Abuja — A marginal increase of N560.009 billion, representing 2.3 per cent rise in the first quarter (Q1) of 2019, has pushed Nigeria's total public debt, comprising the federal government, states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) debt stocks to N24.947 trillion or $ 81.274 billion as at March 31, 2019, according to data from the Debt Management Office (DMO).
By the latest figures released wednesday in Abuja by the DMO, indications are that the external debt also increased by N101.646 billion in three months.
The 2.3 per cent rise contrasts with the figure of N24.387 trillion ($ 79.437 billion) posted as at December 31, 2018.
The current debt stock, however, drew an instant condemnation from the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. He decried what he described as the rising debt profile of Nigeria under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to the DMO, the increase of N560.009 billion in the total public debt in Q1 2019 was due to a growth in domestic debt stock by N458.363 billion.
It added that increases were recorded in the domestic debt stock of the federal government, states and the FCT.
The N24.947 trillion ($ 81.274 billion) for the period composed of a total external debt component of $25,609.63 billion, which is 31.51 per cent of the total debt stock owed by the federal government, states and the FCT.
Total domestic debt also stood at $55,664.46 billion, representing 68.49 per cent. The federal government solely accounted for $42,721.68 billion or 52.56 per cent, while $12,942.77 billion (over N3.972 trillion) or 15.92 per cent of the domestic debt stock stood against the states and the FCT.
In relation to the Debt Management Strategy, the DMO said the ratio of domestic to external debt stood at 68.49 per cent to 31.51 per cent at the end of March 2019.
According to it, the total public debt to GDP ratio is 19.03 per cent, which is within the 25 per cent debt limit imposed by the federal government.
In line with its practice, the DMO has released the Public Debt Data comprising the domestic and external debts of the federal government, the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
On April 4, 2019, the debt management agency had put Nigeria's total debt burden at N24.387 trillion as at the end of December 2018, up from N22.428 trillion posted effective September 30, 2017, indicating a growth of at least 12.2 per cent.
Presenting the figures then, the Director General of the DMO, Ms. Patience Oniha, had said in line with the agency's borrowing target of 40 per cent domestic and 60 per cent external debt for 2019, it would embark on a 50/50 borrowing arrangement with the National Assembly approval of the 2019 fiscal plan.
Nigeria's burgeoning debt profile has become a source of local and global concern with multilateral financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which urged Nigeria to be cautious.
The over N12 trillion spike in borrowing since 2015 has been attributed to the quest to reflate the economy.
After exiting a crushing debt trap in 2005 under the Paris Club of creditors, at no other time has the country faced a debilitating debt burden as the present situation.
China recently advised Nigeria to, as a matter of priority, open a sinking fund and an escrow account to engage her to seamlessly repay the loans, which it borrowed from the Asian country for the construction of rail projects, particularly the Abuja-Kaduna rail.
Atiku Decries Rising Debt Profile
However, reacting to the debt stock data wednesday, Atiku said the increasing debt profile of Nigeria, was becoming more than a source of concern.
According to him, the debt situation is now at the stage where all genuine lovers of Nigeria ought to raise the alarm.
He said: "On May 29, 2015, our national debt profile was at a very healthy ₦12 trillion. However, after four years of profligate spending, and even more irresponsible borrowing, our national debt doubled to 24.3 trillion by December, 2018.
"As alarming as this is, what is more troubling is that between December 2018 and March 2019, the administration of General Buhari added an additional and unprecedented ₦560 billion debt to our national debt profile.
"What could this junta have needed that amount for? If you take those dates into account, they fall on the period of electioneering, when monies were freely distributed by officials of this government in the name of Tradermoni and other election gimmicks that were discontinued after the election."
He said he found it inconceivable that Nigeria could have had such unprecedented borrowings in the midst of almost unimaginable borrowing, which resulted in becoming the world headquarters for extreme poverty and the global capital of out of school children, even as Nigeria slipped in the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International.
According to him, "As someone who headed the National Economic Council that paid off Nigeria's entire debt under the visionary leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar has the moral authority to call those who are turning Nigeria into a beggar nation to halt the drift into unsustainable borrowing.
"We cannot continue to borrow to pay salaries and support luxuries. Already, over 50 per cent of our revenue is going towards debt servicing, not even debt repayments.
"We raise this alarm as responsible citizens and call on other lovers of Nigeria to speak up as we have no other nation to call our home, but Nigeria."