By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has sued President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Goverment before ECOWAS Court over “secrecy in the spending of loans so far obtained, the unsustainable level of borrowing by the government and the 36 states, the crippling debt burden.
In the suit filed before the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja,last week by SERAP lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi, the organization is seeking: “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to issue an immediate moratorium on borrowing by itself, and the 36 states, in conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.”
SERAP is also seeking, “an order directing and compelling the Federal Government to publish details of spending of the loans obtained by governments since 1999 including the list of projects and locations of any such projects on which these loans have been spent.”
In the suit filed by SERAP and onbehalf of concerned Nigerians, the organization maintained that, “Persistent and unsustainable borrowing by the federal and state governments and the crippling debt burden undermine the rights of Nigerians to economic and social development, and are antithetical to the public interest.”
According to SERAP, “There is lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained, and opacity around the terms and conditions in loan agreements, including repayment details for these loans. The details of the projects on which the loans are spent are shrouded in secrecy.
“Long-term unsustainable debt can be a barrier to the government’s ability to mobilize resources for human rights, and may lead to taxes and user fees that impact negatively on vulnerable and marginalized Nigerians.
“If not addressed, the escalating borrowing and looming debt crisis would cripple the ability of both the Federal Government and the 36 states to deliver ensure basic socio-economic rights, such as quality healthcare, education, and clean water of the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors of the population.
“Without a moratorium on borrowing, the Federal 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 marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the population.
“The Federal Government and many of the 36 states would seem to be in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.”
SERAP, quoting reports, stated, “The Senate and House of Representatives recently approved the loans of $5,803,364,553.50 and a grant component of $10 million under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan of the Federal Government.
“This followed previous approvals by the National Assembly of $16.2 (16,230,077,718) billion loan; €1 (1,020,000,000) million and a grant component of $125 million loan; $36.8 billion, €910 million loans, and a grant component of $10 million; $8.3 billion and €490 million loans; $6.1 billion, $1.5 billion and 995 million loans; and $4(4,054,476,863), €710 million and grant component of $125 million.”
“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 $37.9 billion.
“The loans from China alone amount to $3.59bn. According to the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Nigeria faces debt service relative to tax revenues that exceed 20 per cent, with escalating social tensions linked to poverty and inequality.”
“According to the World Bank’s IDA FY21 Report, with debt exposure of $11.7 Billion US Dollars, Nigeria ranked fifth among the top 10 countries with highest debt risk exposure. The top four countries are India with $22 billion, Bangladesh ($18.1 Billion), Pakistan ($16.4 Billion), and Vietnam ($14.1 Billion).”
Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.