ABUJA — President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, asked the Ministry of Finance to explain why the foreign loans obtained for various key rail projects by the Federal Government were diverted elsehow under the watch of former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The President issued the query on a day he set up a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption headed by a prominent professor of law and rights activist, Professor Itse Sagay.
President Buhari also dismissed the general notion that Nigeria is a rich country, arguing that indices and parameters of evaluating a rich country such as economic advancement and improved social services are lacking in Nigeria.
The President, who spoke at the end of a presentation by the Ministry of Transport by the Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said it was disappointing to find out that foreign loans obtained in line with signed agreements were moved from one project to another. According to a statement by Mallam Garba Shehu, his Senior Special Assistant on Media & Publicity, President Buhari was reacting to the specific instance of the diversion of a substantial part of the $1.005 billion loan from the Chinese Exim Bank, obtained for the construction of a standard gauge rail line linking Lagos with Kano but which was moved elsewhere.
The loans were obtained from China in 2012 under President Goodluck Jonathan, while Dr. Okonjo-Iweala served as Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy.
The Permanent Secretary had informed the President that only $400 million of that loan remained with the Ministry of Finance.
The President then warned: “I hope that due process was followed before such diversions were carried out. Taking money from one project to another has to be done properly.”
The President regretted that government had, over the years, failed to meet its counter-part funding obligation on some projects, leading to such projects being left uncompleted or abandoned.
He added that there was a clear need to streamline, harmonize, and priortize on-going projects in the transportation sector.
The Permanent Secretary also briefed the President on some challenges facing the transport and maritime sectors such as encroachment on railway land, lack of security on inland waterways and some vague agreements between the Nigeria Ports Authority and ports concessionaires.
Speaking to State House Correspondents after meeting the president, the Permanent Secretary said that the President directed that strict adherence should be paid to terms and agreements of various loans.
“Basically, what we did was to present to the President the various programmes, projects and the reform efforts that we have been undertaking in the last couple of years, the stages of the various projects, especially the railway rehabilitation programme and development in our seaports. Also some of the regulatory issues that we sought are due for review and attention.
“The President quite appreciated a lot of what has been achieved so far and he has indicated his willingness to continue with a lot of projects and programmes already on ground. He has expressed his support, especially when we started talking about capacity building for individual operators in the country. He is really appreciative of the entrepreneur initiatives of Nigerians, an indication that government will continue to give its full support.
“There are issues that he thinks we should pay a lot of attention to, especially in the execution of agreements that we have entered into. He emphasized the need to adhere strictly to the terms of agreements and we are going to abide by that.
“Basically, those agreements are relating to the projects we entered into with the construction of railway, standard gauge lines and rehabilitation programmes.
“As you are aware, we have completed the Lagos-Kano and it is operational. Twice a week, people move from Lagos to Kano and back to Lagos. We have also recently commenced operation from Kano to Port Harcourt, and Port Harcourt to Gombe and from Gombe upwards we have some challenges.
“With regards to Abuja-Kaduna, track has been completely laid and we are now waiting for locomotives to arrive, which have been ordered and paid for. Our belief is that we will meet the deadline of December, 2015”, he said.
Sagay heads Advisory Committee
Meanwhile, to demonstrate his seriousness in the war against corruption, President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, set up a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption.
His government has also supported the establishment of an Anti-Corruption and Criminal Justice Reform Fund by three international development partners, namely the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and Open Society Foundation with $5 million fund to assist implementation of key components of the Action Plan and the work of the Presidential Advisory Committee.
The advisory committee is to be headed by a professor of law and civil rights activist, Professor Itse Sagay.
Other members of the committee include Femi Odekunle, a Professor of Criminology from Ahmadu Bello University; Dr. Benedicta Daudu, an Associate Professor of International Law, University of Jos; E. Alemika, Professor of Sociology, University of Jos; Sadiq Radda, Professor of Criminology, Bayero University, Kano; Hadiza Bala Usman, a civil society activist and Bolaji Owasanoye of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, who will also serve as Executive Secretary of the Committee.
The Committee’s brief is to advise the administration on the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
It is also expected to develop comprehensive interventions for achieving other recommended reforms.
A statement from presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina added that the “fund will be managed by Trust Africa, an international development civil society organization with programme presence in more than 25 African countries.”
Nigeria not a rich country—Buhari
In a related development, President Muhammadu Buhari has said that Nigeria is erroneously being regarded as a rich country, stating that indices and parameters of evaluating a rich country such as economic advancement and improved social services are lacking.
He, however, enjoined the elite to be prepared to make sacrifices to rescue the country. The President spoke when he received out-going President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Donald Kaberuka and other officials of the bank.
According to him, the privileged and influential citizens clearly have to do more now than in the past to help the country deal successfully with its economic and security problems.
President Buhari also told Kaberuka that his administration will welcome more support from the AfDB for projects in versatile sectors like agriculture that can easily be explored to create more jobs for unemployed Nigerians.
He said: “With the shock of falling oil prices, lack of revenues, and insecurity, the Nigerian elite must now wake up and provide the right guidance in their communities, and also lead the economy on the right path more than they used to do.
“An impression has been erroneously created that we are a rich country but looking at the economic profile of the country today, you will see that this is not necessarily the case.
“Our social services have to be seriously rehabilitated. We need urgent attention in areas like education and health services, not only in the north-eastern part of the country, but all round the country.
“We will fall back on institutions like the AfDB for support in generating employment. We have vast potentials in the agricultural sector that can be explored to create more jobs.
“We also have small businesses that need funds for expansion.”
The outgoing AfDB President, however, told President Buhari that some development institutions like the World Bank, German Development Bank and the European Development Bank have already indicated their readiness to provide long-term loan facilities to small businesses in Nigeria.
Mr. Kaberuka assured the President that the AfDB will always support economic projects in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the former Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina will replace the outgoing AfDB President next month.
The AfDB currently has a strong capital base of 4.8 billion U S dollars.