Escalating Debt, Poverty and Nigeria’s Silent Civil War

There is a silent civil war ongoing in Nigeria. From the North to the South, and from the East to the West, everywhere is battlefront. The growing army of the poor is locked in a battle of daily survival. The extractive industry is worsening the economic miseries of the people by despoiling the environment. The electorate is daily visited with deficit instead of dividend of democracy. The excluded political elite are at war with those in the corridors of power who are plundering the country’s resources.

While the Nigerian military is disputing that its Marte base was overrun by the Boko Haram terrorists, an international news agency is claiming that terrorists aligned with the Islamic State militant group have captured a military base in Borno State after overnight clashes with troops. 

But in a counter-claim, the military is saying that it killed several terrorists and destroyed seven gun trucks. Acting Director of Defence Media Operations at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja, Brigadier General Bernard Onyeuko, in a statement claims that troops of Operation TURA TAKAIBANGO in conjunction with the Air Task Force Operation LAFIYA DOLE have effectively destroyed seven Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists’ gun trucks and decimated several unconfirmed number of the terrorists when they attempted to attack their location at the outskirts of Marte in Marte Local Government Area of Borno.

“The gallant troops, based on reliable information about the attack, had positioned themselves in an ambush site where they tactically withdrew to, and awaited the arrival of the terrorists before they opened fire which led to fierce battle that resulted in the successes recorded as indicated above. The troops are still engaged in pursuit of the fleeing terrorists for further exploitation. Further details of interest to members of the public will be communicated later”, he said.

On Saturday, AFP reported that machine-gun wielding fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked the base in the town of Marte in the Lake Chad area overnight Friday into Saturday. “The priority now is to reclaim the base from the terrorists and an operation is underway”, one of the AFP two sources said, adding, ‘’we took a hit from ISWAP terrorists. They raided the base in Marte after a fierce battle.”

The second source said the army “incurred losses” but it was not yet clear how many people had died or the level of destruction inflicted by the insurgents.

ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram in 2016, maintains camps on islands in Lake Chad — where Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad meet — and the area is known to be group’s bastion. Last week, the jihadists attacked the Marte base but were repelled, prompting them to mobilise more fighters for the overnight raid, said the sources. The raid was seen as a “fight-back” after recent losses — troops recently overran ISWAP’s second largest camp in Talala village, said the sources.

In November last year, officials began the phased return of residents to Marte six years after they were pushed out by the jihadists. The town is 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the regional capital, Maiduguri, was once considered the breadbasket of the Lake Chad region.

At least 36,000 people have been killed in the jihadist conflict since 2009 and violence has spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition.

And, while the Buhari administration is vociferously claiming to have outperformed all previous past administrations, drums of war are busy sounding all over Nigeria, a major global oil and gas player that currently holds an unenviable title of the poverty capital of the world. It is widely held that Nigeria is in a mess because of persisting injustice, poor governance, and leadership failure. This is even happening amid ballooning foreign and domestic debt stock.

Nigeria exceeded India with the largest rate of people living in extreme poverty. In the country, around 86.9 million people were said to be living in severe poverty, which was about 50% of its entire population then. With the population currently estimated at 230 million, and the harsh economic realities of the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, not less than 130 million Nigerians would be wallowing in severe poverty. In comparison with India, Nigeria is certainly smaller both geographically and in terms of population. Its escalating poverty came about largely due to the mismanagement of the oil business and the presence of endemic corruption. While one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to end extreme poverty by 2050, Nigeria’s poverty rates are at the moment racing in the wrong direction.

Reasons for Poverty

While Nigeria is known for its oil riches, the reality of the country is that corruption, unemployment and inequalities have destroyed its economic framework, causing it to be the poverty capital of the world.

Nigeria is said to hold 37,070,000,000 barrels of proven oil reserves as of 2016, ranking 10th in the world and accounting for some 2.2% of the world’s total oil reserves of 1,650,585,140,000 barrels. The country’s proven reserves are equivalent to 237.3 times its annual consumption. This implies that, without net exports, there will be around 237 years of oil left at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves.

In oil revenue, the country is said to have reaped $600 billion since 1960, and yet it has the highest number of poor people in the world living on less than one US dollar a day. Arguably, corruption is the major reason why poverty is at such a high rate in the country. Many economists have said that it is the “single greatest obstacle” that prevents Nigeria from prospering. Corruption is present in the everyday lives of citizens from businesses to the government. Poorer oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta for instance, are suffering, and the economic structure has experienced disruption.

High rates of unemployment are equally leading to extreme poverty. Unemployment typically exists among the younger population. It is even being said that only about 44.6% of young people have employment, leaving more than half of the population unemployed. A major cause of unemployment is the fact that people tend to focus more on oil production rather than a variety of other industries. Not only does the country suffer from a lack of employment but it also suffers from a lack of development, progress and diversification of its industries. Could this be because of leadership failure?

In league with corruption and unemployment, another key driver of poverty in the country is the presence of inequality. For instance, Nigerian women are subject to unequal treatment in terms of labour, education and property. While around 79% of women make up the rural labour force, they are the least likely to own their own property. Along with this, only about 6% of Nigerian women have achieved literacy, the rest are still illiterate. Inequalities in Nigeria are a result of poorly allocated resources and corruption. Without the doubt, Nigeria has plenty of resources typically reserved for the wealthy who can afford them. Along with this, corruption within the government leads to further inequalities between the political elite and to those living in poverty.

While past and present administrations have launched a variety of cosmetic programmes to help those in poverty, attempts have clearly not been strong enough. Due to the high presence of corruption, unemployment and inequalities, such programmes are failing to adequately lower the rates of poverty. Being the poverty capital of the world is not only impacting the country, but it is also impacting the whole world. Nigeria is not living up to the UN’s goals of freeing the world from poverty by the year 2050.

Perhaps, Nigeria needs to invest more in girls’ education, which will contribute to its economy and help development efforts. There are several organisations working in Nigeria to help improve girls’ education. The Malala Fund has been working to increase government support of girls’ education. At the 2019 G7 summit, Malala Yousafzai and Frances Uchenna Igwilo, local education activist, spoke on behalf of girls’ education. They urged governments to double the amount of money used to invest in education for women. Igwilo works hard as one of the Malala Fund Education Champions for the importance of girls’ education to communities in Nigeria. She also created a club for girls “to share their experiences, develop leadership skills and learn how to advocate for safe, quality education.”

Organisations like Microsoft and the African Development Bank are working to provide technical training to Nigeria’s youth during COVID-19. The hope is to create a new generation of digitally skilled workers to rebuild the economy. Microsoft hopes to give digital skills to at least 25 million people around the world. These programs include digital marketing, graphic design and coding.

Poverty triggers aside, in Eastern Nigeria, the theatre of the Nigerian Civil War, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) s warning that it will stoutly resist governors of the region who are bent on setting up a security outfit in the area.

Its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, in a statement said the region will not have two security outfits; one from IPOB and the other from the governors at a time. Specifically, IPOB is warning Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, the Chairman of South-East Governors, to jettison the idea.

The secessionist group accused the governors of trying to set up the outfit on the advice of “Fulani-controlled Federal Government of Nigeria. We warn these clueless governors in our region not to heed the mischievous advice and attempt by Miyetti Allah and Sokoto caliphate intended to compromise the security of Biafrans.

“Any Miyetti Allah vigilante group under any nomenclature formed by Dave Umahi and his fellow governors as well as Ohanaeze will be resisted by the people of the old Eastern region. We, therefore, advise every Biafran father and mother to caution their children against joining  Umahi’s vigilante group as such an outfit is already the enemy of the people. Their agenda is sinister and anti-Biafra.

“We declare without equivocation that any other group parading as South-East and South-South security outfit will not be allowed to operate on Biafra soil. Our people have already launched their own defence line – ESN – as our self-acclaimed leaders were nowhere to be found when it counted most. The raping, killings and unprovoked attacks by these vampires must stop throughout Biafra territory. Anyone against this irreversible resolve of the people to defend themselves against foreign occupation will be crushed.”

And, within the Middle Belt Forum, Chibok community, the Borno Concerned Elders and Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), there is growing anger against President Muhammadu Buhari for describing Boko Haram attacks in the bleeding North-East as occasional problems.

President Buhari said critics should compare his achievements with those of his predecessors and the problems he inherited. In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, Buhari who is pejoratively mocked as Baba Go Slow, made the claims while receiving the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission, Rev. Yakubu Pam, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

 In the statement, Buhari asked his critics to consider the resources available to the Federal Government under his watch while criticising him and gave his administration a pass mark on the security situation in the North-East.

Although he admitted that there are still what he called “occasional Boko Haram problems”, the President said there was a lot of improvements when compared to the past experience of the residents of the affected states, he added, “what was the situation when we came? Try and ask people from Borno or from Adamawa for that matter and Yobe. What was the condition before we came and what is the condition now?

“Still, there are problems in Borno and Yobe, there are occasional Boko Haram problems, but they know the difference because a lot of them moved out of their states and moved to Kaduna, Kano and here (in Abuja).”

But a Chibok community leader and spokesman for  Kibaku Area Development Association, Dr Manasseh Allen, dismissed the claim by the President that security had improved in the North-East. Allen said attacks and abductions were happening daily in the communities in the region.

While urging the president to visit the region to have first-hand knowledge of happenings rather than relying on what he was being told by the security chiefs, he said, “what is Buhari’s definition of security improvement? We don’t know. Maybe, that is the first thing we need to talk about. We want a stop to people’s lives being taken indiscriminately. People are paying ransoms to abductors every day. A few days ago, we raised ransom to free our aged father-in-law and the President is sitting there in the villa, he doesn’t even know what is happening in Abuja. Let him go to the North-East and see for himself whether security has improved or not.”

National President of Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Bitrus Porgu, also dismissed the president’s statement as untrue. Porgu, who is an indigene of Chibok in Borno State, stated  in Jos that the security situation in the country had worsened since Buhari assumed office. “I think he is being misled by those he entrusted with the security of the country, if not he would not be saying what he is saying. Let him visit Borno and all those areas that he claimed had improved security wise and see that that things have actually generated for the worse”, he said.

Dean of Borno Concerned Elders, Prof. Khalifa Dikwa, says the president’s statement was not true, saying ‘’when people were killed at Auno (in Borno State) last year, instead of the President to commiserate with the people, he pushed the blame on them that they refused to comply with instructions. He did not do his investigation.  He is not being told the truth. The Presidency is not real. There is no Presidency. They are only reactive. They don’t take actions on situations until the people act. Those people are not telling him the truth.  Although  Maiduguri is safe compared to Kaduna and Katsina states,  but you cannot go beyond five kilometres from Maiduguri town. The city is safe, but what about the villages?”

Spokesman of Coalition of Northern Groups, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said he was not surprised by the president’s comment. According to him, “Nigerians must by now have become used to the present leadership that shies away from its responsibility by refusing to look into the huge demands that had been made for the President to address serious shortfalls in nation’s policing and security institutions.”

Director of Publicity and Advocacy for Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said Buhari was removed from reality, arguing, “if he is still living under the illusion that any Nigerian is more secure today than they were five or six years ago, it will explain his resistance to improve his leadership of the fight against widespread insecurity.

“I wish there is a way the President will hear from the people of Borno and Yobe states what their security situation is. But he will not because he prefers to create his version of our circumstances which is quite possibly reinforced by those with responsibility to tell him. The fact is that our fellow citizens living in Borno and Yobe states live constantly under attacks on roads, in homes, at work and wherever they are. Millions, more in Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Niger and many parts of Nigeria, have never known insecurity until this President assumed the responsibility to protect us.”

In the mean time, NEF, Afenifere, the controversial Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 2019 Vice Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, are warning that Nigeria is repeating its mistakes that led to the civil war which lasted from July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970.

At a webinar, they cautioned that unless something urgent was done, the aftermath of the ongoing injustice, poor governance and leadership failure in the country would be worse than what was experienced during the civil war.

The civil war was fought between the government of Nigeria, under the watch General Yakubu Gowon and the secessionist state of Biafra Leader, the late Lt. Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu, from July 6, 1967 to January 15, 1970, during which over one million persons reportedly lost their lives.

The online confab with the theme, The 2nd Never Again Conference: 51 years after the Nigerian-Biafran civil war, was hosted by Nzuko Umunna, an Igbo think tank, in partnership with Ovation International and Njenje Media, while a prominent economist, Prof Pat Utomi, was the chairman, planning committee.

In his remarks, Obi said, “we are still travelling on the same road to the same destination. The road has got more bumpy, worse than it was than when they (Nigerians) travelled that road before. If you compare what is happening today and what happened then, what brought Nigeria to that destination in the past has actually got worse today. All of those things that made them to participate in what happened are still very much today and getting worse, starting from incompetent leadership with total lack of capacity and character. You have a situation where corruption is worse today that it was then. Unemployment is far worse today when you have millions of young people in their productive age not knowing where the next meal would come from and the government is not thinking.”

Continuing, Obi said the elite had to come together and see how to pull the country out of the current mess or the situation would consume everyone, as he likened the current leadership challenge in the country to using Molue (rickety big yellow buses in Lagos now phased out)  drivers in Formula 1, a motor racing world championship, adding, “we cannot continue with the way we are today; across the entire country, from local government to the highest level, we have incompetent leadership and they don’t have the capacity to solve the country’s problem. You don’t go to a Formula 1 competition with a Molue driver. These vehicles of the Nigerian state are being driven by Molue drivers across the country and that is why you have too many accidents. We need to have the proper people who are competent and can do the job. If you don’t have it, you have a problem.”

Kukah, who was the keynote speaker, explains that Nigeria was yet to learn any lesson from the civil war, adding that the frustration and feeling of injustice by a section of the country after the war were still rife till today despite Gowon’s No victor, no vanquished statement. “I was told of a late general who said were the civil war to occur again, he would fight on the other side. There is a lot of resentment, anxiety and frustration and the feeling is that we have not learnt any lesson. About 51 years after the war, we still hear the kind of agitation that ordinarily with good governance, honesty, commitment, devotion, dedication, focus and right leadership; we should have put behind us. Unfortunately, these anxieties are still with us.”

NEF spokesman, Baba-Ahmed, said at the webinar that unless something dramatic was done, things would get worse. He lamented that the post-civil war elite had substantially killed the country even more than those who launched the country into the “disaster” that ended in 1970, adding, “what do we need to do? I think we need to recognise the fact that as we speak in 2021, this nation has never been worse than it is, not even during the civil war. I’m sorry for those who felt civil war was the worst disaster; it wasn’t. Today is the worst disaster we are living in.”

According to him, Nigeria has a very poor leadership that doesn’t care about Nigerians. He stated, “You have massive insecurity; no fresh ideas; you have leadership that is more interested in having power than governance”, and talking about the possibility of another civil war, he said, “we need to recognise that when we say never again, it can still happen again. Let’s not deceive ourselves, it can happen again. In fact, (something) worse can happen.”

For Afenifere leader at the event, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the problem of the country was the constitution, adding that the injustice in the system had been fuelled by the President, whom he said ensured that northerners dominate key institutions in the country at the detriment of other regions..

“I don’t want this country to break; I have contributed to the unity of this country before Buhari was born. Since 1950s we have been talking of a balanced constitution. In 1979, I spent one year in Maiduguri, campaigning for the UPN so we could have a united country. I was already a lawyer and there was peace in the western region so I didn’t have to go there, but we wanted the country to be together. So, when we talk about a united country, many of them have not contributed half of what some of us have. If today, they agree to restructure the country back to true federalism, there will be no agitation from any quarter, because all the problems we are having now are the products of the imposed constitution. Let us face it”, Adebanjo said.

Elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai, who commended the organisers of the event, said he had never been a believer in the “destruction” of Nigeria. “This is a democracy in which the views of the majority would always prevail while the minorities have a right to say whatever they want to say”, he added.

IPOB Leader, Nnamdi Kanu, says the elite has failed the country, adding that it was ironical to have elite in a society that has no potable water for its people, no good roads, good schools and criminals were busy killing people. “Elite for what and what have they accomplished? Absolutely nothing,” he added.

Amid the civil war fears, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says the troubled country’s total foreign and domestic debt is standing at N32.22 trillion as at the third quarter of last year.

The bureau in its Nigerian Domestic and Foreign Debt for Q3 2020 published on its website said Nigerian states and federal debt stock data as of last September ending reflected that the country’s total public debt portfolio stood at N32.22 trillion in the third of 2020.

While the survey indicates that Nigeria’s total public debt showed that N12.19 trillion or 37.82% of the debt was external, while N20.04 trillion or 62.18% of the debt was domestic, further disaggregation of Nigeria’s foreign debt showed that $16.74 billion of the debt was multilateral; $502.38 million was bilateral (AFD) and another $3.26 billion bilateral from the Exim Bank of China, JICA, India, and KFW, while $11.17 billion was commercial which are Eurobonds and Diaspora Bonds.

The Debt Management Office (DMO) had in September put Nigeria’s debt stock as at June 30, 2020, at N31.009 trillion or $85.897 billion. The corresponding figures for March 31, 2020, were N28.628 trillion or $79.303 billion. The rise in the debt stock by N2.381 trillion or $6.593 billion was accounted for by the $3.36 billion budget support loan from the International Monetary Fund, New Domestic Borrowing to finance the Revised 2020 Appropriation Act including the issuance of the N162.557 billion Sukuk, and Promissory Notes issued to settle Claims of Exporters.

DMO said it expected the public debt stock to grow as the balance of the new domestic borrowing is raised and expected disbursements are made by the World Bank, African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank which were arranged to finance the 2020 budget. The 2020 Appropriation Act was however, revised in the face of the adverse and severe impact of COVID-19 on Government’s Revenues and increased expenditure needs on health and economic stimulus amongst others.

In the course of the year, additional Promissory Notes were also expected to be issued. This, and new borrowings by state governments were also expected to enlarge the public debt stock.


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