Things happen with the speed of lightning in Nigeria, such that one event runs over the other like horse feet on ant. The previous incident goes into oblivion the way horse feet would bury an ant. Now the House of Representatives, recently revealed revealed the cockroaches in the cupboard of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). We were yet to look into the cupboard before another Committee gave us the comic relief occasioned by the altercation between Labour Minister, Senator Chris Ngiga and faleke, an assembly member from Lagos.
The nation was still laughing at Ngige’s joke about Faleke, a Mushin boy’s attempt to ”yab” him, a Victoria Island boy. They both took swipes at each other’s electoral misfortunes and successes. The laughter was still loud when the same house brought the minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to explain how, in its view, the country seem to have surrendered its sovereignty to China for loans to activate moribund railways. Amechi says there should be no cause for alarm because Nigeria was paying back the loan it took, and there is little or no chance that China would whip up the controversial sovereignty clause in the said the loan, billed to be repaid in a long stretch of 20 years, with such low interest that it would be foolhardy for a nation which does not have the funds to develop its rail line to fritter away this opportunity over a clause in the loan agreement that has no chance to come into effect. Nigeria, as Amechi revealed, has got and used a loan from China, as initiated during the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The loan came with such mouthwatering conditions that the government under President Muhammadu Buhari has been overtaken by the Oliver Twist spirit to ask for more, given that many rail lines are lying waste in a nation where tankers still convey petroleum products to far-flung places; a nation where agricultural produce from farming communities across the country hardly find their way to consumers.
The nay Sayers have been quick to refer to some African countries where unrepaid loans from China is about to make them lose strategic national institutions to China. Amechi says loan projections are such as make those situations impossible in Nigeria. He put it thus
‘There is no contract without an agreement and that agreement must contain some terms and one of the terms that this one contains, is not that you’re signing away the sovereignty of the country. No country will sign away its sovereignty. What you do is, you give a sovereign guarantee; and I’m ashamed of those who interpret it the wrong way.
“Now, when you say ‘I give you a sovereign guarantee and I waive that immunity clause, the immunity clause is that, if tomorrow I’m not able to pay you and you come to collect the items that we’ve agreed upon, that these are items I have put down as guarantee, I can use my immunity and say no, you cannot touch our assets, we are a sovereign country. Is China our father that will give us money for free? They (the Chinese) are saying, if you are not able to pay, don’t stop us from taking back those items that will help us recover our funds. ‘
Those are rather clear terms, just wish knew what assets were pledged. The clear fact is that the nation needs this loan, and rail lines are top rate infrastructure that would make do with such loan. It is the pity of leaning the hard way that a Buhari who, as military Head of State, stopped a lagos rail project initiated by then Governor Lateef Jakande, when the state had the funds, would now sit in office to borrow do do same project, though at a wider scale. Those are the dark side of our political past. The reality, starring the nation in the face, is that we do not have the funds to take infrastructural development to a desired end such that the China loan will enable. To play to the gallery, and turn the matter into political gain is counterproductive.
Now we know that defeating the insurgents in six months, as was promised by President Buhari, during his campaigns in 2019 has taken five years, and still counting. Some matters are beyond politics. Comments made from the periphery is bound to differ when people mount the saddle. Now the President has mounted the saddle, and seen that indeed, there is more to security and insurgency that meets the eye. Now he knows that driving away insurgents in six months amounts to ignorant comments of a man who was not on the saddle. He how knows better. Those who seek to turn this loan into a political weapon are no better. They would borrow even under more stringent conditions. There has been concerns about Nigeria’s huge debt profile, which has become a political capital for those opposed to this regime.
However, people better versed in economic development say borrowing is no economic sin except the funds are frittered away. They say if the funds are are put into good use, and help economic activities, it will hasten repayment. This loan, we have been told, will not come in cash, rather it will go to the contractors implementing the project. No one will see the money to embezzle. In 2006, former president Olusegun Obasanjo said his regime had paid the final instalment of Nigeria’s 36 billion- dollar debt to the Paris Club.
The Paris club is made of United States, Germany, France and other rich nations of the world. I recall that one a former minister of Economic Planning and later Finance, Chu S.P. Okongwu published an article wherein he noted that Obasanjo may not be right in saying that the country had come out of debt, that the matter is more technical that the President made it seem.
The point is that nations take loans ,but how they apply them matter. If Former President Obasanjo had used the funds to bring back the rail lines, it would have been better than the seeming hasty repayment that was hardly rooted in economic stability. Let’s take the China loan. Nigeria must be humble enough to accept that it cannot foot her bills now.