How does one explain this Paris Club heist that won’t go away? Some guys are bent on ripping off this country to the tune of $418 million. It is not their concern if schools are shut, or if 100 million Nigerians are in poverty. They want to get paid. And paid they must be.
A few of the men involved have very sophisticated tastes in fashion, and real estate and women. It has to be these three issues. And woe betides whoever gets in their way. Like the case involving Process and Industrial Development, or P&ID, or PAID in short, a company put together by a couple of Irish smartasses to simply get paid to the tune of about $2 billion for doing nothing but exploiting our usual tardiness, our predilection for corruption and for selling our country short.
This Paris Club palaver is a local version. It is one of the many such transactions involving legal shenanigans whereby Nigeria will be said to have breached a contract or the other. Many top lawyers in Nigeria have become billionaires through such transactions. Many civil servants have made billions.
Why have I concluded that this issue is another robbery? By way of a brief reminder, this is what happened in my view: this is a typical case of robbers fighting over their haul such that they reveal their caper. No one will have known what went down but greed often gets the best of human beings, and Nigerians are not known to be among the more sterling of the lot. I think it was Cheta Nwanze whose analysis I first read, and my jaw dropped. I had thought for so long since 2016, when President Buhari approved that the states be paid $2.5 billion – in three tranches – that the powerful Paris Club had refunded Nigeria some amounts after it may have discovered that it overcharged us in 2006. But Nwanze’s article revealed to me that this was just some internal transaction between our federal and state governments.
Why then did one of the principal parties write extensively and gave interviews about how the Paris Club wanted to frustrate or even kill him? He even said they denied him visa or something of that sort. We were already on the familiar road to alleging racism. But it was absolute nonsense. I went into the Paris Club website, scoured it, and realised that the organisation knew absolutely nothing about the nonsense that was happening in Nigeria.
Invariably, after months of inaction when he did not appoint his ministers for whatever reasons, President Buhari had become unpopular and finally caved-in to the barrage by state governors to be refunded some over-deductions from their FAAC (Federal Account Allocation Committee), which had happened over several years as the federal government sought to repay the Paris Club. There is a historical perspective to this. In the 1980s and 1990s, state and local governments could borrow from abroad directly. There were no controls like exists today. At the denouement, Nigeria owed about $36 billion, but had paid about $38 billion from the total amount that she borrowed. This included the amounts borrowed by federal, state and local governments. Nigeria was also the ONLY country made to pay any cash in 2006 when the Paris Club agreed to cancel the debts of all developing countries. We paid back $12 billion and had $18 billion cancelled. Our foreign debts reduced to about $5 billion.
It is important to note that today, our foreign debt is back at about $45 billion, with domestic debts accounting for about $55 billion, as our total debts (without other off-balance sheet items) have hit $100 billion – about thrice what we had when we were officially in a debt crisis in the 80s through to the early 2000s. It is also important to note that most of the loans in question were fraudulent – most of them contracted by our second republic governors. I remember some of the states having collected loans for underground trains and other projects that never materialised.
The entire process by which the refund was arrived at, and the sharing formula to 36 states, was shrouded in secrecy. The loans and refunds should be the concern of every Nigerian in my view. And if I am asked, I will say no state is entitled to any refund. More callous was the fact that the usage of the so-called refund – which was basically inflationary money conjured up by the federal government to appease powerful state governors who had become incensed with him – was arbitrary. It was not about the people.
The Paris Club scandal that won’t go away is also largely because some governors had deals with the so-called consultants. There was no reconciliation in the matter that their accountants general could not solve. Some of the consultants – according to the deals struck – were to retain almost 50 per cent of refunds that were due to the entire citizens of the state (even if the refunds were legit). There is nothing we will not see and hear in this country. Meanwhile, Malami, our Attorney General, recently celebrated that he reduced the payment to one of those Ajaokuta concessionaires who was sacked by President Yaradua. They sued Nigeria for $5 billion, our legal team – as usual and true-to-type and for monetary gains – bungled the affairs. Now, we have had to pay this company about $500 million (about the same amount we were forced to pay the American government for useless Tucano helicopters). Chances are that there are Nigerians advising the Indian company on how to go about milking their country. A good friend who worked at then Bureau for Public Enterprises in that era swears that is all a scam, that Yaradua was right to revoke that contract because the Indian company was only stripping assets and not adding value as per the contract under President Obasanjo.
Whichever leader will make a dent in our affairs will need a lot of gumption and luck. It will not be a cake walk at all to move this country forward. Too many forces are stacked against us – from within ansd without. Too many of our own people – whom Nigeria has not wronged – are Nigeria’s worst enemies. As for those pseudo-Nigerians whose only interest is to continue to plunder this country, they can be sure that they will never enjoy peace of mind. And their generations hence, will remain troubled.