There are well coordinated plots to undermine the investigation of the alleged dubious Chinese loans to Nigeria for the construction of railway lines, a human group, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), have alleged.
In a statement made available to newsmen by the group’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and Media Officer, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA tasked the Speaker of Nigeria’s Federal House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila not to broach what it termed “The Alleged Attempt To Cover Up By Undermining The Probe of the Alleged Insider Fraud in The Chinese Loans For Railway Arrangements By The Hierarchy of The Federal House of Representatives”.
Below, is the text of the rest of HURIWA’s contentions and questions in the statement:
We in the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) have been availed series of facts concerning alleged plots by the hierarchy of the Federal House of Representatives on the alleged insider fraud in the Chinese loans for Railway arrangements.
It is no news that the House of Representatives on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements is conducting legislative enquiries into the contents, compliance and implementation programmes of all Nigeria’s contractual and bilateral loan agreements with China.
For some weeks now, major news media, especially social media platforms have been erupting with reports of bizarre acts of the Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation; Mr. Chibuike Amaechi during an investigative hearing of the House of Representatives Committee chaired by Hon. Dr. Ossai Nicholas Ossai.
The preliminary revelations by the Committee on how Nigeria may have been deliberately short-changed by the negotiators, managers of these China loans, and implementers of the projects financed with these loans, forced the Minister to put up a histrionic display before the House Committee just to divert attention and quench the already outraged moral susceptibilities of most Nigerians.
This regrettable but familiar alleged corrupt tactics has been rightly likened to one of the newest gambit by some members of the Executive Arm of government who see government accountability as a taboo that must be uprooted with blackmail and intimidation. They deploy all sorts of manoeuvres including party influence, sectional and psycho- therapeutic acts to achieve their ugly aims.
Nigerians have rightly asked, why is Minister Amaechi threatening Nigerians not to anger the Chinese through these House of Representatives enquiries into the contents and implementation of the China loans and contractual agreements? Shouldn’t China be interested in the transparent application of these loans? Or is there something more that may have mortgaged the future of Nigerians that Minister Amaechi do not want Nigerians to find out?
The Minister latest claim is that he is building Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri Rail Project and that Hon. Ossai Ossai’s Committee work is trying to stop him. He has mobilized and paid social media influencers and professional sponsored public commentators to appear on different Tv programs to sale such narrative to the people especially the people of South-South region.
These and more are questions begging for answers. How can a country continue to advance loans to another country in Billions of Dollars without any form of interest on the transparent utilization and application of such loans by the borrower?
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), as a foremost civil rights advocacy group is disturbed because of the following controversies:
First, when the Minister of Transportation first appeared before the House Committee on Tuesday July 28th, 2020, He stated thus: “I have spoken to the Speaker of the House of Representatives to suspend this hearing because it will make China to stop giving Nigeria loan”.
In order words, the Minister is saying Nigeria has gone deep into China and any attempt to upset China will spell doom for the country? The Minister was also heedfully or should we say inadvertently asking the National Assembly to suspend the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria so as to please his Chinese masters.
Does the Minister know the implication of asking the National Assembly to suspend enquiry into Nigeria’s bilateral loans and contractual agreements until he finished taking more loans? This is more like a thief telling the owner of the house not scream until he finishes stealing.
Secondly, Mr. Amaechi told the Committee that he doesn’t know anything about loan and in fact he just discovered that there are sovereignty waiver clauses in the loan agreements. He said “I don’t know anything about loan, I don’t take loans, I only supervise the work, and nothing about loan concerns me”.
However, what the Minister failed to tell Nigerians is that all the loan agreements are based on the commercial contracts, which were signed between him and the Chinese contractors. He also failed to inform Nigerians that it was his sole mandate to verify, prepare, sign and issue interim certificates of work done to the contractors before the Ministry of Finance can make payments from the funds (Whether loan facilities or counterpart funding).
What this means is that Minister Ameachi is allegedly solely responsible for the application and utilization of these loans. Does he recognise the full weight of such responsibilities? Should Nigerians not ask questions when someone with such an important role in the management and utilization of the loans claim he knows nothing about loans?
How can a Minister who says he knows nothing about loans, turn around to beg the House Committee to suspend the probe to enable him get more loans from China? Why is Amaechi talking from both side of his mouth? Why should Nigeria entrust Billions of Dollars of foreign loans in the hands of a Minister who claimed management such monies do not concern him? If Mr. Rotimi Amaechi doesn’t know anything about loan why is he so agitated over the House of Representatives probe?
It is troubling that a Minister who is obligated by the agreements to verify work done to ensure relevant compliance, sign and issue interim payment certificates to contractors and payment advisory to Ministry of Finance for projects financed by loan facilities to claim he doesn’t know anything about the loans and then allegedly cook up falsehood just evade accountability under the guise that China will get angry with Nigeria. Is Nigeria now a new colony of China?
Thirdly, Mr. Amaechi also goofed to Nigerians that the waiving of Nigeria’s sovereignty clause in the loan agreements does not matter technically, maintaining that “The clause will only empower the Chinese to take-over the assets they built in the event Nigeria is unable to pay back the loans.” Nigerians need to ask the Minister to point to any clause either in the loan agreements or the commercial contracts agreements where this so called assets take-over arrangement was stated?
Can the Minister explain to Nigerians why him and his co-travellers jettisoned the Federal Government Circular issued by the President of Nigeria through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of Federation on 11th August 2014 on the “Protection of Nigeria’s sovereignty and Corporations from foreign arbitration jurisdictions”?
Furthermore, the Minister nefariously alleged that the current probe is partisan. This claim is even laughable coming from a Minister of ruling party with majority in both House of Reps and the Senate. But the real question is, should we reduce government accountability and constitutionally mandated legislative oversight to a mere partisan discussion?
What is partisan about a committee of the House conducting its constitutional responsibility in line with sections 62, 88 and 89 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? How can the probe be partisan when loan agreements signed even under Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and President Buhari are all part of the review process?
Further review of the contractual agreements showed that the Minister was simply running the Ministry as a personal empire with deep nonpareil disposition. Most of the contracts awarded by the Minister never followed any due process, none of them had the anti-corruption clauses, some of the contracts were signed by only Mr. Amaechi and the Chinese people without any witness; the sovereign immunity waiver clause didn’t also materially comply with the Federal Government Circular on the subject of sovereign immunity protection.
The local contents provisions were vague, obscure and ambiguously cloaked with a lot of personal discretions that will not serve national interest and create jobs for Nigerians. Why should the Minister not subject the contract awards to a competitive process? Should a Minister sign a contract before a financial plan or have a financial plan before signing commercial contracts?
During one of his sessions with the House of Representatives Committee, Mr. Amaechi told the Committee that “There are over 20,000 employed Nigerians on the project and about 500 Chinese people”. In making this claim the Minister refused to state which of the projects. The Committee insisted he produces physical evidence; he brought a typeset list with about 14,200 unverifiable names.
A close review of the supplementary documents he submitted with list of Nigerian employees on the projects revealed 5 or more members of the same families were engaged. This should worry Nigerians, why exhibit such level of favouritism in a country with nearly 40 million unemployed people. The documents were also muddled up with irreconcilable discrepancies.
On one hand there are lists of names of about 14,200 Nigerian employees as against the 20,000 he earlier told the Committee. On the other hand, the document on “expenses of local employment shows that only about 7,000 local employees were on payroll for the projects. Are the other ones volunteers without remuneration/wages?
The Minister was unable to provide any evidence of employment of Nigerians in other projects such as the Iduh-Kaduna Railway and Itakpe -Ajaokuta etc projects where the Minister had awarded fresh contracts to the tune of nearly USD$700Million Dollars since 2017.
The Minister couldn’t provide a single Bill Of Quantities (BOQs) on any of the projects. Nigerians should be aware that the commercial contract agreements provided for a local content planned implementation documents for training and engagement of local manpower including procurements, but the Minister was unable to submit a single one of such document on any of the railway projects.
This actions run clearly contrary to the Federal Government Executive Order 003 on “Support for local contents of at least 40% in public procurement on all Federal Government projects issued by the President in 2017 and other enabling laws.
How then has the Minister been able to ensure that Nigerians benefit maximally from these projects? How many of all these enumerated contracts signed by the Minister is ongoing? How are they being funded? Where is the budget line, schedule of releases and/or any financing plan on these projects? What is the Minister hiding from Nigerians?
It’s interesting to observe that there is no document that evidences that such a project exists in Nigeria. If the Minister is now constructing Port-Harcourt to Maiduguri, does it mean he has abandoned Port-Harcourt to Calabar which he signed since 2016 without anything to show for it?
OUR POSITION AND DEMANDS
Nigerians are not fools, Mr. Amaechi’s aimless quest to seek shelter under a partisan hat is rather comical and an insults to the collective sensibilities of Nigerians. His call on the Speaker of the House of Representatives to stop Hon. Ossai Ossai from carrying on with the investigative hearing is deliberate attempt to truncate democracy and extinguish the legislative arm of government.
Minister Chibuike Rotimi Amachi’s claim that Hon. Dr. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, set up committee to stop development of railway sector in South-South region is a tale of alleged falsehood, deceitfully crafted to evade accountability.How exactly did Hon. Dr. Ossai Ossai try to stop development of railway project in the South-South region through his Committee responsibilities?
Data from loans secured by the Federal Government to be implemented by the Ministry of Transportation under the leadership of Hon. Chibuike Rotimi clearly reveals the sections of the country Minister Amaechi has been working for in the last five and half years of this administration, which did not include the South-South. Even the latest USD$5.3Billion he is begging for Nigeria to borrow from China will be used to construct Ibadan to Kano railway project not South-South.
So where is the South-South Railway project Amaechi says Hon. Dr. Ossai wants to stop him from developing? Nigerians can see from the records that both his previous and latest borrowings doesn’t cover any single railway track in South-South region. So why is Amaechi invoking regional emotional politics just to blackmail the Chairman of House Committee on Treaties and Agreements?
The allegation is also laughable especially coming from someone who is expected to know better. Hon. Ossai Ossai does not create Committees; Committees are a creation of the constitution of Nigeria as stated earlier, so Hon. Ossai couldnt have set up a committee to disrupt the Minister’s imaginary development of the South-South zone.
The Honourable Minister should come of the sectional emotional blackmail and answer to Nigerians who he has utilized the Billions of Dollars of tax payers’ money committed to his Ministry. Government accountability is not for a select few, it should be all.
The Minister’s tactics of comic relief, intimidation and/or elimination obviously has not charmed the strong character, resilience, patriotic and nationalistic spirit of the Committee Chairman. Minister Amaechi’s agitation, aggression and unfortunate comic displays during the public hearing leaves no one in doubt that something is amidst with the Ministry of Transportation under his leadership.
The Honourable Minister claimed that the loans are projected based and that the projects can repay the loans. How true is this assertion? Where is the loans viability and sustainability report that corroborates this claim? How much has the commissioned railway projects generated in revenue so far? How much has the projects contributed towards repayment of interests and principal amounts of these loans?
Why is the Honourable Minister hiding relevant documents relating to the contractual agreements from Nigerians? The Committee had written to the Minister asking for: Copies of contractors interim payment claims from inception till date, Copies of the Employer’s interim payment certificates from inception till dateDocumented evidence of records of Insurance premiums paid and compensation , for local inhabitants made on the projects, Copies of certified actual quantity of work performed and measured before payments advisory to the Ministry of Finance, Certified copies of the performance bond lodged with the Ministry.
Additionally, copies of certificate of completion for completed projects, Copies of take-over certificates for projects that has been handed over to the Ministry, BOQs used to implement the commercial contracts, Copies of the local content plan for training and engagement of Nigerian labour force in all aspects of the projects, Evidence of the total number of Nigerians and Chinese working on the projects, Copies of the budget heads and schedule of releases for the counterpart funding paid on the projects from inception till date.
Also, details of the revenue and payment accounts maintained on these projects, documented current work or operation status reports on each of the projects, Copy of the Federal Government Circular on the guide for waiver of sovereign immunity dated 11 August, 2018, which the Minister said he relied on to draw the immunity waiver clause in some of his contractual agreements.
The Minister is yet to submit any of these documents to enable the House of Representatives Committee deal with issues of compliance, implementation and viability these loans with a view to review the loan and contractual agreements.
For someone who have had the privilege of serving as Speaker of a State Assembly, served two terms as an executive Governor of a State and now in his second term as a federal Minister to deploy the tact of emotional and sectional blackmail to evade accountability is not just too dangerous for our governance system but very troubling for the Nigerian society.
Minister Amaechi’s arrogant display, grandstanding and tales of falsehood bring to mind the question Mr. Patrice Lumumba asked Nigerian public officers “Are you Honourable Members or Horrible Members”? Is Mr. Amaechi an Honourable Minister or A Horrible Minister of the Federal Republic? Nigerians must continue to ask questions.”
Therefore, we are by this statement challenging the National Assembly Members not to enslave Nigerians but to investigate the above disturbing allegations.
COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO:
Miss Zainab Yusuf:
Director, National Media Affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA).”
16TH OCTOBER 2020.