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Buhari’s $100m Loan Bazaar

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Pius Mordi

Like a mere whimper, the revelation by Mrs. Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, Minister of Women Affairs, that the initial tranche of $100 million from the World Bank $500 million loan for her Ministry under former President Muhammadu Buhari was lavished on conferences, ‘consultancy’ and ‘advocacy’ has gone almost unacknowledged.

The National Assembly which gleefully approved virtually every loan request from then Buhari and prides itself as constitutionally given the task of oversight affairs has gone mute. Gone are the usual sanctimonious calls for probe that routinely revealed nothing.

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But the Minister’s revelation only confirmed what Nigerians had also known about the loans. When Buhari took over power in 2015, total foreign debt by the previous administrations stood at $7.3 billion. Five years later by December 2020, Nigeria’s external loan reached $28.57 billion, meaning an extra $21.27 billion had been accumulated under the Buhari administration — three times the combined amount by past governments since 1999. However, that was just the beginning. Under Dr. Bukola Saraki in Buhari’s first term, there was a measure of restraint as the then Senate President demanded but was not given the details of the projects some of the loans were projected to fund. For this, Saraki was blamed for the failure of Buhari’s first term for failing to approve every loan request no matter how frivolous.

The coming of Dr. Ahmad Lawan in 2019 opened the floodgate of loan applications and approvals from the Senate. One of the most frivous was the $500 million given to Lai Mohammed, then Minister of Information. Defending the loan application which was a component of the $29.96 billion sought by Buhari before the Senate committee on local anf foreign loans in December 2020, the Minister said he needed the money to turn the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) into our own CNN. For good measure, NTA although a public broadcaster is commercially oriented. It does not receive nor require subvention from the government.

The loan request was nebulous because NTA did not need $100 million to upgrade. Nobody knew that more than Lai Mohammed himself but he also knew a party was going on. He could not resist to be part of it. And Lawan’s Senate could not have pleaded ignorance.
Nigerians, however, were not fooled by what was playing out. From the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to even the social media supporters of the federal government, they were riled.

J. J. Omojuwa, one such social influencer, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “If Lai Mohammed wants NTA to compete with CNN, privatise it. CNN doesn’t belong to the American government. Unshackle NTA from Startimes, privatise it and focus on endeavours that directly lift Nigerians out of poverty. Enough of this jamboree style of governance”. At today’s exchange rate, that $500 million amounts to N750 billion.

A jamboree it truly was and we may not know how the loans were disbursed. Kennedy-Ohanenye gave an insight on how the loan was disbursed. Lawan and his group never sought explanation from Buhari on what projects would be executed with the loans. It was a bazaar for all in government and governance became one huge crime scene. By the third quarter of 2023, public debt had hit $113.35 billion, a huge accumulation of debt that could not be justified by the projects Buhari executed.

We now know what actually became of most of the loan. It is a lead that the Senate, the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) ought to have followed. At the June 24 media dialogue by the Daily Trust Group, Kair Yusuf, its head, gave a definitiveverdict.

“The Buhari team, by most economic measures, left things worse than they met them. They may have their excuses, and are actively trying to whitewash this record. But as the Nigerian economy goes into a tailspin, its managers in the last decade cannot account for their mandate, in one or two book launches,” Yusuf said.
If the funds allocated to Ministry of Women Affairs was so brazenly stolen, the fate of the huge allocations to the Ministry of Defence for combating pervasive insecurity and banditry is best imagined. Insecurity or lack of it has become the most lucrative industry in the country.

Every year, over a billion dollars is allocated to the industry and nobody demands to know how they spend the money. On June 24, 2024, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Saad Abubakar III, declared at the North-West Peace and Security Summit in Katsina State that it will take decades for the bandit-ravaged North-West geopolitical zone to come out of the menacing security challenge.
But the main actors are still there.

Ahmad Lawan, Senate President at that season of infamy, is still there. His successor, Godswill Akpabio, was in the mainstream of Senate leadership at the time. More importantly, it is still the same ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The party is in full bloom, the actors are not backing down and Aso Rock is not inclined to chart a fresh course. But you have to be concerned for Kennedy-Ohanenye. Was her revelation “authorised”?

*What’s Tinubu’s N50,000 called?*
It’s all about branding, isn’t it. Prior to the 2019 presidential election, Trader Moni was launched where N10,000 was randomly distributed to some Nigerians. It fell on then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to junket across the country to distribute the money. It was not lost on Nigerians that as soon as the election was won, Trader Moni ceased.

Now President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has begun his own giveaway. According to reports, 3.6 million Nigerian families will receive N50,000 each. My worry is that it is yet to be branded. Is it to enable the beneficiaries start a business or just buy food to quench their hunger? Given the collapse of the naira, Buhari’s N10,000 Trader Moni had greater value than Tinubu’s N50,000.

At the end of the exercise, up to N180 billion would have been spent. What impact will the humongous amount have on the economy and the living conditions of the people? How are the 3.6 million households going to be determined? Every family in the country is in dire straits. Who will be left out? If it is not just about spending money for the sake of it, those are some of the factors that should count.


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