PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has rejected fresh plans to deduct $418 million from the federation account to settle consultants over controversial Paris Club debt.
According to a Premium Times report, Buhari directed Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, to suspend plans to begin the deductions during the federal executive council (FEC) meeting of August 3, where the matter was extensively discussed.
Last week, the 36 state governors raised the alarm over a purported attempt to commence the deduction of $418 million from federation account.
“The attention of the NGF has been drawn to yet another attempt by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Minister of Finance to circumvent the law and the recent judgment of the Supreme Court by surreptitiously securing the approval of the FEC to effect payment of the sum of $418 million to four contractors who allegedly executed contracts in respect of the Paris Club refunds to the states and local governments,” the governors said in a letter dated August 1 and addressed to Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation.
In September 2021, the president suspended the controversial payment of $418 million to consultants despite initially approving the payment.
Citing sources privy to the details, the newspaper said Ahmed and Abubakar Malami tabled a memo asking the cabinet to approve the restart of the deductions from funds due to states from the federation account.
Before Wednesday’s meeting, the governors were said to have separately written to all ministers explaining their position and seeking their intervention to stop the planned deduction being vigorously pushed by the ministers of justice and finance.
The report said that they were fiercely countered in quick succession by Babatunde Fashola, minister of works and housing; Festus Keyamo, minister of state for labour; Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation, and two other cabinet members.
The FEC members who spoke against the deduction were said to have told the meeting that it would be sub-judicial for any payment to be made to the contractors while cases are pending in courts.
They also reportedly argued that it was insensitive of Ahmed and Malami to have tabled a proposal for the payment of controversial debts to contractors at a time the government is struggling to pay workers and fulfil its obligations to citizens.
“The ministers argued that since the issue is being challenged in court, and there is a supreme court pronouncement in place, it would be illegal to go ahead with the planned deductions,” the newspaper quoted its source as saying.
“The argument against the planned deductions was also made within the context of the nation’s economic crisis, poor revenue, and uncertain fiscal position.”
Against the backdrop of the arguments advanced by the ministers, the report said Buhari supported the ministers’ position.
The president directed that the planned deductions be suspended until the courts make their final pronouncements.