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Malami’s Role In Paris Club Refund Suspect – Says Nigerian Governors Punches AGF

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The row between governors and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) over the $418 million Paris Club refund debt deepened yesterday.

The governors under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) accused Malami of bias in his handling of the disputed debt  allegedly owed private contractors and firms by the 36 states and 774 local governments.

The consultants were mandated by the Federal Government to negotiate the Paris Club refund with creditor nations.

The NGF wondered why the AGF was eager to ensure that public funds were transferred to private individuals and entities when the alleged debt was being disputed and is currently a subject of litigation.

Last month, governors had threatened to reject the September allocations to states to protest what they described as unjust proposed deductions from the Federation Account.

Fears were rife that states may not be able to pay salaries if the rift with the Federal Government was not resolved.

NGF said the contractors should wait until all appeals and litigations in court are concluded.

The forum complained that “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”.

According to the governors, “these contractors are impecunious and cannot restitute the states/LGAs if the appeals or other litigation are determined against them”.

NGF added: “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.

“We urge all those appointed as gatekeepers to our laws to ensure that the laws of our land are respected and protected. Let professionalism, reasonable caution and due diligence prevail on this matter.”

AGF’s claims

In a statement by its Head, Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, the NGF faulted Malami’s claim that it was lawful for the Federal Government to deduct $418million from the accounts of the 36 states to settle the alleged debt.

The NGF, while faulting some payments already made to some individuals and entities, argued that the AGF, being a public officer, ought to be driven by the need to protect the public interest and ensure that public funds are not unjustly transferred to private interests with doubtful claims.

The Forum was reacting to a statement issued at the weekend by the AGF’s media aide, Umar Gwandu, to justify the Federal Government’s planned deduction from states’ accounts to settle private contractors and/or consultants for alleged work done in relation to the Paris Club refunds.

The statement reads in part: “The decision by the HAGF to throw his weight behind these consultants who have been battling desperately to grab $418million from the accounts of states and local governments raises questions of propriety and the spirit of justice.

“The HAGF 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 5th November, 2021restraining the Federal Government, seems to suggest that there is a special relationship between the Office of the HAGF 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 unsettled preconceived plans and angered the unnamed ‘government officers’ referred to by the media aide.

“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 NGF/States and LGAs consented, expressed no objection to the payments and had already paid part of the debts to the said contractors and consultants.

“The statement by the media aide to the HAGF however, conveniently and deliberately failed to name the judgments under reference and whether they are on appeal or challenged in any other way.

“He also failed to specify which of the four judgments authorised payments and in what proportion to each of the contractors.

“While it is very easy to argue as the AGF does, that the NGF and ALGON took no early steps to appeal as they should have done, it is important to inform the Nigerian public that State governors have since appealed and are challenging the judgments in various courts.

Constitutional provision

“Interestingly the AGF has been served all these processes, nevertheless, this was ignored and payment was authorized 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 is in more vantage constitutional position and has legal responsibility and burden to defend public interest.

“The AGF should have, therefore, 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.

“It must be noted that the state governments were not parties to any of the said judgments. 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 sub-judice, we have a responsibility to the public to respond in some detail to the statement issued by the Office of the AGF in order to put the records straight.

“Any discerning legal mind would 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 and in other courts. No diligent public officer would act on such judgments by recommending payment.

Disputed constultants:

“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.

“While it is convenient to say that part 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.

“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’’

“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?”

“One of the strange payments made is that of USD$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 HAGF ever recommend the payment of any sum?”

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