By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, slated March 25 to deliver judgement in the suit the 36 states of the federation filed to stop the Federal Government from deducting $418million from their bank account to settle the debt in relation to the Paris Club Refund.
Justice Inyang Ekwo okayed the matter for judgement after all the parties adopted their final briefs of argument.
The states had through their lawyer, Mr Sunday Ameh, SAN, challenged FG’s decision to withdraw money from their accounts to settle consultants that facilitated the Paris Club Refund.
The Plaintiffs, in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1313/2021, told the court that FG had insisted that the fund it intends to withdraw from their accounts monthly, was to service debt for contracts that were allegedly executed for the states.
They 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 in the judgment debt.
The states maintained that allowing such withdrawal will cripple them financially.
Besides, they 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 phoney contract, insisting that FG was the only party to the court case that led to the said judgment.
Among those cited as Defendants in the matter, were 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, Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Government of Nigeria, ALGON, as well as the consultants.
Meantime, the Defendants, through their lawyers, among whom included Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, Maimuna Lami Shiru (Acting Director, Civil Litigation, Federal Ministry of Justice), and Chief Olusola Oke, SAN, urges the court to dismiss the suit for want of competence.
They described the Defendants as meddlesome interlopers, noting that the state governments claimed to be fighting for the Local Governments, a distinct tier of government, without the consent of the third tier of government.
FG, 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 a high court sitting on appeal over its own judgement.
“The plaintiffs have not appealed against the judgments of this court and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) that the contracts awarded to the consultants are valid,” Mrs Shiru submitted.
She told the court that based on the earlier judgement of the 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.
Mrs Shiru further argued that the decision by FG to issue promissory notes to the consultants, as a way of settling the debt owed them, was legitimate, stressing that the Plaintiffs could not distance themselves from the decision of the NGF that engaged some of the consultants.
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 adjourned the matter for judgement.