The Senate on Thursday approved a request for external borrowing of not more than N1 billion dollars by President Goodluck Jonathan to tackle security challenges in the country.
This followed the consideration of the report of the Joint Committees on Finance, and Local and Foreign Debts on the loan request at plenary in Abuja.
The Chairman of the Committee on Finance, Ahmad Makarfi (PDP-Kaduna), who presented the report, said the facility was not a cash loan but supply of military hardware to be paid over seven years.
He said in view of the urgent need to restore normalcy in the country and since the loan did not attract interest, Nigeria should take advantage of the opportunity.
According to him, the requested loan was for helicopters, ships, armament and hardware.
“The 12 nos. M135 Helicopters being requested for now are appropriate for the nature of the operation and the terrain.
“Belarus has accepted to give helicopters on the condition of instalment payment over a seven-year period.
“Other hardware, armament and equipment will be bought on the same terms from other European countries,” he said.
Mr. Makarfi further said the joint committee discovered in its findings that the number of helicopters in the fleet of the Nigeria Air Force was inadequate for effective deployment.
He said the reason for inadequate helicopters was due to inadequate funds for maintenance and recent burning of two helicopters by insurgents in Maiduguri.
He further said that no new helicopter had been added to the fleet since 1998.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the senate, however, went into a rowdy session prior to the approval as the lawmakers were divided over the matter.
While some lawmakers applauded the effort of the joint committee and moved for immediate approval of the loan in view of the security challenges, others raised concerns about the legality of the approval.
Olubunmi Adetumbi (APC-Ekiti), quoting the Appropriation Act and the constitution, argued that approving the loan without following laid down procedures had consequences.
“This request to the best of our ability and with the assistance of the constitution, has consequences for the existing Appropriation Act,’’ he said.
“We do not question the right of Mr President to ask for money but there is a process that needs to be followed,’’ he said.
In the same vein, Sen. George Akume (APC-Benue) called for appropriate procedures to be followed by the senate.
“Nobody is against the fight against insurgency. My concern is that the appropriate thing should be done,’’ he said.
The Senate President, Sen. David Mark, however, doused tension by explaining that the senate was not flouting any legal or constitutional provision as the borrowing was not in cash to attract any further procedure before approval.
“I will suggest that we go ahead and approve this without raising any issues that will have any security implications.
“This is my appeal on this matter,’’ he said.
President Jonathan had on July 16 written to the Senate seeking approval to borrow $1 billion (N168 billion) to fight the deadly Boko Haram sect.
In a letter addressed to the Senate President, Mr. Mark, Mr. Jonathan spoke about the need for external borrowing to enable the upgrade of security equipment in order to fight the insurgency that is currently bedevilling Nigeria, particularly the North East.
Mr. Jonathan said the $1 billion will also be used to train the military and other security officers.
“You are no doubt cognisant of the ongoing and serious security challenges which the nation is facing, as typified by the Boko Haram terrorist threat. This is an issue that we have discussed at various times.
“I would like to bring to your attention the urgent need to upgrade the equipment, training and logistics of our Armed Forces and Security services to enable them more forcefully confront this serious threat.
“For this reason, I seek the concurrence o the National Assembly for external borrowing of not more than $1 billion dollars including government to government arrangements for this upgrade,” Mr. Jonathan said in the letter.
He said he was counting on the steadfast support of the legislators on the borrowing of the money.
The external borrowing comes amid criticisms and questions regarding the management of Nigeria’s defence budget, which gulps as much as 20 per cent of the entire budget.
The Nigerian government justifies the about N1 trillion spent on security on the growing insecurity situation in the country. However, the military and security officials are still considered ill-equipped to tackle Boko Haram insurgency.