By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, asked the Ministry of Finance to explain why the foreign loans obtained for various key rail projects by the Federal Government were diverted elsehow under the watch of former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The President issued the query on a day he set up a Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption headed by a prominent professor of law and rights activist, Professor Itse Sagay.
President Buhari also dismissed the general notion that Nigeria is a rich country, arguing that indices and parameters of evaluating a rich country such as economic advancement and improved social services are lacking in Nigeria.
The President, who spoke at the end of a presentation by the Ministry of Transport by the Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Mohammed Bashar at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said it was disappointing to find out that foreign loans obtained in line with signed agreements were moved from one project to another. According to a statement by Mallam Garba Shehu, his Senior Special Assistant on Media & Publicity, President Buhari was reacting to the specific instance of the diversion of a substantial part of the $1.005 billion loan from the Chinese Exim Bank, obtained for the construction of a standard gauge rail line linking Lagos with Kano but which was moved elsewhere.
The loans were obtained from China in 2012 under President Goodluck Jonathan, while Dr. Okonjo-Iweala served as Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy.
The Permanent Secretary had informed the President that only $400 million of that loan remained with the Ministry of Finance.
The President then warned: “I hope that due process was followed before such diversions were carried out. Taking money from one project to another has to be done properly.”
The President regretted that government had, over the years, failed to meet its counter-part funding obligation on some projects, leading to such projects being left uncompleted or abandoned.