Yusuf Ali, Abuja

Senators have put another hurdle in the way of the presidential request for approval to obtain $29.9billion loans for infrastructure.

Last week, the Senate threw out the request – on the grounds that it was not accompanied with how the loan would be used and repaid.

President Muhammadu Buhari, according to sources, has secured the understanding of Senate President Bukola Saraki that the request will be reconsidered when re-presented, with details, expectedly this week. But senators are pressing that the request should be taken for public hearing before approval, The Nation learnt.

The public hearing clause is one of the conditions most of the senators have given Saraki before approving the loans.

It was unclear yesterday whether the Senate President will accede to this condition.

A source in the National Assembly said: “We are amenable to the re-presentation of the request for the loans by the President. The law or our Standing Rules allows it.

“Most of us have however told the Senate President that we should subject the request to public hearing because the debts will be paid back in 20 years by the next generation.

“Also, if ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo could secure debt relief of over $30billion, Nigerians need to be part of this latest decision to incur $29.9billion.

“Some of us feel that if we throw the request open, we may get alternative ideas from Nigerians.”

A first term Senator said: “We are pushing for public hearing to enable Nigerians scrutinise what the loans will be used for. We want them to buy into it.

“Some of us will also be able to sleep well that the decision to obtain the loans has the backing of all Nigerians.”

A ranking Senator said: “We are not opposed to a fresh request from the President but we prefer public hearing. I want a situation whereby I will be able to tell my children why the Senate supported the taking of the loans.

“We cannot take things for granted again. The government said it will spend about N500billion on social investment but up till now, Senators, members of the House of Representatives and even governors are kept in the dark.

“We do not know the shape of the programmes, how beneficiaries were drawn up and whether or not the teachers to be recruited are relevant to the need of each of the 36 states and the FCT.

“If we are unsure of how N500billion will be spent, then we need to subject the $29.9billion loans to public hearing.”

Another ranking Senator said: “Public hearing is not a must when the Executive needs loans. All we have to do is to refer the request to the Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, which is headed by Sen. Shehu Sani.

“Our colleagues are demanding for public hearing but this will amount to double standards. When we got requests for loans from Edo and Lagos states, we did not conduct any hearing. We considered the applications on merit.”
“We will leave the discretion to the President of the Senate.”

The President had said the external borrowing plan would be used for infrastructure, agriculture, health, education , water supply , growth and employment generation , poverty reduction through social safety net programmes and governance and financial management reforms etc.

He said: “The total cost of the projects and programmes under the borrowing (rolling) plan is $29.960billion made up of proposed projects and programmes loan of $11.274billion, Special National Infrastructure projects $10.686billion, Euro bonds of $4.5 billion and Federal Government budget support of $3.5billion.”

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