May 12, 2020

COVID-19: Reps seek review, cancellation of Chinese loans to Nigeria


…to probe all China/Nigeria bilateral agreements since 2000

…fear economic colonialism of Africa looms

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

House of Representatives yesterday mandated its Committees on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, Finance as well as Debt Management, DMO to liaise with the Ministry of Finance and the DMO office Debt to seek for review or outright cancellation of latest China loans to Nigeria, on the principle of force majeur.
The House is also set to empanel a high powered Investigation Committee to look into all extant China/Nigeria loan agreements since 2000 with a view to ascertaining their viability, regularising and renegotiating them.

Also read: FoI: SERAP asks finance minister to disclose details of spending on failed $460m CCTV, other Chinese loans

The House said that that National Assembly had been put in the dark on how most of the Chinese loans were collected and utilised by the federal government.
The resolutions are however coming on the heels of the coronavirus pandemic which originated from Wuhan, China last year and had affected the global community.
The parliament which also underscored an urgent need to subject all subsisting Nigeria/ China contractual loan agreements to forensic fiscal scrutiny and review noted that widespread global concern about the fraudulent, irregular and underhand characteristics of Chinese loan contracts with African states.
At the moment, there are at least 17 Chinese loans to fund different projects across the country.
The House stated that the loans had almost resulted in a new form of economic colonialism foist by China on the Africa continent.
Motion to this effect titled “Urgent Need to Review and Renegotiate Existing China/Nigeria Loan Agreements” was moved at Tuesday plenary under matters of urgent public importance by Hon. Ben Rollands Igbakpa from Delta State and considered by the lawmakers.
According to Igbakpa, the House was aware that records from Nigeria’s Debt Management Office ( DMO ) revealed that the People’s Republic of China emerged Nigeria’s major creditor under the bilateral deals, with $2.3b, out of $3.3b and that The EXIM Bank of China is Nigeria’s biggest bilateral creditor in nearly 2 decades, having lent the African largest economy $6.5 billion (or N1.9 trillion) since 2002.
“The House is “further aware that based on separate Freedom of Information replies by the Finance Ministry and the Debt Management Office, DMO, and published by Guardian Sunday Magazine of 03 November 2019, Nigeria has obtained 17 Chinese loans to fund projects across sectors since 2002 as follows:
“Transportation and ICT sectors have six projects each financed by loans from the Chinese bank, while energy, agriculture and water sectors, respectively, have three and two projects tied to Chinese loans.
“Notes further that according to the Daily Post of Sept 5, 2018, the first Chinese loan to Nigeria was agreed on March 27, 2002, as follows: $114.89 million each for constructing two 335 MW gas power plants, namely Omotosho and Papalanto (Olorunshogo) in Ondo and Ogun State, respectively. Both plants were completed in 2007. The loan was obtained at six per cent interest rate. The loan covered 65 per cent of the costs of the project, while Nigeria then covered the 35 per cent balance”, the lawmaker said.
Igbakpa said that four months after, two other loans totalling $159.83 million for rural telephony were offered at a 3.5 per cent interest rate.
“Then from 2006 to September 2018, the country obtained 13 more loans, at between 2.50 per cent and 3 per cent interest rates. The last loan obtained by the government from China was $328 million used for the National ICT Infrastructure Backbone II Project. At the last count, Nigeria has obtained 17 Chinese loans to fund different categories of capital projects and Nigeria would still be serving the Chinese loans till around 2038, the maturity date for the last loans obtained in 2018”, he said.
The lawmaker also expressed concern that the IMF as reported in the dailies had raised the alarm that most of the Chinese deals were not Paris Club compliant, and for which The World Bank has blacklisted six Chinese companies currently operating in Nigeria over alleged fraudulent corrupt practices including deceptive tactics, illicit trade, extortion, Greek gifts and neo-colonial proclivities.
He said that “the companies, according to an announcement published on the World Bank’s website, are CCECC Nigeria Railway Company Limited, CRCC Petroleum and Gas Company Limited and CCECC Nigeria Company Limited.
“Others are China Railway Construction (International) Nigeria Company Limited, China Railway 18th Bureau Nigeria Engineering Company Limited and CCECC Nigeria Lekki (FTA) Company Limited.”
Igbakpa added that one of the blacklisted companies, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), is the major vehicle through which Chinese projects in Nigeria are financed.
“This much has been corroborated by Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who stated that since China was financing the projects through the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), the contractors had 100 per cent execution right on them. This means that materials and skills are imported from China thus undermining local industry and jobs”, he said.
Further expressing his concern, the lawmaker listed some of the latest loans tied to the CCECC reported in the papers as follows: “On railway alone, this administration has recently signed loans mainly categorised under Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’s government to government agreements of approximately $17 billion with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Railway Construction Corporation.”
He recalled that “The Federal Government in 2016 signed a $5.1billion Kano – Kaduna and Port Harcourt- Calabar rail contracts; in 2018, the country signed a $6.7billion for Ibadan -Kano rail; it signed in 2019, a deal worth $1.488billion for Lagos – Ibadan rail and again in 2019 signed another loan for construction of $3.9billion Abuja – Warri rail.”
Igbakpa also stated that “amidst widespread allegations of heavily inflated Chinese contracts and fears expressed by stakeholders that most of the projects allegedly did not follow extant regulations, particularly the Public Procurement Act, which enforces tendering or competitive bidding.
“Similarly, industry watchers have also raised fears over why the Public Procurement Bureau (PPB), the National Assembly and Debt Management Office were bypassed in the approval and execution of these loan regimes, knowing full well that 70 per cent of the corruption in the country is being fuelled by contracts.”
He noted that Nigeria would be the worst hit for the loans.
“The House notes too that Nigeria is the most vulnerable in the bilateral loan pacts with China because we are susceptible to currency volatility risks. Such risks, most often are transferred to the country with a weaker economy. In this connection, we must heed the warning of the IMF Director of Monetary and Capital Markets Department, Tobias Andrian, who said in the Guardian Sunday Magazine of
03 November 2019, that because these Chinese loans do not conform to the Paris Club standards, if there is any debt restructuring down the road one day, that can be very unfavourable to those debtor countries.
“Further concerned that according to Business Day, May 14, 2019, countries like Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Djibouti, Zambia, Namibia, Kenya and Angola among other countries are at the verge of forfeiting their infrastructures to China over unpaid debts, industry watchers such as Obadiah Mailafiya, a former Deputy Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, who played a key role in Nigeria’s debt relief negotiations with the Paris Club of public creditors in 2005, and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili who also helped Nigeria’s debt forgiveness during her time as Director at the World Bank have warned that the assistance from China will come with a price of economic takeover if Nigeria is unable to repay her loan. Chinese attitude to Indebtedness is the hardest in the world, they don’t offer debt relief or cancellation.
“Further worried by the startling revelation as published in an online article by Mma Ama Ekeruche in Stears Business: Economy 26 Oct, 2018, that Chinese companies generate their highest revenue from Nigeria. Between 2000 and 2016, these companies have earned $34.2 billion from implementing projects in Nigeria, some of which are tied to loan agreements. On employment, about 64,500 Chinese workers are employed locally thus we are forgoing alternative streams of income and jobs”, he said.
Adopting the motion, the House resolved that henceforth, the need for loans should be in tandem with statutory obligations as prescribed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act.