$5.8bn Loan: SERAP Petitions Buhari
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “issue an immediate moratorium on borrowing by the Federal Government and the 36 states to address a systemic debt crisis, prevent retrogressive economic measures, and the disproportionately negative impact of unsustainable debt on the poor Nigerians.”
The request followed the recent approval by the National Assembly of Buhari’s request for a $5.8billion loan and grant of $10billion.
Previous approvals in 2021 alone include $8.3billion; €490million, and $6.1billion.
The foreign debt stock of the Federal Government, 36 states, and Federal Capital Territory reportedly stands at $37.9billion.
In an open letter dated December 18, 2021, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “A moratorium on borrowing would create a temporary debt standstill, and free up fiscal space for investment in Nigerians’ needs, as well as ensure sustainable economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
SERAP said, “Without a moratorium on borrowing, your government and many of the 36 states may be caught in a process driven mostly by creditors’ needs. This will result in an exorbitant social cost for the marginalised and vulnerable sectors of the population.”
According to SERAP, “Long-term unsustainable debt can be a barrier to the government’s ability to mobilise resources for human rights, and may lead to taxes and user fees that impact negatively on vulnerable and marginalised Nigerians.”
The letter, read in part: “SERAP is concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained, and opacity around the terms and conditions, including repayment details of these loans.
“While the National Assembly has asked for these details in future loan requests, it ought to have seen and assessed the terms and conditions of these loans before approving them, in line with its oversight responsibility under the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended).
“If not urgently addressed, the escalating borrowing and looming debt crisis would cripple the ability of both the Federal Government and the 36 states to deliver essential public services such as quality healthcare, education, and clean water to the most vulnerable and marginalised sectors of the population.
“SERAP notes that governments’ ability to protect human rights is inextricably related to the ability to spend needed resources. Growing debt burdens and debt repayment difficulties will have negative impacts on the ability of your government and many of the 36 states to fulfill the basic socio-economic rights of poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
“Sustainable debt management by the Federal Government and state governments will contribute to mobilising resources for human rights and essential public services, and promote a culture of responsible borrowing.
“The Federal Government and many of the 36 states would seem to be in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress. According to reports, the Senate and House of Representatives recently approved the loans of $5,803,364,553.50 and a grant component of $10million under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan of the Federal Government.
“This followed previous approvals this year by the National Assembly of $16.2billion ($16,230,077,718) loan; €1million (€1,020,000,000) loan; and a grant component of $125million loan; $36.8billion, €910million loans, and a grant component of $10million; $8.3billion and €490million loans; $6.1billion, $1.5billion and $995million loans; and $4million ($4,054,476,863), €710million and grant component of $125million.
“Several of the 36 states are also facing a debt crisis, and vicious debt cycles. According to the Debt Management Office, the foreign debt stock of the Federal Government, 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory presently stands at $37.9billion.
“The loans from China alone amount to $3.59billion. According to the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Nigeria faces debt service relative to tax revenues that exceed 20per cent, with escalating social tensions linked to poverty and inequality.
“The growing level of borrowing by your government and the 36 states is clearly a human rights issue because when the entire country is burdened by unsustainable debts, there will be little money left to ensure access of poor and vulnerable Nigerians to basic public services.
“While it is critical for the Federal Government and state governments to have sufficient resources to fund their budgets, it is equally critical for governments to substantially cut the cost of governance. Persistent borrowing is neither sustainable nor fair to the Nigerian people.
“SERAP urges you to conduct a human rights assessment of the borrowing by governments since 1999 to address the dire consequences of unsustainable debts on people and communities across the country, and to ensure that borrowing at all levels of government considers the human rights impacts.
“Any such assessment should be conducted in harmony with existing safeguards and mechanisms in order to contribute to informed decision-making and to complement findings from a human rights perspective.
“A human rights impact analysis should serve to ascertain the debts that can be repaid, and the resources necessary to ensure compliance with the obligation of using the maximum available resources for the protection and fulfilment of human rights.
“As the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has noted, states parties including Nigeria are under an obligation to devote their maximum available resources to the full realisation of all economic and social rights, including the rights to health, education and water.
“SERAP also urges you to adopt effective measures to address transparency and accountability gaps in spending of loans, and the systemic and widespread corruption in ministries, departments and agencies, as documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.
“We would, therefore, be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government and the 36 states to comply with our requests.”
Fubara Inaugurates 10th Rivers Assembly, Inspects Projects
The Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, on Monday inaugurated the 10th state House of Assembly.
The governor, during the inauguration at the hallowed chamber in Moscow Road, Port Harcourt, said it was in exercise of his constitutional powers.
According to a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Boniface Onyedi, the governor said, “My duty this morning is officially to dissolve the 9th Assembly and inaugurate the 10th Assembly, so that you can commence your first session.
“Whereas it is provided in Section 105 (3), of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. That the person elected as governor shall have the power to issue a proclamation for the holding of the first session of the state Assembly immediately after being sworn in.
“Therefore, I, Siminalayi Fubara, Governor of Rivers State, in exercise of the powers bestowed upon me by Section 105(3) as aforesaid, and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, hereby proclaim that the first session of the 10th Rivers State Assembly holds at 10:00am on this day, Monday the 5th of June, 2023, in the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex, Port Harcourt.”
Soon afterwards, the members of the 10th Assembly uninamously elected former House leader and the lawmaker represnting Obio/Akpor Constituency 1, Martins Ameawhule, as new Speaker of the 32-member House.
Also, the member representing Gokana Constituency and former Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Dumle Maol, was elected Deputy Speaker.
Meanwhile, Fubara paid an unscheduled visit to the ongoing construction of the convocation arena at the University of Port Harcourt.
Speaking after inspecting the facility being built by the Rivers State Government, Fubara stated that the project was dear to the government because of its importance to education and youth development.
He charged the contractor handling the project to match words with action by completing the project within the next 60 days as promised, warning that failure to deliver will attract consequences.
Fubara used the opportunity to warn other contractors handling state government projects to step up their works as he will not condone any delay but would expect prompt delivery on projects.
He said, “From what I’m seeing here, the contractor is also assuring that in 60 days he can deliver.
“We will give him the benefits of doubt. But I need to say clearly that if in 60 days, I visit this project, I don’t see it completed, it’s not going to be easy for the contractor, that’s the truth.
“But I believe from what I have seen the extent of job that they are doing, I think they’re a bit serious compared to what we saw about two months ago.”
“The reason why this project is important to us is this: It has to do with education and youths. You can’t separate education from the youths and one of the objectives of our projects is development of the youths and advancement of education. So, our coming here is to see it, assess it ourselves and not only from the reports from the ministry, but for me to see it.
“It is not business as usual. I had a meeting with them the other day and I told them that even though this contract is not new that does not mean that you go home and sleep. You can see that I’m a very punctual person. If I give you 9:0 clock, it will be 9:0clock. So, my word to the contractor today is that you’ve assured me that in 60 days you’re going to deliver. There will be serious consequences if I come here by 60 days from today and this job is not ready”, he concluded.
TUC Demands N200,000 Minimum Wage For Workers
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, (TUC), on Monday demanded payment of a new minimum wage of N200,000 monthly for Nigerian workers.
It also demanded that the government reverted to the old N185 pump price of petrol per litre to allow for a conducive environment for negotiation.
The union, in a statement by its President and Secretary General, Festus Osifo and Nuhu Toro, respectively, said: “For immediate implementation: Status quo ante of PMS pump price should be maintained while discussion continues. The minimum wage should be increased from the current N30,000 to N200,000 before the end of June 2023, with consequential adjustments on the cost of living allowance, COLA, like feeding, transport, housing, etc.
“A representative of state governors will be party to this communiqué and all the governors must commit to implement the new minimum wage.
“Tax holiday for employees both in government and private sector that earn less than N200,000 or 500USD monthly whichever is higher. PMS allowance to be introduced for those earning between N200,000 and N500,000 or 500USD to 1,200USD whichever is higher.
“The exchange rate for retailing PMS in the country must be kept within a limit of two per cent for the next 10 years where the fluctuation is more than two per cent, the minimum wage will automatically increase at the same rate.
“Setting up of intervention fund where the government will be paying N10 per litre on all locally consumed PMS. The primary purpose of this fund is to solve perennial and protracted national issues in education, health and housing. A governance structure that will include labour, civil society and government will be put in place to manage the implementation.
“Federal government should provide mass transit vehicles for all categories of the populace. State governments should immediately set up a subsidized transportation system to reduce the pressure on workers and students. The framework around this will be worked out.
“Immediate review of the National Health Insurance Scheme to cover more Nigerians and prevent stock of drugs.
“Visitation of the refineries that are currently undergoing rehabilitation to ascertain the state of work and setting up a timeline for its completion.
“The president should direct whoever will be labour minister to immediately constitute the National Labour Advisory Council, NLAC. This platform will be used by the government, labour and employers to discuss issues and policies of the government that may affect workers and all other mandates as specified in the law.
“Provision of subsidy directly for food items, the $800million could be a first step. The existing National Housing Fund, NHF, should be made accessible to genuine workers; the framework on this must be discussed and agreed.”
TUC also said the medium term would include the “deployment of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) across the country, in line with the earlier promise made by the government. The framework and timeline will be developed and agreed by both parties.
“Labour and government to design a framework that will be geared towards the reduction of cost of governance by 15 per cent in 2024 and 30 per cent by 2025.
“A framework should be immediately put in place to maintain roads and expand the rail networks across the country. Government must design a framework for social housing policy for workers through a rent-to-own system.
“The state of electricity in the country must be appraised and an action plan should be defined with timelines on how to get this fixed.”
Rivers Chief Judge Swears In 16 New Magistrates …Tasks Them to Adhere To Oath Of Office
Rivers State Chief Judge, Justice Simeon Chibuzor-Amadi, has charged the 16 newly appointed Magistrates in the State Judiciary to abide by their oath of office and take seriously the task of justice delivery in the State.
Justice Amadi gave the advice while swearing in the 26 new Magistrates at the Ceremonial Court Hall at the state High Court Complex in Port Harcourt at the the weekend.
He also advised the new magistrates to guard against the temptation of making quick money but should be ready for serve the State judiciously.
He stressed the need for the new Magistrates to comply with constitutional provisions and also isolate themselves from friends, family members and members of the public considering the nature of their job.
“Let me remind you all that to succeed, you must design your priority including studying harder to know the law and rules of the criminal justice to enable you discharge your duties efficiently and effectively”, he added.
The Chief Judge warned that frivolous excuses would not be tolerated especially from those that will be deployed to rural areas, insisting that they must be ready to serve at all times.
Those sworn in as Magistrates include AWUSE LILIAN-NGBECHI, AKAH OKWUDIRI, AKANI WOBIA-CRISTABEL, VICTOR-IHUNWO QUEENNETH-OGBONDA and
IBANICHUKA SAMUEL, while CONSTANCE KELVIN-CHINAKA, MARTYNS YELLOWE-DOKU, AMADI ISREAL-ISIGUZORU, AKPU OBISIKE-CHARLES and BRIGGS KINGSLEY were sworn in as Senior Magistrate Grade 1
Others are NDUKWU THANKGOD, HART ALEX ISOUALA and NWINEE HAROLD BARISIP sworn-in as Senior Magistrate Grade Two and WIKE LESLEY-BELEMA, EPELLE EMMANUEL-SONNY and AKEODI OYAGHIRI as Magistrate 11.
By: Amadi Akujobi
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