•Says probe political
By Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu in Abuja
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has denied obtaining $33 billion Chinese loan as claimed by the House of Representatives, saying his ministry only obtained $1.6 billion contract for Lagos-Ibadan rail project.
Amaechi while appearing before the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreement at the resumed hearing on loan agreements between Nigeria and China on Monday described the probe as political.
The minister said the Lagos-Ibadan rail project was currently under threat as a result of the ongoing probe by the House.
Amaechi states: “In slight response to your speech earlier, I will repeat here that we need to be more patriotic than we are being. Mr. Chairman, I have the right to speak, you invited me, I was once a member of the House. if you say Minisitry of Transport has a contract $33 billion, we want to see it because as the Minister of Transport, the only contract awarded so far is $1.6 billion contract for Lagos-Ibadan which is under threat.”
The chairman of the committee, Hon. Nicholas Ossai interrupted him and asked Ameachi to answer the question posed to him, saying the committee is guided by rules and should be obeyed.
Amaechi added: “Mr. Chairman the implication of having a contract of $33 billion dollars is that I will have a large number of workers. There’s no 33 billion dollars contract in ministry of transport. What we have is $1.6 billion contract awarded under President Buhari and 800 million contract awarded by Goodluck Jonathan. By the time we came, the contract awarded by Jonathan signed by Aganga had been completed 80% so we didn’t have to do the meeting of local content or no local content.
“The only one that have to deal with the issue of local content is the $1.6 billion contract that was awarded for Lagos to Ibadan. For which Chinese government is providing 1.2 billion and we’re providing the remaining $400 million dollars. There are over 20,000 workers and only 560 of them are Chinese, we need to begin to say the truth. It’s good to tell Nigerians the truth, this is very political and we will show all the contracts awarded by the PDP government.”
Amaechi stressed further that there were over 150 Nigerians in China being trained as engineers.
The chairman asked if the $11.1 billion loan for Nigerian railway project that was signed on July 1, 2016, has been approved, but the minister explained that the contract was signed as a prelude to loan.
According to him, “I’m aware, you see sometimes I allow you to make a lot of statements initially and you restricted yourself, it is important I tell you sir that contract was signed as a prelude to a loan and there’s no loan and we may not get the loan because of you Chairman, because of the Committee you set up against the China Loan. That contract is for Lagos to Calabar which is the whole of the south south, we may not get that loan, so there’s no contract.”
At this point the committee chairman said they were not quarrelling with Amaechi, but the minister insisted that because of the Committee set up by the House, the country would lose the Lagos to Calabar rail project loan.
Ossai however said that the issue was not about South-south, but about Nigeria, adding that he is serving Nigeria as a legislator, saying “if we continue to serve our geopolitical zone this country will not be nice.”
At the point Ameachi accused the cahirman of approaching him on the South-south rail project.
“Have you not approached me on South-south train, Mr Chairman you’ve approached me?”
Ossai however noted that the issue should not degenerate to south south issue.
“But you’ve approached me,” Ameachi insisted.
“It’s ok, the issue we are talking about today is the issue that concerns Nigeria, our priority is to make sure that any area is viable and it will promote the economic activities of Nigeria and bring about a multiplier effect,” Ossai said.
Meanwhile, in the heat of the probe, the committee abruptly proceeded on a 30 minutes break following a disagreement that ensued between members of the Committee.
Before the arrival of the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who later met with the committee members behind closed doors during the 30 minutes break, Ossai had disagreement with Hon. Wole Oke, whom he told was co-opted into the Committee.
Oke had during the probe sought permission from the chairman to be allowed to ask Ameachi question.
While Oke was asking the question, there was exchange of words between them which forced Oke who had insisted on completing the question to withdraw it.
Oke said, ”Chairman let me guide you…”
But the chairman replied, “You can’t guide me, I’m the Chairman of the Committee.”
It was immediately after the exchange of words between the two lawmakers that the Speaker came to intervene and the committee was forced to proceed on an impromptu 30 minutes break.
Ossai, while taking up, Ms. Patience Oniha from the Debt Management Office (DMO), said the committee noticed that in appendix 2 of DMO submission that Nigeria would continue to repay accumulated debt portfolio of over $8 billion dollars based on principal amount and interest payable from now till at least the 19 years based on the maturity of this loan.
But Oniha said, “What we have at the Debt Management Office is the loan agreement, that is what we worked on, we submitted them earlier the first time you asked for the loan agreement.”
The committee also revealed that in DMO’s submission, the loan agreements on Nigeria parboil rice processing project for the Ministry of Agriculture was to the tune of $326 million, adding that the loan was yet to be disbursed four years after signing the loan agreement.
She added, “We included in our response that the ministry of finance will provide that, so the DMO can’t respond to that question now. For the disbursement there’s a process for the multilateral and bilateral loans.”