The President-Elect Olusegun Obasanjo has made an impassioned plea to the West for “substantial and immediate” relief on the country’s estimated $34 bn external debt.
Speaking during a two-hour meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, with the director of UK Jubilee 2000 Coalition, Ann Pettifor, General Obasanjo (rtd) said democracy would not be sustainable in sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country unless Nigeria’s creditors provided highly concessional debt relief. “Nigerians will be asking me for democracy dividend, which is nothing more than an improvement in their living conditions. I cannot do this, unless I have debt relief. ”
Responding to a question from Jubilee 2000 director Ann Pettifor, General Obasanjo said he was prepared to meet tough conditions — including an open and transparent process — that would involve ordinary Nigerians in the country’s financial dealings. He told Ms Pettifor that he had written to the World Bank and the IMF inviting them to come and examine Nigeria’s central bank, but he made it clear that he would not be dictated to, by such institutions.
Pushed by Ms Pettifor on the question of corruption, General Obasanjo acknowledged that at least half of Nigeria’s debt “is dubious”. “The people who gave those loans knew that the money wasn’t being spent wisely. Perhaps they even took their own cut. Yet the ordinary people of Nigeria have to pay back that loan. This is the injustice of it all. I want Jubilee 2000 to go and preach it in Europe, America and Japan, that the burden of our debt is immoral”.
In an apparent response to the British Chancellor, Gordon Brown’s, recent statement offering support to Nigeria in return for a permanent IMF representative in the Nigerian finance ministry, General Obasanjo appeared relaxed about IMF and World Bank observers in Nigeria’s financial institutions. “Once you owe money, you lose an element of sovereignty. But I want to make it clear, that they cannot tell me what to do in Nigeria.”
He went on: ” I have stuck my neck out. You want openness, I’ll open up. You want transparency, I’ll give you transparency. After that, what else is the West asking me to do? Cut my neck? Bleed Nigeria to death? ”
General Obasanjo pledged to work with Jubilee 2000 and suggested strategies for taking the campaign forward, including convincing the West that Nigeria had fulfilled the central demand of the international community, by returning to democracy.
“I’m saying to the creditors in the west, that we have done what you want us to do, at the cost of our sweat and blood. People have given their lives for this result. This is the message Jubilee 2000 must carry to the world.”
At the end of the meeting, Ann Pettifor said: “We in Jubilee 2000 would be prepared to support Nigeria’s claims for substantial debt relief. We deplore the recent surreptitious sleight-of-hand by World Bank and IMF officials, in removing Nigeria from the list of countries eligible for relief under the HIPC scheme.
“However, we are adamant that if there are any additional resources from debt relief, that these should be channelled to the ordinary people of Nigeria, particularly the poor. We are encouraged that the new President is willing to countenance a transparent, accountable process for debt negotiations, which would involve the ordinary people of Nigeria. We want debt relief to work twice: first as money to the poor. Second, as empowerment of the poor.”
After the meeting with the President-Elect, Ms Pettifor travelled to Lagos to meet with renowned human rights campaigner, Beco Ransome-Kuti, and other groups. Mr. Beco Ransome-Kuti, recently released from prison, expressed doubts that the new President would be able to offer a “democratic dividend” to Nigerians, surrounded as he was, by members of the old regime.
Jubilee 2000 UK, May 24, 1999