By paying $418 million in suspicious judgment debts without regard to court processes, governors accuse the Finance Minister of “corruption and lawlessness.”
In a protest letter to the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, Nigerian governors warn her against paying the $418 million Paris Club refund-related judgment debts, which have been a source of controversy.
These funds are equivalent to about $171 billion at the official exchange rate of N410 per $1.
“Corruption and lawlessness” were the words used by the governors in their letter dated September 1.
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A Supreme Court decision warns that anyone who defies court processes does so “at his peril.”
For example, in an earlier case cited as precedent by the governors, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (1986), the Supreme Court asserted its ability “to restore status, regardless of the merits as they may be finally decided.”
He advised her “to be guided by the cautionary advice of our highest court, as quoted above,” Femi Falana, governors’ lawyer, wrote.
The debt management office from issuing promissory notes to any contractor or consultant pending the determination of court processes in respect of which your office has been served with notice of their hearing dates”, he advised the minister to consider the apex court’s decision.
DMO was instructed to issue promissory notes to six creditors as a means of settling the suspicious debts. It was reported that through its permanent secretary Aliyu Ahmed, the finance ministry instructed DMO to do so.
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When the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), led by Kayode Fayemi, repeatedly demanded a forensic audit of the claims of the creditors, the President’s approval was ignored.
Ibrahim Gambari, President Buhari’s Chief of Staff; Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation; and the Finance Minister were identified in a series of our exclusive reports on this issue as the three men who were leading the desperate push for the payment, even though numerous issues cast doubt on the legitimacy of the debt.
Many issues have been raised, from partial or non-execution of contracts to opaque deals that lead to consent judgments in favor of the creditors.
According to an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission report, one of the creditors’ claims for $159 million has also been discredited.
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According to the Association of Local Governments in Nigeria (ALGON), its members had given one of the claimants $159 million worth of borehole contracts. Still, those contracts had not been carried out.
Through Mr. Falana in April, the NGF wrote to the Finance Minister, asking her to put on hold any plans to begin paying the money while it filed appeals.
Filing of lawsuits; hearing date set
“The special interest” the finance minister shows in this payment is questioned by Mr. Falana in his latest protest letter against this massive debt.
Who has a special interest in having contractors and consultants paid expeditiously when valid court processes are challenging the decisions of the courts of the first instance upon which these claims are based, if one may ask?”
He pointed out that the minister’s office had been served with court papers seeking to halt the execution of judgments pending the outcome of the appeals they had filed in response to the judgments.
His office had also been served with notice of a hearing before the Federal High Court scheduled for September 29, 2021, Mr. Falana said.
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However, despite the service of these processes as well as hearing notice, your Permanent Secretary acted on instructions from you by instructing DMO to issue promissory notes to contractors and consultants, whose claims are still being challenged and contested in court” the Senior Advocate of Nigeria wrote.
Finance Minister “illegally authorizes” payments.
Finance Minister “illegally authorizes” payments to be deducted from state government allocations for 10 years “to pay for these bogus amounts of money,” Mr. Falana said in his statement.
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A copy of the letter was sent to both the Attorney-General and the DMO, in which Mr. Falana wrote: “We are convinced that this is a prime example of corruption and lawlessness.”
Her “sacred duty” of “staying action on this matter in light of [the] injunctive reliefs sought in the processes duly filed in court on these matters,” he said.
There is a rule in the law that prohibits parties from engaging in any activity that would impose a fait accompli on the court about an application or action pending in a court of law.
Controversial judgment debts
A total of $418 million in debt was owed to “consultants” and “contractors” due to court judgments.
They claimed to have helped state and local governments recover funds over-deducted from their allocations between 1995 and 2002 for buying back Paris Club loans and exiting Paris Club.
Of the 774 local governments surveyed, the contractors said they were contracted to carry out certain projects in anticipation of being paid from the Paris Club refunds.
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State has demanded a forensic audit of the agreements that led to the court judgments since he assumed office as the NGF’s chairperson in May 2019.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the 36 state governors and some other top federal officials were also members of the National Executive Council (NEC), which in February also joined in the NGF’s call for a suspension of the planned payments for an audit to be conducted.