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Paris Club Refund: Governors tackle Malami over $418m consultants’ fees

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has berated the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, over plans to deduct about $418 million from the Federation Account to pay private contractors and firms allegedly owed by the 36 states and local governments over the Paris Club refund.

The governors, who accused the AGF of bias in the manner he is handling the matter, wondered why he, as a public officer, was eager to ensure that public funds are transferred to private individuals and entities even when the alleged debt was being disputed and currently subject of pending litigations.

They described his plan as unlawful and contrary to public policy and morality.

This was contained in a statement signed by the Forum’s Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Barkindo, on Monday.

Background

The NGF’s comment was in reaction to a statement by Malami’s media aide, Umar Gwandu, who had supported deductions of the states’ resources amounting to $418 million from the federation account.

The amount is allegedly owed the consultants and/or contractors for services rendered during negotiations for the refund. The Paris Club fund has since generated dispute between the three tiers of government.

Gwandu’s statement was also in reaction to interim restraining orders obtained by states.

The Federal High Court Abuja on Friday stopped the federal government from deducting $418 million from the accounts of the 36 states government to settle the judgment debts concerning the Paris and London clubs refund.

The debts had accrued from court judgments awarding the creditors, who claimed to be consultants and contractors to the states and local governments, various sums of money which currently stand at $418 million.

It was reported how President Muhammadu Buhari had ignored the protests by the NGF to approve the refund to creditors.

FG’s plan unlawful

In the statement, the governors faulted Malami’s claim that the federal government was right to have deducted the $418million from the accounts of the 36 states to settle the alleged debt.

While they faulted some payments already made to some individuals and entities, they argued that the AGF ought to be driven by the need to protect public interest and ensure that public funds are not unjustly transferred to private individuals and interests with doubtful claims.

“The decision by the AGF to throw his weight behind these consultants, who have been battling desperately to grab $418m 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 5th November, 2021 restraining the Federal Government, seems to suggest that there is a special relationship between the AGF and the consultants over and above Nigerian citizens,” the statement said.

He noted that the governors have since appealed and are challenging the judgments in various courts.

“It should be further stated that the Office of the AGF failed to professionally defend the cases leading to those judgments and the courts commented on that unprofessional attitude.

“While we are constrained not to comment on a subject which is a sub-dejuice, we havhega responsibility to the public to respond in some detail to the statement issued by the Office of the AGF in order to put the record straight.

“…It is even more curious that the AGF also recommended payments to some contractors allegedly based on judgments that did not make any monetary award or on claims that were struck out.

“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,” part of the statement read.

The statement further said while it is convenient to say that part of these judgment debts have been paid with the release of USD$86 million and N19 billion in 2016 and $100m in 2018 to the contractors with the concurrence of the NGF, it does not change from the fact that they were payments wrongly made which ought not to have been made even if they were products of consent judgments.

False claims

The NGF also described as untrue, Malami’s claims that he intervened to pay the contractors to avoid execution of the judgments against the federal government resources.

“That is absolutely not true at all. Assets of the federal government were not at any time threatened. The NGF is not aware that there is any existing mandamus issued by any court in favour of the contractors against the Federal Government.

“The only application for mandamus by PANIC Alert is pending for hearing at the Federal High Court and parties have since joined issues,” it said.

The NGF also denied another claim by the AGF that the Forum and LGAs seek to transfer their liability to the FGN.

“That is not true. There is no liability to transfer in the first place and none exists; neither has the NGF provided any undertaking or indemnity to the FGN to act on its behalf as represented by the AGF.

“The AGF has consistently stated that this administration is an avid respecter of the rule of law. This is one case in which this commitment should be fully and completely demonstrated.”

While the NGF urged Malami to remain neutral and protect scarce public resources, it asked him to also advise the contractors to wait until all appeals and litigations in court are concluded. According to the Forum, this is the true test of observing the rule of law.

State resources needed for critical development should not under any guise be frittered away as payments for contracts whose veracity and authenticity is still a subject of litigation and disputation, the Forum said.

It also described the contractors as impecunious and who cannot restitute the states or LGAs if the appeals or other litigation are determined against them.

It also urged appointed gatekeepers to the laws to ensure that the laws are respected and protected.

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