By IBRAHIM ABUBAKAR

“No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward of what he gave.”

The Idumuje-Ugboko born Prince Ned Nwoko, a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales worked as a leading negotiator in the management and verification of Nigeria’s foreign debts.

He worked with two firms (Kumars Solicitors and Pascaldiers & Co Solicitors), before setting up one of the leading law firms in the UK: Ned Nwoko & Co Solicitors. Prince Ned Nwoko was previously secretary general, Nigerian legal practitioners UK and was recognized as the best black lawyer in England in 1995.

Prince Ned Nwoko is known for his random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for him. He is a Nigerian who has maintained an Open Door Policy and has been described as a man whose gate is open 24hours of a day to both poor and the rich with no visible security men to scare away visitors and no high walls to prevent people from entering or seeing what goes on inside.

This transparent lifestyle granted him the general will to serve his people in the Nigeria House of Representatives in 1999 to 2003. Within the four years he was in the House of Representatives, at various times he was listed among the ten most vibrant members in the House of Representatives on account of diligently performing his legislative duties.

Ned is a great example of a patriotic Nigerian with a record to beat. Apart from his national contributions, Prince Nwoko deserves a commendation for his effort to positively affect his community in Delta State by helping the youths build their career and achieve their dreams and other numerous humanitarian activities.

His dream of establishing the state of the arts STARS University and Golf Course is a project of the future for the young and old.

As a patriotic Nigerian, Prince Ned Nwoko performed a selfless duty and excellent task that paved the way for Nigeria’s economic bounce back. A man that has the nation’s interest above his own deserves national heroic recognition and honor. Prince Ned Nwoko’s help and intervention in many difficult times of our national life cannot be overemphasized, especially the leading role he played in solving Nigeria’s debt crises.

The crises worsened when state and local governments went abroad to approach the Breton Woods Institutions and borrowed monies in the 1970s and 80s. The governors and other government officials squandered the loans, built nothing with it and left Nigeria in a state of economic comatose.

Nwoko used his wealth of experience as an international legal practitioner, he led a team that assisted Nigeria to verify the process of Nigeria’s foreign debt repayment and, in the process, they discovered that there were frivolous things that had taken place. It was discovered that some states that were not in existence when the foreign loans were contracted were also making loan repayment.

The process was highly challenging, creditor countries and some Nigerian government officials who felt that the process might challenge their long existing hegemony also constituted threats and tried to fight back. The resilience and patriotic effort of Ned Nwoko and his team paved way for creditor-nations to refund the excess deduction of funds that they have accumulated from Nigeria’s repayment of the foreign loans.

Most Nigerian States could not pay their workers and pensioners at the inception of the Buhari administration in 2015. About 26 of the 36 states could not meet up with their wage obligation to workers. It could be recalled that the economic downturn witnessed between 2016 and 2017 crippled fiscal obligations of some states with backlog of salary arrears.

The Paris Club refund aided the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate the bailout funds which later enabled affected states to pay salaries, settle contractors and embark on other development projects.

This success wouldn’t have been possible if not for the courageous effort of Prince Ned Nwoko and others that made the government to realize that it has such substantial amount of money somewhere outside the country. His selfless effort rescued Nigeria from dubious loan deals and other dangerous debt repayment terms.

Nigeria is in a debt trap. Nigeria’s debts profile, like that of most other third world countries, especially in Africa, appear to be out of proportion. The more we service a debt, the more we borrow another. The newly found financial help of Buhari’s administration is the Shukuk bond which has continued to receive wide criticisms from all corners of the society but the result can be seen through some noticeable projects ongoing across the country.

The effort of Prince Ned brought a millstone in the economic growth and development of Nigeria. Maybe, Nigeria will need Prince Nwoko again, to get the country out of the burden of its new loan deals.

Before the Paris Club Refund, Nigeria was spending a lion share of her national income servicing debts leaving little money for development and less for investment. Prince Ned Nwoko made Nigeria realize that we have paid more than we originally borrowed, yet our debt is like a malignant virus that continues to multiply.

Although, Nigeria still spends huge amount of its budget on servicing outstanding debts. The most important financial power the Buhari administration could lean on is the Paris Club refund which was facilitated by Prince Ned Nwoko and his team. If not, maybe the state government wouldn’t have been able to fulfil their part of the social contract.

The work done some years ago continues to yield positive economic output for Nigeria.

A man who sacrificed everything to pave the path for our nation’s economic progress deserves a better opportunity and recognition to prove his impeccable worth further. He is not a man to be neglected. Ned is one of our national hero, the savior who helped Nigeria reclaim its lost fortunes.

Ned is the pathfinder of Nigeria’s economic progress. Nwoko’s intervention revealed that there is a net transfer of funds from Nigeria to the developed countries. Excesses in debt servicing and accumulation have been blamed for exacerbating economic problems in Nigeria. This excess of debt put unnecessary pressure on the economy. It nearly brought the entire nation to a standstill but thanks to Ned’s intervention.

A celebrated pathfinder of economic development

In 2016, state governments had received a refund worth N516.38 billion as the first tranche of the Paris Club refunds which was facilitated by Prince Ned Nwoko and his team. Also, in July 2017, a sum totaling N243.795 billion was released for the second tranche of Paris Club refund to states.

The Federal Government had disbursed three tranches to the state governments as refund for over-deduction from their allocations from the Federation Account for external debt servicing between 1995 and 2002. However, many state governments have been accused of misappropriating these Paris Club refunds.

Still on the success of the Paris Club refund, Olubumi Siyanbola, Director of Home Finance, Federal Ministry of Finance was quoted in December 2017 saying “27 states had so far benefited from the new tranche of refunds, with nine others yet to receive their share of the Paris Club refund. She explained that the delay in releasing the refund to the nine states was only “a matter of process,” assuring that they would get theirs as soon as the processes were completed.

“The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun also stated that “the release of the first tranche of the Paris Club refund representing up to 25% of claims, being N522.7bn commenced in December 2016. Disbursement was subject to an agreement by State Governments that 50% of any amount received would be earmarked for the payment of salaries and pensions.

In addition, each Governor gave an undertaking that excess payments would be recovered from the Federal Accounts Allocation (FAAC), if the final reconciliation found that the amount paid under the Anticipatory Approval exceeded that due.”

According to the VP Yemi Osinbajo, “Paris Club refund and the Budget Support Facility to states has gone a long way in cushioning the shock experienced by the federating units which resulted from the sharp drop in prices of crude oil in 2016.” This support to states has remained unprecedented in the history of Nigeria.

Successive governments in Nigeria has laid claims that the government’s borrowings are aimed at building infrastructure that would engender economic growth, create jobs, and increase incomes. It is not new, the federal and state governments have been borrowing to fund their budgets and they continue to have series of debt issues piled up even after the Paris Club refund.
NBS said the total foreign debt profile of the federal government, the 36 states governments, and the Federal Capital Territory rose from $10.718 billion in 2015, to $11.406 billion in 2016, and $15.047 billion in 2017. The federal government accounts for $11.106 billion (about 74 per cent) of the debt of $15.047 billion, while the 36 states of the federation and the FCT owe $3.94 billion, or about 26 per cent. The federal and state governments’ shares of the debt stock grew from $7.349 billion and $3.369 billion in 2015, to $7.84 billion and $3.568 billion in 2016, and $3.94 billion and $11.106 billion in 2017, respectively.

As borrowing is necessary for economic growth, the discovery of Prince Ned Nwoko and his team about the excesses of the Breton Woods Institutions has repositioned Nigeria to carefully select its source of financial assistance in such a way that that the nation will be a win-win relationship.

On September 5, 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics said Nigeria had exited its worst economic recession in more than two decades, by reaching a growth of 0.55 per cent in the second quarter of 2017. This was made possible by improved oil, agriculture, manufacturing sectors of the economy and the utilization of the Paris Club refunds.

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards and integrity they set for themselves. The good deeds of Prince Ned Nwoko are countless. He does good not because he need something in return but because it is in his nature to do good. He knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. Price has made tremendous impact and influence on our national development. His impacts are not limited to the success of the Paris Club refund which has helped to revamp our economy.

He laid the groundwork for our economic success and he is standing back to spread the passion to others and letting them shine. He takes little less than his credit but he deserves glorious recognition and thank you from Nigerians. He has been able to translate his vison for Nigeria into reality – the reality is the economic bailout for Nigeria. Prince Nwoko assisted Nigeria to unlock its potential to become better. Prince is a natural leader. In character, in manner, in style and in all things, the supreme excellence of Prince Ned Nwoko is simplicity.

Abubakar, public affairs analyst writes from Abuja

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