By Isaac Asabor
If there is any leader that has always held me spellbound each time he mounts the soap box to speak, he is the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. No doubt, he has an oratorical prowess that is capable of arresting the attention of any of his listeners. What about his dress sense? I usually see him as one that has a likable dress sense that would make him fit into the crowd of other Nigerians that are not on the same rung with him on the social ladder. Without being funny, he has stylishly endeared me to the wearing of just a shirt and trouser when on serious business. The endearment unarguably made me follow him along the railway within the Agege axis sometime last year when he came for an inspection tour. This goes to show that he is a personality that is capable of inspiring the rest of us, particularly the youths. No doubt, many youths apparently look up to him.
But as it is today, favorable perceptions about him may likely erode on account of the position he has taken over the Chinese $22.5b loan which Nigeria is seeking from China.
Paradoxically, beneath his oratorical prowess and likable dress sense is his damnable disregard for public opinion, which is an indispensable element of an effective and efficient practice of public relations. Before now, I erroneously perceived him to be a leader that understands the concept of public relations as he has always been a newsman’s delight, and has in the same vein been earning favorable mention in the media; from both Nigerian and foreign Journalists.
For the sake of clarity, the Federal Government is seeking the National Assembly’s approval for a $22.5b loan from China for railway modernization. A breakdown of the loan shows that the Federal Government is seeking $5.3b for the construction of Ibadan-Kano railway line, $3b for Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, $11.1b for Lagos-Calabar and $3.5b for Abuja to Itakpe.
However, given the inclusion of Sovereign Guarantee clause in the contract document, which aroused the curiosity of lawmakers in the House of Representatives, not a few Nigerians are at the moment worried that if the process leading to the granting of the loan is not meticulously followed that it may lead Nigeria to the forfeiture of her sovereignty, not few Nigerians became worried when the disclosure was made public.
Notwithstanding the apprehension that is being exhibited by not a few Nigerians, the somewhat self-opinionated stance which the minister has taken appears to be worsening the issue. It has become more worrisome as Nigerians cannot fold their hands and allow the decision of one man to mortgage their future.
The minister assured that Nigeria was not in any way ceding its sovereignty to China, explaining that the Sovereign Guarantee clause in the loan agreement was to assure China that it can take over the asset constructed with the loan, should Nigeria default.
The minister gave the assurance while speaking on a television programme, on Sunday, August 2, 2020. He said: “The terms contained in the agreement is not as if we are signing off the country’s sovereignty. What we do is that we give a sovereign guarantee, which is an immunity clause. The clause is that in case the country defaults, China will come to collect the items agreed upon.”
He assured that the Chinese would not take over assets that were not constructed with the money, in case of default. And should the asset depreciate; then the country can discuss other assets they can take over to recoup the loans.
If I may ask at this juncture, what happens if Amaechi makes a mistake in this deal to the detriment of the country and her citizens? To me, the minister should go beyond the Rhetoric, and be liberal enough to accommodate the contributions of other Nigerians, particularly those that are in relevant standing committees in the House of Assembly who have the mandate over the loan issue. After all, an African proverb says, “Only one man cannot taste palm wine, and endorse it as tasty for others to believe”. In African parlance, particularly in Nigeria, the tasting has to go round before it would be declared to be “sweet” by nodding their heads and excitingly licking their lips.
The need for the minister to go the whole hog in the process of seeking the loan cannot be far fetched as it would be recalled at this juncture that World Leaders at the UN General Assembly’s Plenary in September 2019 denounced breaches of Sovereignty in their collective efforts to settle conflict, tackle climate change during debate.
At the debate, Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, vowed robust response to any such violation, as others call for greater investments in building resilient societies.
One of the things world leaders told the General Assembly during the annual general debate at the Plenary was that international peace and security are gravely threatened when national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, principles on which the United Nations was founded, are undermined and violated.
Driving the point home, Rouhani vowed that his country will respond decisively and strongly to any transgression of its security and territorial integrity. He warned, “Our region is on the edge of collapse, as a single blunder can fuel a big fire”. The United States is no-one’s neighbour in the region nor the guardian of any State. The solution for peace, security and stability should be sought within the region, he said, adding that regional issues are bigger than the United States’ ability to resolve them.
Against the foregoing nexus, it may not be wrong to say that Robert Mugabe of blessed memory in one of his quote said, “If the choice were made, one for us to lose our sovereignty and become a member of the Commonwealth or remain with our sovereignty and lose the membership of the Commonwealth, I would say let the Commonwealth go”.
It would be recalled again in this context that the minister had noted that the interest rate on the loan is about 2.8 percent, spanning a period of 20 years and has a seven-year moratorium, saying with such terms, it is impossible the country will not be able to pay back within that period.
In the same vein, he disclosed that the Federal Government has started paying back $36m out of the $500m loan collected by the Goodluck Jonathan administration for the construction of Abuja-Kaduna standard gauge railway.
On why he is asking the National Assembly to stop probing the loan, Amaechi said: “If you frighten the Chinese that they won’t recoup the loan, they will pull back. They want us to show them evidence that we will pay back, and one of the evidence is that waive backs the immunity clause, so that they can take their assets. It is the immunity clause that is being debated.”
To a layman, the minister has, to all intents and purposes, brilliantly engaged the lawmakers in the debate. To my view, the deal, as sensitive as it is, should not be left for only Amaechi to consummate.
Our lawmakers and even the minister should not forget so soon the botched gas supply contract that resulted in the $8.9billion arbitrary award against Nigeria by a UK court last year. The founder of the company at the heart of the controversy at the time, Michael Quinn, named key Nigerian government officials who played different roles in the process that led to the contract. Using the foregoing as an eye-opener, we should not make similar mistakes again in this Chinese loan that involves a humongous amount of funds, and posing as a threat to the sovereignty of our nation.