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Reps summon Amaechi, Ahmed, Pantami over $500m Chinese loan for railway projects

The House of Representatives has summoned the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi; Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; and Minister of Communications, Ali Pantani as well as the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Patience Oniha over the $500million loan to be sourced from the Export-Import Bank of  China for railway lines in the country.

The Ministers and the DMO Boss are to provide details on the agreement signed between the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) in respect of some railway projects, including the Abuja-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan, Ibadan-Kaduna, and Kaduna-Kano railways lines.

Chairman, House Committee on Treaties, Protocol and Agreements,  Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), who issued the summons Tuesday in Abuja said the top government functionaries are expected to appear on August 17, unfailingly with details of the contracts concerned.

Ossai said the House would need details on the agreement between the Federal Ministry of Transportation and ZTE (Nig) Ltd in respect of the provision of community actions and signaling equipment for the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri line.

According to him, the officials are to provide details of the agreement between the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the China Railway Construction Company International (CRCCI) in respect of the Itakoe-Abuja line/ New Port in Warri project.

The Committee during its sitting at the National Assembly Complex raised alarm over alleged waiver of Nigeria’s sovereignty in the government concessions loan agreement on Nigeria National Information and Communication Technology Infrastructure backbone phase II project between the government of Nigeria, represented by the Federal Ministry of Finance (borrower) and the Export-Import Bank of China (lender) dated September 5, 2018.

The Committee specifically cited Article 8(1) of the agreement, which states that: “the borrower hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of sovereign or otherwise for itself or its property in connection with any arbitration proceeding pursuant to Article 8(5), thereof with the enforcement of any arbitral award pursuant thereto, except for the military assets and diplomatic assets”

But in his presentation, the Minister of Transportation, Ameachi said the loan being sourced by his Ministry is a total of $500 million to complete the Lagos -Ibadan railway line, which he put at a total of $849 million, with $349 million as counterpart funding,

He explained that because China, which is giving the loan is sensitive and monitoring happenings in Nigeria, the House Committee might wish to give him till the end of December when all the loan would have been received.

The former Rivers State Governor argued that the constant investigations by the National Assembly might give the impression that a part of the government does not approve of the loan and the Chinese government may withdraw the loan.

He said if this happens, some parts of the country will suffer as the railway projects (Lagos-Ibadan, Ibadan- Kano) are yet to be completed and they will be affected.

Amaechi appealed to the Committee to consider national interest in carrying out their oversight function, stressing that if the Chinese Government gets to know that there is a disagreement between the executive and the legislature concerning the loans, the process may be truncated.

“My fear is that if this probe continues, at the end of the day, some sections of the country may suffer. In oversight, there is what is called national interest. But in asking questions on these loans now, it may jeopardize these loans. The Lagos- Ibadan is not completed; the Ibadan- Kano is not completed.

“Let the government of China not say there us a disagreement in government on this loan and so we will not give this loan. So, I appeal to the chairman to give us from now till December, when we are likely to secure the loans. Then, from January, February, you can resume this investigation”.

Amaechi’s appeal was not taken as the Committee chairman, Ossai insisted that the Minister should return to it on August 17 with other Ministers to give details of the contract agreements.

“We are looking for transparency, which is what the Chinese government wants. So, we will like to have the pre-payment plans fro these loans.

“Most of these contracts signed by the government are not known by the National Assembly as provided for in the DMO Act; and we are supposed to know. We need to know how many Chinese are involved in these projects and their expertise.

“In the documents, we have seen there are variations in interest rates. Why do you sign these documents at the same time with different interest rates”, he said.

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