Saturday 21st January, 2017
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Infrastructure loan and worsening fate of 5% voters

Infrastructure loan and worsening fate of 5% voters

Here is the loan that will make or mar the nation’s future and Nigerians celebrat­ing that the senate has thrown out the President’s request for approval to borrow this whop­ping $29.96Bn foreign loan, cel­ebrate prematurely. Senate only returned the request because it was not accompanied with the requisite details. And why were the details cleverly left out in the letter to the senate? Hereunder are some of the reasons.
 
Though the South East suf­fers the most in the areas target­ed for intervention with the loan - power generation, rail and road renovation and construc­tion among other acute short­age of various social amenities, there is no single infrastructural project allocated to the zone an. For the avoidance of doubt, infrastructural projects are allo­cated $18.3 billion. The projects to be embarked upon are the Mambilla Hydro Electric Power Project ($4.8 billion), the Mod­ernisation of Coastal Railway Project (Calabar-Port Harcourt-Onne Deep Sea Port Segment) valued at $3.5 billion and the Abuja Mass Transit Rail Project (Phase 2) put at $1.6 billion.
 
Others are the Lagos-Kano Railway Modernisation Project (Lagos-Ibadan Segment Double Track) estimated at $1.3 billion and the Lagos-Kano Railway Modernisation Project (Kano-Kaduna Segment Double Track) valued at $1.1 bil¬lion. The bal­ance of $11 billion will then be expended on Eurobond ($4.5 billion), Federal Government Budget Support ($3.5 bil¬lion), Social Support for Education and Health ($2.2 billion), Agri­culture ($1.2 billion), and Eco­nomic Management and Statis­tics ($.2 billion).
 
So, you can see for yourself that there is nothing for the South East. The Minister of Transport Chibuike Amaechi once said the Modernisation of Coastal Railway Project covers Calabar, Uyo, Aba, Port Har­court, Yenagoa, Otuoke, Ughel­li, Warri, Sapele, Benin, Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha, Ore, Ijebu Ode, Sagamu and Lagos and would cost about $12bn. But that is when fully expanded and com­pleted in the long future and this could take decades the way Nigeria runs.
 
Though the long-range, complete plan being proposed by Amaechi as the said expand­ed Lagos - Calabar Rail Line will touch the South East if that ever happens, the part of this infrastructure covered by the loan under reference (Calabar-Port Harcourt-Onne Deep Sea Port Segment) does not reach the South East and the question is: why? Those who claim that even Aba is peripherally cov­ered along with Calabar, Uyo and Port Harcourt in the said project should bear in mind that the emphasis is on the sea­ports on the routes and there is no sea in Aba for it to lay claim to their priority belt.
 
Why is the South East seen as so unimportant to form part of the country with infrastruc­ture deficit? Here is a zone with­out any pliable federal highway. Enugu-Onitsha federal highway has remained a deathtrap for about a decade. Enugu-Aba-Port Harcourt federal highway is even worse. Only Onitsha-Owerri federal highway, constructed by Obasanjo, is anything to write home about. The over twelve federal roads in the South East are either reconstructed by the States in the South East or left abandoned in total dilapidation by the federal government.
 
The critical Onitsha Second Niger Bridge has remained an object of politics and butt of nasty jokes. Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan all played politics with it and in the end, the much Obasanjo did was to concession its construction on BOT - build, operate and transfer - basis, which meant the South East­erners (and few others using the bridge) would have to pay for it for decades to come when tolled, the only such bridge to be so concessioned in the country. Jonathan cleared the site and started doing something but work has since been stopped on the bridge for politics.
 
Again, South East until few years ago when Stella Odua was Minister of Aviation, was the only zone without an inter­national airport in Nigeria. But the truth is: Enugu airport is In­ternational only in name. Apart from the runway, all the other facilities and accouterments of an international airport are yet to be put in place. When it rains, the same runway is flooded. It is a critical infrastructure to be upgraded into a full cargo in­ternational airport so that the zone, which is a commercial nerve center in Nigeria, can have part of its heavy commercial ac­tivities serviced from within. For now, Igbo traders are compelled to rely on airports and seaports outside Igboland.
 
Oji power station is also in an urgent need for upgrading so that Enugu Electricity Distribu­tion Company (EEDC) could have more power to distribute to the zone.
 
Enugu coal project has been kept in abeyance almost since after the colonial rule. The coal deposit is a critical component in electricity generation and ought to be harnessed for boost­ing power generation in the zone but was also not considered im­portant by the assessors.
 
These critical infrastructures could not meet the criteria used by those who decided where to plough the loan, which would be repaid by the entire country – a burden to be borne by the en­tire citizenry – now and in the future.
 
The actions and utterances of Mr. President when he came into office pointed to the fact that the sections of the country that did not vote for the All Pro­gressives Congress (APC) were in for a barren four years and possibly beyond. The specula­tions were rife about this for some time up until the Presi­dent proved the pundits right by stating that much in faraway USA barely a month after his election.
 
When asked by a white jour­nalist how he intended to deal with issues in the Niger Delta, particularly Amnesty, oil bun­kering and inclusive develop­ment, he said: “Going by elec­tion results, constituencies that gave me 97% cannot in all hon­esty be treated, on some issues, with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are po­litical realities. While, certainly there will be justice for every­body but the people who voted, and made their votes count, they must feel the government has appreciated the effort they put in putting the government in place. I think this is really fair”.
 
So, is Mr. President not mak­ing good his promise on the 5% voters, which only the South East now represents by allowing their exclusion in this all-im­portant intervention projects?
 
Those who claim the Presi­dent was stating the obvious or shunning the South East for an­gling to reap where they did not so, argue amiss. In Presidential and constitutional democracy as Nigeria claims to be practic­ing, the whole country is the President’s Constituency; and once he or she emerges, the President leads the entire coun­try and leads for the good on the entire country. Some of the people conveniently gloss over this reality to make light of the gross injustice and marginaliza­tion of the South East for sup­porting Jonathan.
 
Even if the South East chose to remain in opposition, as the South West was since inde­pendence, it is still not a good reason to deny them of their constitutional rights in the Ni­gerian federation. Otherwise no part of Yoruba land would have been developed by the past Governments. The nation’s leadership needs to be more re­sponsive and tolerant. The rul­ers must understand that, like philosopher Walter Lippman once stated, in a democracy, the opposition is not only tol­erated as constitutional, but must be maintained because it is indispensable.
 
The Federal Government erroneously claims that the loan has nothing to do with re­gional consideration and that Government would still re­flect all the regions in the 2017 Budget. But why is South East the only region to wait till 2017 budget? And would all the oth­er zones now accommodated not form part of the 2017 capi­tal budget?
 
It is such insensitive actions that fuel separatist agitations in the country. MASSOB and IPOB have continued to argue that South East is never treated as part and parcel of Nigeria and this deliberate exclusion from the application of the spe­cial intervention loan is only proving them right once more.
 
One expects that if it were not deliberate but an honest mistake, the window offered in returning the loan request to the Presidency for want of de­tails is an ample opportunity to correct the unfortunate anom­aly. Let it not end like the se­curity appointments that have left the South East as the only region not represented in the Security Council; or the 2016 budget that has only about 5% project budget financing in the South East.

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