The Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and 80 other organisations, under the aegis of the Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, on Monday asked the Federal Government to publish terms and conditions of all the loans it had taken.
The group, in a statement by its Chairman, Mr Femi Falana, (SAN); the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba and his TUC counterpart, Quadri Olaleye, who are both co-chairmen, threatened a legal action against the government if it failed to publish details of the loans.
Recall that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, while appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements on Tuesday last week, had asked the lawmakers to stop the investigation into the loan obtained from China to finance rail projects in Nigeria.
He warned that the probe would send a wrong signal to China, which could stop the loan, thereby thwarting the rail projects.
But ASCAB in its 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.
It said if the National Assembly failed, the Debt Management Office should publish the terms and conditions of all external loans, or face legal fireworks.
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 leaped to N27.401tn in 2019.
It stated that the figure represented more than 100 per cent debt increase adding that by 2020, the nation had seen an astrological surge in the country’s external debts.
The group said recent revelations at the National Assembly had confirmed the fact that the loans 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 said the huge debt being incurred for the country had 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 President Muhammadu Buhari with no commensurate improvement in the quality of lives of many Nigerians.
Nigerians facing harsh economic difficulties despite high debt profile – Labour, others
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 said the National Assembly appeared desperate to pull wool over the face of Nigerians by covering 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 said it was important to ask whether Nigeria really needed the jumbo loans when sources of boosting public funds had either yet to be fully explored or completely ignored
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.
Prioritise national interest in loan agreements – NECA
Commenting on the loans, the Director-General, Nigeria’s Employers Consultative Association, Dr Timothy Olawale, explained that in any partnership agreement entered into by a country, national interest and interest of the citizens must be prioritised.
According to him, 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.
Labour monitors Chinese firms for local content compliance
In a related development, the TUC said it was taking steps to curb the alleged violations of the local content law by the Chinese construction firms operating in the country.
The TUC President, Mr Olaleye Quadri, stated that the congress had met with the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, to discuss the strategies on curbing the violations.
The TUC leader, who said this in response to inquiries by The PUNCH on Monday, explained that the unions in the construction sector had been directed to monitor the firms when construction activities resumed.