Publish Details Of Loans Or Face Legal Action – NLC, TUC, Others Tell FG

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President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has been called by the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and 80 other organisations, under the aegis of the Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and beyond, to publish terms and conditions of all the loans taken by the government.

The group made this call in a statement released through its chairman, Femi Falana, (SAN); the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba and his TUC counterpart, Quadri Olaleye, who are both co-chairmen.

They threatened to file a lawsuit against the government if it failed to publish details of the loans.

Recall that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, while answering questions before the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements last week Tuesday pleaded with lawmakers to stop investigating the loan obtained from China.

He further stated that the investigation would send a wrong signal to China, which could stop the loan, thereby thwarting the rail projects.

ASCAB while reacting to Amaechi’s comment in a statement titled, ‘ASCAB demands full disclosure of all loans obtained by Nigeria,’ said it would “challenge the authorities in court if the disclosures were not made.”

The group also urged the National Assembly to reveal the terms and conditions of all external loans.

ASCAB further stated that if the National Assembly refuses to publish the terms and conditions of the loans, the Debt Management Office should do so or face a lawsuit.

ASCAB, which is a coalition of labour and some 80 civil society groups, lamented that Nigeria’s debt profile which was N12.118tn as of May 2015 had leapt to N27.401tn in 2019.

The group noted that the debt rate in the country over five years has increased more than 100 per cent.

It noted that the revelations at the National Assembly have revealed that the loans obtained by the Federal Government were taken without proper public scrutiny.

It also noted that a committee of the House of Representatives was feigning ignorance concerning the terms and conditions attached to a particular loan agreement.

ASCAB added that the amount of loans obtained by the country has the potential of stifling the prospects of economic liberation and political freedom of the people.

The group said within one year, the National Assembly had approved a total of $28bn loans for the President Buhari with no commensurate improvement in the quality of lives of many Nigerians.

Part of the statement read, “Millions of Nigerians continue to face harsh economic difficulties, lacking access to basic needs, yet the debt profile of the country continues to increase.”

“It is even more grievous that the government continues to take loans on behalf of the people without their consent neither their keen understanding of the terms.”

ASCAB accused lawmakers of attempting to cover up its tracks regarding the clause in the Chinese loans.

It added, “The opaque nature of the loans is against the principles of the Nigerian constitution,” ASCAB said, citing Section 21(1) of the Debt Management Office Establishment (ETC) Act, 2003 (DMO Act) which states that no external loan shall be approved or obtained by the minister unless its terms and conditions shall have been laid before the National Assembly and approved by its resolution.”

ASCAB stated that information from the Debt Management Office indicated that the total value of loans taken by Nigeria from China as of March 31, 2020, was $3.121bn.

It noted that it was an indication that the Chinese loan was some 3.94 per cent of Nigeria’s total public debt of $79.303 as of March 31, 2020, while external sources of funds, loans from China accounted for 11.28 per cent of the external debt profile of $27.67 at the same date.

“The loans were obtained with interest rates of 2.5 per annum, to be paid in 20 years with a moratorium of seven years,” it added.

The coalition noted that it is important to ask if the country really needs the loans when sources of income for the country has been neglected.

The statement added, “The country’s level of poverty continues to increase with the skyrocketing loans obtained by the Federal Government.”

“Poverty, extreme hunger, frivolous lifestyles of public office holders continue to fuel violence and public disorder across the country.”

“Why the government has responded effectively to the needs of public officials including members of the National Assembly, the economic and social needs of the people remain a mirage,” the coalition said.

The Director-General, Nigeria’s Employers Consultative Association, Dr Timothy Olawale, while speaking on the loans obtained by the Federal Governor explained that in any partnership agreement entered into by a country, national interest and interest of the citizens must be prioritised.

Olawale further stated that the negotiator should be blamed in the event that national interest is not considered in any loan agreement.

In the employment of manpower for execution of projects, he said the local content policy stipulates that certain types of jobs that are not too technical and do not involve the transfer of technology, should be handled by Nigerians.

On its part, the Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action described Amaechi’s request to halt the probe of the loans taken by the Federal Government as unpatriotic.

The centre, in a statement issued on Monday, said the minister’s “unguarded and anti-people” statement could hinder the progress the country was making at achieving transparency and accountability.

It said the absence of transparency and accountability in the midst of massive corruption would scare away investors rather than the prospect of accountability in the minister’s opinion.

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