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April 21, 2024

Government loans: Crocodile tears in Kaduna, by Tonnie Iredia

Government loans: Crocodile tears in Kaduna, by Tonnie Iredia

Across the globe, governments are known to borrow to make-up for the difference between their expenditures and the incomes they are able to raise from taxes and sundry sources. Thus, government borrowings have some advantages, the most prominent being that of executing huge infrastructural projects that can hardly be accommodated by readily available resources. It is therefore unfair to blame any administration that is able to articulate the expedience of government debts.

At the same time, government spokespersons have never wasted time in propagating the professional argument that what people should worry about is not loans but the use into which they are put. At no time in Nigerian history was this better done than the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari who had a friendly National Assembly that was prepared to approve whatever loan he requested. 

The argument that loans are not bad on their own is supported by the fact that Lagos State whose loans have always been larger than those of any other state has been breathing well.  The implication of this is that many loans are misused; otherwise, why can’t everyone be like Lagos? In truth, many citizens hardly know or see the projects that were allegedly executed with the excessive loans that are sourced at all levels of government in Nigeria.

Those who imagined that our immediate past Minister of Works did so much on roads because of several speeches must have become confused when his successor was recently seen shedding tears over the state of federal roads thereby giving credence to the suspicion that loans sourced by Nigerian governments for project implementation were usually shared by government officials.

While disclosing that Nigeria’s debt profile had risen to as high as 60 percent from 10.4, Senator Shehu Sani who previously represented Kaduna Central in the Senate did assert that 80 percent of loans collected by state governments in Nigeria were shared “among Governors, loyal politicians and other cronies.” He did not even need to provide any proof of the alleged sharing because ordinary citizens must have believed him as the then Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts. No one else followed up on Shehu Sani’s allegation until the recent alarm by Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State that the excessive loans he inherited were about to overwhelm his administration.

Whereas the inherited burden listed by the Governor was quite large, there are ample reasons why Uba Sani could be accused of shedding crocodile tears or simply called insincere tears of sorrow. To start with, the Governor was not just part of those who negotiated the loans, he was actually the guarantor. During its negotiations, Uba Sani who was then a senator made many critical statements among them the following: a) ‘I can vouch for the Kaduna State Government under Mallam Nasir El-Rufai to prudently deploy the loan from the World Bank to enhance the welfare and wellbeing of the good people of Kaduna State, b) ‘I am extremely happy and proud of the role some of us played in securing this loan for Kaduna State’ and c) ‘In fact, hold me responsible if Governor Nasir El Rufai fails or disappoints on this score.’

Another reason why Governor Uba Sani may not find many people applauding his new posture is because, his supposed revelation was not a discovery. His predecessor never hid it as he even publicly announced the same state of affairs at his valedictory in May 2023 while exuding confidence in the capacity of his worthy successor to quickly turn around the situation. Even if he discovered the problem just as he assumed office, the game plan of attracting public sympathy some 10 months later has little efficacy. In fact, the strategy of shedding crocodile tears or getting some stakeholders to join in trumpeting the tears cannot redress the situation. In like manner, the division of Kaduna into two groups of pro and anti-El Rufai camps is essentially an old game of distraction.

Already, those who always extract politics from every issue have taken positions. The woman leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC in the state, Mrs Maryam Suleiman took the lead by openly deprecating what she considers to be Governor Sani’s disloyalty to former Governor El Rufai. In return, party executives who are falling on one another to prove that they are loyalists of the new chief executive quickly suspended the woman leader from the party. Unfortunately, none of the actions addresses any of the aspects of the huge debt profile.  Members of the State House of Assembly who are ordinarily better positioned to handle the situation are busy pursuing shadows. Some of the legislators are talking tough in what looks like after-event-wisdom. Were they not the ones who approved the loans? If not, where was their courage in taking-up a governor who supposedly spent unapproved and unappropriated loans?

It is because democracy provides for checks and balances that the legislature is empowered to check the executive. But in Nigeria there are no checks but collaboration and collusion to extort the citizens. It is therefore not a surprise that Kaduna legislators did not use their oversight mandate to unravel numerous projects allegedly paid for but reportedly not executed in their state. Painfully, such a major breach did not amount to gross misconduct to the legislators; instead, they waited till the exit of the governor concerned before joining the crocodile choir. All through Nigeria, legislators are like that – economically brave but politically naïve hence they understand gross misconduct to refer to only when a deputy governor has a disagreement with his principal or where their own Speaker cannot fight for more allowances for them.

The crocodile tears currently in progress in Kaduna state have yielded a few fruits. The first is that the governor is virtually now assured that there would be no strike in the state in the nearest future having convinced labour leaders of his predicament. Ayuba Suleima boss of the State Chapter of the Nigerian Labour Congress NLC, has already announced the readiness of his workers to really sympathise with the governor because the latter was “open and we were convinced on the issue of the debt.” On his part, the TUC’s boss, Abdullahi Danfulani said they had useful meetings with the governor to thrash out a number of issues, especially the stewardship of the former governor. According to Danfulani, TUC is now hoping that Governor Sani “will do his bit.” In any case, the governor was smart enough to pick one of the comrades, Adamu Samaila as his Special Adviser on Labour Matters.

Other critical stakeholders have also showed interest in the huge debt profile of Kaduna State. The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the Northern States and FCT Chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have all called on   Governor Sani, and indeed, all state governors, to publish detailed reports on the state of loans secured by their predecessors. Alas, such a great suggestion would take too long to yield quick-wins. A small task force in the Governor’s office should immediately swing into action to pursue all those who received contract funds to return to work or refund payments made to them. It is not only the contractors who have abandoned their assignments that should be rounded-up now; also, to be held, are all public officials serving or retired that issued certificate of completion for uncompleted jobs thereby empowering any person to feel entitled to the balance sum of N115 billion.

Before Governor Uba Sani took office, the state government obtained a loan approved by the State House of Assembly for N3.5 billion for security gadgets in view of the escalating insecurity crisis in the state. If it is true that such gadgets are now nowhere to be found, it should not be difficult to arrest the suppliers or those who took delivery of them. There is also a previous $26 million loan obtained from Indian Exim Bank to equip some 200 primary healthcare centres as well as street lights that are said to have vanished. They should be located immediately instead of concentrating energy on shedding crocodile tears.  This is because some of the items may well be in the custody of those currenting berating El Rufai. Many wailers did that before in some of our states.