The dust raised by the planned deduction of $418 million from states’ allocation to settle Paris Club Refund consultants has not settled.
Yesterday, governors accused the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) of backing the contractors and private firms by insisting on the payment of the disputed consultancy fees.
The Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, traced the genesis of the controversy to the activities of an illegal faction of the forum, led by former Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang.
The governor who answered questions on an Arise Television clarified that the disputed fee is $419 million, and not $418 million, as previously claimed by the minister.
He urged Malami to allow the court to determine the case.
On Wednesday, Malami insisted that states and local governments cannot back out of the payment.
Painting an awful picture of fleece, Fayemi said it was worrisome that a whopping sum of $7million was earmarked as a consultancy fee for a firm for writing a two-page letter for the factional NGF.
He wondered why the AGF was bent on enforcing the payment of the arbitrary consultancy fee when cases relating to the loan refund are still pending in the court.
Fayemi said: “It does not even appeal to common sense at all and this is why it befuddled the mind that the Attorney-General of the Federation is pushing so vehemently on the side of people whose primary intent is to fleece the Nigerian people.”
Fayemi added: “While some people can obtain money by fraudulent means, it doesn’t mean that another legitimate authority like Governors’ Forum will not reveal that and then, insist on the right thing being done.”
The NGF chairman said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that reviewed the matter accused the Federal Ministry of Justice of lack of diligent prosecution.
Fayemi said the NGF has been discussing the controversy with President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief of Staff and Minister of Finance in the last seven-eight months.
He said: “It’s unfortunate that we’ll even be put in this situation. There are four particular cases that concern us – Linus Ned Nwoko vs the FG/ALGON and a company called Riok Nigeria Ltd belonging to one Nicholas Ukachukwu.
“The third relates to a man called George Oboh who runs a company called Panic Alert and a gentleman called Ted Iseghohi, who used to be an official of ALGON.
“These are matters relating to the Paris Club as far back as 2005 and they tried to get this money from (Olusegun) Obasanjo administration, they failed; they tried it with (Umaru) Yar’Adua administration, they failed; they tried it with the (Goodluck) Jonathan administration, they failed.
“They have now resorted to taking advantage of the decency and generosity of spirit of President Buhari to try and fleece the Nigerian people of these resources.
“And it is not $418 million, it is $419 million and that may ring some bell in many places… Malami claimed he has an Order of Mandamus to release the fund. There is no order of mandamus anywhere; I challenged the Attorney-General to produce it if he has one.
“He said there was a consent judgment by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and ALGON which confirmed that there was money being owed and that we consented that we would pay. I was not the Chairman of the NGF in the period referred to.”
Fayemi added: “I happen to have been a governor in the era of 16-19 controversy. So there was no Jonah Jang administration of the Nigerian Governor’s Forum.
“Rotimi Amaechi was the official, authentic Chairman of the Nigerian governors at that time and what was claimed relate to a review of a judgment for which he allegedly was offered $7 million.
“No top law firm in the world would charge $7 million for a two-page letter purportedly given to some factions of the governor’s forum on the back of the review of a judgment.
“It does not happen anywhere in the world; it does not even appeal to common sense at all and this is why it befuddled the mind that the Attorney General of the Federation is pushing so vehemently on the side of people whose primary intent is to fleece the Nigerian people. That’s one.
“Even the EFCC that reviewed all of these matters accused the Federal Ministry of Justice of lack of diligent prosecution of these matters. These matters were not appealed by the Ministry of Justice.
“Admittedly, not under Abubakar Malami at the time but what is happening now is a continuation of the matter and that is what the governors are challenging.
“I wrote to Mr president on behalf of my colleagues; I sat with Mr President on this issue and clearly Mr President was misled and there’s no way governors are going to do this.
“I’d ordinarily not come out and do this but my brother Abubakar Malami directed his media aide to accuse governors of being the one behind this and he has repeated on your programme today that we are forum shopping. The case relating to the matter is still sitting at the Supreme Court of Nigeria today.
“This is a gentleman who claimed he built boreholes in 774 local governments in Nigeria; this did not happen anywhere. He lost the case in the Court of Appeal and they made it clear to him that he can only sue ALGON and ALGON is not a local government for goodness sake.
“That matter is sitting in the Supreme Court and now Attorney-General Malami has paid to Riok promissory note to the tune of $142 million until we got this injunction from court stopping them from recognising and discounting this promissory note.”
Fayemi recalled that President Buhari had agreed to pay the refund in 2017.
He said: “In 2017 when the President graciously agreed to pay the refund that was inappropriately deducted from the state and local governments account, many of these people came out of the woodworks and they were blocking the receipts of this funds by states.
“One of the ways in which the governors’ forum at the time, tried to address it was to call for all the cases that are in courts, and all the claims that are being made by the consultants and reviewed them. This review was carried out.
“The Attorney-General requested for information on this. The information was passed to him and at the end of the day, $350 million was approved by Mr President as a full and final settlement and some of these funds went to some of the people who are now back to the Attorney-General claiming $419 million.
“So, if in 2017, a certain amount of money had been approved as full and final payment, where did this $419 million come from? I suppose that’s the question that the court needs to help unravel and that’s why we were saying Mr Attorney-General, you were the one behind the settlement of the $350 million in the first place. Why the hurry, if we are challenging your $419 million? Then let the court adjudicate on that matter.
“Certain money had been paid to consultants on accounts of claims that were made and in the wisdom of my predecessors in office and the governors who are in office, they let that be because they wanted access to their money and these purported consultants had gone ahead to secure garnishee orders from the court to block the accounts of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, to block the accounts of ALGON and a number of other entities.”
Chiding the AGF for lack of due diligence, Fayemi said: “We are all servants of the Nigerian people and what we do in the office today will be subject to scrutiny in future. That’s why it is absolutely necessary for us to uphold the very best and the strictest form of transparency when we are in public office.
“I’m afraid we do not believe that the Attorney-General has demonstrated this and that’s what has brought this about.”
He added: “EFCC was brought in but EFCC clearly could not have been in a position to verify the amount and that’s why we asked for a forensic audit. EFCC is not a body of forensic auditors; yes they’re investigators and in the report by EFCC, they pointed out that the letter that Mr Ted Iseghohi presented was a forgery and it was on the back of this, that our Attorney-General approved what should go to Ted Iseghohi, who by the way was a staff of ALGON at the time that he claimed he was a consultant to ALGON.
“Those are the kind of malfeasance that we are dealing with in this matter; EFCC is an established body of the Nigerian law, charged with investigating economic crimes.
“EFCC as I indicated even accused the office of the Attorney-General of lack of diligent prosecution. It wasn’t the Nigerian Governors’ Forum that was sued, it was ALGON and the Federal Government and when the Federal Government failed to take this matter after the judgment he referred to, the judgment by Ademola in 2013 – this was not appealed. We had to go to court. What’s the hurry?
“Why can’t the Attorney-General who’s a Senior Advocate of Nigeria wait for the court to adjudicate over this matter and resolve them one way or the other?
“If the court now says Nigeria Governors’ Forum, you’re liable, then, we wouldn’t have a choice. We would have to pay the money in question but at this point, that’s not been the case.
“This case has not been sufficiently adjudicated on and they’re still sitting in court. All that we need to see the Attorney-General for, we’ve done this in private, we’ve done this in his office; we’ve gone to the President to highlight this. Let this matter be resolved in court and we’d take it from there.”