Top officials of the federal government and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) are yet to comply with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive on the final settlement of all debts relating to the Paris Club loan refund, especially the payment of $350million consultants’ fees.
Although the accountant-general of the federation (AGF), Ahmed Idris, is at the centre of the gathering storm for allegedly withholding the consultants’ fee, he hinged his action on ethical grounds and compliance with due process.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the AGF had remained adamant despite the advice of the minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the minister of finance that the presidential directive should be complied with.
It was learnt that Idris is relying on a purported verbal directive by the chairman of the NGF, who is said to have instructed that funds meant for consultancy/legal fees, estimated at about $350million, be withheld.
In his letter of September 21, 2018 to the justice minister, Idris justified why the $350million meant for the payment of legal/consultancy fees was being withheld.
He had sought the advice of the minister of justice, a request Malami was yet to provide when the letter was written on September 21.
Idris, in the letter titled: “Re: Payment of legal/consultancy fees deducted from states’ reimbursement in respect of final claim on Paris Club loan,” referred to a certain counter-directive by the chairman of the NGF to withhold the money.
LEADERSHIP recalls that the chief of staff (CoS) to the president, Abba Kyari, had in a letter dated June 28, 2018 disclosed that President Buhari had approved the settlement of all claims relating to the Paris Club loan reimbursement.
In the letter, which he copied to the ministers of finance and justice, Kyari sought the legal opinion of Malami on the issue.
While reacting to Kyari’s letter, Malami, in his letter dated July 11, 2018 (in reaction to the CoS’ request for legal opinion) and another one dated August 20, 2018 (in response to a request for legal opinion by the finance minister), identified some third party claimants, who were entitled to be paid various amounts as consultancy/legal fees for the services they rendered to states and local governments in relation to the Paris Club loan refund.
In the August 11, 2018 letter titled: “Legal opinion on 3rd party claims,” Malami identified one of the consultants as Hon. Ned Munir Nwoko, who sued the NGF and seven others in suit: FHC/ABJ/CS/148/2017 and claimed that he was engaged by NGF to provide legal/consultancy services on the Paris Club refund.
Malami noted that parties to the suit, including Nwoko and the NGF, entered a consent judgement on May 9, 2017 “to the effect that Hon. Nwoko is entitled to be paid a negotiated percentage on every refund made by the federal government to the states.
“Hon. Ned Munir Nwodo covered under paragraph 5 of my letter dated 11th July, 2018 has stated that, in view of the unwillingness of the NGF to negotiate and pay him his full entitlement in line with the consent judgment, he is reverting to his initial claim of $71,936,881.36.
“He is therefore seeking for the payment of the sum of $68,658,192.83 as outstanding sum due to him from NGF.
“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC’s) investigation report, dated 1st August, 2018 equally confirmed that the judgement creditor (Nwoko) was engaged by 14 states to recover excess deduction with respect to the Paris and London Club debts,” Malami said.
The justice minister warned that since the consultants and other 3rd party claimants have obtained garnishee orders against the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the FG was under obligation to settle these 3rd party creditors before making disbursement to the states and LGs.
Malami said: “I wish to reiterate the fact that the payments under consideration are to be made before final payments are made to the states and local governments to avoid a situation where the federal government will be forced to bear any unwarranted liability on this subject matter.”
In view of Malami’s advice, then finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, in a letter dated September 14, 2018, asked the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, to set aside the consultants’ fees, estimated at $350m from the $2,689,279,365 reserved as the final claim to the states and LGs under the Paris Club loan refund arrangement.
Part of Adeosun’s letter reads: “Please, find attached herewith the approval of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, dated 29th August, 2018 in respect of the final claim on Paris Club loan reimbursement of over-deductions from allocations of states and local governments.
“I specifically refer you to paragraph 6 which authorised that the final claim of $2,689,279,365 be paid to qualified states, and paragraph 10(x) which recommended that the sum of $350milion be provided for settling legal/consultancy fees, etc.
“In view of the above, you are requested to credit Escrow Account domiciled with the CBN with the sum of $350million,” Adeosun said.
In his September 18, 2018 letter, Emefiele acknowledged the directive by the finance minister, and sought among others, information on the accounts to which the funds should be paid.
But, in his letter of September 21 to the Malami, which he sent through Adeosun, the accountant-general of the federation (Idris) attempted to justify why the $350million meant for the payment of legal/consultancy fees is being withheld.
He sought advice from the minister of justice, a request the minister was yet to provide since the letter was written on September 21.
Idris, in the letter titled: “Re: Payment of legal/consultancy fees deducted from states’ reimbursement in respect of final claim on Paris Club loan,” referred to a certain counter-directive by the Chairman of the NGF to withhold the $350million.
Part of the letter reads: “The Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice is kindly referred to our tri-partite discussion, at the Ministry of Justice on the above subject vide Mr. President’s approval and be informed that the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum has verbally instructed that the payment be put on hold.
“In view of Mr. President’s approval and the counter-instruction from the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, kindly advise accordingly.”
LEADERSHIP gathered that governor Abdulaziz Yari, as NGF chairman, reportedly submitted two private accounts to the CBN for the payment of the $350 million approved for legal and consultancy payment by the President.
Sources said that Yari hinted that the NGF would eventually pay the money to other consultants.
But Nwoko argued that the $350 million was for both legal and consultancy services, adding that the whole sum ought to be paid to him because he initiated and facilitated the refund of the money from 2007 to 2011.
While Yari claimed that there were others consultants, the initiator and chief negotiator of the refund, Nwoko insisted there was no any consultant other than him and his team.
Efforts to speak to the NGF chairman proved fruitless, as the forum’s spokesman, Abdulrazaq Barkindo, did not respond to phone calls even as he did not reply whatsapp messages sent to him.
Also, the spokesman of governor Yari of Zamfara State, Ibrahim Dosara, told our correspondent that he doesn’t speak on issues concerning the NGF.
When contacted, Idris said: “The OAGF had to write to attorney-general of the federation in view of some emerging developments on the matter.
“We always comply fully with relevant directives and extant rules guiding public expenditures and payments. As treasury officers, we perform our duties ethically and without compromising our professional callings as holders of public trust.”