the activities of her office and maintain public image of the DMO as an engine room of economic reform and growth.
In making this suggestion, we call to mind the expectations of Nigerians of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
In particular, Nigerians have a basic assumption that the government needs to be seen as working hard to pull the country out of recession and put it on a path of sustainable economic growth and development.
We recognise the fact that the administration is already doing a lot of innovative things designed to tackle the economic challenges confronting the nation in a holistic manner even as some of this measures are not overtly in the public glare.
In the circumstance, we are hopeful enough to give Oniha and the team she will assemble in the days ahead the benefit of the doubt as they prepare to work out ways to beneficially steer the nation’s debt portfolio.
We are also working on the presumption that being already aware of the economic tension in the country, they will work in sync with other agencies of government to assuage any anxiety that may arise in the minds of the people regarding the health of the economy especially its impact on their wellbeing.
It is from this perspective that we urge her and her team to always be conscious of what is in the public space, its possibility or otherwise to inspire and motivate the people as opposed to what is tucked away in government confidential memos. Having worked in government circles for a long time, Oniha knows the influence of well managed information. We urge her to leave nothing to speculation as far as the nation’s debt issues are concerned.