By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
Debt is one of the few English words that can be translated to any language in the world without a shed of sweat. It’s that universal. No doubt, it ranks as one of the foremost liabilities hugging man- and womankind since Eve and Adam left the Garden of Eden. That is, going by the pervading Judeo-Christian creation myth.
Anyway, suffice it to note that debt has slowly graduated into the new sine qua non of modern life. Like yet another dot in the circle of ‘impatient idealists’ overpopulating Africa opined the other day. Yet seeking where to stand to hoist the slacking continent above his head, the blogger was adamant about one thing: that we are afraid of debt. In his words: ‘It’s this communal inability to come to terms with the reality of debt plaguing our continent, that is our bane as a people.’ He was so sure.
‘While the rest of the developed world is embracing debt in a bear hug,’ he continued, ‘we are killing ourselves here with self-sufficiency. Everybody wants to amass so much wealth that none ends up for the common man. ‘So much that now the aim is no longer to stock up for just individual retirement. Money, here in Africa, is now acquired so that come whatever may, generations unborn can assuredly afford to stay idle and rich.’
I could have doubted him but for the tug of abiding remembrances. For instance, just a whiff of the humongous amounts under investigation at the EFCC was enough to bamboozle no less a person than President Ibrahim Babangida recently. And what do you find, among the downtrodden? Just a mere personal debt and we head for the courts as though it were a pre-election matter. Imagine that. When in the past all a recidivist debtor needed to do to be let be was show a creditor marks of bigger balances on the wall of his/her hut.
Let alone in these modern days. In saner climes, I hear, all a guy needed do to top his account balance was send an SMS to his account officer. Just like that, and the rest is given unto him or her! Okay, perhaps you’ve not heard sha: unlike in the Third, people in the First World live on credit. You don’t have to afford a car to own one, for instance. Nor build a house to live in one. What? When you’ll pay me for the information? Never mind. You can always do that later. What are friends for; after all, we are in this together.
The stranger thing, though, is that we are transferring this personal phobia for debt to our nation’s economy. Just a mere trillion-dollar debt and the citizens of the acclaimed ‘Giant of Africa’ are put in a panic mode. Imagine that too.
Anyway, just in case you haven’t heard too, the World Bank Group has just released its Audited Financial Statements for the 2021 financial year.
O yes! And the good news is that its commitments to the International Development Association for the year rose to $84.3bn. A whopping 15% higher than that expended last year. Well, that entire perambulatory preamble was just to reassure us that we shouldn’t be bothered that Nigeria is in the Top 10 of countries with a high debt risk exposure in the document. In fact, with a total debt stock of $11.7bn, we are comfortably ensconced at Number 5. With India topping with a mere $22bn, we don’t have much to do to topple them, I guess.
Like it stands, all we have between us and them are just three Asian countries – Bangladesh $81.1bn, Pakistan $16.4bn and Vietnam $14.1bn. Any wonder they are not even among their tigers! But assuming they were, what can a tiger do to an elephant?
Anyway, the only snag there is concerns how our nation is coping with its share of the windfall. According to the group’s president, David Malpass, the aim is to have nations use the increment to ‘address increased poverty, inequality and the impacts of COVID-19’.
From the report, it should help the countries strengthen health systems and protect the poor and vulnerable. As well, it’ll help them support jobs and businesses, promote economic growth and lay the foundation for a green, resilient and inclusive recovery. Your guess from the first item in the list – improving health systems – should be as good as mine. But I’d rather we kept it to ourselves. Not for the fear of a backlash, though. After all, repeat prophecy amounts to nothing if older ones remain unrevealed.
Uzoatu, the author of the novel Vision Impossible writes from Onitsha