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Nigeria Warns of Inability to Repay $30 Billion External Debt - 2004-05-31


Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, says his country will be unable to repay its $30 billion external debt, and has appealed for leniency from creditors.

A government policy adviser, Tunde Martins, said President Obasanjo wants the external debt to be canceled, before the situation there turns into an economic crisis. "He said he will not allow Nigeria to get to the situation of crises-ridden Afghanistan or Pakistan, before debt could be forgiven. And if he needed to resign, he was willing to do that, which is to mean that it is not for the creditors to take an unrealistic approach to Nigeria's debt, and not allow the situation to get out of hand, before they can decide to cancel Nigeria's debt," he said.

Mr. Martins said much of the $30 billion debt is based on questionable claims, and that research needs to be done to verify the actual amount owed.

During a televised address on Sunday, President Obasanjo said the huge external debt was being used as an instrument of intimidation and control over Nigeria, Africa's largest exporter of oil.

Two years ago, Nigeria broke away from the International Monetary Fund, which works to secure financial stability and promote economic growth. The IMF had advised the Nigerian government to curb its spending and to improve its economic management.

Mr. Martins insisted that great efforts have been made to improve Nigeria's economy. "Even the World Bank and IMF did confirm that there is substantial growth in the Nigerian economy in the past 12 months. What I'm trying to explain is that the president's economic reform program has been seen to be ambitious, disciplined and a realistic attempt to make Nigeria kick-start its economy. The issue of foreign indebtedness of Nigeria has crippled every attempt to make the reform realistic," he said.

Although Nigeria has the second largest economy in Africa, the majority of Nigerians survive on less than a dollar a day.

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