Buhari queries finance ministry over alleged loan diversion
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday demanded for a full explanation from the Ministry of Finance on the foreign loans obtained for rail projects but diverted to other purposes.
The presidential directive followed a presentation by the officials of the Federal Ministry of Transport led by its Permanent Secretary, Mohammed Bashar, who took their turn to brief him on the activities of the ministry and its agencies at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
A statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, quoted Buhari as saying that it was disappointing to find that foreign loans obtained in line with signed agreements were moved from one project to another.
Bashar specifically told the President that of a substantial part of the loan of USD1.005 billion from the Chinese Exim-Bank, obtained for the construction of a standard gauge rail-line linking Lagos to Kano, was moved elsewhere.
Bashar had informed the President that only USD 400 million of that loan remained with the Ministry of Finance.
The angry President said: “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, who regretted that government had over the years failed to meet its counterpart-funding obligation on some projects, leading to such projects being left uncompleted or abandoned, added that there was a clear need to streamline, harmonise and prioritise on-going projects in the transport sector.
Bashar also briefed the President on other challenges facing the transport and maritime sectors such as encroachment on railway land, lack of security on inland waterways and the confused nature of agreements between the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and ports concessionaires.
But Bashar, while briefing State House correspondents, later confirmed that laying of tracks on the Abuja-Kaduna rail project has been completed and locomotives, which had already been paid for, are still being awaited as the ministry intends to start operations on the route by December this year.
Bashar, who pointed out that the rehabilitation of old narrow gauge rail-lines was ongoing while Lagos to Kano route had since been resuscitated, also disclosed that rehabilitation work has started on Port Harcourt-Kano and Kano-Gombe rail-lines.
Meanwhile, Buhari has called on Nigeria’s elite to be prepared to contribute more meaningfully towards helping the country overcome its current challenges.
Buhari, receiving the out-going President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Donald Kaberuka, said that 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.
“With the consequences of falling oil prices, lack of revenues, and insecurity, 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”, the President said.
Kaberuka told Buhari that some development institutions like the World Bank, German Development Bank and the European Development Bank had already indicated their readiness to provide long-term loan facilities to small businesses in Nigeria.
He assured the President that the AfDB would always support economic projects in Nigeria.
And to check duplicity in data management, Buhari has directed government agencies to harmonise the collection and usage of biometric data in the country instead of replicating efforts in this regard.
Speaking after being briefed on the activities of the National Population Commission (NPC) by the Chairman, Eze Duruiheoma (SAN), who led other national commissioners to the Presidential Villa, Buhari wondered why each agency would gather its own biometric data when such data could easily be shared.
The directive was against the backdrop of Duruiheoma’s revelation that the commission needed about N273 billion to conduct the 2016 national head count, out of which N10 billion was required urgently.
For Buhari, however, “it will be more cost-effective if you work together. It helps even the credibility of the election process, as Nigerians of voting age can be identified easily.”
Government organisations that at present collect biometric data include the NPC, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), among others, who have been urged now to collaborate, as adequate data is necessary for planning and development.
Duruiheoma had told the President that a biometric-based census was being proposed to eliminate multiple and ghost respondents, while making the outcome easy to audit.