The Nigeria Governors’ Forum has accused the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, of having more than a passing interest in the controversial $418m refund request by consultants with respect to the Paris Club refund.
The umbrella body of governors of the 36 states of the federation made the accusation in a statement titled, ‘Re: Paris Club Refund: FG counters states, insists deduction lawful, NGF: Deduction not only unlawful, but it is also contrary to public policy and morality’, signed by the NGF’s Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, in Abuja on Monday.
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had on Friday barred the Federal Government from deducting $418m from the bank accounts of the 36 states of the federation.
The amount allegedly owed the consultants for services rendered during negotiations for the refund, has been a source of dispute between the three tiers of government.
Bello-Barkindo noted that the position of the AGF as contained in a statement signed by his Media Adviser, Dr Umar Gwandu, on Friday, in which he displayed open support for the consultants against the states “raises questions of propriety and the spirit of justice.”
The NGF spokesman argued that the payment in question was made in favour of private contractors and/or consultants for the alleged work done for the states and local governments on the Paris Club refund.
He said, “We need to state quickly that when we first read this press release, we had to double-check to be sure that it was not authored by a lawyer representing either one or all the promissory notes’ recipients.
“The AGF is supposed to be the chief arbiter in all matters concerning Nigerians, especially the poor masses of this country. It is incumbent upon him to, not just ensure that justice is done, but that justice is seen to have been done.
“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.”
Bello-Barkindo described Malami’s claim that he intervened to pay the contractors to avoid the execution of judgements against the Federal Government’s resources as false.
He also countered claims that the NGF and the local government were seeking to transfer their liability to the Federal Government, saying there was no liability to transfer in the first place.
According to him, the NGF has not provided any undertaking or indemnity to the Federal Government to act on its behalf as represented by the AGF.
Bello-Barkindo advised Malami to remain neutral and protect scarce public resources.
added, “Let him (Malami) advise the contractors to wait until all appeals and litigation in court are concluded. That is the true test of observing the rule of law. There is no other way, uncomfortable as that would appear.
“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.
“These contractors are impecunious and cannot pay restitution to the states/LGAs if the appeals or other litigation are determined against them.
“We call on the general public to be alert and vigilant. The debt relief granted to Nigeria by the Paris Club in 2005 was meant to enable her to have a respite and use the resources saved for meaningful development.
“It was not for distribution to private persons to fund their luxurious lives; neither can Nigeria justify her borrowing funds all over the world to fund capital projects and turn round to disburse state resources to individuals in a manner that offends all public sensibilities.”
According to the NGF, the media aide to the AGF justified the deductions on the basis that they were made pursuant to four court judgements, two of which were consent judgments and/or that the NGF/states and local government areas consented, expressed no objection to the payments and had already paid part of the debts to the said contractors and consultants.
Bello-Barkindo stated, “The statement by the media aide to the AGF conveniently and deliberately failed to name the judgments, which he claimed were relied upon by his principal to justify the payments and whether or not the cases in question are on appeal or challenged in any other way.
“Any discerning legal mind will find no difficulty in concluding that the so-called judgments under reference are dripping with too many irregularities bordering on competence and lack of jurisdiction, which are the bases why some of them are being challenged on appeal in other courts.
“No diligent public officer would act on such judgments by recommending payment.
“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 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.
“While it is convenient to say that parts of these judgment debts have been paid with the release of USD$86,546,526.65 and N19,439,225,871.11 in 2016 and $100m in 2018 to the contractors with the concurrence of the NGF, that does not detract from the fact that they were payments wrongly made, which ought not to have been made even if they were products of consent judgments.
“States can still go after the contractors to recover the funds wrongly made.”
Calls made to Gwandu rang out, while he had yet to reply to SMS and WhatsApp messages to his mobile telephone.