The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has asked banks not to proceed with the payment of $418.9 million to consultants as directed by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed.
President Muhammadu Buhari was said to have approved the payment of the sum in Paris Club refund-related judgment debts to six creditors, following which Mrs. Ahmed directed the Debt Management Office (DMO) to commence issuance of promissory notes to the creditors, as approved by the president.
But the governors have kicked against the move, warning the CBN and banks against proceeding with the payments.
Recall that around 2008 the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) contracted Prince Ned Nwoko’s Linas International Ltd to secure the payment of
Paris Club refunds due to the local governments. The assignment was said to have been successfully completed in 2018 with Linas paid.
Nwoko’s firm, among others, were also said to have been contracted by some state governors for similar purpose, with both parties agreeing to pay about 20 percent of recovered money for the consultancy.
However, the due some, which presently stands at $418m is being contested by governors who insist that a forensic audit be carried out to ascertain the actual money involved and terms of the contract.
Through a letter signed by P.H. Ogbole, an advocate for the governor’s forum, the governors called for the disregard of the promissory notes issued by the DMO on the Finance Minister’s orders.
The NGF, in the letter addressed to the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele; Attorney General of the Federation and
Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN); Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed; and the Director-General, Debt Management Office (DMO), Ms. Patience Oniha, questioned the rationale behind the payment of the alleged debt to the said consultants and contractors.
They argued that the said payment is already an issue of litigation.
The governors in the “Caveat” letter dated Friday, September 3, 2021, also wondered why the federal government was in a rush to make such payment to individuals at a time when both the federal and state governments need funds for provisions of critical infrastructure for the people.
Ogbole, in the letter titled, “Caveat on the Payment of $418 million Suspicious Debts”, argued that since the federal
government was aware of the current court cases challenging the payment of the alleged debts, it ought not to take any further steps on the matter.
According to the senior lawyer, the governors on August 3, 2021, got wind of the federal government’s move to effect the payment.
He noted that the governors learnt that some consultants/contractors alleged that they were retained by some states
and had done some work for the states and local governments in Nigeria about the Paris Club refund.
“The Minister of Finance is said to have directed the Director-General, Debt Management Office (DMO) to issue Promissory Notes in favour of the Consultants. The purported amounts claimed by the various consultants are as follows: Ned Nwoko – $142,028,941; Ted Iseghoghi Edwards -$159 million; Riok Nigeria Limited, Orji Nwafor Orizu, and Olaitan Bello – $142,028,941.95 and Panic Alert System Limited and George Uboh – $47,831,920”, Ogbole explained.
He explained that the consultants relied on judgments of the Federal High Court which are presently being challenged by the 36 governors in several actions in various courts.
He identified the cases to include suits number FHC/ Abj/CS/123/2018 between Panic Alert Security Systems Limited & Anor Vs Trustees of Nigeria Governors’ Forum & 3 Others; FHC/ABJ/CS/453/2021 between Trustees of Nigeria Governors’ Forum Vs Panic Alert Security Systems Limited & Anor (5 others); and M/3542/2021 between Riok Nigeria Limited Vs The Trustees of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Ogbole added that some of the consultants have already joined issues with the NGF, while the matters have been set down for hearing on September 28 and 29, 2021.
According to him, the Minister of Finance, the DG of DMO, and the AGF had since been duly served and notified of the pendency of these actions in court in different letters written by counsel to the NGF.
“It is therefore strange and indeed alarming that having been served and made aware of the pendency of the various court cases, the Minister of Finance would readily but in complete disregard of the law direct that Promissory Notes be issued in favour of the consultants,” he said.
While arguing that custodians and managers of public funds are public trustees and must at all times act in the public interest, he stressed that the interest of all the states and local governments of the federation is involved in this instant case and ought to be protected by the Minister of Finance.
Ogbole added that “the issuance of Promissory Notes of a humongous sum of over $418 million to private persons for alleged consultancy work demands not only caution but strict due diligence, particularly when the judgments which gave rise to the payments sought to be enforced are the subject of pending litigation.
“Matters that are subjudice must not be acted upon in a manner that will foist a situation of complete helplessness on the courts and render their decisions nugatory,” he added.
He, however, explained that this caveat was issued as a Further Notice to the Minister of Finance and the DG, DMO, to act in the interest of the public and refrain from foisting on the nation another case of P& lD in which, he noted, would have fleeced the nation of billions of dollars but for due diligence.
“The nation is already going through economic adversity and every dollar is needed to be channelled to people-oriented projects. Public duty and probity demand that public trustees must, at all times, act in the interest of the people they serve to protect their commonwealth.
“Accordingly, justice must be allowed to run its full course.
“All chief executives of banks and their compliance officers are hereby advised to desist from or otherwise not to accept for exchange or process for payment or giving value to any promissory notes issued by the DMO for purpose of satisfying alleged Paris Club Consultants fees afore-mentioned.
“The entire public is also notified to be at the high alert of this hasty attempt to circumvent the rule of law and dissipate hard-earned public funds meant for development purposes to private persons on matters which are presently being litigated upon.
“Let no grant be sealed in the funds of the 36 states of the federation and the 774 local government areas in the sums mentioned in this caveat without notice to the caveator (the Nigeria Governors’ Forum) as the matter of the payments is sub judice,” he added