BY AMOS DUNIA, ABUJA – The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has challenged the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to hold the break on accumulation of loans and unnecessarily increasing Nigeria’s debts burden just to fund the opulent lifestyles of political office holders and former state governors receiving life pensions.
SERAP said that Nigerians should no longer be made to repay debts incurred in their name but which have not benefited them in any manner, shape or form.
It stressed that any unresolved allegations of mismanagement, bribery and corruption in the use of loans would continue to deprive millions of Nigerians access to basic public goods and services as well as leave the government without the resources to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
President Buhari last week wrote the two Chambers of the National Assembly seeking their approval for another loan of $5.513bn to fund the 2020 Appropriation Act deficit, critical projects and support some states.
Instead, SERAP counseled the government to look deeply inwards and cut the costs of governance to enable Nigerians have access to public goods and services that include quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and regular electricity supply.
The organisation which is concern with transparent and accountable governance, urged President Buhari to put into use the opportunity of his 5th in office to provide spending details of all loans obtained since May 29, 2015, to capture details and locations of projects on which the loans have been spent.
SERAP had on May 30, 2020 sent a Freedom of Information request signed by its Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, to President Buhari urging him to put a halt to borrowings and be more transparent in the use of the funds.
In the letter, SERAP demanded to know whether any public official solicited and/or received bribes in the negotiations for any of the loans.
In the letter, SERAP said; “Rather than taking more loans and increasing Nigeria’s debts burden to fund the opulent lifestyles of former state governors receiving life pensions, we urge you to cut the costs of governance, including by obeying the judgment ordering your government to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws, and to recover pensions collected by former governors.
“We express concerns about the massive and growing national debts, and the negative impacts on socio-economic development as well as access of Nigerians to public goods and services, including quality education, adequate healthcare, clean water, and regular electricity supply”.
SERAP also called on President Buhari to as a matter of necessity, set up an independent audit of all loans to resolve any allegations of mismanagement and corruption and to publish spending details of loans obtained by successive administrations since 1999, list of countries and bodies that have given the loans, and specific repayment conditions.
According to Olwadare; “While governments since 1999 have borrowed money in the name of Nigeria and its citizens, much of the funds have reportedly been mismanaged, stolen or squandered, leaving the citizens with the burden of having to repay these loans. Opacity in the spending of loans would continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of citizens. “Transparency would ensure that the loans are not diverted to private pockets, increase public trust that these loans would be used to benefit Nigerians, provide good value for money, and reassure Nigeria’s creditors. While access to loans can provide indispensable resources, the mismanagement and squandering of any such resources would be counter-productive.
“We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.
“We urge you to ensure that those suspected to be responsible for any mismanagement and corruption are promptly referred to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation, and where there is relevant admissible evidence, prosecution. “Transparency and accountability in the spending details of all the loans that have so far been obtained by your government, and those obtained by previous administrations would mean that the loans can help Nigeria to overcome its acute development challenges, reduce the possibility of mismanagement and corruption,” SERAP said.
SERAP particularly said that it would also help to avoid a morally repugnant result of visiting the sins of corrupt governments and officials on innocent Nigerians and therefore urged Buhari to promptly instruct the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor the spending of all loans obtained since his assumption of office in May 2015.
SERAP also urged the President to disclose details of the spending of loans, specific details of projects and locations of the projects as well as the conditions of the projects, adding that it wants total amount of debts that have so far been incurred by the government.
It also wants the details to include interest rate, details of debts inherited from the previous administrations, details of refinancing of any such loans and any strategy put together on borrowing decisions as well as to promote sustainable borrowing.
The FoI request by SERAP was copied the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abukabar Malami; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed; and the Director-General of the Debt Management Office, Ms Patience Oniha.