• Senate grills Amaechi, Adeosun over $5.5b loan request
• Probes bailout, Paris Club funds
The Federal Government needs a total of $36 billion to complete its rail projects across the country.
The Transportation Minister, Chibuike Amaechi, disclosed this yesterday at the National Assembly just as the Senate subjected him and the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, to intense questioning over the Federal Government’s bid to borrow another $5.5 billion.
Amaechi said: “If you put it all together, the total cost of the entire rail projects will amount to about $36 billion. Actually we don’t have the money but it’s an ambitious plan. We really have to start something somewhere and see how far we go.”
Amaechi, who said President Muhammadu Buhari had directed that the rail line be extended to cover all the 36 state capitals, informed the Shehu Sani-led Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts that part of the $5.5 billion loan being sought would fund the Itakpe to Warri, Kano to Kaduna and Port Harcourt to Calabar aspects of the rail projects.
Buhari had in a letter to the National Assembly requesting approval for the loan stated that $2.5 billion, part of the proposed $5.5 billion loan, would be used for the Mambilla Hydropower Project, construction of a second runway at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, counterpart funding for rail projects and the construction of the Bode-Bonny road, with a bridge across the Opobo Channel.
The Senate committee had raised queries regarding the impact of the planned borrowing of $5.5 billion on the living standards of Nigerians.
Sani said: “Some of the questions Nigerians, and indeed our constituents, have asked repeatedly include: what has the Federal Government done with the reported recovered loot allegedly traced to the previous administration? What role can such recovered monies play in the 2017 budget financing? How much indeed has been recovered? And has the National Assembly appropriated the recovered loot for government expenditure?”
According to him, all actions and decisions with respect to the loan request by his committee and indeed the Senate would responsibly be done, and only on its merit.
“l will advise therefore, that as representatives of the president, you put your best foot forward and be as convincing as possible with facts and figures for the Senate to fully have your back, with respect to these requests.
“It has become clear that if Nigeria must borrow, we must borrow responsibly, we cannot afford to mortgage the future of our unborn generation. If we must bequeath to the future generation a pile of debts, they must be justified with commensurate infrastructural proof of the value of the debts,” he said.
The committee observed that “the payment plan of the debts will undoubtedly last the length of our lifetimes and possibly beyond. We must live behind a legacy that will appease and answer the questions the next generation of Nigerians will ask. We must not allow our children and grand children to be enslaved with chains of debts.”
Adeosun, who was represented by the Director-General of the Debt Management Office, Patience Oniha, told the committee that the $2.5 billion part of the loan had already been approved in the 2017 budget.
She further explained that the $3 billion part was to upset local debts, adding that it was not healthy to have such huge local debts hanging on the head of the nation.
“Borrowing at 7% interest rate in the international market is cheaper than borrowing at 17% interest rate in the local market,” Adeosun noted.
Wondering why the Federal Government could not resort to local resources in servicing the local loans, the committee declared that it was important Nigerians were told how the projects the loans would be used for would help in servicing and paying the debts.
On the Abuja airport project, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Serika, said he did not know the cost of the second runway which formed part of the projects on which the $2.5 billion would be spent.
Also yesterday, the Senate resolved to debate a motion asking it to investigate the legality or otherwise of President Muhammadu Buhari’s approvals for bailout and Paris Club refunds released to states so far.
Senator Samuel Anyanwu from (APC, Imo State) drew the attention of his colleagues to the issue of the funds given to governors by President Buhari. He sought to know who gave the approval, since the National Assembly was not consulted before the disbursement.
Anyanwu said: “I am worried about the Paris club refunds. Governors are asking for more funds. Where is this money from? The Senate has not given any approval. Who gives the approval and what is the money for?
“I heard the president scolding them. The president was asking them how they sleep at night even when they do not pay salaries. They have received billions of naira. I feel worried. Even the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has told the president to stop giving bailout funds to governors. If you look at front pages of newspapers, you will see the issue there. This is the problem. If my colleagues will allow me, I want to bring this as a motion at our next legislative day. I so submit.”
Senate President Bukola Saraki sought the leave of his colleagues to approve that a proper motion be brought to the floor at another legislative day.
The next legislative day is October 24, 2017. Since no further comments were permitted by Saraki, lawmakers thereafter agreed that Anyanwu should present a proper motion at another next week.
President Buhari, in 2015, some weeks after he assumed office, approved bailout funds to states to settle salary arrears, without any recourse to the National Assembly.
On Tuesday this week, governors again met with President Buhari before he departed for a summit in Turkey and demanded the release of the outstanding Paris Club refunds by November, to enable them to include it in their 2018 budget appropriation.
Addressing journalists after the meeting with the president on Tuesday, Governor of Zamfara State and Chairman of Governors Forum, Abdulaziz Yari, said they were in the Villa to thank the president for the previous bailouts as well as the Paris Club refund, which he said had helped them in meeting the obligations of their states.
Besides, the lawmakers yesterday decided to consider and resolve the periodic tragic clashes between Nigeria and Cameroun border communities.
They mandated the committees on police affairs and national security to look into the contentious issues and report back to the Senate.
This resolution was adopted on a point of order raised by John Enoh representing Cross River Central during plenary.
Enoh, in his presentation, affirmed that it was the duty of the Nigerian government to protect its citizens from internal and external aggression as the affected people from his political jurisdiction had been abandoned to their fate at the hands of the Cameroonian aggressors.