By Aminu Umar
Was Nigeria really expecting to be included in the list of nations to benefit from the World Bank’s $1.9bn COVID-19 response fund?
Our surprise at being excluded from the fund made me recall a joke that made the rounds in the late 1980s of an encounter between the then Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida and the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Babangida had met up with the Iron Lady on the sidelines of a major international conference and raised the issue of Nigeria’s huge debt overhang. As the leader of a major western country, Thatcher was in a position to exert some influence. So, she asked Babangida to state Nigeria’s case.
After rehashing the usual hard luck story of low GDP per capita, huge population, misery index and the rest, he concluded by saying that Nigeria would make no headway economically unless it received debt forgiveness.
Margaret Thatcher was said to have cleared her throat and told him, “First, Mr. President, to owe money is not a sin so asking for your debt to be forgiven is not the appropriate language. International creditors are not clergymen, so they won’t understand your seeking forgiveness for owing them. Secondly, your country is not poor. It will be hard to convince any of your creditors to write off your debts”.
When Babangida asked why she said Nigeria wasn’t a poor country, she just stared intently at his wrist without uttering a word. Babangida was confused for a while and then it struck him. Seated coolly on his wrist was the latest Rolex Oyster Datejust watch, said to trade then somewhere in the six figures. And on Thatcher’s wrist was her trademark plastic wristwatch that she had worn since her days as a freshly elected MP. The discussions terminated at that point.
You can’t be ordering cars worth nearly $120,000 each for your MPs and still want to be included amongst the world’s indigent and needy countries. It doesn’t work that way!
Let’s wait for second batch.