Nigeria plans to put more enterprises into private hands

Nigeria unveiled far-reaching debt-conversion and privatization programs on Monday which underpin the military government's economic reforms. The Central Bank released guidelines of its plan to reduce the country's $27 billion external debt, the highest in black-ruled Africa.

Meanwhile, a decree announced details for privatizing 67 publicly owned enterprises and partially privatizing 25 others.

The government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida committed itself to the two far-reaching policies in last January's 1988 budget as part of its structural adjustment program to put its debt-ridden economy back on its feet.

After lengthy public debate a couple years ago over whether to undergo structural adjustment designed by the International Monetary Fund, Nigeria decided to put into place its own austerity plan. Since then, economic hardship has incited a number of riots.

Although the reforms were announced Monday, dates for the first debt-conversion auction and the first company flotations have not yet been set by the government.

The privatization and commercialization decree, signed by General Babangida, earmarks 67 companies in sectors such as tourism, insurance, and agriculture. In these industries the government will divest its entire 100 percent stake.

Partial privatization will affect 25 enterprises such as development banks, the national air and shipping lines, steel mills, and oil marketing companies. In these industries government participation will be reduced to between 10 and 70 percent.

The government decided to leave untouched its varying stakes in 12 commercial and merchant banks and in the country's six automobile assembly plants.

A further 25 types of enterprises, including key utilities such as the electric power authority, will be fully or partly commercialized - meaning that they will no longer be allowed to survive on government handouts.

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