• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Ebonyi bond issue: A case of modern slavery

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The penchant for borrowing money from the capital market by the Ebonyi State government under the leadership of Governor Martin Elechi is now being seen by citizens of the state as a case of living in bondage. This is why the recent injunction issued by the Federal High Court in Lagos presided over by Hon. Justice I. M. Bubah restraining the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Nigerian Stock Exchange from going ahead with the release of the N15 billion bond to the Ebonyi State government has been hailed by the citizens, who say the court has acted well by liberating them from what they perceive as man’s inhumanity to man.

The Ebonyi State House of Assembly had reportedly warned the governor against going for the bond since he was yet to account for the N16.5 billion he borrowed in 2010, but he blatantly refused to render such consolidated duty to the legislature as required by law. The court had frowned at the process leading to such transactions without the express approval of the State House of Assembly.

It would be recalled that the Ebonyi State government had in 2010 obtained the bond of N16.5 billion for financing certain on-going capital projects in the state. The irony, however, is that the same projects cited in the 2010 bond acquisition programme have remained uncompleted and were equally smuggled into the current controversial bond regime. Now the question many citizens of the state are asking is: why should a young state like Ebonyi with a peasant and agrarian economic base be subjected to such drastic and draconian economic and financial bondage and slavery whereby its citizens would be mortgaged financially for life?

In September 2014, the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Chukwuma Nwazunku, had petitioned President Goodluck Jonathan, urging him to withhold final approval for the new N15 billion bond applied for by Governor Martin Elechi. The Speaker and the honourable members of the Assembly demanded that Governor Elechi should furnish them with information relating to the application and utilization of the earlier N16.5 billion bond obtained in 2010 from the same capital market.

Many Ebonyians are agitated and worried because they perceive the resort to borrowing from the capital market by the Elechi administration as a calculated attempt to siphon public funds since the bonds obtained in 2010 are yet to be accounted for. They are of the view that since none of the projects had been completed, the governor was probably looking for money to spend at this election period, barely three months to the end of his tenure. Others are of the view that some of the projects are white elephant in nature and were not of utmost priority. For example, the secretariat complex at Ocho-udo city is seen as very unnecessary as even Elechi himself is said not to be a lover of workers and is yet to implement the standard minimum wage approved by the Federal Government. So, how come he was in a hurry to build such a secretariat for workers?

In a state where the roads are terribly dilapidated, one wonders why Elechi’s projects are of less significance in tackling the basic needs of the people. Many see his projects as ill-motivated and selfishly orchestrated. For instance, the international market in Abakaliki is seen as of no use to the populace since the city is land-locked and so does not deserve an international market. Even the location of the market in a waterlogged area without a serious drainage facility has rendered the area a disaster zone during rainy seasons.

So, unarguably, Elechi’s penchant for pursuing projects which have remained uncompleted for eight years is another drain on the lean resources of the wretched state with an impoverished workforce. Even if the projects are completed today, their maintenance would be a leaking pocket to the state treasury. Moreover, the nearness of the market to the trans-Sahara highway would constitute a perennial danger to the project and the life of the people.

Generally, any reasonable government or organization will approach the capital market to raise funds for life-saving projects that have direct bearing on the lives of the people. But Ebonyians have come to know that many of Elechi’s projects have no economic value. For example, if you obtain a loan of N16.5 billion which has no urgency and economic return and no immediate impact in the quality of life of the citizens and no immediate returns at 14 percent interest per year, this translates to N2.31 billion interest per year alone and in seven years, which is the life of the first bond, the total interest paid would be N16.5 billion which is almost equal to the principal. If you add the commissions allegedly given to some commissioners, you will find out that a project without urgency which would have cost N16 billion is now costing N33 billion.

It is also important to note that Governor Elechi is said to have borrowed from other local sources. Ebonyi State is reportedly indebted to local banks to the tune of N9 billion borrowed from local banks with over 21 percent interest rate. If this is true, it is a clear case of economic and financial bondage. It is not clear yet when the people of the state will be free from Elechi’s slavish economic policies. Only time will tell.

Johnson Eze