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$1bn Sovereign Wealth Fund: S/Court urges FG, states to settle out-of-court

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Federal Government and 36 state governors to still explore out-of-court settlement on the controversy over the one billion dollars Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF). The governors had approached the court over alleged illegal diversion of funds meant for the federation to maintain Excess Crude Account (ECA) and SWF.

At the resumed hearing on Thursday, the appellants informed the court that the central government had not showed commitment to the out-of-court settlement. They urged the court to fix a date for the definite hearing of the application on its merit. Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), counsel to the Federal Government, argued that “the appellants were very economical with the truth”.

He said that it was not true that the central government had not showed commitment to resolve the controversy out-of-court but that “ progress from the commitment by parties may have been small. The governors would, however, not be wrong if they claimed that the progress made was not appreciable by their assessment.

This is because of the technicalities involved in the entire process; if given time, the matter could be resolved amicably,” he said. Olanipekun further said that the matter in contention was political and the court therefore should avail parties more time to explore further solutions.

However, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), counsel to the appellants, said that the matter was constitutional and not political. Justice Walter Onnonoghen, who presided, held that “there is nothing constitutional about money sharing but negotiation.

“For the interest of peace and justice the parties must go back to further explore opportunities to resolve the matter amicably. We are urging you to ensure that the matter is amicably settled on or before the next adjourned date. The matter is fixed for Dec. 2 for the report of the settlement or hearing,” he said.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that three separate applications by the state governments are pending before the court seeking interpretation of section 162 of the 1999 constitution as it affects the diversion of funds. The governors insisted that funds accruable to the Federation Account must be set aside for sharing among the three tiers of government. NAN reports that attempt to settle the matter out of court by parties had failed since the plaintiffs approached the court in 2011.

The states had challenged the legality of the Excess Crude Account and the decision to transfer the money from the account to SWF. The states had sought an order compelling the Federal Government to pay into the Federation Account the sum, being the balance of the money that accrued to the central purse between 2004 and 2007. The funds were proceeds of crude oil sales, petroleum profit tax and oil royalties.


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