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A Worker speaks to the control room at the Port Harcourt refinery, September 16, 2015. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Worker speaks to the control room at the Port Harcourt refinery, September 16, 2015. (PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria seeks loans to stem ballooning deficit as oil slump continues Add to ...

Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria, is looking for $3.5-billion (U.S.) in low-interest loans from the World Bank and the African Development Bank as it struggles with a toxic combination of crashing oil prices, slumping growth, a soaring budget deficit and a currency on the brink of devaluation.

Nigeria’s loan negotiations are the latest signs of stress across much of the developing world as weak oil and mineral prices are forcing a scramble for external funding by governments from Azerbaijan to Zambia.

Most of these governments, previously flush with revenue from their once-booming resource sectors, are loath to admit the need for emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund. They fear the conditionality and political indignity of IMF loans. So while the IMF has deployed its top officials on visits to many of these countries in recent months, most governments are looking for other ways to plug their growing deficits.

Nigeria, the biggest oil producer in Africa, is dependent on oil exports for two-thirds of its government revenue. But with oil prices collapsing and its economic growth sliding to its slowest pace since the 1990s, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari wants to stimulate the economy with government spending of more than $30-billion this year, especially on capital projects – if he can raise the money. His budget deficit is projected to climb as high as a record $15-billion this year.

The Nigerian government confirmed on Monday that it is seeking $2.5-billion from the World Bank and $1-billion from the African Development Bank (AfDB), along with possible loans from a Chinese state agency. But the potential financing would be “not an emergency loan,” it insisted in a statement.

“Nigeria is exploring the options of multilateral agencies like the World Bank and AfDB and export credit agencies such as China Exim Bank due to their concessionary interest rates,” a spokesman for Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun told the Nigerian media.

Nigeria’s economy grew by an estimated 3.2 per cent last year, its worst pace in almost two decades. Its currency, the naira, is under heavy pressure, but Mr. Buhari has so far refused to allow a devaluation. His government has kept the naira pegged to an official rate of about 197 to the U.S. dollar, even though it is trading at around 300 to the dollar on the informal markets.

The IMF has urged Nigeria to loosen its currency controls and adopt a more flexible exchange rate. “The massive fall in oil prices – which is expected to continue – has changed the medium-term foundations for economic resilience,” IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told the Nigerian parliament last month.

Similar pressures are being felt in many African countries and elsewhere in the developing world. In Zambia, heavily dependent on copper mining and hurt by weak copper prices, the government has rejected the idea of borrowing from the IMF, at least for now, but it is imposing an electricity price increase of up to 25 per cent on its mining companies as it struggles with power shortages. An IMF delegation visited Zambia late last year.

In oil-dependent Azerbaijan and Angola, government officials have been holding talks with IMF and World Bank officials to consider possible financing deals. The Financial Times reported last week that Azerbaijan was discussing a possible $4-billion emergency loan from the IMF and the World Bank.

Angola, which rivals Nigeria as the biggest oil exporter in Africa, is facing the same heavy pressure to devalue its currency. A report by the Reuters news agency said the World Bank could require a currency devaluation in both Angola and Nigeria as part of potential loan deals for the two countries. Angola’s currency, the kwanza, has already dropped by about 25 per cent over the past year, but it is trading at a far worse rate in unofficial markets.

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