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Congressional Black Caucus Says US Should Return Debt Payment to Nigeria

Eighteen members of the United States Congress are asking the Bush Administration to return the US share of Nigeria’s $12.4 billion debt payment under a forgiveness deal reached with the Paris Club group of creditors last October.

The legislators, who are members of the US Congressional Black Caucus, sent letters Wednesday to Treasury Secretary John Snow and Export-Import Bank President James Lambright. The letters asked that the total payment of $396 billion the United States is scheduled to receive from Nigeria in March be forgiven.

The US share of the debt is held by the Export-Import Bank and the US Agency for International Development. Three months ago, the Paris Club – made up of the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Britain – okayed the cancellation of $18 billion of Nigeria’s $30 billion debt, with the proviso that Abuja would make good repaying the remaining $12.4 billion by this coming March.

Representing the Black Caucus, New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters said Nigeria has long been encumbered by an unjust, unpayable debt burden mounted at a time when the country was under autocratic military rule.

Debayani Kar is communications and advocacy coordinator for the Jubilee USA Network, which works to alleviate poverty in developing countries. She tells English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser that the forgiveness initiative was spurred by groups in Nigeria, the United States and Britain who raised an appeal for debt relief “so that Nigeria can use those funds instead towards poverty reduction, combating HIV/AIDS and providing health care and education for their impoverished majority.”

Ms. Kar adds, “I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of the debt that was incurred in Nigeria was taken out by corrupt military dictators in the past, and so it would be a recognition by the US that when money is lent in this way to dictatorial regimes, that we should not expect that money to be repaid by the majority of the country that never had anything to do with electing or choosing that military regime.”

Although Nigeria produces great wealth as a leading international oil producer, Ms. Kar says that the group of US legislators and other international monetary figures believe that the most effective policy to pursue to enable funds to reach citizens at the public level and care for their basic needs is through handing back money to a country through debt forgiveness.