Not all of Nigeria’s external borrowings were paid off in 2007, as claimed, and neither was it totally debt free

Country/area: Nigeria

Organisation: AFP Fact Check

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2 Jan 2020

Credit: Oluwasegun Olakoyenikan

Project description:

Nigeria’s debt is a common topic among critics in Africa’s largest economy as the country faces growing debt to fund key projects following a recession in 2016.

This project checks the veracity of factual claims about Nigeria’s debt by highly influential individuals in the country, including former president Olusegun Obasanjo; his vice-president, Atiku Abubakar; former aviation minister Femi Fani-Kayode; and former central bank deputy governor Obadiah Mailafia.

The report matters because the amount of accumulated debt is often used to compare the performance of different political administrations in Nigeria.

Impact reached:

1. My fact-checking report exposes as false the claim by former central bank deputy governor Obadiah Mailafia that Nigeria had more than $7 billion debt in 2015.

Mailafia has since acknowledged this fact. In an article he wrote and published on Nigerian daily newspaper ThePunch, Mailafia stated that Nigeria owed $63.8 billion — more than $7 billion as he earlier claimed — in June 2015. 

“Today, we face a rising debt burden. According to the Debt Management Office, as of June 2015, our total national debt was N12 trillion (US$63.8 billion),” he said.

https://punchng.com/the-revenue-crisis-and-challenge-of-government/ (15th paragraph)


2. The report raised the voices of Nigerians who had doubts about the claims by the four high-profile Nigerians but could not conduct verification or did not have the platform to disprove him.


Techniques/technologies used:

My report presented the evidence against the claim with the use of an infographic to compliment the written debunk. Infographics help to give a better visualization and understanding of data-driven stories. In the pictorial analysis, there are five sections addressing the major claims made by the public figures on Nigeria’s debt.

First we used an area chart model to depict the progression of Nigeria’s foreign debt including those owed to the Paris and London Clubs of creditors. Clearly,  we observed that while both debts borrowed from the two clubs terminated at some point in the chart, there is no trace of the external debt hitting zero (horizontal line), making the claim that Nigeria paid off its external debt (or entire debt in Atiku’s case) false.

The same chart also shows Nigeria’s external debt reached a peak in 2004 when the nation owed $35.94 billion in debts — this is way lower than the $83 billion external debt burden both Obasanjo and Fani-Kayode attributed to the country as of 2019.

Other sections show total public debt, debt accrued by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration based on different currencies and origins for insights. And for context, we included a section of the implication of growing debts using international debt sustainability standards of comparing debt amount to the economy size and also to revenue generation.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project was collating the debt data from Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) from 1985 to the first half of 2019, and also presenting it in a digestible format.

The National Bureau of Statistics releases debt figures on a quarterly basis, making it difficult to monitor the trend over a number of decades and drawing reasonable conclusions from the dataset. I had to extract and compile these rough debt figures for Nigeria  in a sheet before proceeding to applying some features on the Infogram tool  to improve visualisation.

I think the project should be selected because it does not only expose the falsehoods about Nigeria’s debt but also adopts a creative approach to telling a data-driven story.


What can others learn from this project?

Other journalists can learn data visualisation as an alternative way of telling complex data-driven stories. They can also learn how to make data more appealing to readers by using tools such as Infogram, Infographia, Flourish and many others. These tools have different features that could help to capture most of the messages you’re trying to pass across in one chart. It becomes very interesting when the reader can interact with the charts just as we have it in the project, it builds loyalty and makes stories more compelling to read.

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