The exclusion of the South-East geo-political zone from rail projects under the $5.851 billion (about N2 trillion) China Exim Bank loan request submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Senate is running into troubled waters.
Senators from the region are protesting the exclusion, leading the Upper House of the National Assembly to summon Transportation Minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi to offer explanations for the omission.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, Senator Shehu Sani, questioned why a Chinese financial will give the loan and a Chinese company will execute the rail projects.
“How can a Chinese firm approve a loan for Nigeria and execute the project? The Senate will raise the issue and address it properly,” he stated when his committee met with Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun later.
Adeosun disclosed that the loan request from China is tied to a condition that a Chinese firm would execute the contracts.
Adeosun also revealed that the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail projects would be captured in the next loan request.
Adeosun backed the $5.815 billion loan because it is a comprehensive railway project for the country.
Last April, Buhari sought the approval of the National Assembly for the loan for the coastal railway project from Lagos to Calabar ($3.474 billion) modernization of Lagos-Kano modernisation projects, Lagos-Ibadan segment $1.231 billion; and Lagos-Kano railway modernisation project, Kano-Kaduna segment $1.146 billion.
The Senate motion questioned the exclusion of the South-East zone.Sponsored by Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, the motion is titled, “Outright Omission of Eastern Corridor Rail Line in the request for approval of Federal Government 2016-2015 External Borrowing (Rolling Plan).”
But Senate President, Bukola Saraki, assuaged the feelings of the Senators, insisting that the interest of every section of the country will be accommodated.
As he put it, “We must give information at the leadership level and we are taking up this matter with the Executive and that was what led to the amendment of the letter that came from the President. The first letter that came from the President did not specify that of the South-East and North-East axis must also be standard gauge.
“In the letter that came from the President, we insisted at the leadership level that every part of the country must benefit and that there must be a standard gauge and that has been done.
“The second thing is that, we have referred it to the committee on Foreign and Local Debts. On Monday, the Minister was before them. I think the point we just need to make here is to ensure that the spirit of the President’s letter is followed through and I think that is what the emphasis is.
“I think we need to restrict it to that. There should be standard gauges everywhere. In processing the loan, we must see sincerity and in the commitment and in the spirit of the President letter.”
The motion by Abaribe reads in part: “On 26th of April, 2017 the Federal Government laid before the National Assembly a request seeking an approval for a loan of $5,851 billion from China Exim Bank to execute the modernization of Lagos-Kano, Kano-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan and Lagos-Calabar rail segment.
“The Senate observes with dismay that the above sections of the rail line that the loan was being sought for covers only a section of the country i.e. the western corridor or sections.
“The Eastern section of the rail segment, which has a link between the South Eastern to North Eastern parts of the rail line is completely excluded from the request.
“The loan being a Federal Government borrowing would be paid for by all sections of the country. Therefore, every section of the country should be taken into consideration.
“There is a Railway Master Plan developed by the Ministry of Transport and of which such plan has not being referred to in the current borrowing plan. The railway projects to have a meaningful impact on the development of the country, it should cover all parts of Nigeria.
“The complete exclusion of the Eastern section that links the four zones of South-South, South-East, North-Central and North East and the key cities such as Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Makurdi, Lafia, Gudi, Jos, Bauchi and Maiduguri is inexplicable.”