June 24, 2024

Debt servicing gulps N13.17tn under Buhari, education suffers


• FG budgets N4tn for education in seven years, sector loses 837 days to strike

• Education underfunded, FG may borrow to fund sector, economists warn

The Federal Government spent nothing less than N13.17tn between 2016 and March 2022 under the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), an analysis by The PUNCH has revealed.

Findings by The PUNCH also showed that during the same period, the government budgeted N4.4tn for education amidst constant criticism by stakeholders, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities, about the low funding of the sector.

According to the information from the Debt Management Office, from 2016 to March 2022, servicing local debts gulped N10.77tn, while the government spent N2.40tn ($7.84bn) to service external debts.

The amount spent on external debt servicing was converted to Naira at the CBN’s exchange rate for the year. For instance, the naira-dollar average exchange rate for 2016 was N197 and N305 in 2017 respectively. It was N305 in 2018 and N360 in 2019. It closed at N380 and N420 in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

From January to December, a total of N1.23tn was spent to service the country’s domestic debts in 2016, during the same year N369.60bn was budgeted for education.

The figure for domestic debt servicing rose to N1.48tn in 2017 while the budget for education in the same year was N550bn.

In 2018, the country’s domestic debt servicing bill rose to N1.8tn with education at N605.8bn.

The cost of domestic debt servicing came down a bit in 2019 to N1.69tn with N620.50bn budgeted for education.

In 2020, debt servicing rose again to N1.85tn with education gulping N671.7bn. By 2021, domestic debt servicing rose to N2.05tn with education gulping N742.52bn.

On the other hand, external debt servicing gulped $353.09m in 2016. It went up to $464.05m in 2017 and jumped up to $1.47bn in 2018.

In 2019, the country spent $1.33bn on external debt servicing. In 2020, external debt servicing gulped $1.56bn. By 2021, it became $2.11bn.

Between January and March 2022, Nigeria spent N668.69bn on domestic debt servicing, while it spent $548.79m on external debt servicing while education gulped N923.79bn.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has recommended a benchmark of four to six percent of Gross Domestic Product or 15 to 20 percent of a country’s budget for education.

However, in the seven years of the Buhari regime, the highest allocation was in 2017 when a total percentage of 7.38 was allocated to education.

Experts lament

Commenting on the amount the government spent on debt servicing and low funding of education, experts, in separate interviews with The PUNCH, lamented that educational infrastructure was collapsing because of a shortage of funds.

They noted that the government failed to realise that education is the bedrock of national development.

A professor at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba, Victor Olumekun, in an interview with The PUNCH, lamented the government had not focused on the education sector.

Also, the General Secretary of COEASU, Dr Ahmed Lawal, said the government spent money on projects whose contract sums were inflated.

While commenting on the development, the ASUU Chairman at the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Dr Gbolahan Bolarin, said the government did not care about education.

But a foremost economist, Bismarck Rewane, stated, “The debt service is necessary to finance the expenditure that was incurred. There is a crisis in the education sector, no question about it and the strike is only a symptom of the fundamental defect in the education system. I’m saying that the amount spent on education should be increased but because the revenues are down, we can only increase it by borrowing more so we cannot, on the one hand, criticise the government for borrowing more and at the same time criticise the government for spending less.”

On his part, the Director, Research and Strategist, Chapel Hill Denham, Tajudeen Ibrahim, stated that the future of education funding in Nigeria was bleak.

He stated, “I think the future of education funding in Nigeria is weak because it doesn’t seem like the government has a concrete plan for the education sector. In as much as that sector is not seeing inflows from investments, what would happen is either the government borrows to finance that sector or they neglect that sector, just like they are currently doing. Education doesn’t bring much income as a sector; it is a sector that the government has to invest in for long-term benefits.”

An economic expert and seasoned academic at Pan Atlantic University, Dr Olusegun Vincent, explained that the moment there was a debt obligation, it becomes a first line charge in revenue, irrespective of other priorities whether education, agriculture, or defence.

Varsity lecturers, others

The spending on debt servicing and the education sector came to the fore on Thursday as findings by our correspondents showed that lecturers in universities, polytechnics and colleges of education had embarked on no fewer than 837 days of strike since the inception of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015.

ASUU is currently on strike in protest against members’ poor welfare and lack of adequate funds for universities among others.

The members of the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union recently suspended strike for a period of 60 days which, according to the union, will give the government enough time to meet the demands tabled while the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics suspended its strike on May 29, 2022.

The analysis by one of our correspondents revealed that in January 2017, ASUP, under the then national president, Usman Dutse, embarked on a seven-day warning strike from January 30, 2017, to February 5, 2017.

Also, ASUU declared an indefinite strike on August 17, 2017, over unresolved and contentious issues with the Federal Government. The strike was called off on September 17, 2017.

A few days after the suspension of the strike by ASUU, lecturers in polytechnics on November 11, 2017 announced another strike which lasted for 15 days. The strike was called off on November 29, 2017.

In 2018, lecturers in Colleges of Education took the lead when COEASU embarked on a strike on October 9, 2018. The strike was called off on December 5, 2018.

ASUU embarked on a three-month nationwide strike on November 4, 2018, due to the Federal Government’s alleged inaction. The strike was suspended on February 7, 2019.

Similarly, ASUP embarked on strike again on December 12, 2018 and also called off its strike on February 13, 2019.

The pandemic, according to some stakeholders, added to the extension of the strike which was called off in December.

In 2021, while other academic unions took a break from industrial actions, ASUP embarked on 65-day strike. The strike, which commenced on April 6, 2021, was called off on June 9, 2021.

So far in 2022, ASUU has been on strike for close to 186 days with no end in sight.

While ASUP went on strike for just two weeks, COEASU strike lasted for two months before it called for a suspension.

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