$5.513bn Loan: SERAP Writes Buhari, Seeks Spending Details, Audit of Loans

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By Udora Orizu

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to use his leadership position and the opportunity of the fifth anniversary of his government in office to provide spending details of all loans obtained by the government since May 29, 2015, including locations of projects on which the loans have been spent.

SERAP is also urging him to set up an independent audit for all loans to resolve any allegations of mismanagement and corruption, and to publish spending details of loans obtained by successive administrations since 1999.

Buhari had last week sought the National Assembly’s approval for a fresh external borrowings totalling $5.513 billion to finance deficits in the revised 2020 appropriation bill, critical projects, and support for some states of the federation in their fight against Covid-19.

In the FoI request dated 30th May, signed by SERAP’s Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare, and copied the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abukabar Malami; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed; and Director-General of Debt Management Office (DMO), Patience Oniha, the organization expressed concerns that while governments since 1999 have borrowed money in the name of Nigeria and its citizens, much of the funds have reportedly been mismanaged, stolen or squandered, leaving the citizens with the burden of having to repay the loans.

It said the opacity in the spending of loans would continue to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of citizens and transparency would ensure that the loans are not diverted to private pockets and increase public trust.

The FoI request read in part: ”Rather than taking more loans and increasing Nigeria’s debt burden to fund the opulent lifestyles of former state governors receiving life pensions, we urge you to cut the costs of governance, including by obeying the judgment ordering your government to challenge the legality of states’ pension laws, and to recover pensions collected by former governors.

”While access to loans can provide indispensable resources, the mismanagement and squandering of any such resources would be counter-productive. Nigerians should no longer be made to repay debts incurred in their name but which have not benefited them in any manner, shape or form.

”Any unresolved allegations of mismanagement, bribery and corruption in the use of loans would continue to deprive millions of Nigerians access to basic public goods and services, and would leave your government without the resources to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. We urge you to ensure that those suspected to be responsible for any mismanagement and corruption are promptly referred to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for further investigation, and where there is relevant admissible evidence, prosecution.

”Transparency and accountability in the spending details of all the loans that have so far been obtained by your government, and those obtained by previous administrations would mean that the loans can help Nigeria to overcome its acute development challenges, reduce the possibility of mismanagement and corruption.

”We also urge you to promptly instruct Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor the spending of all loans obtained since the assumption of office in May 2015.

”We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.”