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Paris Club Refunds: Malami Ramps Up Defence of Consultants

todayAugust 17, 2022

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•Says judgement tied to Nigeria’s foreign reserves 

•Insists FG will be subject of ridicule if its assets are taken over  

•Maintains he has no personal interest in $418m payment to private firms

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, yesterday ramped up his defence of consultants in the controversial N418 million Paris Club Refund, insisting that he was only interested in the enforcement of a court judgment in favour of the private firms.

But pressed on why he had taken a special interest in the case, Malami maintained that the ministry cannot fold its arms while a court judgment is being ignored which could lead to the litigants taking over government assets.

The 36 state governors in country under the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) had last week,  again resisted fresh moves to commence the deduction of the $418 million Paris Club consultancy fee refund allegedly owed four contractors from the federation account.

In a letter to the federal government through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha , dated August 1, the governors maintained that any renewed plan to begin the process which is being challenged in the courts and for which the Supreme Court has made pronouncement , would remain unconstitutional.

In the official communication signed by the Chairman of the NGF, Mr Kayode Fayemi, who also doubles as the Governor of Ekiti State, the governors noted that it would appear that the allegiance of Malami and the Minister of Finance, Dr Zainab Ahmed, lay with the contractors rather than the Nigerian people.

The governors described as suspicious the uncommon zeal and speed with which the two ministers were pursuing the cause of the four contractors, explaining that the latest attempt to stampede the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to approve the payment was a surreptitious way of breaching the law.

But while appearing on the state-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Malami pointed out that Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) had actually instituted an action against his office, the minister of finance , the accountant general and the Central Bank of Nigeria  (CBN) seeking the payment of the monies to the consultants.

He said that if the judgement is not obeyed, the court had ordered that the federal government assets should be taken over, while an action in 2015 was deliberately not contested by the local governments which the beneficiaries won.

Malami said that in all the processes , there was no objection to the payment of the funds to the consultants by the parties, part of which was the legal fees incurred by them.

He noted that when the federal government was confronted with the judgment, it sought to know if there were fraudulent undertones and engaged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Department of State Service ( DSS) for advice, but the feedback was that there was none.

He noted that the point of contention being raised by the governors is that there was a change of leadership after which they sought non-execution of the judgment.

He reiterated that the governors signed independent letters of indemnity, insisting that it was a legal matter and not a social issue or economic issue as being peddled by the NGF.

“When you are talking about the economic situation of the country, I think by prevailing laws, the governors are the custodians of such considerations. But what matters to the judiciary is the legality or otherwise of the issue in contention,” he added.

Asked whether he was not interested in the liquidity of states and the current economic crisis, Malami stated that by the letters of indemnity, the governors had confirmed their liquidity and capacity to pay.

While admitting that the system had been ridden with impunity, especially by the non-involvement of state houses of assembly before the governors chose to indemnify the payments, he lamented that the local governments had been relegated by the state governments.

“ A situation whereby the governors forum operates as an island while in actual fact it is indeed meant to address the collective interest of Nigerians and allowing some vested personal interest to override public interest, that is the result of what we are seeing,” he explained.

He insisted that after the governors received part payment from the Paris Club refund, they on their own took steps to pay the consultants, which he said, established the point that they are not contesting the payment.

According to Malami, having engaged the consultants in their own rights, submitting to a consent judgement, effecting payment and providing a letter of no objection by ALGON and issuing letters of indemnity, the local councils and the governors had taken responsibility for their action.

The minister argued that the federal government will be subjected to ridicule with its assets attached to the judgment, saying that the attorney general will not fold his arms and allow the takeover of government assets.

The implication of the non-payment of the debts, he said would best be appreciated when the March 2015 court order is studied, including an order of garnishee, which he said is absolute, indicating that  20 per cent fee should be paid to the consultants.

“This is inclusive of the financial assets of the federal government, the foreign reserves and any other associated income in monetary sense deposited in the CBN,” he posited.

He explained that going forward, there has to be a compromise on the existing judgement of the court, during which parties can sit down to discuss areas to make concessions.

“ If by their collective understanding with the consultants today, the entire judgement debt is forgiven, then we don’t have any problem,” the minister stated.

For instance , he said that arising from efforts by the federal government, Ned Nwoko had agreed to a 50 per cent concession, although Ted Edwards approached the court when he was given the same condition.

Malami described as a clear misconception, the accusation that he has a personal interest in the matter, reason he was pushing for the payment of the consultants.

He noted that if he had an interest, his office wouldn’t have prevailed on one of the consultants to take a 50 per cent slash, noting that he had ordered an investigation to establish if the debts were genuine in a case the governors and the local governments never defended.

Stressing that the matter was inherited by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Malami noted that when the matter was presented before FEC , it was decided that a cabinet committee be set up under the vice president so that thorough consideration can be discussed.

On recovered looted funds, Malami said he didn’t have the figures in his fingers, but stated that part of the funds had been deployed to addressing poverty in the form of social intervention programmes like N-Power, Tradermoni and the school feeding programme.

According to him, the second tranche was used for infrastructure development including the second Niger bridge, Lagos Ibadan expressway and the Abuja Kano road.

On the P&ID case, he stated that the federal government, has succeeded in escaping liability , stopping the enforcement of the judgement and raising issues at setting the judgment aside.

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