Lagos, Ibadan, Umuahia, Uyo, Abuja — Nigerians from across the various segments of the country have rejected President Goodluck Jonathan's request for approval of the National Assembly to borrow a whooping $1 billion to fight insurgency.
Jonathan had on Wednesday forwarded a letter to the National Assembly, asking the lawmakers to urgently approve a $1 billion external loan for the Federal Government to confront the Boko Haram insurgency.
The President's letter, seeking the lawmakers' approval to borrow the money, was read during the plenary in Abuja on Wednesday. He said the money would be used to upgrade the equipment of the Armed Forces.
However, the Lagos State House of Assembly, in a statement, issued by its Chairman, Committee on Information, Strategy, Security and Publicity, Segun Olulade, condemned the President's request, insisting that if granted, it would put the nation in more debt.
The House noted that though there is no doubt that everyone is seriously concerned about the need to end Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the Northern part of the country, any attempt to put the nation on the track of undue borrowing is not acceptable.
While raising some rhetoric, the lawmakers noted that the Federal Government is gradually making the nation to wear the status of a "prodigal son" by its unnecessary wasteful and undue thirst for money.
"Where has the budget for security operations in the country been going since 1999? With all the claims of a buoyant and robust financial stand of the nation by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance, why has it been so difficult to generate funds internally to step up fight against terrorism?
"What has happened to all the looted money claimed to have been recovered by this government? Why is President Jonathan eager to borrow money before the general elections? What is happening to all the missing money in the country that this government is yet to locate?
"Thousands of questions are seriously begging for answer. The Jonathan government, having been so reckless with money, does not enjoy the confidence of Nigerians over borrowing proposals.
"We urged the National Assembly to reject the proposal in the interest of innocent Nigerians who have been critically battered as recipients of the consequences of financial ineptitude of this administration under President Jonathan," the statement read in part.
The lawmakers also alerted that as long as corruption thrives, any money borrowed would be squandered by few individuals while the money would have been spent to the last kobo before it even arrives.
They challenged the Federal Government to tell Nigerians what has happened to the increased budgetary allocation for Defence which was raised to the tune of N968.2 billion in the 2014 budget simply because of fight against Boko Haram before proceeding for another borrowing attempt.
The Human Rights Writers' Association (HURIWA) on its part condemned the plan by President Goodluck Jonathan to source for $1 billion loan to fight insurgency just as it demanded for a forensic probe of the alleged N76 billion CCTV scam.
The group wants the Government to also introduce death penalty for the crime of theft of Defence and Police budgets.
The Rights group also asked for the introduction of a general war tax of at least N1, 000 per working individual [in private and public sectors] and N5,000 per registered companies to help set up a War Trust Fund (WTF) meant for procurement of state-of-the-art information technology-driven facilities and combat weapons for the prosecution of the ongoing counter insurgency war.
The group said it was wrong to seek external fund to prosecute a war largely created by insurgents in our contemporary periods and expect generations yet unborn to bear the burden of repayment.
HURIWA therefore urged President Jonathan to have a rethink of seeking for $1billion foreign credit facility to prosecute the ongoing counter insurgency war but to look inwards and draw up quick win strategy for making Nigerians to own the process of the counter terror war by contributing just a little for the war trust fund.
HURIWA also suggested that political office holders at all levels be asked to give 25 per cent of their monthly salary (for two months only) towards the setting up of the counter-insurgency war fund to be managed by a five-member team made up of Nigerians of unimpeachable integrity with representations from ministries of Finance, Defence and the Civil Society Community.
On the alleged collapse of the $470 million (N76 billion) National public security communications system project in Abuja, the Rights group tasked the Federal Government to hire tested and trusted foreign forensic investigators to unravel the whereabouts of the huge public funds deployed in the critical security infrastructure which as evidently made manifest was not effectively delivered.
HURIWA recalled that the contract for the NPSCS project was awarded by the Federal Government to provide a secure an independent multimedia communications system for the police and other security agencies in the country.
"We urge President Jonathan to ensure that all those that sabotaged these critical security facilities are brought before the court of law to face the full weight of the law. We use this opportunity tunity to repeat our call for the death penalty to be imposed for crimes of diversion of Defence and Police budgets henceforth," HURIWA stated.
A National Conference delegate, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), asked the National Assembly to reject the request made by President Jonathan, asking for $1 billion loan to aid the war against Boko Haram insurgency.
Falana said the President must explain what he had been doing with the budgets made for Defence in the past few years.
He said, "The request made by President Jonathan for approval of the Senate for a loan of $1 billion to fight the menace of the Boko Haram sect should be rejected in its entirety. Between 2010 and 2013 over N3 trillion was budgeted for defence.
"Under the Appropriation Bill signed into law on May 23 this year, 20 per cent of the entire federal budget, that is, the sum of N968.127 billion out of N4.962 trillion was earmarked for Defence. The Senate should find out what happened to the Defence budget in the middle of the year to warrant a supplementary budget of N160 billion."
Similarly, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Alli, said the request by the President had created a state of uncertainty as he had yet to be fully aware of all the parameters for the request.
He urged the National Assembly to be sure there was a need for it before approving it.
He said, "I am sure they should be sure that there is a need for it before they will approve it. One does not possess all the parameters for asking for the loan, so one is a bit in a quandary. One does not have all the factors that have been considered.
"But one wants to believe that the National Assembly will be given all the facts to do the correct thing," he stated.
A security consultant, Ben Okezia, faulted the request by Jonathan, saying the Army already had a budget which was being used to fund its counter-terrorism campaign in the North-East.
He said the government should not attempt to hoodwink Nigerians, adding that the number of Boko Haram insurgents was not up to 2,000 and that not all of them were armed.
He therefore cautioned the National Assembly against approving the loan request, saying the government was not sending everyone in the Army to fight against Boko Haram and as such there was no need for the loan.
A chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Lekan Balogun, said inasmuch as he would have loved to comment on the issue, he did not know how they arrived at the figure to be borrowed.
He said insurgency by Boko Haram "is becoming a big fight and there is nothing too much to be done to free Nigeria and Nigerians from their grip; everything that has to be done to stop their act must be done, but what do they want the huge amount of money for? A billion dollar is N160 billion!"
Two Ibadan-based lawyers and activists, Doyin Odebowale and Femi Aborisade, also condemned the move.
Odebowale, also a Classics lecturer at the University of Ibadan, said only President Jonathan and members of his party could answer the questions surrounding the borrowing of such a huge amount of money to fight Boko Haram.
"Nigerians should begin to understand the itinerary of this government. First, the Chief of Defence Staff, Badeh, said insurgency would end by April. One would have thought that this careless statement was made based on the available intelligence report at his disposal.
"Boko Haram responded with such bestial ferocity as never witnessed before. Nyanya was bombed and over 200 girls were abducted in a state under the so-called emergency rule. The military suffered heavy casualties afterwards.
"They were simply mowed down like grass by a rag tag but evidently determined band. There has been no respite ever since. Soldiers almost killed a so-called commanding officer who was accused of incompetence cum complicity in the death of some officers and men.
"High ranking officers are equally accused of simply stealing funds meant for the welfare of these hapless underlings. Do they need that amount to gather intelligence or buy new guns to combat "faceless" enemies?
"Do they want to accept the suggestion bordering on omnibus amnesty for criminals called insurgents? What is the opinion of aunty Ngozi on this loan? What are the conditions attached to the loan?
Aborisade in his own reaction maintained that "the proposal to take $1 billion (or approximately N160 billion) by President Jonathan is a further confirmation that the Federal Government is not ashamed to be rated one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
"Before any rational government could have the effrontery to make such a proposal, it would have explained how about N1 trillion budgeted for Defence in the 2014 had been utilised. The cost-benefit analysis of what was originally budgeted ought to have been presented.
"We must ask President Jonathan how much has been spent from 'Agency-wide Vote', apart from the budgeted N1 trillion for Defence in 2014? Borrowing by any government is not wrong provided it is meant for regenerative and productive ventures which would not only repay the loan but also create surplus.
"Indeed, if the inability to curtail Boko Haram were limited to lack of raw cash, borrowing would not have been the only option. Nigeria still has billions of Dollars in foreign reserves, from which the needed funds could be taken.
"According to Channels TV, as at May 10, 2014, Nigeria's foreign reserves amounted to $39.97 billion. It does not make any economic sense to prefer taking loans with interest when the country has money in foreign reserves from which any amount can be taken without any cost in terms of interest payment.
"If the $1b is not to be stolen in preparation for 2015, then President Jonathan should disclose to Nigerians the source of repaying the loan and the duration for realising the amount to be borrowed. We call on the National Assembly to reject President Jonathan's proposal to take $1 billion to fight Boko Haram insurgency.
"Inability to fight Boko Haram insurgency is a product of lack of political will. Besides, the root source of Boko Haram and other similar criminalities in Nigeria is material poverty, which social security schemes would more effectively address rather than entrenching a militarised democracy," he added.
However, A human rights activist and Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Comrade Debo Adeniran, said the plan by President Goodluck Jonathan to borrow more money to fight Boko Haram was not a bad decision if the money would be properly utilised.
"With the present security situation we are facing in the country a right thinking person should support any measure that will curb the insurgency," he said.
But Adeniran said Nigerians would be more disappointed if at the end of the whole exercise, the government could not achieve the goal of taming of Boko Haram in the country.
"Nigerians at the end of the day will demand accountability from this government if it fails to use the money to fight insurgency in the country".
Similarly, the Publicity Secretary, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani, said the Northern Delegates Forum was in support of the government's decision to borrow $1 billion to prosecute terrorism in the country.
In an interview with Daily Independent, Sani said the group was in support of any measure by the government to end the insurgency in the country because the issue of security of lives and property is the primary responsibility of any government.
In Umuahia, Chief Justin Nwosu, a Chartered accountant, who is into Public practice, described the measure as laudable.
"You see, for the economy to grow, stabilise, and move forward and for growth to take place, for the economy and industry to thrive, we need security. So the loan is going to be secured for purposes of stabilising the security of Nigeria. That is proper because, you cannot plan or put something unto nothing, you cannot put any investment, development or project in a very disorganised or anarchic society.
Barrister Ugochukwu Ndubuka, an Umuahia based legal practitioner, said he was not opposed to the loan application by President Goodluck Jonathan to the Senate.
"I am not opposed to that application to the Senate considering the spate of killings by the insurgents in the country. That amount is not too much considering what other countries that have experienced insurgency spent. I think President Jonathan is being reasonable, he is trying to ensure that stability is restored," he stated.
Former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Akwa Ibom State, Hon. Victor Iyanam, said the request was appropriate, considering the huge harm meted on the nation by insurgency.
"If you know what terrorism has done to countries that have been unable to combat them alone, you would agree that no expense is too much, so long as the battle is won.
"From what we have gathered, it is not that they are going to give us $1 billion; they are going to give us hardware, software, all manners of wares that would assist us to fight terrorism, I think it makes much sense. But for them to do that, a lot of money would be involved," he stated.
Meanwhile, the Coordinator of National Information Centre, Mr. Mike Omeri, said the Federal Government would not spare resources to bring back the schoolgirls abducted from the Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, on April 14.
Omeri was responding to a question from a journalist on whether the resources of the Federal Government had depleted in the fight against terrorism such that it now needed to borrow $1 billion to prosecute the war.
The NIC coordinator said, "Even the United States goes for this kind of facility. For any country involved in such military expedition, not just the Boko Haram issue, but engaged in a number of military exercises, its stock will deplete. Every country must restock to reinforce its capability.
"That is not to say that the resource of Nigeria has finished and therefore we needed to go for loan. It is not cash that will be given to Nigeria. It is a long term facility.
"It is country-to-country kind of process because what the government is looking for is the approval of the National Assembly so that the President can negotiate for arms to consolidate, to reinforce the stock the Armed Forces have and to guarantee that we will win the war against insurgency and we have an effective and capable assets to prosecute any unforeseen issue. This happens to all countries. It is not exclusive to Nigeria," he explained.
He added: "Once the country is engaged in any kind of activity of this nature, it sure will lead to depletion of resources. So, I don't think the loan is because the resources are depleted. For the amount so far spent, I am not in a position to say so."