•As court declines to issue injunctive order
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Federal Government yesterday challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Abuja to hear a suit the 36 states of the federation filed to stop it from deducting $418million from their bank account to settle debt in relation to the Paris Club Refund.
The government maintained that its decision to deduct the fund to settle some consultants, was based on a previous verdict of the court.
It argued that since the court had earlier decided on the matter, proceeding with the instant suit by the states would amount to sitting on appeal over its own judgement.
Government took the position on a day the court, presided by Justice Inyang Ekwo, declined an application the 36 states made for an injunctive order to be issued in their favour.
The states, through their lawyer, Mr. Sunday Ameh, SAN, had urged the court to issue the order to bar FG from deducting any fund from their accounts, pending the determination of their suit.
Their application was opposed by counsel to FG, Mrs. Maimuna Shiru, who is the Acting Director Civil Litigation at the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Similarly, other Defendants in the matter, comprising consultants and banks, also prayed the court to reject the request for an injunctive order, stressing that a subsisting judgement gave FG the nod to deduct funds for the purpose of settling contractual agreement pertaining to the Paris Club Refund.
The Defendant argued that based on the earlier judgement of court, the former Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Abdulazeez Yari, issued a promissory note on behalf of the governors to the effect that the $418m be deducted from their money in the federation account.
The Defendants noted that four years after the earlier judgement was delivered, the states had yet to challenge it at the Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, after he had listened to all the parties, Justice Ekwo said he was not inclined to grant the request for an injunctive order.
The judge held that since jurisdiction was a threshold issue, he would not delve into any application until the court determined that it had the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the case.
Consequently, he adjourned the matter till December 21 to hear the preliminary objections alongside the substantive suit.
It will be recalled that the states had in an application they moved on November 5, prayed the court to intervene and stop FG from proceeding with the $418m deduction which they said would completely cripple them financially.
They told the court that FG had insisted that the fund it intends to withdraw from their accounts monthly, was to service a debt for contracts that were allegedly executed for the states.
The Plaintiffs told the court that after the said contracts were carefully scrutinized by their various Attorneys General, as well as a purported judgement debt the FG relied on, it was found that the 36 states were not parties to court action that resulted to the judgment debt.
Lead counsel to the Plaintiffs, Jubril Okutekpa, SAN, further submitted that the purported contracts claimed to have been executed for the states, were not known to any of the 36 state governments and is therefore a phony contract.
He told the court that FG was the only party to the court case that led to the judgment.
He therefore argued that such judgment was not binding on the state governments.
Among those cited as Defendants in the matter, are the Attorney General of the Federation, the Finance Minister, Accountant General of the Federation and all banks in Nigeria, Central Bank of Nigeria, Debt Management Office, Federation Account Allocation Committee, as well as Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Government of Nigeria, ALGON.