A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF NIGERIA’S EXTERNAL DEBT
The management of Nigeria’s external debt has been a major macroeconomic problem especially since the early 1980s. For many years now, the country’s debt has been growing in spite of the efforts being made by the Government to manage and minimize its crushing effects on the nation’s economy. Such efforts range from the various refinancing and restructuring agreements to debt conversion programme and the deliberate allocation of substantial resources towards servicing the debt. Of particular concern to the authorities, is the heavy debt burden it imposes when compared with the country’s debt service capacity (Ogunlana, 2005).
Prior to 1978, the level of Nigeria’s external debt was very low, standing at about $3.1 billion and represented barely 6.2 percent of GDP. However, by 1977/1978 when Nigeria experienced a temporary decline in oil receipts, the first Jumbo loan of $1.0 billion was raised from the International Capital Market (ICM) with grace and repayment periods of three and eight years, respectively, and a relatively high rate of interest, (LIBOR + 1.0 percent) compared with the existing debts that were largely from the multilateral and concessional sources with long maturity period and other more generous terms of repayment. At the peak in mid – 1989, LIBOR was 13.0 per cent. That loan was followed by the second Jumbo loan of $750 million in 1978/1979.
Between 1979/1980, there was an up-turn in the global oil market which improved Nigeria’s foreign exchange inflow. The relaxation of economic policy measures and the adoption of deflationary measures prompted massive importation of goods and services which brought about rapid depletion of reserves. Shortly thereafter, the global oil market witnessed serious glut which brought down the price of crude oil with the attendant devastating impact on the Nigerian economy.
The thinking that the oil glut would be short-lived prompted both the states and the Federal Government to engage in external borrowing. They flagrantly breached Decree 30 of 1978 which fixed the limit of external borrowing at N5.0 billion US ($8.3 billion) and embarked on imprudent and massive external borrowing from the ICM to finance all sorts of projects. Moreover, the massive importation which prevailed and the indiscriminate issuance of import license with total disregard to the level of reserves and capacity to pay, resulted in massive build up of trade arrears for both insured and uninsured trade credits (Ogunlana, 2005).
Indeed, the reality and the magnitude of Nigeria’s debt problem did not dawn on the country until 1982 when creditors refused to open new lines of credit. This led the country to seek relief in the form of refinancing of the trade arrears. The first of such exercise was in 1983 covering outstanding letters of credit as at 13th July, 1983 for $2.1 billion. By 1988, the terms of Promissory Notes issued for trade credits were renegotiated and the total value of notes issued aggregated to $4.8 billion.
Consequently the level of external debt rose rapidly from $9.0 billion in 1980 to $17.8 billion and $25.6 billion in 1983 and 1986 respectively. The level of debt had since risen to $35.9 billion by the end of 2004 despite all the repayments, deliberate policy of drastic curtailing of further external borrowing and the various debt management strategies adopted, including debt conversion and buy-back.
These developments completely altered the structure and character of Nigeria’s external debt from largely concessional sources of long maturity to short/medium with tough repayment terms. Of the total debt outstanding, the value and share of the Paris Club debt increased progressively from $5.8 billion or 33.5 per cent in 1984 to $21.7billion or 66.5 per cent and $30.8 billion or 85.8 per cent in 1995 and 2004 respectively. On the contrary, the share of multilateral debt as well as private debt (promissory notes and London Club Banks) have declined persistently over the years from a total of $11.5 billion or 66.5 per cent in 1984 to barely $5.1 billion or 14.2 per cent in 2004.
The deliberate policy of the government to limit further borrowing, including from concessional sources, the strict compliance with the repayment terms of multilateral loans as well as the deal regarding London Club debt which almost provided total solution to such debt, accounted for the declining trend in the stock of debt owed to these sources. On the other hand, the conditions and terms of debt rescheduling with the Paris Club imposed difficult conditions which did not only make repayment difficult, and extremely tight, but made the debt owned to this source to grow rapidly over the years. Paris Club debts are official bilateral debt and export credit which were guaranteed by various Export Credit Agencies (Abrego and Ross, 2001).