*Accuses them of indemnifying payment to consultants
*Puts foreign loots recovered in 14 months at N3.2bn
Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Federal Government has reacted formally to the complaints by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum over the contentious $418 million Paris Club Refund saying the governors have no basis to express reservations over the refund.
Making the government position known at a media briefing Thursday at the State House, Abuja, was the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami who declared that there was no basis for agitation by the NGF concerning deductions from the Paris Club refund paid to the consultants they hired.
Commenting on the fund controversy, the Minister reminded the governors that they created the liability whose payment, he said, they have also indemnified.
According to him, when the NGF made a request for the refund, one of the components was the settlement of the consultants whose services were engaged by the 36 stat governors.
Malami recounted that when the Paris Club refund was paid to the states, the governors initially made part payment to the consultants, but explained that the governors later decided to stop payment while asking for an out of court settlement.
He said the development resulted in an appeal in the form of a request to the President to facilitate the payment to the consultants, a request that was consequently transmitted to the Office of the AGF for legal advice.
The AGF noted that after subjecting the request to critical checks, it was discovered that there was no element of fraud involved.
He revealed that the indemnity of the governors was also sought and received, which culminated in the decision to make the payment.
His words:”On the issue of Paris Club, you mentioned that there exists a presidential directives that payments should not be made and then in breach of that position, directives payments were perhaps maybe arising from the conspiracy between the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice payments have been made.
“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 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.
“Now, coming to the antecedents, background of the Paris Club. The liability or judgement debts related to Paris Club was indeed a liability created by the Governors Forum in their own right.
“How do I mean? The Governors Forum comprising of all the governors sat down, commonly agreed on the engagement of consultants to provide certain services for them relating to the recovery of the Paris Club. So, it was the Governors Forum under the federal government in the first place that engaged the consultants.
“Two, when eventually, successes were recorded associated with the refund, associated with Paris Club, the governors collectively and individually presented a request to the federal government for the fund. And among the components of the claim presented for the consideration of the federal government was a component related to the payment of these consultants that are now constituting the subject of contention.
“So, the implication of that is that the governors in their own right recognized the consultants, recognized their claim and presented such claim to the federal government.
“Three, when the claims were eventually processed and paid to the Governors Forum, they indeed on their own, without the intervention of the federal government, took steps to make part payments to the consultants, acknowledging their liability over same.
“And then four, when eventually they made such payments, at a point they took a decision to stop the payment. The consultants instituted an action in court against the Governors Forum. And what happened in court? They submitted to consent judgment. They asked and urged the Court to allow them settle out of court.
“The court granted them an opportunity to settle. They committed to terms of settlement in writing, they signed the terms of settlement, agreeing and conceding that such payments be made to the consultants.
“And then five, thereafter, the federal government under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was requested to comply with the judgment and effect payment.
“The President passed all the requests of the governors to the Office of the Attorney General for consideration. I suggested to the President on the face value of the judgment and the undertones associated with the consultancy services, it was my opinion, the same treatment we meted to P&ID, that let us subject this claim, the consent judgment to investigation by the agencies of the government.
“Mr. President approved, I directed the EFCC and DSS to look into these claims and report back to the office of the Attorney General. And these agencies reported and concluded that there are no problems undertone associated with it. The government may continue to sanction the payment dependent. Now, that was the background.
“Even at that, we took further steps after receiving these reports from the EFCC among others, to demand for indemnity from the governors. You, as a forum, you incurred this liability, as a forum, you submitted to consent judgment, we have subjected this claims to investigation and we have a report. But even at that, we need independent indemnity from you, establishing that it is with your consent and understanding that these payments should be made, in writing.
“And I’m happy to report to you that the governors individually and collectively provided the desired indemnity to the Office of the Attorney General, conceding, agreeing and submitting, that the payment should be made.
“Yes, and that was the ground and the basis on which we eventually took a decision by advising the President that the payment should be made.
“And then along the line, there was a change of leadership of the Governors Forum.
“And all the noise making that is now being generated arising from the Governors Forum is not only unjustified, but indeed, a clear case of absence of defense.”
The AGF also hinged the agitation over the payment to the consultants on the change of leadership at the NGF.
According to him: “One other point of interest you may wish to note, is the fact that the new leadership of the Governors Forum instituted an action, even when the federal government was indeed acting on the basis of the judgment of the Supreme Court.
“They now embarked on a fresh legal suit, challenging the payment, challenging the previous agreement, challenging the indeminity and the court dismissed the application. Their case was dismissed by the Federal High Court.
“So, that is the foundation and I’m happy to report one, that the judgment and contention was a judgment that was obtained long before the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami came into office, long before the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came into office.
“It was a product of their own doing and they had it submitted to judicial proceeding, judgment was entered against them.
“They have committed to the payment of the money, they have on their own indeed effected part payment. I closed my case and I will not like to answer any further question on that.”
Malami also revealed that the federal government has so far secured more than 1,000 convictions for terrorism-related court cases in the last 18 months.
According to him, the federal government had also won 312 convictions in various other criminal cases during the period under review.
His words: “The ministry has so far secured over 1000 convictions on terrorism. Convictions have also been secured in 45 cases by the Complex Casework Group (CCG), Maritime unit, and the special task force on electricity offenses and across the 13 zonal offices of the Ministry.”
He noted that the Ministry, through the CCG unit, is coordinating the next phase of terrorism related trials in collaboration with the federal high court, the Legal Aid Council, and the Defence Headquarters.
Malami further stated that the Ministry of Justice has successfully processed over 350 Mutual Legal Assistance and 50 extradition requests including extradition proceedings against suspended DCP Abba Kyari from the United States of America.
His words: “My office filed extradition proceedings against the suspended DCP Abba Kyari in line with an MLA request from the USA”
The Minister disclosed that the present administration had also recovered over N3.2bn (£6,324,627.66) of stolen monies from various jurisdictions globally.
He, however, disclosed that the recovered foreign loots had been judiciously expended on executing key infrastructure projects across the country, including the Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano Road and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, among others.
He also noted that the Justice Ministry has supported the Federal Government in various infrastructure funding agreements, adding that the country currently grapples with a N329 billion funding gap.