…Govs kick as finance minister approves ‘controversial’ payment for consultants

Reps minority caucus backs govs, demands probe into $418m judgement debts

Asks Buhari to halt payment

By Levinus Nwabughiogu, with agency reports

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, and the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives have tackled the Federal Government over plans to pay judgment debt of $418 million to consultants who facilitated its London and Paris Clubs’ debt relief.

While the NGF queried Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, for issuing promissory notes in favour of judgment creditors relating to Paris and London Club refunds, despite pending court cases, the minority caucus of the House of Representatives cautioned against the reported  approval of the payment of $418 million Paris Club judgement debt by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, in a letter dated August 30 and addressed to the minister, through their lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, said the minister ought to have stayed the execution of judgment “connected with payments of legal and consultancy fees arising from London Club Debt Buy Back and London Club Debt Exit Payment, which is the fulcrum of the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja in suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 – Linas International Limited & ORS V. the Federal Government of NIGERIA & ORS.

The letter read: “Your office was duly served with court processes seeking for stay of execution of, and/or injunction restraining you and others from giving effect to, activating, enforcing and/or further enforcing the judgments of the trial courts pending the determination of our appeals.

“Specifically, your office has been served with a hearing notice fixing one of the motions for hearing before the federal high court on September 29, 2021.

‘We are amazed’

“We are amazed to note that despite the service of these processes as well as hearing notice on your office, your permanent secretary acting under your instruction, directed the Debt Management Office, DMO, to issue promissory notes to contractors and consultants, whose claims are still being challenged and contested in court.

READ ALSO: We didn’t receive ₦243.8b Paris Club Refund among states ― NGF

“As you already know, these promissory notes your office is directing the Debt Management Office to issue to these contractors and consultants are to be deducted over a period of ten years from statutory allocations due to the states of the federation.

“It is not only curious but also an action in bad taste for your office that the directive was issued by the minister.  It is the height of corruption and lawlessness.

‘Duty to stay action’

“We need to inform you of your sacred duty of staying action on this matter, in view of the injunctive reliefs sought in the processes duly filed in court on these matters.

“It is the law that once an application for injunctive reliefs (such as the one filed by us and already fixed for hearing) is pending in a court of law, parties are barred from engaging in any act that would foist a fiat accompli on the court in respect of that application or action.

“While extending the assurances of our highest regard, we hope you would be guided by the admonition of our highest court as quoted above by withdrawing your directive to the debt management office to issue promissory notes to any contractor and consultant pending the determination of court processes in respect of which your office has been served and notified of their hearing dates.”

Recall that since 2019, the Kayode Fayemi-led Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, had asked for a review of the indebtedness, calling for a forensic audit into the agreements leading to the court judgments.

Earlier this year, the NGF engaged Falana to challenge the judgments awarding some “consultants and contractors” shares of the Paris and London Club refunds received from the Federal Government by the various states and their local governments.

Reps Minority Caucus warns against \payment approval by Buhari

Meanwhile, the minority caucus of the House of Representatives has cautioned against the reported  approval of payment of $418 million Paris Club judgement debt by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The caucus alleged that the debt was suspicious, adding that it had been greeted by widespread national objection by stakeholders, including governors, chairmen of local government councils and anti-graft agencies.

Consequently, it called for a forensic audit into the claims by the creditors, insisting that the judgement was hazy.

Leader of the caucus, Ndudi Elumelu, who gave the warning yesterday, said: “The minority caucus urges President Buhari to note that the consent judgement being relied upon for the payment is cloudy, opaque and raises apprehensions of huge swindle on the national treasure which requires immediate investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

“The caucus, therefore, calls on President Buhari to, in the national interest, immediately halt the payment processes until after the investigations.

“The caucus insists that the objection raised by the Association of Local Governments in Nigeria, ALGON, and the Nigeria Governor’s Forum, NGF, in calling for forensic audit into the claims by the creditors must be taken into consideration.

“This is essentially because governance is a collective responsibility of all tiers and as such, all views must be considered before such decisions are reached and implemented.

‘Endorsement of corruption’

”As lawmakers, our caucus insists that the approval to funnel out  $418  million out of the national treasure under such hazy consent judgment and in the absence of the forensic audit, smacks of an endorsement of corruption.

“Our caucus urges President Buhari not to allow himself to be misled or entangled in this nebulous enterprise but listen to the state governors and allow for the audit, particularly on the particulars of claims by creditors as well as the circumstances leading to the suspicious consent judgement.

“The Minority caucus demands that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice should avail himself of the audit to bring the processes and circumstances surrounding the judgment debt to public glare.

“The caucus maintains that the open audit should unravel those behind the consent judgment, the propriety of such measures as well as why the objection by the governors was ignored. 

“This is more so as the consent judgement predicated the payment of the doubtful  $418  million on  deductions from allocations to states and local governments, a development that will put unwarranted burden on the already over-strained tiers of government and worsen the economic and infrastructural deficit in the country.”

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