Friday, 6 March 2020

Nigeria’s Debt Hits N33.078trn As Senate Approves Buhari’s $22.7bn loan

Nigeria’s debt hits N33.078trn as Senate approves Buhari’s $22.7bn loan Experts flay borrowing ‘96m Nigerians live in extreme poverty’ Nigeria’s debt profile has hit N33.078trn (108.1bn) following the Senate’s approval of a $22.7 billion (N6.923trn) loan request by President Muhammadu Buhari. The approval pushed up the nation’s total debt from $85.4bn (N26.047trn)

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, the Minority Leader, Eyinaya Abaribe, and the Majority Leader, Abdullahi Yahaya were locked in very bitter altercations regarding the procedure to be adopted.

The uproar degenerated into an initial stalemate that forced the Senate into a closed-door session that lasted for about 30 minutes.

It was learnt that at the closed-door session, the debate took party coloration. And when the door was opened, the leadership of the minority, including Abaribe, was conspicuously absent. It was later learnt that they left the chamber at the end of the closed-door session.

The contentious issue was that while Lawan preferred that the matter be treated by voting according to the recommendations in the report by the Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, many senators wanted all issues raised in the loan request considered and debated in detail to allow Nigerians the opportunity to know why the loan was being approved.

The Chairman of the committee, Clifford Ordia (PDP, Edo), read out the report which recommended that the Senate approve the request.

The Senate had commenced deliberations on the external borrowing as requested by President Buhari when Adamu Aliero came under Order 43 to say the report was big and voluminous and, therefore, it would not be fair for the chamber to just receive it and act on it without studying it.

He said: “This is something to do with a foreign loan to the tune of $29billion. I, therefore, strongly suggest that you allow us to go through this report this week.

“By then, we will be in an informed position to treat it and do justice to it whereby Nigerians would know that we are serious in dealing with the weighty issue.”

But Lawan appealed to his colleagues for the report to be debated, saying the media would feast on it if they allow it to be put off till next Tuesday when the report would have leaked to the press.

“If we are going to postpone the deliberation of the report, we have to keep the document out of the press, otherwise, the media will discuss it before the Senate discusses it and we would lose relevance.

“I believe that we have to weigh it whether we are prepared to delay it, but I agree with your point. The only consolation I have from where I sit is that we have a committee that helped us in putting these things together.

“I believe that we trust our committee on what they have done. I want to believe that where we have issues, we can raise the issues. But the risk we have is that if we don’t consider it, this thing will just go out and it will be out of our hands.”

The minority leader tried to come under Order 43 and later Order 14 to ensure the Senate consider the report part by part and sector by sector so that the lawmakers could have a clear understanding of the loans that are relevant to boosting the economy . But Lawan insisted on voting according to recommendations.

Later, the Majority Leader, Abdulahi Yahaya, also suggested that the report be considered part by part to avail the senators full knowledge of every line item and details of the bill.

When the stalemate became obvious, Gabriel Suswan asked Lawan to allow the Senate to go into an executive session because he was privy to a report on power that he could not divulge on the floor.

Again, Lawan insisted that the consideration would be done as a whole and a voice vote would be put for senators to vote.

Hence, the decision to discuss behind closed doors was preceded by back and forth arguments between the other lawmakers and Lawan which lasted for over half an hour.

The Senate president insisted that they had reached a point of no return, but later succumbed to pressure as the chamber went into a prolonged closed-door session.

After minutes of silence and consultations, Yahaya moved that the Senate go into a closed-door session for further deliberations. It was adopted.
When the lawmakers resumed, they seemed to have got their acts together as they approved the $22.7billion loan request.

Aliero, who also spoke on the lopsidedness of the projects covered by the loan, asked whether Nigeria was borrowing the money to construct the roads from Lagos to Abidjan.

“Are we so generous to consider this up to Abidjan? Secondly, the East-West road is a very good project and I support fully the inclusion of this project in the borrowing plan.

“If you look at other parts of the country, nothing is said about the North East. The application of this loan is lopsided and I want to say that other geo-political zones should also be considered.

“We have dilapidated roads all over the country. I don’t see why a huge amount of money like this will be concentrated in only one section of the country. When we come to the clause, we should include critical parts that should be covered on this loan.”

Lawan interjected, saying they were not doing a second reading on the report.

“We have recommendations which we will vote on, but before we reach that stage, what is here is what is to finance our capital budget and, therefore, it is important we are conscious that we need the capital aspect of the budget funding.

“If we notice any lopsidedness, I think it may not be for this Senate to just include the projects, but it is important that the executive takes note of these areas that were left out and in the next phase, we consider those areas that are left out.”

Again Abaribe came up saying he disagreed with the senate president on the aspect that the loan is part of the capital budget.

“That is not the position. The position is that we would now approve some of these. It is when we get to the point of looking at each of them that we will determine which of these projects will help in growing our economy. You have said we will take it line by line.”

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