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.