•Not a loan, some people lack information —Okowa
•N150bn is 55% of N257bn FG refund to Delta —Tilije, Finance commissioner
•I disagree, it is a loan to fund mystery projects —DSP Omo-Agege
By Emma Amaize, NDV Editor
The political tempo in the oil-rich Delta State has been tempestuous in the last few weeks over a “bridging finance facility” of N150 billion approved by the House of Assembly for the State Government.
Though the authorization was for outstanding unpaid certificates grossed by contractors with respect to completion of some critical ongoing legacy projects awarded by past and present administrations and N30bn pension obligations, some citizens and antagonists view the approval as outrageous.
Irresponsible borrowing – Sen. Omo-Agege
Deputy Senate President and 2023 governorship candidate of the rival All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, insisted otherwise, maintaining it was a loan.
Omo-Agege, who spoke through his Executive Assistant, Mr. Aruviere Martin Egharhevwa, in Asaba, queried: “Are they not wetting the ground for the next administration to contend with huge debts unnecessarily? Knowing that the repayment funds may not even crystallize till maybe 2027/2028, why is the regime doing this? As suggested by some commentators, is the N150 billion a 2023 ‘election war chest’? If true, we can only advise a rethink because it will fail with serious consequences.
“While we recognize that borrowing is sometimes necessary in public finance management, especially in relation to mega infrastructure development, we also believe such borrowing must be responsible, and not recklessly propelled by corruption and private interests. It should not be all about sinking many generations into intractable debts in the hope of achieving impossible electoral postulations.
“Without question, the N150 billion loan approved by the House of Assembly is an escalation of a very corrupt pattern of reckless borrowing by the Okowa administration to fund mystery projects or what Deltans now generally refer to as ‘audio’ or invisible projects”, he said.
Groups urges EFCC to probe affair
A group under the auspices of Concerned Nigerians led by Deji Adeyanju, also petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to probe the affair.
“We write this petition in our capacity as a pro-human rights and anti-corruption group, seeking the urgent investigation of the Delta State Government, over its attempt to loot the N150 billion loan recently approved by the Delta State House of Assembly.
“At a time when the nation is engrossed with the commencement of electioneering process leading to the 2023 election, it is alarming to note that the Delta State government has initiated and secured the approval of the House of Assembly to obtain a humongous loan of N150 billion.
“Curiously, this loan has been approved just few weeks to the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where Governor Ifeanyi Okowa is rumored to have a vice presidential ambition. We are, therefore, constrained to ask: What is the purpose of this loan?
Tilije clears the air
Commissioner for Finance in the state, Chief Fidelis Tilije, who responded to the tirades, reiterated the N150 billion discounting facility was to enable government pay off pensions and infrastructure.
The Federal Government has approved the payment of the sum of N257 billion being recovery from over deductions and double charges from the 13 per cent oil derivation funds refund to the Delta government since 2010 to date.
“The amount that is expected from this recovery is N257 billion for Delta state in one tranche, there is another, which is about N130 billion.
“We believe that what we are even discounting now is reasonable compared to other benefiting states who discounted 100 per cent of the expected amount from the Federal Government.
“We have not taken the facility yet, but when we finally take it, we will tie it to receivables from Federal Accounts Allocation Committee, this is why we say it is discounting and not a loan.
“The state’s ability to achieve the foregoing is however limited by the fact that the expected total refund will not be received into the state’s account in one lump sum.
“Rather, it will be refunded over a period of five years on quarterly basis with effect from April 2022 to January 2027.
“This will ensure that when the next administration comes in, they will have reasonable reserve to lean on and the debt profile will be less,” he said.
…inherited N220bn debt, paid over N85bn so far
Commissioner Tilije revealed that Okowa’s administration at inception in 2015 met a debt profile of about N151 billion owed contractors and another N69 billion due to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other bank-related outstanding payments.
“But this administration has been able to pay over N85 billion of the debt burden within the period,” he said, adding that the financing facility of N150 billion represents about 55 per cent of the N257 refunds expected from the federal government.
They’re not well-informed – Okowa
On his part, Governor Okowa explained that the N150 billion “bridging finance” facility sought by his administration was not a fresh loan, but an advance from the N257bn owed the state by the federal government.
He said the N150 billion was tied to projects embarked upon by his administration and his predecessor, adding that the reason people questioned the approval of the facility by the House of Assembly was due to a lack of information.