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Foreign debts: Obasanjo knocks IBB, Abacha•Mixed reactions trail address to National Assembly

Posted by By JAMES OJO and BASHIR UMAR, Abuja on 2005/07/27 | Views: 2572 |

Foreign debts: Obasanjo knocks IBB, Abacha•Mixed reactions trail address to National Assembly


President Olusegun Obasanjo Tuesday, lampooned his predecessors in office, accusing them of leading the country to the path of debts. Specifically, he said that the nation’s debt profile hit the roofs in the period between 1985 and 1995 when General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Sani Abacha and Ben. Abdulsalami Abubakar were in the saddle.

President Olusegun Obasanjo Tuesday, lampooned his predecessors in office, accusing them of leading the country to the path of debts. Specifically, he said that the nation’s debt profile hit the roofs in the period between 1985 and 1995 when General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Gen. Sani Abacha and Ben. Abdulsalami Abubakar were in the saddle.

Obasanjo spoke on a day Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, urged him to complete all reform programmes before his exit from office in 2007.

Addressing a joint session of the National Assembly on the report of the National Political Reform Conference and the recent debt relief granted Nigeria by the Paris Club, Obasanjo accused past leaders of squandering foreign loans obtained in the name of development.

"They signed all sorts of agreement with outrageous interest rates, squandered loans obtained in the name of development, drew down on foreign loans without executing any jobs, and in other cases stole or wasted such loans.

"To make matters worse for Nigeria, there was not one identifiable agency responsible for managing the debt. There was inadequate debt data recording system, poor information flow across agencies and levels of government, loan records were poorly kept and not only did past governments pay little or no attention to debt management, but the country also lacked a
clearly defined debt strategy," the president lamented.

Obasanjo told the National Assembly that getting debt relief was not a tea party as his administration, from the start, took it upon itself to get the nation out of the debt trap. Most of the creditor nations, he explained, did not believe that Nigeria deserved debt forgiveness, adding that some said it openly by making reference to the country’s oil deposit.

"I must confess that at some point, it looked like we were fighting a lost battle. I know many times my Honourable Minister of Finance wept for Nigeria. Even when the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on government to stop servicing the debts and to declare a unilateral default, we were cautious," the president said.

The president listed six benefits of the debt relief, which included a direct saving on debt service repayment, interest, surcharges and other fees, improvement on the nation’s credit worthiness in the global community and stoppage of all debt rescheduling.

With the debt relief, Obasanjo said "the $1 billion currently spent on debt servicing obligations would now be available for investment in pro-people and pro-development issues, especially heath, education, water, roads, and food security."

Nigeria, he explained, would no more be branded a bad and doubtful debt country while new investment would create jobs and new wealth that would translate to improved standard of living.
Presenting the report of the National Political Reform Conference, Obasanjo challenged the National Assembly to adopt and adapt parts of the report for constitutional and legislative work.
"Whatever issues you consider of relevance that will enhance the constitution and whatever you consider relevant to existing or new legislation, I put the record before you for your necessary consideration and action," he tasked the lawmakers.

He threw the challenge back to the National Assembly, which had kicked against the confab, on the need to move the nation forward in the quest for political stability, adding that two copies of the 30 volume report had been made available for the perusal of each legislator.
Masari, in a vote of thanks, praised the doggedness of the president, which led to the granting of debt relief, but stressed the need to expedite actions on the reform programmes embarked by the president before the expirations of his tenure in 2007.
The comment of the Speaker drew wild applause from the members, apparently to confirm their disenchantment with the campaign for an extension of the tenure of the present administration by another two years.
Meanwhile, members of the National Assembly received President Obasabjo’s address with caution, calling for details of the relief.

Hon. Sani Ahmed Toro of Toro Federal Constituency in Bauchi State described the president’s address as pregnant. "We want details. We want something we can work with. We want to know what is contained in the debt profile. For the confab report, it must go through the normal procedures. This is why I think the leadership of the House must set up a committee to carefully examine the report in details and advise on what to do."

Hon U.S.A Igwesi commended the president for the success achieved in the drive for debt forgiveness. He said that the President’s address had opened his eyes to the gains of the debt relief, promising that the House would come up with "sparkling laws" that would ensure that the grassroots benefit from the debt forgiveness. He said report of the national confab would be given adequate attention.

However, Hon. Aliyu Farouk from Jigawa State, said there was noting to celebrate in what the president told the National Assembly. "The tools we use here in the National Assembly are bills and motions. What has the president come to do? I will say he has come for a party without drinks. The report of the confab is not what we need. What we need is a bill on the report, we are not the one to draw the bill, so I can’t understand."

Before the House could debate the report or treat the issue of debt forgiveness, Aliyu said that the president must first tell it where he got the N2 billion spent on the confab, adding that the Minister of Finance would be summoned to shed lights on the debt relief.
Hon Abike Dabiri said that there was nothing wrong in the president addressing the National Assembly, but harped on the need to promote justice, which she noted is the bedrock of democracy.

Hon Bako Sarai from Kano State was skeptical about the debt relief. He said that he would need to be educated on the gains and how to pay the balance. "I need to see the details of the used to write off the debts. Also, I need to see the breakdown of how we are going to pay the remaining debts," he said.

Hon. Shehu Kagara and Hon. Saiki said they would have to study the details of the report and the debt relief before they would be in a position to comment on the two issues that brought the president to the National Assembly.
While there was disagreement on the president’s speech from the House of Representatives, senators who bared their minds, said that they were ready to work with the president by studying the reports carefully.


Senate President, Ken Nnamani, who presided over the joint session, expressed confidence in the ability of the National Assembly to give the president maximum support to deliver his lofty programmes.

Senator Adeleke Mamora (Lagos State) said that it was good that the president spoke on the need for give and take so that the country would move forward.
Maturity, he said, was what the nation needs at all level of governance and called on people holding power to put the nation first in everything.
Senator Yari Ghandi (Sokoto South) said that Tuesday was the first time members of the National Assembly would be receiving detail report about the debt relief and the outcome of the confab.

"Now that the president has explained to us in details, we are now in a position to look at the papers concerning the agreement dispassionately and to consider the merit," he said.
Before President Obasanjo addressed, the House, observed a minute silence in the memory of Senator Joshua Adagba from Benue West Senatorial District who died on Monday at the National Hospital, Abuja.
The late Senator Adagba replaced controversial Senator Kennedy Waku.

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