As President Mohammadu Buhari clinks glasses for successful negotiation of a $2b loan from the Chinese government, Ayo Fayose, the vociferous Governor of Ekiti State, has written to the Chinese authorities, detailing why the loan should not be approved. It signals a new chapter in the war between the two men, which predates this Republic, Samuel Ajayi writes
The battle of attrition between the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, and President Mohammadu Buhari took a new turn during the week. Fayose, ever ready to hug the headlines, wrote to the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, advising the Chinese authorities not to grant the $2 billion trading loan to the country which the Far East country had already agreed to in principle.
To underscore his seriousness, Fayose had already written a letter through his chief of staff, Dipo Anisulowo, to the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Gu Xiaojie, a couple of days back. Fayose has also vowed to personally deliver a copy of the letter to the Chinese leader when he visits the country in his forthcoming tour of some foreign countries.
In the letter, Fayose said in part: “I write as one of the major stakeholders in the project Nigeria, and a governor of one of the federating units making up Nigeria, to draw your attention to report that the Federal Government of Nigeria is on the verge of obtaining a $2 billion loan from the Export-Import Bank of China. This $2 billion loan is part of the N1.84 trillion the Federal Government of Nigeria has proposed to borrow to finance the 2016 budget, which is yet to be signed by the President, Muhammadu Buhari owing to unending controversies between the Executive and Legislative arms of government. According to reports, Nigeria desires to raise about $5 billion abroad to cover part of its 2016 budget deficit. This is projected to hit N3 trillion ($15 billion) due to heavy infrastructure spending at a time when the slump in global oil prices has slashed the country’s export revenues.”
Writing further, Fayose said though he conceded that all nations, especially developing ones need support to be able to grow because no nation is an island, he added that he was constrained to inform the Chinese authorities that if the future of Nigeria must be protected, the country does not need any loan at this time.
“The government of China should be mindful of the fact that Nigerians, irrespective of their political and religious affiliations, are totally opposed to increment of the country’s debt burden, which is already being serviced with 25 per cent of the Federal Government annual budget. It will interest the government of China to know that some of the projects for which the loan is being sought are not captured in the controversial 2016 budget, which has been sent to the President by the National Assembly for his assent. For instance, the Lagos-Calabar Rail project was not included in the budget proposal the President presented to the National Assembly and it was not included in the Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly.
He said the country was presently servicing debt with about 25 per cent of its annual budget and wondered what would happen to the economy in 2017, when the country would begin to service the additional debt to be incurred this year.
It is debatable if Fayose’s letter to the Chinese authorities is not politics taken too far. Even before Buhari became president, the two have not been best of friends. Besides, Fayose is the only opposition PDP governor that has found his voice in creating a semblance of opposition to the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC). Fayose had even started the anti-Buhari campaign since the latter was the presidential candidate of the APC. Some of his attacks on Buhari then were considered distasteful.
Obed Awowede, top media practitioner and book publisher, said while he agrees to how Fayose has been providing strong opposition to the ruling party, he believes the latest move to block the loan might be politics taken too far.
“To me, it is politics taken too far. While I agree with what he has been doing so far, I think Fayose is blurring his own message. When it comes to national issues, we should know how to draw a line. He is doing to Buhari what Amaechi and el-Rufai were doing to Jonathan, but I think he should limit it to just opposing the president on issues that pertain to his party.”
Awowede, however, conceded that he had told some APC members when Jonathan was in power that they were setting a bar they might not be able to deal with if and when they won the presidency.
“I told some of my APC friends then that if they saw nothing wrong in their leaders insulting the president and the institution of the presidency, then they should be ready to deal with such treatment if their party produced the president,” Awowede stated.
Beyond this is the fact that perhaps, Fayose was actually fighting back with this latest pot shot at the president. Lately, the federal government has been doing everything possible to get him off the Ekiti governorship seat. First was the siege by operatives of the Department of State Security, (DSS) at the state House of Assembly which led to whisking away of not less than 13 members of the Assembly. One of them, Akanni Afolabi, nearly died in their custody before they hurriedly released him. While the DSS said they were investigating some infringements on the part of the lawmakers, everyone knew Fayose was the target. Some of the lawmakers said they were told by DSS officials that if they agreed to initiate impeachment proceedings against Fayose, they would regain their freedom. Analysts also believe that even while this is democracy where rule of law and freedom of speech are sacrosanct, Fayose was still working a free man because of his immunity as a governor.
“Fayose is walking free because of his immunity,” a lawyer told THISDAY yesterday. “The APC-led government would have moved after him. I am very sure of that. They would have manufactured a few charges against him. And I guess Fayose himself knows he has a few issues to deal with if not for his immunity.”
Beyond the politics are the issues raised in the letter. While the supremacy battle between the National Assembly and the Presidency rages on over the budget, Buhari is borrowing to finance same budget that has not been signed into law. Besides, the APC-led government has been busy announcing to the world that it has recovered billions of dollars allegedly stolen by officials of the previous administration. Many are wondering if truly such money has been recovered, why should the country be borrowing again to finance budget?
Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, too had told the president there was no point borrowing to finance the budget. He said the government should look for alternative means of financing the budget instead of the planned $5 billion, part of which was the $2 billion Chinese loan. Falana, in a letter to Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, had written: “In urging the Federal Government to desist from taking the loan of $2 billion from China or any other country, we are compelled to advise the Federal Government to intensify efforts to recover the nation’s wealth which has been criminally diverted by a handful of local and foreign looters.”
Falana went ahead to list many avenues from which the federal government could access funds which included alleged looted funds, unremitted money from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), which he put at over $4.2 billion, the $250 million paid by telecommunications giants, MTN, as well as monies the federal government claimed it has recovered from alleged looters of the treasury.
Perhaps, Fayose might be making sense after all. Even if it is all spiced with naked politics.