A civic group, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) has faulted Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, on the ongoing probe of loans taken by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Social Action’s Communications Officer, Peace Agbo, in a statement this Monday alleges that the loan deal violates Section 25 of the Debt Management Office (DMO) Act which requires National Assembly’s approval on terms and conditions surrounding any loan.
‘’To aggravate the issue, the Federal Government signed the loan agreement which will require Nigeria to waive immunity on its sovereignty if there is a default in payment of the loan’’, the group adds.
At the ongoing investigative hearing last week, Amaechi said that if the probe was not suspended, it will scare the lenders, insisting the ongoing investigations of loans taken by the Federal Government could send the wrong signal to the lenders.
The minister was speaking at the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements investigative hearing in Abuja.
According to Amaechi, the investigation could cause foreign partners to withdraw such loan facilities which will have a negative effect on Nigeria’s infrastructural development, pointing out that he has raised the concerns over the ongoing probe with the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabimila.
While explaining that the hearing could stop the loan facility the Buhari administration”is seeking for the completion of the Lagos-Ibadan and Kano rail projects”, he, however, recommended that the hearing should be shifted to December when the loan facility would have been acquired.
Chairman of the panel, Nicholas Ossai, said the committee is empowered to conduct overnight before, during or after loan facilities are acquired, pointing out that the committee seeks to review all Nigeria’s bilateral loan agreement to ensure the country is not shortchanged.
Impressed, Social Action says the House committee is carrying out their oversight function in a bid to ensure that the country is not shortchanged in all bilateral loan deals.
‘’The implication of the probe, according to the minister is that the investigation could scare foreign partners, future investors and jeopardise the already negotiated loan agreement between Nigeria and China. This according to him, could lead to the loan facility withdrawal and will have a negative impact on Nigeria’s infrastructural development drive such as; the loan facility the government is seeking to complete the Lagos-Ibadan and Kano rail projects.
‘’In a bizarre request, he suggested that the hearing be shifted to December 2020 when the loan facility would have been acquired’’, Social Action said.
The group notes that the Buhari administration through the transportation minister negotiated a loan deal worth $500 million with China in 2018 without the approval of the National Assembly.
Continuing, Social Action says: ‘’It is inconceivable that Amaechi will request for such hearing to be halted and not investigate the loans being received by the government. This is unpatriotic to say the least, because such unguarded and anti-people statement can hinder any progress the country is making at achieving transparency and accountability.
‘’Perhaps, the minister should be reminded that the payment of loans is the collective responsibility of Nigerian taxpayers and not an individual affair. In other words, the minister is of the opinion that the prospect of accountability will scare investors away.
‘’On the contrary, the absence of transparency and accountability in the midst of massive corruption is a major factor that will scare away investors.
‘’We demand that this probe should commence and also be extended to other institutions of the government as this will serve as a deterrent to leaders, improve accountability, give the country a sense of direction, restore and boost Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).
‘’The minister should know that the lenders he is tenaciously protecting aren’t investors, but business-minded individuals, having their personal motives and interested in feeding off the commonwealth of Nigerians, and subtly needs his collaboration. We cannot be mute on corruption of any form to make lenders happy.
‘’It’s unfortunate and indeed disappointing that the government has decided to enslave Nigeria through taking these loan deals without considering the long term effect of their actions. Such statement by the minister does not mean well for the country, as it puts the country on the perpetual end to remain in debts.
‘’This investigative hearing is important, so that Nigerians can know the terms of the numerous loan deals and also the economic importance of these loans because we have had several incidents of borrowed loans by the government to finance moribund projects that had little or no impact on the economy.
‘’The way and manner the present government is given to loans without commensurate infrastructures will definitely exacerbate its debt profile. The government should realise that Nigeria cannot loan her way out of poverty and poor infrastructure.
‘’We also call on the lawmakers to do their job of oversight while checking the excesses of the Executive. It is now clear that the process did not go through the proper scrutiny it should have gone through before its endorsement by the President.
‘’In another instance of their lackadaisical posture, the National Assembly members were sanctioning some of these loans despite CSO’s warnings, until the damage is done and then brings it to public knowledge. The lawmakers should truly represent the people by carrying out their legislative responsibilities in a timely manner.’’