Account for N5.9tn, $4.6bn Loans, SERAP Gives Sani, Others Ultimatum

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has given the Kaduna State Governor, Uba Sani, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, and other 35 state governors one-week ultimatum to provide the loan agreements and spending details of the loans “obtained by their states and the FCT.”

SERAP’s requests also included the “details and locations of projects executed with the loans,” which amount to N5.9 trillion and $4.6 billion.

This was disclosed in a statement signed by the organisation’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare; a copy of which was made available newsmen.

SERAP urged the state governors and the FCT minister to “widely publish copies” of its requests as this would help keep Nigerians in the know of how their states’ governments spent their loans, and also ensure that “persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties in the management of public funds.”

SERAP also urged them to “promptly invite the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the spending of the domestic and external loans obtained by your state and the FCT.”

The organisation noted that its request followed the disclosure made by Sani, on Saturday, when he lamented the huge debt inherited from his predecessor, Nasir El-Rufai, on May 29, 2023.

Sani said the state is now left with a few amounts, not enough to pay salary, adding that his administration inherited a total of $587m, N85bn and 115 contract liabilities from the ex-governor.

The organisation stated, “In the Freedom of Information requests dated March 30, 2024 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare,” the organisation said, “It is in the public interest to publish copies of the loan agreements and details of how the loans obtained are spent.

“Widely publishing copies of the loan agreements and spending details of the loans obtained would ensure that persons with public responsibilities are answerable to the people for the performance of their duties in the management of public funds.”

The FOI requests, read in part, “We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel you and your state to comply with our request in the public interest.

“SERAP is seriously concerned that many of the country’s 36 states and FCT are allegedly mismanaging public funds which may include domestic and external loans obtained from bilateral and multilateral institutions and agencies.

 “According to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, the total public domestic debt portfolio for the country’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory is N5.9 trillion. The total public external debt portfolio is $4.6 billion.”

The statement read further, “Many states and the FCT reportedly owe civil servants’ salaries and pensions. Several states are borrowing to pay salaries. Millions of Nigerians resident in your state and the FCT continue to be denied access to basic public goods and services such as quality education and healthcare.

“Several states including your state are also reportedly spending public funds which may include the domestic and external loans to fund unnecessary travels, buy exotic and bulletproof cars and generally fund the lavish lifestyles of politicians.”

The organisation shared that it was concerned “that the domestic and external loans obtained by your state and the FCT are vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement.

“Your government has a responsibility to ensure transparency and accountability in how any loans obtained by your state are spent, to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.

“The effective operation of representative democracy depends on the people being able to scrutinise, discuss, and contribute to government decision making, including on the spending of loans obtained by your state and the FCT.

“To do this, they need information to enable them to participate more effectively in the management of public funds by their state government and the FCT.”

The organisation further stated “that there is a significant risk of mismanagement or diversion of funds linked to loans obtained by state governments including your state. The accounts of Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT are generally not open to public scrutiny.

“Your state has obligations under international anticorruption and human rights law, including a responsibility to promote transparency and accountability in the management of public funds, prevent mismanagement or diversion of public funds, and redress any abuse of public trust.

“Opacity in the spending of loans obtained by states has continued to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of the citizens and the public interest.

“Your state cannot hide under the excuse that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to your state to refuse to provide the details being sought, as your state also has clear legal obligations to provide the information as prescribed by provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and. Enforcement) Act.”

Punch/Adebayo Yusuf

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