Acting under the umbrella of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, governors of the 36 states of Nigeria have condemned the directive issued by Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for payment to be made to the Paris Club consultants, even when the matter was still in the Court of Appeal.
Malami had in a statement at the weekend issued by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Dr. Umar Jibrin Gwandu, faulted the insinuation that he was acting without due process in the settlement of certain judgment debts arising from the deduction and refunds due to the states and local governments from the Paris Club loan refunds, insisting that at the onset, the deductions were on account of four judgments in contention which were delivered at various times in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
In the view of the governors, however, Malami’s directive was against public morality and the interest of the Nigerians.
In the statement, the governors argued that the decision by Malami to throw his weight behind the consultants that had been battling desperately to grab $418 million from the accounts of states and local governments raises questions of propriety and the spirit of justice.
“The undue haste, with which the statement was issued even before the service on the AGF of the court processes and the order dated November 5, 2021, restraining the federal government, seems to suggest that there is a special relationship between the Office of the AGF and the consultants over and above Nigerian citizens, whose interest the AGF as the chief law officer of the federation is statutorily bound to always protect.
“The statement also suggests that the restraining order issued last Friday, not only unsettled preconceived plans and angered the unnamed ‘government officers’ referred to by the media aide.”
They added: “The media aide to the AGF justifies the deductions on the basis that they are made pursuant to four court judgments; two of which are consent judgments and/or that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum/States and LGAs consented, expressed no objection to the payments and had already paid part of the debts to the said contractors and consultants.”
“He also failed to specify which of the four judgments authorised payments and in what proportion to each of the contractors,” the governors stated.
“Interestingly, the AGF has been served all these processes. Nevertheless, this was ignored and payment was authorised to be made and has been processed with unprecedented speed not common in the public service. It must be stated that between the NGF and AGF, the latter was in more vantage constitutional position and has a legal responsibility and burden to defend public interest,” the statement added.
The governors stated that the AGF should have initiated appeals against the said judgments once his attention was drawn to them, because public interest was at stake involving huge sums of money meant for the provision of public services.
Also, they pointed out that the state governments were not parties to any of the said judgments.
“The AGF may need to explain to Nigerians why these particular judgment debts are given unusual attention and priority and processed with supersonic speed over and above all others; some of which preceded these so-called judgments and have been pending for settlement by the AGF for several years”, the governors declared.
Querying the order to pay, the governors also stated: “States can still go after the contractors to recover the funds wrongly made. It should concern the AGF that ALGON disowned the contracts claimed by RIOK and the same was duly communicated to him requesting him to prevent the use of LG funds to “settle dubious and illegal claims.’’
The governors therefore queried: “Was the AGF not concerned that several contractors are laying claim to legal fees for the same Paris Club Refund? Was it lost on the AGF on the detailed procedure available under the law how legal fees can be claimed in deserving cases?”
The governors further noted that, “one of the strange payments made is that of $47,831,920 million to Panic Alert Security Systems Ltd/George Uboh for allegedly reviewing a 16-page judgment for the then factional NGF.
“Can the Office of the AGF point to any consent judgment awarding that sum to Panic Alert? Did the NGF’s letter of 20th January, 2020, relied upon by the AGF ever recommend the payment of any sum?
The statement added: “LINAS and NED Nwoko in this scheme are walking away with $68,658,193.83 state funds allegedly for legal consultancy services,” asking therefore. “Is the AGF not aware that the work alleged to have been done by him was already contained in a FAAC Reconciliation Committee Report constituted in 2005 submitted in 2007 with recommendations on how states and LGAs should be refunded the over charges from the Paris Club Refunds.”
The NGF alleged: “Dr. Ted Iseghohi-Edwards has been paid the sum of $159 million in promissory notes, yet he had his matter in Suit No FCT/HC/CV/1353/18 struck out on November 10th, 2020.
“Furthermore, the legal basis for his claim is rooted in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13: LINAS International Limited & 235 ORS V FGN which clearly stated that he cannot benefit under the judgment because he was not a party in the case and cannot enforce the terms of the judgment. Contrary to the representation of the AGF, the EFCC’s report on TED was negative.
“The report not only recommended his arrest but a forfeiture of any of his assets associated with the Paris Club Refund. The AGF ignored these recommendations.”
“There is also no evidence of execution of any contract by RIOK. Curiously, the Department of State Security (DSS) is alleged to have confirmed 50 per cent execution. The Court and EFCC stated clearly that it is not the responsibility of the DSS to ascertain the execution of contracts as they do not have the expertise.
“ALGON disowned the contracts. Why will the AGF insist on them? It is not true that the EFCC in its report recommended payment to the contractors. It did not.
“In the case of payments recommended and paid to Prince Orji Nwafor Orizu $1,219,440.45, and Olaitan Bello – $215,195.36, it remains a mystery. These two lawyers are alleged to have performed legal services for RIOK and its associated companies and not for the states or LGAs. Why they are paid from State resources is only imagined.
Malami has, however, maintained that since both the NGF and ALGON that had entered into judicial settlement on account of which consent judgment was entered refused to comply with the judgments, “it became pertinent for the federal government to take the initiative in order to prevent a situation where the debt liability of NGF and ALGON would be transferred to the Federal Government and eventually excluded against its assets and interest.”