By Anthony Kolawole
I have read with interest the recent accusations and counter-accusations between the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on claims on the Paris Club refund. This has indeed generated heated exchanges that are somewhat a show of shame, in my estimated opinion.
I have long held the opinion that state governors have constituted themselves into principalities in the country. I dare say they are powerful and primarily responsible for some of the socio-economic challenges in the country. You could say they are a bunch of insincere folks who are only interested in anything that protects their insatiable interest, not minding whose ox is gored.
It must be noted that the issue of the Paris Club Refund has been a recurring decimal since the administration of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. Yes, consultants were engaged, and fees were agreed upon. It was beneficial to both parties as at then, and we were spared the agony of the media parade by the Nigeria Governors Forum.
What has changed? Elections are around the corner, and state governors are scooping monies from every avenue to plunge into political campaigns. This time around, the claims made by the consultants could not stand because it would affect their earnings. I wonder how any right-thinking person would claim that the consultants were due to be paid $418 million.
This time, the Attorney General of the Federation has been dragged into the issue as taking sides with the consultants for insisting that the terms and agreement reached must be obeyed. Recall that when the Paris Club refund was paid to the states, the governors initially made part payment to the consultants but later decided to stop payment while asking for an out-of-court settlement.
This development resulted in an appeal in the form of a request to the president to facilitate payment to the consultants. This request was consequently transmitted to the Office of the AGF for legal advice. According to the Attorney General of the Federation, after subjecting the request to necessary checks, it was discovered that there was no element of fraud involved. He stated that the indemnity of the governors was also sought and received, culminating in the decision to make the payment.
What I find curious in the ensuing melee and the claims made by the Nigerian Governors Forum is that the governors’ forum, comprising all the governors, sat, commonly agreed on the engagement of consultants to provide certain services for them relating to the recovery of the Paris Club. So, it was the governors’ forum under the federal government in the first place that engaged the consultants.
When eventually, successes were recorded associated with the refund, the governors collectively and individually presented a request to the federal government for the fund. And among the components of the claim presented for the federal government’s consideration was a component related to the payment of these consultants that now constitute the subject of contention. So it implies that the governors in their own right recognized the consultants, recognized their claim and presented such claim to the federal government.
Now, this is the interesting part. When the claims were eventually processed and paid to the governors’ forum, they, indeed, on their own, without the federal government’s intervention, took steps to make part payments to the consultants, acknowledging their liability over same.
When they decided to stop the payment, the consultants instituted an action in court against the governors’ forum. And what happened in court? They submitted to consent judgment. They asked and urged the court to allow them to settle out of court. This much was corroborated by the Federation’s Attorney General when he recently stated that the court granted the governors an opportunity to settle out of court. They committed to terms of settlement in writing; they signed the terms of the settlement, agreeing and conceding that such payments be made to the consultants.
Hear him: “The president passed all the governors’ requests to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration. I suggested to the president the face value of the judgement and the undertones associated with the consultancy services; in my opinion, the same treatment we meted to P&ID, let us subject this claim, the consent judgement, to an investigation by the agencies of the government.”
“Mr President approved; I directed the EFCC and DSS to look into these claims and report back to the office of the Attorney General. And these agencies reported and concluded that there was no problem, undertone associated with it and that the government may continue to sanction the payment.”
With the above, any discerning mind would conclude that the governors are trying to be clever by half unless the Governor’s Forum acted without the consensus of the governors of the 36 states of the federation. And if that was the case, whose fault is it?
I think this is just a face-saving measure by the governors to cover their lack of defence in the whole matter. Therefore they are looking for a scapegoat in the Attorney General of the Federation.
Let’s call a spade a spade. Over the years, the Attorney General of the Federation has displayed an unalloyed commitment to discharging his duties. Little wonder the feats the Federal Ministry of Justice recorded in securing over 1,000 convictions on terrorism. Convictions have also been secured in 45 cases by the Complex Casework Group (CCG), maritime unit, and the special task force on electricity offences and across the 13 zonal offices of the ministry. The Justice Ministry had supported the federal government in various infrastructure-funding agreements, adding that the country currently grapples with a N329 billion funding gap, amongst a host of others.
He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. The Nigeria Governors Forum must spare us their tirade and own up to their failures regarding the Paris Club Refund. The Federation’s Attorney General is the country’s Chief Law Officer, and all and sundry must respect any matter that requires his legal advice.
I suggest that the Governors Forum seek an alternative strategy in vilifying the Attorney General of the Federation. This is dead on arrival.
Kolawole PhD wrote this piece from Nasarawa .