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$33bn Chinese Loans: Reps Probe Panel Postpones Hearing …As Amaechi, Lawmakers Clash

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The House of Representatives has suspended its investigative hearing on Nigeria’s external borrowings and commercial agreements with other countries, especially China.
The House Committee on Treaties, Protocols, and Agreements had invited several ministers and top officials of the Federal Government to the third hearing, yesterday.
Those expected at the hearing included the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Ali Pantami; Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Maigari; and Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello.
Both Bello and Maigari had arrived at the venue.
The Chairman of the committee, Hon Nicholas Ossai, who led members of the panel into the venue about one hour behind schedule, called for the adjournment after the opening prayers were said.
Ossai said the lawmakers needed to scrutinise the documents already presented to it, while the panel would also demand explanations from the Federal Ministry of Justice on the loans and agreements.
The committee, therefore, resolved to adjourn till next Tuesday.
Earlier, there was heated argument at the House of Representatives Hearing Room 028, last Monday between Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi and House Committee Chairman on Treaties, Particulars and Agreement, Hon Ossai Nicholas Ossai.
It was during the legislative hearing on the loans agreements signed by the ministry.
At issue was an alleged $33billion loan which Ossai said Nigeria had signed.
But the minister denied any such agreement.
The drama unfolded before Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Muhammed Bello.
Amaechi, who had warned the committee against scrutinising the Chinese loans, repeated his position that Nigeria might lose the opportunity of a loan to fund the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail line and the people of South-South would be denied that project because “of the committee you set up to investigate the Chinese loans.”
Ossai (PDP Delta), frowned at the “misconception and misgivings” on the legislative scrutiny of various agreements signed by government officials.
He said: “We have heard some people ask why we are focusing on only Chinese-related loans and commercial contracts. We will like Nigerians to know that we aren’t focusing on only Chinese loans. From what we know, Nigeria has over 500 bilateral loan and commercial contracts agreements and investments treaties with different countries and institutions.
“There is no way the committee will do a thorough job without segmenting the issues based on countries, institutions, or MDAs. Thus, it must be clearly noted that this is not targeted at only China, neither was it designed to impede the development of the railway sector and other infrastructures.
“But rather to ensure full disclosure, transparency, accountability, utmost good faith, and value for money in both the bilateral loans and commercial contracts agreements entered into by the Nigerian government.
“The loan agreements we have seen so far, show that government officials charged with the responsibility of representing Nigeria were more desperate to just take the loans at any condition, possibly using non-negotiated loan agreements templates rather than go through the rigour of diligent technical review of negotiating specific clauses with clarity and for national interest.
“For instance, it’s a common practice that most international loan agreements would adopt ‘Sovereign guarantee’ and a neutral international arbitration centre as opposed to waiving of our national sovereignty in an omnibus manner; especially in dealing with countries like China, known to possess an absolute state status on their institutions and corporations.
“However, the immunity clauses in most of these agreements before us are not only ambiguous but very obscure. And without recourse to the fact that Nigerian government had issued circular on the subject matter with reference number SGF/OP/S.3/X/1737 dated 11th August, 2014 that provided guideline on issues of waiver of sovereign immunity clause during loan and commercial agreements negotiations.
“We expected government officials negotiating and signing these loans to fully comply with this guideline and also ensure that the clauses are couched to clearly reflect same”.
Questioning the rationale behind accepting Hong Kong as arbitration centre for the Chinese loans secured by Nigeria, he said “arbitration centres for bilateral loan agreements are known to be generally on neutral grounds unlike what we have in most of the Nigeria/China agreements where Hong Kong that is also governed by China laws was designated as the Arbitration Centre.
“From our experience, the MDAs sign these commercial agreements in billions of dollars, then go to the President and Federal Executive Council for approval to execute, including securing loan facilities through Ministry of Finance and Debt Management Office (DMO) and then proceed to negotiate the terms of these loans before coming back to Mr. President who then writes the National Assembly asking for approval for billions of dollars to do projects without attaching the negotiated loan and commercial contracts agreement details.
“This approach is the reason we have government representatives signing empty pages of loan agreements repayment schedule and other key documents required for the loan agreements to become effective. We have commercial contracts signed in US dollars, while the loan agreements for the execution of the same contracts were signed in Chinese YUAN currency in Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy/Galaxy Backbone Limited.
“We have noticed from documents available to us that commercial contracts signed by federal ministry of transportation alone is over $33billion without any clear-cut financing arrangements. Most of these commercial contracts agreements didn’t also have local content clauses and more witnessed by none properly designated and authorized officials.
“There are observable issues relating to procurement process, evidence of 15% advanced payments, payment of management fees, drawdown process and remittances and a whole lot of other matters, which we are strongly poised to ask questions on and hopes to get honest answers that will fine tune the current process, plan for possible renegotiation of some these agreements in order serve Nigerians better.
While dismissing the claim of an existing $33billion contract signed by the ministry, Amaechi demanded evidence of the contract from the committee.
He said: “Mr. Chairman, if you say that the ministry has awarded a contract of $33billion, we would want to see it because the only contract Ministry of Transportation has awarded so far is $1.6billion for Lagos/Ibadan (rail project).
“The Implication of having a $33billion contract is that we will have a large number of workers. There is no $33billion contract in the ministry of contract. What we have is the $1.6billion contract awarded under President Buhari and $800million contract awarded under President Goodluck Jonathan. By the time, the contract signed under President Jonathan had been completed, 80 per cent and so, we didn’t have to do anything about local content or no local content.
“The only one we had to deal with the issue of local content which is the only contract we have for now is the $1.6billion contract awarded from Lagos to Ibadan of which the Chinese government is providing $1.2 and we are providing the remaining $400million. There are over 20,000 workers on that project with only 560 of them being Chinese. We need to begin to say truth to Nigerians.”
Amaechi told the committee that the Lagos/Calabar rail line will not be possible because the House is probing the loan which has not been secured for the project, adding that at the moment, there is no contract because there was no loan.
However, as the interaction began to degenerate into an altercation between the minister and the Chairman of the Committee, the Speaker walked in unannounced and asked that the hearing be adjourned for 10 minutes.
Ossai demanded comprehensive explanation from the minister on the various loans taken by the government insisting that it was immaterial whether the loan was taken by the APC government or the PDP government, adding that what was important was that the interest of Nigeria and future generation of Nigerians was at stake.

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390,676 Civil Servants, 559 MDAs Captured In IPPISS, FG Confirms

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A total number of 390,676 civil servants in 559 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have been captured on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPISS) platform as of January 31, 2021, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan, has said.
She made the disclosure at a press briefing in Abuja as part of activities to kick-start the 2021 Nigeria Civil Service Week, yesterday.
The Federal Government had in 2006 introduced the IPPIS to weed out ghost workers from the civil service and automate salary payments for transparency and accountability in public expenditure.
In October, 2019, the Federal Government directed workers in its MDAs to enroll on IPPIS.
Recalled the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had last year gone on strike over the Federal Government insistence that its members enroll in IPPIS
Only last week, the salaries of 331 civil servants cutting across all were suspended over their failure to update their records on IPPIS despite repeated directives to do so.
According to Yemi-Esan, 390,676 staff across the 559 MDAs have now been captured on the platform.
She added that the figure excludes the army, paramilitary, police, and universities.
“As of 31st January, 2021, a total number of 559 MDAs with 390,676 employees have been captured on the IPPIS platform. This figure excludes the Army, para-military, police and universities.
“Accordingly, several activities have been initiated and carried out by the office towards driving, implementing and deployment of the Human Resource module of IPPIS.
“With full deployment of the HR Module of IPPIS, human error would be minimized through streamlined data, cost reduced based on available accurate data, financial and manpower resources efficiently and effectively utilized and planned for; while storage of data collected on employees of the Federal Public Service is secure and only accessible to authorized officers.”
Speaking further, Yemi-Esan said the civil service took advantage of Covid-19 to accelerate the digitalisation of its processes to enable it “continue to function effectively as the backbone of government within the new normal”.
Yemi-Esan also disclosed that the process of reviewing the nation’s Public Service Rules was almost completed, saying it is ready for the approval of the Federal Executive Council.
“The office, in the last one year, has finalised the review of the PSR and it has presented to the 2020 National Council on Establishment in Lagos which approved the revised document in principle.
“The office has produced the final draft for onward transmission to the Federal Executive Council for approval,” she said.
According to her the government has spent N2.4billion in settling 594 families of deceased civil servants while outstanding death benefits will be paid soon.
Yemi-Esan added, “Sometimes last year, the Ministry of Finance released N2.5billion to pay backlog of death benefits to the next of kin of deceased officers.
“As of today, out of N2.5billion, N2.468billion has been expended to settle 594 beneficiaries.
“The others that are outstanding will be completed once the office receives the requisite bank’s attestation.”
Yemi-Esan said a committee would soon be set up on the Steve Orasanye report on rationalisation of government agencies.
“As regards the Orosanye report, the SGF and I have planned to set up two committees to look into the report.
“We are going to look at what happened before the Oransanye report and after the Oransanye report,” she said.

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Nigerian Law School, PH Campus’ll Be Ready In Six Months, Wike Vows

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has received a formal letter of approval from the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, for the establishment of a Nigerian Law School campus in Port Harcourt.
The letter was presented to the governor by the Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof Isa Huyatu Chiroma, at the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday.
Wike said it was gratifying that the Council of Legal Education and the Attorney General of the Federation have graciously given approval to the Rivers State Government to assist in the establishment of a Law School in Port Harcourt, an offer which was initially rejected by the immediate past administration in the state.
The governor commended the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, for his statesmanship and commitment to the growth of legal education in Nigeria.
“This is devoid of any political affiliation. I must commend him for this show of sportsmanship, for this show of leadership, that at the end of the day, it is Nigerians and Rivers people that will benefit from the establishment of this campus in Port Harcourt.”
Wike explained that construction work had already commenced at the site approved by the state government for the Port Harcourt campus of the Nigerian Law School.
According to him, the campus will be ready in the next six months and the Certificate of Occupancy for the school is ready.
“The six months that we have given is not six years. Six months is six months. Even if any other project will be suspended, let it be suspended. This project must be finished within six months. And I also urged you to appoint a deputy DG who should move down to Port Harcourt immediately.”
The Rivers State governor explained that some corporate organisations, including banks, have expressed their readiness to build hostels and library in the campus, pending the approval of the authority of the Nigerian Law School.
The governor urged the Nigerian Law School management to graciously immortalise the former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice for the Federation, Justice Nabo Bekinbo Graham-Douglas, SAN, by naming the Port Harcourt campus after him.
The Director General of the Nigerian Law School, Prof Isa Huyatu Chiroma, said the process for the establishment of a Law School campus in Port Harcourt started on the June 4, in Yenagoa when Governor Wike threw a challenge that if given an opportunity, Rivers State Government was ready to construct and deliver a new campus of the Nigerian Law School in Port Harcourt within six months.
He explained that afterwards, the Council of Legal Education met and unanimously agreed to accede to the request of the Rivers State Government and this was also endorsed by the Attorney General of the Federation.
The Attorney General of the Federation in this letter to Governor Wike which was read by Chiroma, said immediately he received the letter from the Rivers State Government to assist in the establishment of a new campus in Port Harcourt, his office forwarded same, via Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary for consideration by the Council of Legal Education.
“I am delighted to convey to you the acceptance of your offer by the Council of Legal Education at its meeting held on June 18, 2021. A copy of the approval letter and a draft Memorandum of Understanding to guide or govern the conduct of the partnership project is hereby forwarded to you for your kind consideration and further action.
“While appreciating the kind gestures of the Rivers State Government in the promotion of legal education in Nigeria, please accept the assurances of my best regards and high esteem as always.”
In his remarks, the Rivers State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof Zacchaeus Adangor, said the Law School campus in Port Harcourt will stand out as one of the most iconic achievement of the Governor Wike’s administration.
The Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Simeon Amadi, commended the Attorney General of the federation and the Council of Legal Education for the approval and assured that the state will construct a befitting campus in Port Harcourt.
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze C.J. Okocha, SAN, said though the new campus is in Port Harcourt, it will be for the benefit of all Nigerians and the legal profession.
The chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Port Harcourt branch, Prince Nyekwere applauded the approval, and urged the Federal Government to devolve some of its obligation in the Executive List to the federating States.

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Buhari Off To London For Medical Check-Up, Today

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President Muhammadu Buhari will on Friday travel to London, for a scheduled medical follow-up.
The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, Femi Adesina, confirmed this in a statement, yesterday.
Adesina said the President is expected return to the country in the second week of next month.
“He is due back in the country during the second week of July, 2021,” the statement said.
It would be recalled that on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, Buhari had visited London to receive medical attention from his physician.

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