President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday queried the Ministry of Finance over alleged diversion of foreign loans obtained for rail projects by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The President, according to a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, issued the query in his bid to get clarification on the alleged diversion of a substantial part of a $1.005bn loan federal government obtained from the Chinese Exim Bank for construction of a standard gauge rail line linking Lagos to Kano.
Buhari’s decision to query the ministry followed the visit of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar, who briefed the President on the ministry’s activities at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. During the briefing, the president was reported to have expressed his disappointment that foreign loans obtained in line with signed agreements were moved from one project to another. “I hope that due process was followed before such diversions were carried out. Taking money from one project to another has to be done properly,” the President said.
Bashar was said to have informed the President that only $400m of the $1.005bn loan remained with the finance ministry. Thus, the remaining amount in the ministry is $605m (N119.16bn).
The President regretted that government had over the years failed to meet its counterpart funding obligations on some projects, leading to such projects being either uncompleted or abandoned.
He added that there was a clear need to “streamline, harmonise and prioritise ongoing projects in the transportation sector.”
Bashar also briefed the President on other challenges facing the transport and maritime sectors, such as encroachment on railway land, lack of security on inland waterways and the confused nature of agreements between the Nigeria Ports Authority and ports concessionaires.
He later told State House correspondents that the ministry would meet the December deadline for the completion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail track.
He said: “The rehabilitation programme of the old gauge lines, as you are aware, we have completed the Lagos-Kano and it is operational. Twice a week, people move from Lagos to Kano and back to Lagos. We have also recently commenced operation from Kano to Port Harcourt, and Port Harcourt to Gombe and from Gombe upwards we have some challenges. With regard to Abuja-Kaduna, track has been completely laid and we are now waiting for locomotives to arrive, which have been ordered and paid for. Our belief is that we will meet the deadline of December, 2015.”
By Olisemeka Obeche