SERAP SUES PRE. BUHARI OVER NIGERIA’S MOUNTING DEBTS

BY Chinelo Obogo

The Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)
has filed a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, asking it to order President Muhammadu Buhari publish details of loans that have been obtained by the government since May 2015; the interest rate, the total amount of debts; and details of the projects on which the loans have been spent.

The suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/785/2020 filed last week is seeking an order of mandamus to compel President Buhari to tell Nigerians the countries and bodies that have given the loans, specific repayment conditions, and whether any public officers solicited and/or received bribes.

“We’ve asked the Federal High Court, Abuja to order President Buhari to publish details of loans that have been obtained by the government since May 2015; the interest rate, the total amount of debts; and details of the projects on which the loans have been spent.

“The suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/785/2020 filed last week is seeking an order of mandamus to compel President Buhari to tell Nigerians the countries and bodies that have given the loans, specific repayment conditions, and whether any public officers solicited and/or received bribes.

“The suit read in part: “Transparency would ensure that the loans are not diverted to private pockets, increase public trust that these loans would be used to benefit Nigerians, provide good value for money, and reassure Nigeria’s creditors.

“This suit is permitted under the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended), the Freedom of Information Act; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party,” SERAP said.

This development comes as the House of Representatives last Tuesday raised the alarm over clauses in Article 8(1) of the commercial loan agreement signed between Nigeria and Export-Import Bank of China which it says “wills the sovereignty of Nigeria” in the $400 million loan for the Nigeria National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Infrastructure Backbone Phase II Project, signed in 2018.

During an investigative hearing into some of the agreements signed between Nigeria and China, last Tuesday, the Chairman, House Committee on Treaties and Agreements, Ossai Nicholas Ossai questioned the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi over the controversial clause.

“I have seen from the Ministry of Communications where Nigeria signed off some certain level of its sovereignty if part of the clauses is breached? So, when the National Assembly reacts in this manner, to question some level of agreements being entered into by any ministry of this country with any other nation, we have every right to question that because anything that is going to happen will happen to our generations unborn. Whether we get it from China or not is immaterial.

“The most important thing is that we must save and protect our people as regard agreements, because most of the agreements that have been signed, the National Assembly has no knowledge (of them). Even the details embedded in those agreements are not forwarded to you when demanding counterpart funding.

“You don’t have the details, clause by clause, in line with the Act that established DMO. We need to know those details even before going to sign such agreements. But those details are not provided to the parliament. So, we have the right to question them,” Ossai said.

In the agreement which was signed by Federal Ministry of Finance (Borrower) on behalf of Nigeria and the Export-Import Bank of China (Lender) on 5th September, 2018, Article 8(1) of the agreement, provides that: “The Borrower hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of sovereign or otherwise for itself or its property in connection with any arbitration proceeding pursuant to Article 8(5), thereof with the enforcement of any arbitral award pursuant thereto, except for the military assets and diplomatic assets.”

Ossai then summoned the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Usman; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Ali Isa Pantami and Director-General of Debt Management Office (DMO), Ms Patience Oniha, to appear before the Committee on August 17, 2020 with all relevant documents on the controversial agreements.

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