· Threatens to stop $5.85b Chinese loan
The marginalisation of the South East zone in appointments and projects execution dominated proceedings at the Senate on Tuesday.
After chronicling the worsening plight of the Igbo under the present Federal Government, which reached a climax with the exclusion of the region from the multi-billion naira rail project to be financed by a Chinese loan, the summoned the Transport Minister, Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, to explain the rationale behind it.
The South East is missing in the rail project which covers the North, South West and South-South zones.
Indeed, the Senators at the plenary session on Tuesday threatened to suspend the approval of the $5.85 billion loan from the China Exim Bank to execute the modernisation of the Lagos-Kano, Kano-Kaduna, Lagos-Ibadan and Lagos-Calabar rail segments of the project.
On April 26, 2017, the Federal Government laid before the National Assembly a request seeking an approval of the $5.85 billion from the China Exim Bank to execute the gigantic project.
The resolution of the Senate was sequel to a motion sponsored by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South), tagged, “Outright Omission of Eastern Corridor Rail Line in the request for approval of Federal Government 2016-2015 External Borrowing (Rolling Plan).”
In his submission, Abaribe had noted with dismay the exclusion of the Eastern section of the rail segment, which has a link between the South East to the North Eastern parts of the rail line that was omitted from the loan request.
He wondered why the loan covers only the western section of the country, rather than including all sections covered by the nation’s rail lines.
Abaribe argued that since the Federal Government was borrowing to fund the project, all sections of the country should benefit from it.
The lawmaker observed that since there is a Railway Masterplan developed by the Ministry of Transport, there is no reason why such plan should not be referred to in the current borrowing arrangement.
He cautioned that for the railway project to have a meaningful impact on the development of the country, it should cover all parts of Nigeria.
Abaribe warned that the exclusion of the Eastern section that links the four zones of the South-South, South East, North Central and North East and the key cities of Port Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Makurdi, Lafia, Gudi, Jos, Bauchi and Maiduguri, was inexplicable and should be addressed by the Transport Minister.
The Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who seconded the motion, cautioned the Federal Government to desist from such seeming miscarriage of justice against any section of the country.
He said: “The implication, therefore, is that any wrong done to any part of this country is a wrong to all of us and that has been the principle this Senate has operated since 1999.”
“I am aware that the Federal Government is committed to rehabilitating and upgrading the railway infrastructure in Nigeria since the Obasanjo administration. Regrettably, from the inception of that programme, the Federal Government has an attitude towards the Eastern line of this country, namely, that that line is not profitable and so emphasis has not been placed in fixing that axis.”
“That is why today, while we are talking about standard gauge in the Western line, the Eastern line still remains the old gauge. In 2011, the Federal Government awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of the Eastern line from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri to three contractors in three segments. Till now, no work is going on in that axis.”
“The simple reason being that after they generated the initial certificate to be paid, the government deliberately refused to pay them so that the project will be stalled”.
In an attempt to fault Abaribe on his position on the exclusion of the South East in the rail project, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Transport, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, said that the claims were inaccurate because the zone was covered in the project.
To save the situation from causing disaffection among the lawmakers, the Senate President, Ababakar Bukola Saraki, suspended further debate on the matter.
He informed the members that the leadership of the Senate was already engaging the Executive arm on the matter.
Saraki therefore mandated the Senate Committee on Transport to invite Amaechi to give the details on the coverage of the rail line project.
Meanwhile, the Senate has threatened to sanction revenue-generating agencies over their failure to submit their 2017 budget proposals to the National Assembly in line with the extant laws.
The Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, drew the attention of his colleagues to the abnormally during the plenary session yesterday.
He said it was wrong for the agencies to spend money that had not been appropriated by the legislature.
Na’Allah said that he intends to bring the issue to the floor as a motion so that Senators will understand the implications and the need to assist the government to fight corruption.
Saraki condemned the practice and ruled that the issue should be debated and a resolution taken by the Senate today.