Senate panel members may boycott $29.96bn loan request consideration

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan

The Senate has started the process to approve the $29.96bn foreign loan request forwarded to the National Assembly by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).

However, feelers from the committee on local and foreign loans handling the assignment indicated that members were not interested in the approval process.

Some of those who spoke with our correspondent cited a statement credited to the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, at a news conference recently that the Senate would approve the bill.

Although Lawan had on Tuesday asked the committee to work on the proposal and report back to the Senate within two weeks, investigations revealed the panel may return the proposal as presented.

Further findings revealed that the committee, which has Senator Clifford Ordia as chairman and Senator Bima Enagi as vice-chairman, may not hold a public hearing on the loan request.

A member of the panel, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity said there was an instruction from the Senate leadership not to hold a public hearing.

He said, “Holding a public hearing on the issue would be counterproductive because the stakeholders would come and kick against the loan.

“We want to avoid a situation whereby the press would go to town with reports that Nigerians have rejected the loan request and the National Assembly would pass it the following day.

“As for me and a few of my colleagues that I have spoken with, we are not really sure of our active participation in the committee’s activities over the loan because it would end up as a mere academic exercise.”

But another member of the committee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was the need to sit and scrutinise the document.

He said, “You know, we have the details of the projects that the money would be spent on. They are scattered across the country.

“There is a need for us to travel to the states and discuss with the governors. We may also need to involve the states’ legislature in the oversight functions.

“The President of the Senate has said the parliament is more concerned with the utilisation of the money. So, we have to carry state government officials along.”

Similarly, a ranking senator, who is also a member of the panel, said the committee would actually work on the document.

He said, “We have information that the House of Representatives panel has passed its version.

“We will definitely not approve the entire amount because part of it was approved by the 8th National Assembly as indicated by the President.

“There is also really no cause for alarm because the money will not be spent within a year but spread over some years.

“It is after the National Assembly’s approval that the executive will start the process of sourcing the loan and it can never affect our budget.”

Repeated calls to the committee chairman to get the official position of his panel on the issue failed as he did not respond.

He had also yet to reply to a text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.

Buhari had in a letter dated November 26, 2019, said the 8th National Assembly approved only a part of the external borrowing request forwarded to it in September 2016.

This, according to him, stalled the Federal Government’s implementation of critical projects spanning across the mining, power, health, agricultural, water and educational sectors.

A total of 39 projects were listed for execution with the money.

However, many finance experts and a former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, on Tuesday opposed the $29.9bn loan request.

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