Minister, House of Reps committee disagree over ‘$33 billion loan’

The House of Representatives Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements and the Federal Ministry of Transport on Monday disagreed over commercial contract figures signed by the ministry.

The Chairman of the committee, Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta), at a public hearing in Abuja, said the ministry had signed commercial contracts worth $33 billion without clear cut financing arrangements.

Ossai said the essence of the probe is to get clarifications on all the agreements.

He said that there were more than 500 loans and bilateral agreements between Nigeria and other governments and international organisations.

“We have noticed from documents available to us that commercial contracts prices signed by the Federal Ministry of Transport alone within this period is over $33 billion without any clear cut financing arrangements.

“Most of these commercial contracts agreements didn’t also have local content clauses and there were no witnesses and designated and authorised officials.

“There are observable issues relating to procurement process evidence of 15 per cent advanced payments, payment of management fees, draw down process and remittances and a whole lot of other matters.

“We are strongly poised to ask questions and hope to get honest answers that will fine-tune the current process, plan for possible renegotiation of some of these agreements in order to serve Nigerians better,” he said.

The lawmaker said the parliament “cannot continue to approve loans without asking relevant questions.’’

Ossai called on all key actors and stakeholders to stop the politicisation of the investigation.

“For us, if you believe in the progress and sustainable development of our country, then you should naturally cooperate with the work of this committee to see to it that there is guarantee of value for money in all government expenditures and borrowing plans, as well as government policies, programmes and projects,” he added.

Responding, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, told the committee that there was no such loan of $33 billion in the ministry.

Amaechi said the ministry had only signed a loan agreement of $1.6 billion under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

The minister explained that the amount was being used in the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project.

He said that there were more than 20,000 Nigerians working on the project as well as 560 Chinese workers.

The minister said the Chinese government provided $1.2 billion while the federal government provided the remaining $400 million.

Mr Amaechi said another loan of $800 million was taken under the Goodluck Jonathan administration and that the project was 80 per cent completed before he was appointed minister.

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The Commander, U.S. Africa Command, U General Stephen Townsend, wrapped up a three-day West African visit February 22-25, 2021, with a stopover in Nigeria to meet with the nation’s leaders and further the long-standing partnership and security cooperation between the two countries.

A press statement by the Embassy on Friday, said: “During the visit, Townsend met with the Nigerian President’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, and National Security Adviser, Babagan Monguno, to discuss regional security issues and to express the command’s gratitude for the assistance provided during a hostage rescue operation last year.

“When we asked for their help, the Nigerian government answered the call. Our hostage recovery mission in October would have been impossible without their support.

“They quickly provided assistance that helped the U.S. military to save an American life. That is a strong example of our partnership with Nigeria.”

Townsend also met with senior military officials, including the Minister of Defence, Bashir Salihi Magash, and the Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor, to talk about on-going cooperation in the region and greater maritime security and threat mitigation.

Nigeria is a key partner in countering violent extremist organizations throughout the Lake Chad Basin.

Townsend said furthermore: “The bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the U.S. is built on several pillars including security cooperation.

“U.S. Africa Command will do our part to advance the security cooperation pillar, so that Nigerians can enjoy the more secure future they all deserve.”

As close partners, the U.S. and Nigeria have worked at ensuring the collaborative relationship continues to grow to include a commitment to interoperability. Nigeria purchased 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, which will be delivered later this year.

“Nigeria’s purchase of A-29 Super Tucano aircraft is another example of their commitment to interoperability and security in the region,” he added. “Our economic relationship with Nigeria is already strong, and we look forward to the continued strengthening of security relationships. Nigeria’s leaders understand the importance of a collaborative approach to ensuring stability in West Africa and partnering on areas of mutual interest.”

The Commander also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard.

Leonard said: “General Townsend’s visit to Nigeria demonstrates the strategic importance the United States places on our bilateral relationship with Nigeria.

“Our security cooperation partnership with Nigeria’s military will strengthen the country’s capabilities to secure land and sea borders, enhance overall security, and combat terrorism in the North East.”

As part of the visit, Townsend participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Nigeria Military National Cemetery to honour those who have given their lives in the service of their nation.

During the visit, the delegation expressed their condolences for the seven service men killed in the crash of a Nigerian Air Force aircraft in Abuja.