By Bassey Udo
The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) on Sunday faulted claims by Ned Nwoko on roles allegedly played by some consultants said to have facilitated the payment of the Paris Club refunds to state governments by the Federal Government.
The payment of the refund has been bogged by controversial consultancy fees totaling $418.95 million, which the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said certain persons were entitled to for various services rendered to facilitate the payment process.
But the Attorneys-General and Commissioners of Justice of the 36 states of the federation had opposed the proposal by the AGF to recommend to the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) for the deduction of the amount from their accounts to settle claims.
The States’ representatives, in suing the Federal Government, listed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Accountant General of the Federation and Ministry of Finance as defendants. Other defendants in the suit included the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Debt Management Office (DMO), Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), among others.
However, despite an injunction granted the States by the Federal High Court, Abuja restraining the Federal Government from going ahead with the deduction from the refunds due to the States, the AGF has insisted on having his way.
On Wednesday, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) described the AGF’s insistence on the payment of the claims as fraudulent and self-serving.
The NGF Chairman, who is also Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, said the governors resolved to deploy every available constitutional and legal means to pursue the rights of the states against the payment.
Following the NGF’s statement, one of the purported consultants, Ned Munir Nwoko, in a statement in support of the claims said the deductions involved totaled $68.7 million only and not $418.9 million.
But, the NGF, through its Director, Media & Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, accused Nwoko of engaging in “desperate, spurious and futile advocacy mounted and coordinated by the AGF on behalf of the so-called Paris Club Consultants to justify the plundering of the humongous sum of USD418.9m from the public treasury of the States and Local Governments.”
Barkindo said Nwoko was deliberately “dishing out blatant lies and half-truths, in an attempt to blur and obfuscate the real facts and legal issues in the controversy.
The NGF said the claims by the consultants were in circumvention of the country’s Constitution, which does not give any person the right to make.
Dismissing Nwoko’s claims, the NGF said the total amount all the consultants were collectively claiming from the States and Local Governments, was $418.95 million.
Details of the claimants included Ned Munir Nwoko ($68,658,192.83); Ted Isighohi Edwards ($159,000,000); Panic Alert Security Systems Ltd. ($47,831,920); Riok Nig. Ltd ($142,028,941.95); Prince Orji Orizu ($1,219,440.45) and Barrister Olaitan Bello ($215,195.36).
The governors said details of all the claims by the consultants were reflected in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 between Linas International Ltd & 35 Ors Vs Federal Government of Nigeria & 3 Ors.
In the suit instituted by Nwoko, the NGF said an award of 20 percent of the sum of $3,188,078,505.96 was given, to be deducted from the States and Local Governments Paris Club refunds.
The NGF said the judgment was challenged on appeal by the States and NGF in Suit No CA/ABJ/PRE/ROEA/CV/327M1/2022: Attorney General of Abia State & 35 Ors Vs Linas International Ltd & 239 Ors.
“The attempt by NED, therefore, to separate his own claim of $68 million as if it is not related to the claims of other consultants is being clever by half. All the consultants claim to have rendered the same or similar service of helping the States and Local Governments to recover over-deducted Paris Club refunds by the Federal Government. Their cases therefore rise or fall together. A poison of the part is a poison of the whole. What is unlawful remains unlawful. Its origin is immaterial and the part or role played by all parties separately or collectively at all times is unlawful and cannot be remedied,” the NGF argued.
On claims by Nwoko that his team was a member of the Federal Government Committee constituted to reconcile figures under the Paris Club refunds to the States and Local Governments, the NGF described such claims as “patently false.”
The NGF said the report of that committee dated May, 2007 showed that only the Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Debt Management Office (DMO) and Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) (secretariat) were members.
“Private persons who were not privy could not have been included in a committee that was meant to examine purely public financial records. It was this Committee that did all the work now claimed by NED and the other consultants.
“While it is possible that the unlawful scheme hatched by the consultants to feast on public funds may have over the years been executed with the cooperation of enemies of the State without anyone raising an eye brow; the bubble has now burst and the time to account has come.
“It is an irony that NED and other consultants who flaunt Judgments of courts as justification for payment are now uncomfortable and jittery when the same Judgments are tested on appeal. An appeal is not a circumvention of a Judgment as NED may want the public to believe. It is a constitutional right. The consultants have no choice, but to pursue the various appeals,” the NGF said.
On the role of the AGF in the controversy, the NGF accused Malami of abdicating his role as public defender and trustee to become the strongest advocate to the consultants.
The NGF restated its determination to pursue all appeals on the judgments on the Paris Club refunds, saying all it requests was for the AGF and the consultants to allow the appeal processes to run and be exhausted.