AGF/HMF, Paris club, the call for caution for caution on the caveat against court contempt
By Bala Ibrahim
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, AGF Abubakar Malami is not new to controversies, but the Honourable Minister of Finance, HMF Hajiya Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, is new to altercations, and not a familiar passenger on the train of what the French would call, cause célèbre. Yes, Hajiya Zainab is known to be cautious and generally collectively calm. However, pursuant to the ongoing brouhaha between her office, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, and the Nigeria Governors Forum, her hitherto condition of being free from feuds is now under serious threat.
There is a growing public anger or disapproval, with regards the Federal Government’s handling of the issue of the $418 million Paris Club deductions, with the governors accusing her office and that of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN, of circumventing the law, by surreptitiously securing the approval of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to effect a payment on an issue that is already under litigation.
The 36 Governors of Nigeria, operating under the umbrella of the Nigeria Governors Forum, are protesting against the attempts by the Federal Government, to begin the deduction of the $418 million Paris Club refund, allegedly owed four contractors from the federation account.
According to the Governors, who made their position clear and unambiguous, through a letter sent to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha, any attempt to restart the deduction process, on the case that is being challenged in court, and for which the Supreme Court has made the pronouncement, would be unconstitutional.
AGF, Abubakar Malami, and the Finance Minister, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, had sought the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari, to pay the said sum to the contractors, through the issuance of promissory notes, but the governors are saying a capital NO to the move, because according to them, the matter is currently pending on appeal at the Court of Appeal, Abuja. “Significantly, while that appeal is pending, one of the contractors, who is a beneficiary of the Promissory Notes in the sum of $USD 142,028,941.95, Risk Nigeria Limited and who had lost at the Court of Appeal, further appealed to the SC in SUIT NO: SC 337/2018 BETWEEN: RIOK NIGERIA LIMITED V INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF NIGERIA GOVERNORS’ FORUM &7 ORS. The Supreme Court on 3rd June, 2022 also dismissed Riok’s appeal as lacking in merit,”- the NGF.
To press their point further, the governors argued that the Supreme Court had on that same occasion made it clear that, neither the NGF nor ALGON, had the powers to award contracts and charge the same directly to the Federation Account as done in this case.
However, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami is saying the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, has no basis to reject the proposed deductions from the Paris Club refund, because, as he puts it, the contract originated from them, and also the payment of the liability was indemnified by them. Therefore, all the noise-making from them is unjustified.
“I think you need to be informed first, as to the antecedents, prevailing circumstances, and how the liability arose, but one thing I’m happy to state, which I want to reiterate, having stated the same earlier, is the fact that the Office of the Attorney General and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has not indeed incurred any major judgment debt for the period of seven years it has been on.
The liability or judgement debts related to the Paris Club was indeed a liability created by the governor’s forum in their own right. The Governor’s forum comprising of all the governors sat down (and) commonly agreed on the engagement of consultant to provide certain services for them relating to the recovery of the Paris Club. So, it was the governor’s forum under the federal government in the first place that engaged the consultant. The implication of that is that, the governors in their own right recognized the consultant(s), recognized their claim and presented such claim to the federal government”.
The use to which the Paris club money was put is among the many questions asked by observers. While some of the governors are saying they have constructed primary health cares across the country, others said they have provided boreholes, which are physical things that can be seen. The governors are accusing the AGF of being used by the consultants.
The good thing is that the matter is before the court, which had issued a caveat or warning, with specific stipulations that have validity. Any attempt by either side, be it the NGF or the FGN, to do something that would vitiate the validity of that caveat, would amount to a contempt of court. And as the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Malami knows better than anyone, the imperative of caution against any caveat, or the callous contempt of court.