JULY 20, 2014 BY JOHN AMEH AND SUNDAY ABORISADE
Some members of the National Assembly are divided over whether or not the $1bn loan request made by President Goodluck Jonathan should be approved by the lawmakers.
Jonathan had on Wednesday sent a letter to the National Assembly, asking the lawmakers to urgently approve the external loan for the Federal Government to confront Boko Haram insurgency.
He said the external loan would be used to upgrade the equipment of the armed forces and the training of personnel.
Senator Magnus Abe (APC, Rivers State), in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Friday, said he was not against the approval of the loan for the President.
He, however, said Jonathan should be able to account for the money released so far to fight the insurgents.
Abe stated, “My opinion all along over the funding of military operation against insurgency has been that Nigerians should not be too much interested in the amount of money being voted to execute the war. Rather, what should interest Nigerians is whether we are achieving the objective behind the release of the money.
“I have nothing against the release of money to fight insurgency but President Goodluck Jonathan should satisfy himself and Nigerians that the amount of money so far released for the anti-terrorism activities had been judiciously utilised.
“It will be a very sad development if it turned out at the end of the day that $1bn being requested for the President was diverted to politics or that some people in government saw it as an opportunity to amass wealth at the instance of the vulnerable, poor Nigerians whose lives and property are being wasted whenever the dreaded sect unleashes terror.”
On his part, Senator Babafemi Ojudu said the request by the President was “not desirable and obviously, not justifiable.”
He said, “As a country, huge sums of money have been voted for defence since the inception of the Jonathan administration and a huge percentage of the money, I believe, had been channelled to wage war against Boko Haram. The question is, have we been able to justify the utilisation of the money?”
Ojudu said he was part of the team that went to Borno State few weeks ago on a fact-finding mission.
According to him, the state government told the team that a huge percentage of its monthly allocation was being deducted by the Federal Government to fight insurgency.
“I am very sure the Senate will approve the money but how are we sure it is not part of the money that would be utilised to prosecute the 2015 general elections by the Peoples Democratic Party, which is the ruling party in the country,” he said.
Another senator, Kabiru Marafa, said he would not mind approving the loan, if it would assist in ending the insurgency.
He said, “There is no amount of money spent to bring peace and tranquillity to our troubled nation that is too much or too small. I do not even mind if we spent the entire budget or empty the Central Bank of Nigeria to end insurgency in our country. But we must be sincere in the application of the money for the purpose for which it was released.
“We all know the complaints of the military personnel on ground at the three north-eastern states. They had alleged that their welfare was not being adequately taken care of by those charged to do so.
“If President Goodluck Jonathan is sincerely looking for that money to carry out military activities that will restore peace to Nigeria, no right-thinking citizen of this country will go against it. I want him to maintain his stand on it because I know some of his advisers may suggest its diversion for political use and if that happens, we are in trouble in this country.”
Also, Senator Chris Ngige said he would need more details on the loan. These, he said, would assist the Senate in considering it.
He said, “For instance, we need to know the terms of the loan, whether it is interest-free or not. We must know the terms for repayment. All these pieces of information are not known, so we don’t have the details.
“We also need to know what percentage will go to procurement of more arms and equipment; the percentage that will go to personnel capacity building and the percentage that will be allocated to the Army, Navy, Airforce, the Department of State Security, the Police and other security outfits.
“I am also thinking the entire money is not meant for the military operations alone. We must know how much is being set aside to take care of the social, economic and religious impact of the insurgency because terrorism is like ulcer which takes time to heal,” Ngige added.
In the House of Representatives, some members also expressed opposing views over the President’s bid.
The House Deputy Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, applauded Jonathan’s decision as a necessary step he took to ensure that “adequate pieces of equipment are provided for our Armed Forces.”
Ogor, a PDP lawmaker from Delta State, said nobody expected Nigerian soldiers to confront members of the sect and defeat them if they did not have enough equipment.
He also stated that no amount of money was too much to spend on security, if doing so would restore normalcy to the North-East.
Ogor added, “What is the alternative if we don’t want the government to spend? We are fighting a war that is alien to us; we have to be fully prepared.
“It is totally unnecessary to politicise this issue when the lives and property of Nigerians are involved.”
However, House Minority Whip, Mr. Sampson Osagie, faulted Ogor’s position on the grounds that the legislature approved N1tn in this year’s budget just three months ago for the same reasons of equipping and training security personnel.
Osagie, an All Progressives Congress legislator from Edo State, argued that until Jonathan explained how the $1bn would be utilised differently from the N1tn already approved in the 2014 budget, “then, there are clouds of suspicion.”
He added, “Is the President borrowing the money to fund the N1tn budgeted for security in 2014? He has a lot of explanation to make.”
Osagie, who described the request as “laughable”, also said he was suspicious of Jonathan’s motive for making such request in a pre-election year.
He recalled that prior to the 2011 general elections, government’s expenditure on fuel subsidy rose to “over N1tn”, raising suspicions that substantial part of the money might have been used for electioneering.
“It is highly suspicious because we are approaching elections and this type of laughable request is coming.
“Why can’t government cut down on the many areas of waste in governance and save funds instead of resorting to external borrowing?
“Do we even know how much exactly we are owing as a nation?
“I totally oppose this loan”, Osagie added.
The Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Mr. Ali Ahmad, too did not spare the President.
Ahmad noted that “25 per cent” of the 2014 budget was earmarked for security.
He said, “We can’t see what they have done with the money because nothing has improved.
“Upgrading equipment and training Armed Forces personnel are not new issues; we approved N1tn in the budget for security.
“My position is that the military should come out and tell us how they have spent the 25 per cent of the budget we voted for security.”
Some civil rights groups also kicked against the external loan.
A United Kingdom-based political and public affairs commentator, Mr. Stephen Dieseruvwe, said the President should tell Nigerians how security votes had been spent.
He said, “I can tell you without mincing words that Nigerians are very angry about your posture on the fight against corruption and terrorism. Nigerians are getting to a breaking point, and I see it as a time bomb for a bloody disintegration of the geographical expression called Nigeria.”
But, an anti-corruption attorney and civil rights activist, Mr. Ugochukwu Osuagwu, said he supported the loan.
Osuagwu said, “The Nigerian Army has attributed its inability to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency to dearth of funds. N845 billion was budgeted for defence in 2014 and Army got just N4.8 billion this year so far. If the $1billion being sought is for the Army and other security agencies to fight Boko Haram, then it is justifiable.
“The Boko Haram guys are very powerful and we need to curtail them before they penetrate the South. Otherwise, they can wipe out Nigeria. I support the loan, provided it is meant to declare war on Boko Haram in the North and other parts they are located.”
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