Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) has raised the alarm over a purported attempt by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami and Honourable Minister of Finance, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed to seek approval of the Federal Executive Council for a total sum of $418 million to be paid to four contractors from the Paris Club Refund currently in the Federation Account.
Four contractors were said to have executed contracts in respect of the Paris Club refunds to the states and Local Governments across the country.
In a letter dated August 1, 2022, addressed to Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) Mr. Boss Mustapha, signed by the NGF Chairman, and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, it was alleged that the AGF and Finance Minister are making surreptitious moves to circumvent the law and the recent Supreme Court judgement on the matter to secure the approval of the FEC to effect the payment to the contractors.
Prime Business Africa gathered that as the Federal Executive Council meets on Wednesday (today), there are indications that the matter would be brought before it and plans have been perfected to secure the approval.
The strong-worded letter sighted by Prime Business Africa, gave details of how the 36 state governors had resisted the earlier approval made by the President through the instrumentality of the AGF and the Finance Minister for the payment of the said sum to the contractors through the issuance of Promissory Notes. The matter according to the NGF is currently pending in the Court of Appeal Abuja for hearing.
Part of the letter reads, “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 (HMF) to circumvent the law and the recent Judgment of the Supreme Court by surreptitiously securing the approval of the Federal Executive Council (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.
“It would be recalled that an earlier approval of Mr. President under the instrumentality of the AGF and HMF to pay the said sum to the contractors through the issuance of Promissory Notes had met stiff resistance by the 36 State Governors who approached the Court for redress through their Attorneys-General. The matter is currently pending on appeal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja for hearing. The Letter by the State Attorneys General is attached.”
The NGF further stated that while the appeal is pending, one of the contractors, RIOK Nigeria Limited, a beneficiary of the Promissory Notes in the sum of $USD 142,028,941.95, and who had lost at the Court of Appeal, further went and filed an appeal at the Supreme Court.
The apex Court, however, on 3rd June, 2022 also dismissed RIOK’s appeal as lacking in merit, and at the same time made clear that neither the NGF nor Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) have power to award contracts and charge same directly to the
Federation Account as done in the present case.
It quoted the Supreme Court ruling thus: “The funds belonging to a state or Local Government must be kept in an account belonging to the State or Local Government as the case may be, and disbursed or expended by the state strictly in the manner and for the purposes prescribed in the Constitution and an Appropriation Law or as prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State and in the manner and for purposes prescribed in the Constitution, a Local Government Law or as prescribed by the Council of the Local Government.”
The NGF further noted that the Supreme Court dismissal of RIOK’S case also affected the payment of $1,219,440.45 and $215,195.36 to two private lawyers to RIOK – NWAFOR ORIZU and OLAITAN BELLO who are also beneficiaries of Promissory Notes by the Debt Management Office (DMO).
The forum further disclosed that besides, RIOK and the two lawyers, the states have also challenged claims made by the other contractors including: DR. TED ISIGHOHI EDWARDS ($159,000,000), NED NWOKO ($68,658,192.83) and PANIC ALERT SECURITY SYSTEMS LTD ($47,831,920) and the cases are pending, and that “no steps ought to be taken to enforce the Judgment and alter the status quo until the matters are fully determined. A Caveat issued to restrain all parties concerned and the public from dealing or honoring Promissory Notes issued had earlier been published,” it indicated.
Explaining the import of the Supreme Court judgement on the matter, the NGF said, “The purport and essence of the definitive pronouncement by the SC is that none of the contractors recommended for payment of the sum of $418 Million by the AGF and HMF can be so paid because the contracts and payments relied upon were not processed as prescribed by the Constitution and the law.
“The funds certainly cannot be accessed through the Federation Account as vigorously pursued by the AGF and HMF. Those contracts as they stand are unconstitutional and unlawful and cannot vest any legal right on any of the contractors.”
The forum pointed out that it is immaterial, the fact that part of the contract sums has been paid. “Those payments did not validate the unlawful nature of the contracts. The SC has spoken. It is final and must be obeyed,” the NGF added.
Stressing further on the propriety of deductions in the Federation Account as stipulated in the constitution, the governors forum said, “The NGF had in fact consistently posited that neither the States nor ALGON can appropriate/deduct monies directly from the Federation Account which funds are meant to be paid into the States/Local Government Joint Account for which the Houses of Assembly of the states are yet to appropriate and arising from Judgments to which the states that are custodians of the joint account were not a party. This position has been reinforced by the recent SC court decision in the RIOK’s Case.”
The NGF therefore, urged the AGF and the Finance minister not to under any guise make the FEC take any decision that would be considered unconstitutional, adding that since the country operates with rule of law, the ruling of the apex court should be strictly obeyed.
It further noted that in the face of the current harsh economic realities and security crisis in the country, “the payment of contractors of the humongous sum of $418 million from public treasury is not and should not be the priority of FEC,” adding that the “undue haste with which the payment of contractors in the Paris Club refund has been pursued and processed by the AGF and HMF has already created the impression in the discerning minds of the public that it would appear that the interest of contractors takes precedence over and above the welfare and interest of the general public whom the senior officials of government had sworn to defend and protect.
“The NGF therefore admonishes FEC to prevail on the AGF and HMF to toe the line of constitutionality and allow the due process of the law to prevail,” the forum stated.