Nigeria

Group cautions Nigerian governors over $418 million judgment debt

Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF)

A non-governmental organization, National Fresh Vision (NFV), has cautioned the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives regarding their stance on the decision of the Federal Government to offset $418 million due to consultants and various legal counsel as judgment debts.

Specifically, the group stated that the posturing of the NGF concerning payment of valid court judgment debts in favour of consultants who facilitated the Paris and London Clubs refund to Nigeria a few years back could send a wrong signal, arguing that the stance was tantamount to pushing President Muhammadu Buhari to disobeying valid court orders and judgments in the country

The NFV, which prides itself in its commitment to “good governance, justice, rule of law and equity”, said in a statement signed by its National President, Prince Walters Eziashi and National Secretary, Mr Fred Akpewe, that the NGF acted in error by seeking to jeopardize the judgment in its apparent attempt to arm-twist Mr President not to obey the court on payment of the accrued judgment debts.

The group also berated the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, accusing him of meddlesomeness in dabbling into a matter he knew little or nothing about.

“It is also highly regrettable that the House of Representatives Minority Caucus led by Ndudi Elumelu would, midway dabble into the complex variables and dynamics of the Paris Club refunds they know little about, make un-salutary comments about the judgment debt and even toe the line of the NGF that the judgment debt be put on hold.

“The NGF cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time in this matter. The type of summersault being employed by the NGF as represented by their lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, (SAN) endangers the legal framework and Constitution of this country. Mr Falana cannot in 2019 urge the Ministry of Finance to pay the consultants their dues before the balance is paid to the Local Governments only for him to do a legal summersault in 2021 to seek leave to appeal the same judgment on the suit his client, ALGON sought to enforce. The fact remains that the NGF is yet to fathom the legal boundaries concerning Local Government funds as the “funds involved in this instance, were judgment sums recovered from the Federal Government by Linas International Limited in favour of 774 local government councils in Nigeria.

“The National Fresh Vision is aware that Mr President had directed the Honourable Minister of Finance and the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to compute all judgment debts for payment in order to stimulate the local economy as the monies will be utilized in Nigeria.

“Following Mr President’s directives, the judgment debts have been classified into three categories: A, B and C. Category A is for judgment debts relating to States and Local Governments which were arrived at through the due process of the law. The cumulative judgment debts in this category emanating from the Paris Club refunds are $418 million. The category B judgment debts are against Federal Ministries while Category C debts are against MDAs. The combined judgment debts recorded against Category B and C are in the region of US $1billion.

“Curiously, the NGF and the Minority Caucus of the House of Representatives are only concerned about the $418 million judgment debts for consultants and lawyers who negotiated the Paris Club refunds. They believe that the US $1billion debts are problems only for the Federal Government.

“National Fresh Vision has no reason to believe that the NGF if entrusted with monies emanating from government debts, will utilize the money in Nigeria to stimulate the economy. The possibility of these monies finding their way offshore is very high judging from past history. It is, therefore, in the interest of Nigeria and its economy for all judgment debts to be paid and utilized in Nigeria for the betterment of Nigerians.

“Whereas the NGF had expressly and unequivocally stated in the (2017) letter that “we do not object to the direct payment of the balance of consultancy fees due to Local Government, to Messrs LINAS International Ltd.” The present 2021 position of the NGF is the exact opposite of their letter in 2017. This duplicity is very shocking, even repugnant to natural justice, equity and the rule of law especially for the NGF to do a thorough volt face at this stage. It is in this light that the team of Senior Lawyers led by Joe Gadzama, SAN in objecting to the NGF’s current posturing described their actions as “dishonest, deceitful and malicious”.

The statement by the NFV further said, “The National Fresh Vision expects, however, that in the days ahead the NGF will come to terms with reality by supporting Mr President’s resolve to respect Nigerian laws and judgments emanating from the courts.

“To attempt to arm-twist Mr President to disobey the laws and law court judgments is an invitation to anarchy. We also urge the NGF to respect precedents rather than push the judiciary to run amok.

“This is the only way the NGF can correct the impression now gaining currency that they are prepared to violate the laws of the country provided they get more money for their forum.”

The matter blew into the public domain recently when the NGF in a submission queried Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, for issuing promissory notes in favour of judgment creditors or consultants relating to Paris and London Club refunds, including Prince Ned Nwoko and Linas International. The governors’ forum recently claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the payment of the $418 million Paris Club judgment debt despite pending court cases.

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