Following the major milestone recorded by the Growth Initiative for Fiscal Transparency GIFT cluster, made up five civil society organization, including HipCity Innovation Centre in the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Amendment Act first reading at the National Assembly, they have issued a call to action, urging Nigerians to actively demand accountability from the Federal Government in the management of public finances.

This appeal was made during a national policy dialogue on fiscal reforms and debt management held in Abuja.

At the event, Mr. Oke Epia, Executive Director of OrderPaper Nigeria, highlighted the critical need for citizens to closely monitor government actions and hold officials accountable for any mismanagement of public funds. The dialogue, which brought together stakeholders from various sectors, facilitated insightful discussions and constructive exchanges on pressing fiscal responsibility issues, creating a collaborative environment for knowledge sharing and solution-driven dialogue.

“We want to ask the public to hold the government to account by asking the National Assembly to expedite the amendment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007,” Epia stated. He emphasized the importance of public pressure on lawmakers to address loopholes and leakages in public finance management, particularly regarding remittances and accountability.

Epia noted that Nigeria’s public debt has surged dramatically, rising from N12.8 trillion in 2015 to N87.91 trillion in 2023, marking a staggering 585% increase. He stressed the necessity of economic diversification and the development of other sectors to ensure sustainable growth and reduce reliance on a single commodity. He expressed optimism that the amended Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) would positively impact Nigeria’s economy, driving growth and development.

“The rise in Nigeria’s total debt stock from N12.85 trillion in 2015 to a staggering N87.91 trillion in September 2023 is alarming,” Epia remarked. He pointed to the bungled N22.7 trillion Ways and Means facility to the federal government, fluctuating forex rates, inflation, and economic hardships as evidence of current fiscal policy failures.

Recent fiscal policies have led to increased tax burdens on citizens, such as the removal of fuel subsidies, which resulted in a more than 300% increase in fuel prices. Additionally, a proposed 0.5% cybersecurity levy has faced public backlash, compounded by existing bank charges for electronic transactions, transfer fees, stamp duties, and Value Added Tax (VAT).

Chairman of the House Committee on National Planning and Economic Development, Isiaka Ibrahim, also spoke at the dialogue, expressing concerns over Nigeria’s heavy reliance on crude oil. He noted that despite the country’s current debt profile, Nigeria still has the capacity to borrow more funds. He drew comparisons with the World Bank, emphasizing Nigeria’s potential to leverage its economy to secure additional financing.

“Nigeria’s total internal and external debt, including non-bond borrowing, stands at $114 billion, with an excess of $138 billion in the size of the economy,” Ibrahim stated. He highlighted that the World Bank, with a total consolidated capital of $298 billion, has only $19 billion in contributions from donor agencies and countries, suggesting that Nigeria can still borrow from the World Bank, maintaining a net surplus.

The national policy dialogue underscored the urgent need for fiscal reforms and increased public participation in holding the government accountable. By amending the Fiscal Responsibility Act and addressing the loopholes in public finance management, Nigeria can pave the way for sustainable economic growth and development.