Buhari's government in trouble over China loan

A Federal High Court in Abuja recently issued an order requiring the Nigerian government, under President Muhammadu Buhari, to provide an account of the utilization of a $460 million Chinese loan that was intended for the unsuccessful Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) project.

The court further instructed the government to disclose the total amount of money disbursed to Chinese and local companies and contractors involved in the project. Additionally, specific details such as the names of these companies and contractors, as well as the current status of the project's implementation, must be made public.

These orders were made by Hon. Justice Emeka Nwite during the judgment of a Freedom of Information suit, numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/1447/2019, which was filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

This legal action followed a revelation made in 2019 by the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, who stated that Nigeria was servicing the loan but lacked information regarding the project's progress. She remarked, "We are servicing the loan. I have no information on the status of the CCTV project."

In his ruling, Justice Nwite concurred with SERAP's argument that there was a legitimate cause of action against the government. He stressed that accounting for the $460 million Chinese loan expenditure was in the public interest. Refusing SERAP's request for judicial review of the government's actions would be detrimental to justice, according to the judge.

Justice Nwite also emphasized that the Minister of Finance, being responsible for the nation's finances, cannot be ignorant of the amount of money paid to contractors for the Abuja CCTV contract or the funds designated for the construction of the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

Furthermore, Justice Nwite directed the government to provide clarifications regarding whether the sum of N1.5 billion paid for the failed contract to construct the headquarters of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was part of another loan acquired from China.

In his judgment, Justice Nwite stated, "SERAP's core objectives are to promote human rights, transparency and accountability, and anti-corruption in Nigeria. I am of the humble view that there is a reasonable cause of action against the government [through the Minister of Finance], and I hold that SERAP has presented a case to be entitled to the relief sought. It is well established in law that when a document or letter is sent by post, it is presumed to have been delivered. Therefore, based on this legal principle and relying on exhibit OS2, SERAP's Freedom of Information request sent to Ms. Ahmed is considered delivered. Consequently, the government's claim [made through her] that they were not served with the letter is disregarded. I so hold."

The suit involved Ms. Ahmed and the Minister of Police Affairs as defendants. Justice Nwite granted the following mandamus orders against the Nigerian government:

  1. The government, represented by the Minister of Finance, is mandated to provide SERAP with information concerning the total amount of money disbursed to contractors, including specific details such as the names of the local contractors and Chinese companies involved. This information must be derived from the $460 million loan obtained in 2010 from China by the Federal Government of Nigeria to fund the unsuccessful Abuja CCTV contract.T
  2. he government, represented by the Minister of Finance, is directed to disclose details regarding the local companies and Chinese contractors who have received funds from the $460 million loan intended for the financing of the Abuja CCTV project. Furthermore, information on the current status of the project's implementation must be provided.T
  3. he government, represented by the Minister of Finance, is required to furnish details elucidating whether the reported sum of N1.5 billion Naira paid as a mobilization fee to contractors for the construction of the Code of Conduct Bureau Headquarters in Abuja was part of another loan procured from China. This is the court's decision.

Kolawole Oluwadare, the deputy director of SERAP, stated, "The responsibility now lies with President Buhari to promptly comply with the court's orders. We commend Justice Nwite for his courage and wisdom and urge President Buhari and Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, to immediately abide by the court orders. This is a triumph for justice, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability. The judgment demonstrates the way forward in the battle against corruption and the impunity of wrongdoers. We will employ all lawful means to ensure President Buhari's full compliance with this groundbreaking judgment on Chinese loans."

Oluwadare added, "We call on President Buhari to use this judgment as a basis for disclosing the expenditure details of all Chinese loans and other loans obtained by his administration since May 2015."

Data from the Debt Management Office (DMO) reveals that Nigeria's borrowing from China rose from $1.39 billion to $4.29 billion between June 2015 and December 2022.

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