FG to Lobby, Provide Details to Senate to Approve $30bn Borrowing Plan

  • Approves eight new universities, to appoint adviser for new national carrier

Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

A day after the Senate rejected the federal government’s $29.96 billion external borrowing plan, the executive arm of government has said that it would explore both formal and informal avenues to persuade the Senate to approve the plan.

The federal government has equally given approval for the establishment of eight new private universities across the country, bringing to 151 the number of universities in Nigeria.

Briefing the press at the end of wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said council reaffirmed its commitment to engaging the National Assembly to ensure that the proposed three-year borrowing plan is approved.

He explained that the decision to step down President Muhammadu Buhari’s request by the Senate should be seen as a patriotic move.

According to him, it is not unusual for the executive and the National Assembly to have agreements and disagreements.

He however assured Nigerians that the executive would continue to engage the National Assembly through formal and informal channels and possibly re-present the request with detailed information to the lawmakers after fine-tuning it.

The Senate had rejected Buhari’s request for authorisation to borrow about $29.96 billion over a three-year period.

He made the requests in two separate letters to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.

Buhari said the external loans would fund targeted projects cutting across all sectors with special emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, growth and employment generation.

Other sectors include poverty reduction through social safety net programmes and governance and financial management reforms, among others.

According to Buhari, the $29.960 billion is made up of proposed projects and programmes loan of $11.274 billion, special national infrastructure projects $10.686 billion, Euro bonds of $4.5 billion and federal government budget support of $3.5 billion.

The government also gave approval for the establishment of eight new private universities across the country, bringing to 151 the number of universities in Nigeria.

Prior to the approval, Nigeria had 143 universities, of which 61 were privately owned. With the additional eight, the number of private universities in the country now stands at 69.

However, the number is still a far cry from the number of universities in the United Kingdom, which though has a much lower population, boasts of 229 universities; Canada has 311, while Mexico has 1,250. Brazil has 1,648 and Bangladesh 1,258.

The Minister of State for Education, Professor Anthony Onwuka, who briefed reporters, said the ministry “submitted a memo seeking approval for eight private universities based on the recommendation by the NUC (Nigerian Universities Commission)”.

He said the universities were licensed provisionally for three years and would be mentored by some existing older universities in Nigeria.

He gave the eight new universities as: Anchor University, Ayobo, Lagos; Arthur Jarvis Akpabuyo University, Calabar, Cross River; Clifford University, Owerinta, Abia; Coal City University, Enugu; Crown Hill University, Kwara; Dominican University, Ibadan, Oyo; Kola Daisi University, also in Ibadan; and Legacy University, Okija, Anambra State.

Onwuka said the new universities were given three years provisional licences.

He also said all the new universities would be mentored by older ones.

According to him, Anchor University, which is promoted by the Deeper Life Bible Ministry, would be mentored by the University of Lagos; Jarvis University owned by Clitter House Nigeria Limited, will be mentored by the University of Calabar; while Clifford University, which belongs to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, will be supervised by the University of Agriculture, Umudike.

Coal City University founded by African Thinkers Community of Inquiry College of Education, Enugu will be mentored by the University of Nigeria Nsukka; Crown Hill University owned by Modern Morgy and Sons Limited will be mentored by the University of Ilorin; while the two new universities in Oyo State, Kola Daisi promoted by the Kola Daisi Foundation and Dominican, established by the Order of Preachers, Nigerian Dominican Community, will be mentored by the University of Ibadan.

Legacy University, Okija owned by the Good Idea Education Foundation will be mentored by the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.

The minister said the approval was given to make sure that the teeming population of Nigerian students seeking admission into universities are given the opportunity to do so.

He explained that mentoring was a requirement of the law and would be implemented by the Federal Ministry of Education and the NUC.

He cited the Education Act Cap E3, Law of Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004.

The information minister further explained the rationale for appointing some older universities to mentor the new ones.

He said: “On the issue of mentoring, the law is very specific on exactly what is required. The first is that each of the mentoring universities would among other issues ensure that the correct appointment of the governing council is made; that they recruit appropriate principal officers both academic and administrative; that there would be availability of human and material resources for the commencement of any academic performance.

“They also have the responsibility to ensure implementation of carrying capacity. They must also assist in staff development. They must also modulate students’ examinations; must guarantee quality assurances of the university. They also have responsibility to moderate admission and also moderate external examinations, even the older universities were also mentored by universities abroad.

“But we believe that by today, we have reached the situation whereby our own universities are capable of mentoring.”

Also during the briefing at the end of the FEC meeting, the Minister of State for Aviation, Mr. Hadi Sirika, disclosed that the federal government would next week appoint a transaction adviser to advise the president on the creation of a new national carrier.

Sirika said: “Between now and Wednesday we will appoint a transaction adviser for a national carrier, and once that is in place, Nigerians will have options, there will be competition, good aircraft and this will bring prices down.”

He also said that government was introducing incentives to make sure that foreign airlines do not leave Nigeria.

“On the foreign carriers that are threatening to leave Nigeria, I think it is a response to how the industry is faring globally, especially in Nigeria with recession.

“Our inability to get the airlines to repatriate their foreign exchange that they earn through sales of tickets is not helping matters also. They find it very difficult to operate and do business. Also their inability to get aviation fuel at some point and other operational reasons have exacerbated the situation.

“I did say that these are commercial decisions that the airlines will take, but with the way the routes are and with what we have been doing to correct these things, I’m not sure that any airline will pull out,” he said.

He explained that the foreign exchange demanded by local airlines was being provided. According to him, aviation is dollar-denominated business.

“You buy aircraft in dollars, you service in dollars, you train your crew in dollars, you do everything in dollars. And we simply do not have the dollars to pay these airlines,” he added.

He said, however, that the government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had made available $300 million out of the $600 million of the airlines funds’ stock in Nigeria to pay the airlines and to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the sector.

“With government intervention, they have been given $300 million gradually and we will clear the backlog and once that happens they will not go anywhere.

“Nigeria has a population of 177 million serving West and Central Africa, a 600 million people market, double that of US, half of India, and equal to Europe. This is a very important market and they know and they will stay here.

“We are also offering them incentives. But the most important incentive is that between now and Wednesday, we will appoint a transaction adviser for a national carrier.

“Once that is in place, Nigerians will have options, there will be competition, good aircraft and this will bring down prices,” he explained.

The minister also addressed the issue of carriers like Egypt Air, British Airways, Turkish Air which fly to Nigeria with older aircraft while using better aircraft on other routes, despite the fact that the Nigerian routes pay them more.

He said: “We have been talking to them seriously and asking that they change their fleet. However, some of them are constrained by some of the infrastructure we have in place.

“For example, Emirates would love to bring the kind of aircraft they fly around the world but the apron in Abuja does not support that aircraft. That is why the aircraft they take to Lagos is different from the one they take to Abuja.

“That inadequacy is also being addressed and once that is done, we will have befitting aircraft coming into Abuja. This has always been a challenge.”

The government also approved an upward review of the contracts for the completion of the international and the domestic wings (phase 2) of the Port Harcourt International Airport.

Sirika said the projects were captured in the 2016 budget, adding: “So very soon we will complete that very important airport especially the arrival section. Port Harcourt Airport has been tagged the worst airport in the world, but by the grace of God and the wisdom of council, it will be completed.”

He explained that the cost of rehabilitating the international wing of the airport was jacked up from N777,726,669.30 to N1,684,520,310.58. The contract was given to the original contractor, Messrs Entaba.

According to him, the cost of refurbishing the domestic wing of the terminal building was also increased from N746,830,782.12 to N1,411,662,855.67.