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Chinese loans: Row grows in House over the investigation

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THE row generated in the House of Representatives following the probe of the Chinese loans taken by the Federal Government for infrastructure development has deepened.

Many House members have protested to Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila on the activities of the Chairman of the Committee on Treaties, Protocol and Agreement Ossani Nicholas Ossai (PDP Delta).

He has been accused of manipulating the committee to push the agenda of the opposition.

Besides, lawmakers noted that Ossai ignored the resolution of the House passed on May 12 on the probe.

The Ossai committee began the investigation on August 17 with a face off with Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi.

Amaechi was requested to submit documents relating to the loans.

But committee was adjourned for one week to study the document from the minister.

The leadership of the House has suspended sittings of all committees until the return of the House from recess next month.

The House resolution mandated three committees to “review and renegotiate existing China/ Nigeria loan agreements.”

The three committees are Treaties, Protocols and Agreements; Finance; and Aids, Loans and Debt Management.

The chairmen of the three committees are Treaties (Ossai); Finance (James Faleke); and Aids, Loans and Debt Management (Safana Dayyabu).

In a memo to Ossai on May 13 by the Acting Clerk, House of Representatives, the list of committees involved in the investigation was attached.

The memo was titled: “Need review and renegotiate existing China/Nigeria loan agreements”, said: “The House of Representatives on Tuesday, 12 May. 2020 deliberated on the. above subject matter: and resolved to mandate the committees on Treaties, Protocols and Agreement; Finance; and Aids, Loans and Debt Management to liaise with  the Ministry of Finance, and the Debt Management Office to seek for the  review or outright cancellation of the latest China loans to Nigeria on the principle of force majeure in the light of CO VID-19.

“The purpose of this letter is to convey the Resolutions of the House to you for further necessary action. A copy of the Votes and Proceedings of Tuesday, 12 May, 2020 is attached to this letter for your guidance.”

A ranking member of the House, who spoke in confidence, said: “We have issues over the ongoing review of loans from China. Some members of the committees, who ought to be part of the investigation, have complained of being sidelined.

“Some members of the House, from all the parties, have protested to the Speaker on the conduct of the Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreement. They asked the House leadership to look into the infractions of the committee.

“Nicholas Ossai, who is leading the House Committee on Treaties, disobeyed the resolution of the House by conducting the investigation of China Loan without the two other committees.

“Why did Ossai Committee proceed with the hearing in disobedience to the House resolution which gave the assignment to Joint House Committees?”

It was also learnt that some APC members in the House were unhappy that the committee has been hijacked by the opposition PDP to ridicule the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

A principal officer said: “Some APC members who protested to the speaker said the proceedings of the Ossai-led Committee on Treaties were skewed as if the present administration took fresh loans from China when the railway loan agreements in question were signed by the PDP Government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.

“They asked the House leadership to allow all the three committees given the assignment by the House to be involved in the probe henceforth when the House resumes from recess.

“They did not ask for the stoppage of the probe but they are demanding that the investigating committees should keep to the mandate of the House.”

But some PDP members are insisting that the probe must not be stopped under any guise. They are suspicious of the issues being raised by the APC members’ latter day complaints.

“The House leadership is looking at the presentations of all sides which have been made available to the speaker. It is a normal parliamentary jaw-jaw.”

Ossai insisted yesterday that he complied with the House resolution.

According to him, the assignment is aimed at protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria and the future of unborn children.

He criticised Rep Wole Oke (PDP, Osun) who faulted the investigative hearing on the bilateral agreements between Nigeria and China, alleging “that the committee was functioning outside of its mandate”.

Ossai said his committee “considers  Oke’s statement to be false in its entirety, unparliamentary, unpatriotic and does not in any way reflect the trueness of the committee’s mandate and productive outcomes the House Committee have recorded through its legislative oversight engagements on the subject matter.

“The committee will like to clarify that Hon. Wole  Oke is not a member of the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements; and thus may not be well acquainted with the mandate of the committee with respect to the on-going public hearing on the bilateral agreements between Nigeria and China including the unique oversight technique adopted by the committee to achieve its goals.

“Contrary to the Honourable member’s claims, the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols, and Agreements is a statutory Standing Committee of the House of Representatives, established in the spirit of sections 62(1) and 12 of the 1999 Constitution of  the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), with powers as prescribed in Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution, guided by the mandate/jurisdiction as provided in the  Standing Order of the House of Representatives especially Order 18(B), Rule 93.

He said he was humbled by the torrents of solidarity and prayers of many his colleagues, Nigerian people and plead with those who are politicising  the Committee’s work to hold their peace in the spirit of national interest and national security, saying “the territorial integrity of the Nigerian Republic must be protected and the future of our unborn children must be secured for posterity.”

It was gathered that the House leadership was considering two steps to save the chamber from embarrassment being caused by some committees.

According to another principal officer, “the solutions being out in place are a likely restructuring of the House committee system and proposed committee guidelines which will be like a Rule Book on committee activities.

“Definitely, there will be a reform of the committee system. Not in terms of swapping or dropping of the chairmen of committee.”

The House may develop a Rule Book on committee activities.

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