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How Southeast is responding to exclusion from FG’s $22.7bn loan

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Three months into his first term in office in 2015, former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, had chided President Muhammadu Buhari, accusing him of nepotism. Nworgu had said Ndigbo would not fair any better during Buhari administration because he had carried on as if Ndigbo were not part of the country.

Nworgu, who was then reacting to the over 32 appointments made by President Buhari, who did not include any Igbo person, said he was not surprised since it was in tandem with the character of the president. Nworgu said Buhari did a similar thing with projects during his era at the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF).

Last week, the presidential request for an approval of the senate for a loan of 22.7 billion dollars from China’s Exim bank received the nod of the upper legislative chamber. The loan, according to President Buhari, would be invested in the improvement of infrastructure in the country. He said the loan was to “ensure the prompt implementation of projects under the borrowing plan with specific emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, growth and employment generation, poverty reduction through social safety nets programmes, governance and financial management reforms among others.

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It was not the first time the president was making such request. In fact, the 8th National Assembly turned it down when he first made it following allegations that details of the expenditures were not clear as well as the debt burden it could place on the future generation of Nigerians.

Sources indicated that the Senate approved the request after a committee headed by Senator Clifford Ordia scrutinized and vetted it for approval. It was also a day when some senators were away from the chamber on an Independent National Election Commission’s (INEC) retreat in Lagos.

Details of the loan, when it was made public, reveal that the Southeast zone was excluded from the projects it is intended for. None of the projects captured in the loan for execution when it is eventually received falls within the zone, just as other zones will enjoy a measure of succour from it. Available details indicate that Southwest will get $200,000,000.00 while south-South, excluding Edo State, will get $4,270,000,000.00. North West will get $6,372,000,000.00, Northeast will get $300,000,000.00 while North Central will get $6,531,000,000 while $5,853,900,000.00 is reserved for general expenses.

This has set the Southeast zone on warpath. Nworgu, who got wind of the development, stated that the exclusion of Southeast zone from the loan has vindicated his earlier position on President Buhari. He stated that the president’s alleged discontent against Ndigbo would never change. He insisted that should there be any zone requiring improvement on her infrastructure, it should be the Southeast, which according to him, suffered neglect in the hands of previous administrations.

There is a growing anger among the people of the zone. They have accused the Buhari government of not only stifling the zone, but demonstrating that he does not regard them as being a part of the country. They claim that they have not got a fair deal from his government since it came on board in 2015.
They have therefore called for their inclusion in the loan request or its outright cancellation.

They listed projects requiring the Federal Government’s intervention to include revamping the dry ports in Aba and Owerrinta, Onitsha sea port, the various dilapidated highways in the zone, the Enugu coal plant, industries that have gone moribund in the zone, completion of the 2nd Niger bridge among others.

Drumming home the need to ensure the equalization of the zone with others in the loan, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has insisted that doing so would promote virtues that would unite the country, adding, however, that the loan, if allowed in its current format, could seriously undermine Nigeria’s unity.

Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, stated that denying the zone meant that the country was on its way to implosion. He added, however, “we need to be sure the story is true and if it is true, we will use all that we have got to resist it”.
Ibegbu stated that it was bad enough that the zone had been on the receiving end since the present administration came to power, explaining that it had engaged in various development projects, including the rail project that has been denied the zone.

The public outcry over the exclusion of Southeast from the loan did not stop with the masses. Governors of the zone had waded in it to find ways to ameliorate the situation. They had, after their meeting last Sunday, initiated contacts with the presidency and the National Assembly. They had returned to the people with assurances that issues pertaining to the loan would be addressed and sued for calm.

“The South East Governors believe that we can deploy dialogue, negotiation and good understanding to right any perceived injustice, rather than engage the Federal Government in a battle of which nobody is expected to win the boss.

A statement from the governors said, “We have written to Mr. President and the leadership of the National Assembly on this matter and we believe that the inclusion of the South East Rail line corridors, development of our Coal Plant in Enugu and development of limestone deposits in the South East should make the list with the loan.

“We must, however, continue to thank our dear president for his unstoppable kind attention on the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge, renovation/expansion of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Reconstruction of Port Harcourt-Enugu two-lane expressway, and other projects in the South East by the Federal Government”.

It is being speculated that the inclusion of the zone in the proposed loan now lies at the mercy of members of the House of Representatives and how much lobby those at the lower chamber from the zone are able to make to get their colleagues buy into it. Worries are freely being expressed that should the matter be put to vote, Southeast may not muster enough votes to buoy their support due to their lean numbers. It was perhaps in an attempt to avoid anything that would lead to members of the lower house voting on the issue that the Senate Caucus from the Southeast engaged with the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives on possibility of reviewing the loan.

The Senator representing Abia South, Enyinnaya Abaribe, who opposed the approach Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, employed to ensure approval of the loan, had said: “Everybody has seen that the borrowing plan has no single provision for the South-East geopolitical zone, yet the South-East would be made to pay for a loan that didn’t benefit its people. I had the opportunity to be at the Rivers State Government House over the weekend and the state Governor, Nyesom Wike, said there was no Federal Government’s investment in the state, despite the fact that the oil that comes from there would be used to repay the loans. When you see all these things, you need to really reflect on them. People feel we are just being intransigent; we are not. We are just pointing out things that really matter to the unity of the nation”.

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Abaribe, who had advocated a line by line interrogation of what was provided for by the committee to ensure feasible value for the people, insisted that some parts of the loan could not be tied to anything, stressing that “when you cannot tie it to any form of investment, then it means that every money that is coming into the country as revenue will be used to pay back the loan”.

Meanwhile, feeling that Ndigbo have continued to receive the short end of the stick with the Buhari administration, an Igbo group, Igbo Board of Deputies (IBD) has petitioned China Exim Bank to stop to reverse the loan in the interest of national unity. It threatened to drag the Federal Government and the bank to court should they act otherwise.

Abaribe

Titled “Letter of Demand”, which was signed by the Convener, Austin Okeke, and copied to President Buhari, National Assembly, Chief Justice of Nigeria, African Development Bank, World Bank, Embassy of Republic of China among several others and made available to The Guardian, alleged several adverse policies of deprivation and impoverishment directed against Igbo since the end of the civil war in 1970, stressing that the policies were deliberate, systematic and sustained and come in different guises.

The group told the bank in the protest letter dated March 11: “We are advised that you have approved a loan, and which loan you are about to disburse, in tranches or in bulk, to the Federal Government of Nigeria. This loan and other loans from other financial institutions have recently been given a nod of approval by the Nigerian Senate in order for it to be disbursed for infrastructural development and other projects in Nigeria”.

Giving a breakdown of the loan, the group stated that none of the projects in the loan was cited in the Southeast zone, even when they are expected to participate in the servicing and repayment of same, a development it described as dangerous to the wellbeing of the country.

“The above allocation of these loans to the exclusion of the Igbo is indicative of the many other adverse policies of the Nigerian government directed at suppressing the Igbo. This and many more is the reason we have decided to bring to your notice of imminent Class Actions from many other interested parties from all over the world, in relation to the loan transactions with your financial institution.”

The petitioners who cited various constitutional infringements in the execution of the loan, especially as it regards federal character principles enshrined in provisions of section 13 of the 1999 constitution, vowed to ventilate the constitutional provisions and their violations in a planned suit against the Federal Government of Nigeria, among others.

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“The allocations of these loans are fundamentally and constitutionally flawed both in substance and in form,” the letter continued. “This also shall be ventilated in the law suit”

In the circumstance, the group asked the China bank to within the next 14 days, “to suspend the disbursement, alternatively, cancel the approval of the loan to the  Nigerian government until such time as it has revised and/or amended the manner it intends to allocate the loans so as to include projects in the South East of Nigeria, which projects shall directly benefit the Igbo, as a condition, tie the loan repayment to the region of Nigeria that inherits the  projects, as Nigeria flounders and threatens to break up, and in going forward, ensure that all projects are valued and open-bid for, following international best practices to ensure standard quality and fair cost”.

It went on: “Failing which, we hold instructions to join you as a Defendant party to the planned law suit against the Federal Government of Nigeria. We shall take this matter to its logical conclusion, even if it means going to the International Court of Justice. We say so because we do not guarantee the repayment of these loans by the other federating units of Nigeria in so far as the deliberate discrimination against the Igbo in Nigeria persists. The Igbo shall not be participating in the servicing and repayment of these loans, as a matter of principle, fact and law. The Igbo shall enforce this position and their resolve within the ambit of both domestic and international laws, unless and until the obligations to repay the loans are tied to the various projects in their various locations. The loan beneficiaries must pay that which they have consumed. The Igbo shall not be held liable for these loans, not now and not in the future. We will not mortgage the rights and interests of our future generations for something they neither partook in nor benefited”.

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