By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — After months of intense horse-trading between the Federal Government and governors of the 36 states of the federation on the possibility of reaching a consensus over plans by the Federal Government to transfer $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to a new account to be known as the “Sovereign Wealth Fund,” the parties, yesterday, told the Supreme Court that the out-of-court settlement option failed to yield any dividend.
Consequently, a seven-man panel of Justices of the apex court, presided by Justice Chukwuma Eneh, yesterday, slated May 9, 2013, to commence definite hearing on the constitutional issues raised against the proposed new account, by the 36 states governors.
The governors had in a suit they filed before the apex court on October 23, 2011, sought an order declaring the planned creation of the “Sovereign Wealth Fund”, as illegal and unconstitutional.
They are praying the court to issue an order to the effect that all sums standing to the credit of the said “Excess Crude Account” (or any account replacing same by any name howsoever) be paid into court or be otherwise secured as the court may deem fit pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
The governors maintained that unless the order of injunction was granted, the Federal Government would continue to disregard, disrespect and ignore the pending suits before the Supreme Court.
It would be recalled that though the Federal Government earlier expressed its readiness to join issues with the governors, having failed to persuade them to sheath their legal sword, however, on March 26, it re-approached the Supreme Court and pleaded it to suspend hearing on the case to enable the parties to reach consensus on perceived grey areas in the out-of-court terms of settlement it said was presented to it by the litigants.
The Federal Government had through its lead counsel then, Mr Austin Alegeh, SAN, accused the state governors of mischief, insisting that they equally took part in the deliberation of the National Economic Council where the decision to transfer the $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to the SWF was taken.
It stressed that the states had been receiving their shares from the money, saying their decision to frustrate the planned creation of the SWF was borne out of insincerity.
While asking the Supreme Court to refuse the application by the states to stop the Federal Government from transferring $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to the SWF, counsel to the Federal Government, said his client would run into problem if the application was granted as prayed by the governors.
FG contended that the day-to-day running of the nation’s economy would be put in danger if the application was granted as sought by the plaintiffs.
However, lead counsel to the governors, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, noted that his clients were forced to approach the apex court for redress in view of the fact that the Federal Government and its officers had consistently and in total disregard for the pending suit, withdrawn, utilised, disbursed and allocated funds from the account.
He alleged that the Federal Government had nearly depleted N5.51 trillion being the balance on the account as at 2008 when the case was instituted.
At the resumed sitting yesterday, the Federal Government, through its new counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, insisted that the case had a political undertone, saying it ordinarily ought not to have been brought to court in the first place.
Even though he sought for more time to enable the parties to explore further possibility of settling amicably, counsel to the plaintiffs, Awomolo, objected, contending that the Federal Government exhibited its insincerity by labelling a matter he said was highly constitutional, as “political.”
After listening to arguments from both parties, the adjudicating panel decided to adjourn the case for hearing, adding that on that date, it would not hesitate to admit any report of settlement presented before it.