Sunday Aborisade, Abuja
The Senate has said it will seek the opinion of stakeholders on the foreign loan borrowing plans of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
The 8th National Assembly had rejected the President’s proposed borrowing of $29.96bn because the proposal was not accompanied by expenditure details.
Buhari presented the request again to the 9th National Assembly for its consideration and approval in November 2019.
The President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, had assured Buhari that his request would be granted, even when the legislative protocol had not been carried out on it.
Lawan’s position did not go down well with members of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans, who had been asked to scrutinise the documents and advise the Senate on the next step to take.
Feelers from some members, who last year had spoken on condition of anonymity, showed that they were no longer interested in the approval process.
Some of those who spoke with our correspondent cited Lawan’s statement at a news conference last year that the Senate would approve the bill.
Further findings indicated that the committee, which has Senator Clifford Ordia as chairman and Senator Bima Enagi as vice-chairman, may not hold a public hearing on the loan request.
A member of the panel, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity, had said there was an instruction from the Senate leadership not to hold a public hearing.
But the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Solomon Adeola, in an interview on Saturday in Abuja, said the red chamber would hold a public hearing on Buhari’s request.
Adeola, however, stated that the Senator Bukola Saraki-led 8th Senate had approved part of the loan request for Buhari’s regime.
He said, “The Federal Government is not asking the National Assembly to approve the sum of $29.96bn loan. This is because in the last Senate, about $6bn had been approved for President Muhammadu Buhari to borrow out of the $29.96bn
“It is the balance of that figure that the government is asking us to approve for it in the borrowing plan, which is about $22.6bn.
“The Senate Committee on Foreign Loans will organise a public hearing on the issue if need be. In the alternative, we will engage the various agencies of the government to give them a clearer view of how the money would be utilised.”
The senator added that all the loans being requested would be attached to the execution of
“five legacy projects” under the Buhari regime, including the Second Niger Bridge, the East-West Road, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the Mambila Power project, and the Kaduna-Abuja Highway.
He added, “The approval of the loan will afford the government an opportunity to achieve the completion of the projects before the end of Buhari’s administration.”
According to him, the borrowing plan will assist the government to fulfil its promise to Nigerians within four years.
Senate justifies spending huge sums to service foreign loans
Adeola explained that the huge budgetary provisions to service foreign loans by the Buhari regime were in order.
He said, “Every successive government borrows, and since the business of government is a continuum, any incoming government would have to inherit what the past administrations had borrowed.
“It is a commitment they made on behalf of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What should concern us more is the judicious application of the money government is borrowing because all governments — even the United States — borrow.
“It becomes a burden when government takes loans and refuses to repay. So, setting aside the money in order to service any outstanding borrowing is not a bad idea.”
The senator said the government was considering two ideas, namely, setting up a “sinking fund account,” and at the same time ensuring that “money is set aside to repay the loans as and when due.”
He added, “Borrowing will not bring untold hardship on the people because any government coming on board after Buhari would still borrow.
“For instance, just last week, the Central Bank of Nigeria said Nigeria was into a deficit of N4.62tn in 2019 alone. What that simply means is that the deficit recorded in the 2019 budget is N4.62tn. So, the question is, how do we argue this deficit?
“The options available are: we print new currency, we borrow, or we raise international bond. So, the government needs to move on. I agree that there are challenges in the economy but it is not as a result of the action taken by the Buhari administration alone.”
The chairman of the Senate panel on finance pledged the full commitment of the red chamber to monitor the activities of the 300 revenue-generating agencies with a view to blocking loopholes.
Senate will probe NNPC to end subsidy payments
Adeola stressed the need to overhaul the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation for the purpose of blocking leakages and end corruption and wastage within the oil and gas sector.
He said, “The issue here is that the importation of fuel by the NNPC is as a result of the non-performance of our refinery.
“When they recorded under-recovery, which led to the issue of subsidy payment, the question is, who verified the payments? Are there auditors who verify the payments and report back to government?
“That is where the legislature should come in and ensure that all that needs to be done must be looked into properly. The 9th Senate will work assiduously to ensure that the under-recovery being claimed by the NNPC, the claims about the volume of fuel imported, are properly looked into.”
Adeola added that the 8th Senate established a big difference between the amount of fuel imported and consumption by Nigerians.
He said, “That has also shown in the current closure of the borders. It has been reported that over 11 million metric tons of PMS were not utilised within Nigeria.
“That shows something is wrong somewhere. So, those who have been living fat on this kind of transaction should be ready for us as we go into proper legislative oversight. We will ensure that he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.
“We are ready and we are going all the way to ensure that the issue of under-recovery is put to rest, once and for all.”