Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation, failed to answer a question posed to him during a Channels Television programme on why Hong Kong is the third party in one of the loan deals between China and Nigeria.
In the commercial loan agreement between Nigeria and Export-Import Bank of China, $400 million loan was obtained for Galaxy Backbone, the government’s information and communication technology (ICT) agency.
When he featured on a Channels TV programme on Tuesday, the anchor asked him which country was chosen as the third party for arbitration on the agreement as required by international conventions.
“If you look at convention of this sort of international arbitration when it comes to trade agreements of this nature, there is usually a third party nation in this sense. Which is the third party nation when Nigeria went into this agreement with China?” the anchor asked.
In response, Amaechi asked him, “What do you mean by that? What third party nation,” before adding that “until there is arbitration, you can’t just assume a third party is.”
“What if we don’t go to arbitration? Supposing, by next year, the president gets angry and says, gentlemen, pay off the $400 million that is remaining and that will be the end of that particular loan?” he further asked.
The anchor then said he is privy to the loan agreement with China, and “it does take Hong Kong as the third party in that sense, and Hong Kong is part of China.”
“And that is one of the issues that have been raised over the agreement,” he said.
The minister then queried why he was “interested in who is the third party and who is not the third party?”
“Why do you want to assume that we will default. It becomes criminal when a borrower begins to plan on defaulting,” he said.
“Why are you not interested in the fact that we have already paid about $98 million; that we meet our obligation every month? So, by the next 10 years that is outstanding, we would have paid the $400 million outstanding.
“Why are you not interested in that? Why are you interested in who is the third party and who is not the third party? And these are standard terms in an agreement. Why?”
When the anchor probed further on why Nigeria allowed China to choose Hong Kong as the third party country, Amaechi responded: “I have answered you.”
Concerns mounted over the loan agreement after the house of representatives committee on treaties and agreements said its clause concedes Nigeria’s sovereignty to China.
The clause in question provides that “the borrower (Nigeria) hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of a sovereign or otherwise for itself or its property in connection with any arbitration proceeding pursuant to Article 8(5), thereof with the enforcement of any arbitral award pursuant thereto, except for the military assets and diplomatic assets.”
Amaechi, however, said the immunity does not relate to Nigeria’s sovereignty as a nation but refers to the country’s immunity from arbitration.
He said: “The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs has issued a statement that there is no clause ceding the sovereignty of Nigeria to China. What is ceded is the commercial immunity which prohibits any country from taking us to court; that is the jurisdictional immunity.
“When we waive that immunity, it enables China to go to arbitration and say, Nigeria has not been able to keep to this agreement and we want to resolve this issue so that we know how to recover our money.
“There is no particular asset; they won’t just walk into Nigeria and take over anything. We will go to arbitration. You want to develop your area.”