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Court okays probe into FG’s handling of $460m Chinese loan

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• Finance minister may disclose payment details
The Federal High Court, Abuja has granted leave to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to pursue its inquiry into how the Federal Government spent the $460 million loan it obtained in 2010 from China to fund the controversial Abuja CCTV project.

Justice Anwuri Ichegbuo Chikere last week cleared the way for SERAP to advance its case to compel Minister of Finance Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed to disclose details of payment of the loan to contractors, and whether the sum of N1.5 billion paid in 2010 for the failed contract to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was part of another Chinese loan.

Justice Chikere stated: “After going through the application filed by SERAP supported by seven paragraphs affidavit, with supporting exhibits, statement of facts and verifying affidavits and written address in support, leave is hereby granted for SERAP to pursue its suit.”

She granted the order following the argument in court on an ex-parte motion by SERAP’s counsel Ms Atinuke Adejuyigbe and Mr. Opeyemi Owolabi.

The suit is adjourned to Monday, February 24, 2020 for hearing of the substantive suit.

SERAP had in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1447/2019 filed last month sought: “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel the minister of finance to disclose the details of local companies and Chinese contractors that have received funds from the $460 million loan for the finance of the failed Abuja CCTV project as well as details of the status of implementation of the project.”

SERAP, in a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Ahmed dated October 25, 2019 and signed by Deputy Director Kolawole Oluwadare had urged the minister to “urgently provide information on the total amount paid to contractors out of the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China to fund the apparently failed Abuja CCTV contract, the loan which the Federal Government has continued to re-pay.”

It also urged her to disclose specific details of local contractors, if any, that received part of the loan for the contract reportedly awarded to China’s ZTE Corporation, as well as the implementation status of the project.

It said: “We urge you to clarify if the N1.5 billion paid in 2010 for another apparently failed contract to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is part of another Chinese loan.”

SERAP vowed to take legal action if the requested information were not provided within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of the letter.

“We are concerned that Nigerians are being made to pay the Chinese loans for apparently failed projects, and for which they have not benefited in any way, shape or form.

“Transparency in the spending of Chinese loans is good for everyone, as this would help to increase the effectiveness, legitimacy and contribution of the loans to the development of public goods and services, as well as general public interest.”

SERAP said servicing Chinese loans for failed projects is double jeopardy for Nigerians: they can neither see nor benefit from the projects, yet they are made to pay both the loans and the accrued interests.

“The loans should never have been obtained in the first place, as successive governments should have drawn funds from the over $670 million (N241.2 billion) budgeted annually as security votes, but which remain synonymous with official corruption and unaccounted for.”

The All Progressives Congress (APC) in a statement by its spokesman, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in October had said: “Recent disclosures by the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, that the current administration continues to service a $460 million loan taken from China to fund a phony Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) contract is a stark reminder why Nigerians must continue to reject the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at all levels of government.”

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