The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi is opposed to a scrutiny of loan agreements sealed with China which is now the subject of a probe by the National Assembly.
Amaechi argues that a probe by lawmakers may negatively relationship with Beijing and that China will not approve Nigeria’s request for loans if federal lawmakers continue to probe the loan agreements that the country has with lenders.
The House of Representatives had on Tuesday expressed its resolve to review loan facilities already taken by the country from China and other countries. Earlier, Chairman of the Committee, Nicholas Ossai, said there are clauses conceding Nigeria’s sovereignty to China in some of the loan agreements.
The minister, who warned the lawmakers against sending a wrong signal to China, on Tuesday, explained in Abuja on Wednesday that negotiations on the facilities be concluded while the lawmakers investigate the agreements.
Amaechi had appeared before the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements on the $500 million loan taken on the Abuja-Kaduna and other rail line projects.
The minister urged the lawmakers to suspend their probe until Nigeria has secured the loan, stressing that the federal government had requested $500 million from the Chinese government to finance some rail projects across the country, particularly in the South-East.
The former Rivers State governor said some sections of the country’s rail lines “will suffer” if China stops giving out loans to Nigeria.
“I have said here to the house, and it is a pity that I am saying it in public, this government, outside Nigeria, they are sensitive to what you say. Nobody is stopping you from your investigation and no government from outside Nigeria can stop you from doing it.
“We are saying that Nigeria has applied for three loans already. For Port Harcourt-Maiduguri (eastern rail line), the minister of finance told me that she was stopped and told that the next borrowing plan would not be approved unless you get Port Harcourt-Maiduguri. Port Harcourt-Maiduguri goes through the South-East and the North-East.
“The only South-South town is Port Harcourt. We are about to apply for a loan. They will not grant that loan. Then you summoned us back to the House to ask why we are constructing Lagos-Kano and we are not constructing Port Harcourt-Maiduguri.
“Can we be allowed to get this loan? Then you can summon us, not to start what you are doing and the whole process will then be stopped.
“My fear is that at the end of the day, some sections of this country will suffer if they stop giving us loans; two projects that will suffer: the first one is Lagos-Ibadan (rail line), we have not finished disbursement.
“We are asking for a loan to commence work from Ibadan to Kano. The day they (China) say ‘the government is not supporting the loans you people are taking, we are no longer giving you,’ that is the end of the project,” he warned.
Amaechi asked the committee to consider “national interest” because urgent work needed to be executed on the eastern rail lines.
“The economy of this country can only be propelled by transportation. We don’t mind this investigation but can we please shift it to December or January when we would have possibly taken these loans?
The minister said “once we get these loans, chairman, turn me upside down, I will answer you. There are rumblings up there in China and there are loans we have asked for.
“If your government is not in agreement with this – don’t forget that there are all sorts of allegations against China here and there – we can stop. The moment it is stopped, the following things will happen – Lagos-Ibadan is not completed.
“If you think there is corruption, investigate corruption. What we are saying is that we should conclude negotiation first because there is pressure affecting the Chinese government in which they are talking to us directly. So, for me, what is primary here should be national interest.
“We have the approval to construct the Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Kano and Lagos-Calabar rail lines; we are also at the point of negotiating for the loans. Summoning us to the National Assembly to come and address the loans would look like government is no longer interested in it.”
On plans to repay the loans, the minister said the profit generated from the train service would be used through a special account to be opened for that purpose.
Earlier, Chairman of the Committee, Nicholas Ossai, said there are clauses conceding Nigeria’s sovereignty to China in some of the loan agreements.
The committee asked Amaechi to reappear on August 17 along with more details on the loans and projects.