The continuation of the House of Representatives’ probe into $500 million Chinese loans for railways in the country was yesterday mired in drama occasioned by disagreement between the probe committee chairman, Hon. Ossai Ossai and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
Trouble began when chairman of the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, Hon. Ossai, accused the Federal Government officials of signing empty repayment loan documents for the development of the Nigerian rail sector even before the terms of the loans were negotiated.
He also said they discovered that the Ministry of Transportation signed a commercial contract worth $33 billion without any clear cut financial arrangement while most of the contract agreements did not have local content clauses.
Ossai said: “We have also seen references made in the commercial contracts regarding BOQs, but none of the commercial contract agreements submitted to us especially by the Ministry of Transport has a single BOQ attachment. “We have noticed from documents available to us that the commercial contracts process signed by the Federal Ministry of Transport alone within this is over $33 billion without any clear cut financing arrangements.
“There are observable issues relating to procurement process, evidences 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 hope to get honest answers that will fine-tune the current process, plan for possible negotiation in order to serve Nigerians better.”
Responding, Amaechi clarified that the Buhari administration has awarded only the Lagos-Ibadan railway line at the cost of $1.6 billion. He said of the amount, while the Chinese government is providing $1.2 billion, the Nigerian government is providing $400 million. “We need to be more patriotic than we are. I have the right to speak, I was also a legislator.
We have awarded only one contract, the $1.6 billion Lagos-Ibadan line. This is the loan for which the Chinese government is providing $1.2 billion, while the Federal Government is providing $400 million. And then, there is about $800 million loan signed by the Jonathan government,” Amaechi explained.
He told the committee that more Nigerians were engaged to work on the railways than Chinese nationals, revealing that presently, 150 Nigerians were being trained in China as part of the contract to come back and manage the railways. “Over 150 Nigerians are in China being trained.
They have built two training institutions in Nigeria – one in Idu and we are building a university in Daura,” Amaechi stated. Amaechi and Ossai engaged in a heated argument on the contents of the loans and other procedures for execution.
Ossai constantly interjected as the minister responded to questions, while the minister also refused to be guided in his response to Ossai’s questions, insisting that he was also a lawmaker and accusing Ossai of duplication of questions.
Responding to a question on the coastal rail line from Lagos to Calabar, Amaechi said: “There is no contract on the coastal rail. Until you get a loan, there is no contract and the indication is that we will not get the loan, so there will be no contract.” He said because of the investigations into the loans by the parliament, the Chinese government may not grant the loans, saying “because of the panel you have set up, we didn’t get the loan.”
But a few minutes after, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila surprisingly walked into the hearing room 028 while Ossai and Amaechi were arguing over the propriety of a ‘civil servant’ without designation, I.J. Uche for jointly signing a contract with the minister.
The speaker went straight to the chairman’s seat and inquired, “Ossai, what’s happening here?” Gbajabiamila, who sat for just a minute quickly announced, “Please, gentlemen, can we just take a break for about 10 to 15 minutes?”
When the sitting resumed after more than 30 minutes, the interaction between the minister and the committee became civil and the investigation went on smoothly. The committee thereafter adjourned till Tuesday for the continuation of proceedings.