JUST IN: FG’ll Continue To Deduct $418m Paris Club Refund –Malami

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Attrorney-general of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has said deduction of $418 million Paris Club refund owed four contractors from the federation account would continue contrary to reports that President Muhammadu Buhari has directed its suspension.

Speaking at the 46th Session of the State House Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday, he said governors lacked justification to challenge the refund paid to consultants they hired.

He insisted that the noise making arising from the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) was not only unjustified, but a clear case of absence of defence.

When contacted for reaction, Head, Media and Public Affairs, NGF Secretariat, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said the forum would rely on President Buhari’s order and would not comment as the matter is still in court.

Asked if the NGF would react to the Malami’s comment, he said: “No. We rely on President Buhari’s order and wait for the courts as the case is sub judice.”

But the minister reminded the governors that they created the liability whose payment they had also indemnified. He affirmed that when the governors made a request for the refund, one of the component was the settlement of the consultants who were engaged by the forum.

The AGF, however, said the governors later decided to stop payment while asking for an out of court settlement.

He said this resulted to request to the president to make the payment, a request he said, was then passed on to the Office of the AGF for legal opinion.

He said that after being subjected to necessary checks, it was found out that there was no element of fraud involved.

He disclosed that the indemnity of the governors was also sought and received.

“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 had 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 governor’s forum in their own right.

“The governors’ forum comprising of all the governors sat down and commonly agreed on the engagement of consultants to provide certain services for them relating to the recovery of the Paris Club.”

He added that it was the forum that engaged the consultants. “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 this is that the governors in their own right recognized the consultants, recognized their claim and presented such claim to the federal government.”

He said when the claims were eventually processed and paid to the governors forum, they on their own, without the intervention of the federal government took steps to make part payments to the consultants.

According to him, this action acknowledges their liability over transaction.

The minister said when eventually they took a decision to stop further payment, the consultants instituted a court action against the forum.

“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 terms of settlement in writing, they signed the terms of settlement, agreeing and conceding that such payments be made to the consultant. 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.” Malami said the president endorsed the suggestion and directed the EFCC and DSS to look into these claims and report back to the office of the Attorney General.

READ ALSO: JUST IN: FG To Train 10,000 Ogoni Youths On Alternative Livelihoods

“And these agencies reported and concluded that there were no problem undertone associated with it. Now, that was the background. But, one other point of interest you may wish to note, is the fact that the new leadership of the governors forum instituted an action. This was done 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 indemnity 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,” he notd.

He stated that the judgment and contention was a judgment that was obtained long before his appointment as minister and long before the administration of President Buhari came into office.

•Buhari hasn’t incurred judgement debt in 7 years

He boasted that the Buhari’s administration has not incurred any debt since it came into office over seven years ago

“But one thing I can clearly say ever since the coming of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, not a single major high profile judgment was entered against the federal government. All the judgement debt in contention that we are battling to defend were indeed inherited judgment against in the interests of the federal government incurred by the previous administration.

“So, arising from the diligent defences we have been undertaking, we have succeeded within the period of 18 months, in addressing and avoiding liabilities on the part  of the federal government that run into around N54,888,343,888.42. Those cases, we diligently, successfully defended the Federal Government which translated into naira and kobo avoidance of liability. Again, we have equally succeeded in defending the Federal Government to avoid liability in the sum of $507,415,901.1. So these cases were handled by the State Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, and not a kobo  was paid by the Federal Government as professional legal services for the defense of these cases. What I’m trying to say in essence that we have succeeded as a ministry, in building capacity of the lawyers in the office and in the chambers of the Attorney General, and these lawyers have indeed succeeded in recording this feat in defense of the federal government.”

•N3.2bn recovered

The Federal Government recovered over N3.2 billion (£6,324,627.66) of looted funds from various countries in the last one year.

Malami said the stolen monies were recovered from March 2021 to May 2022 and have been disbursed into key infrastructure projects nationwide including the Second Niger Bridge, Abuja-Kano Road and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.

“So, for the first time in the history of this nation, recoveries were not only being made but what they are deployed in terms of development of the nation are indeed being seen visibly.”

The AGF who noted that the Justice Ministry has supported the Federal Government in various infrastructure funding agreements, lamented that the country currently grapples with a N329 billion funding gap.

He explained that an inter-ministerial committee on the audit and recovery of years on stamp duty has so far recovered N596,055,479.47.

“This exercise also provided job opportunities for over 1000 professionals including lawyers, accountants, auditors, and financial consultants. The ongoing exercise has so far led to the recovery of the sum of N596,055,569.47.”

•1,000 terror convictions in 18 months

He also said the administration secured over 1,000 convictions on terrorism related cases within its 18 months.

He also added that the government has secured convictions for 312 other criminal cases within that period.

“The ministry has so far secured over 1000 convictions on terrorism. Convictions have also been secured in 45 cases by the Complex Casework Group, Maritime unit, and the special task force on electricity offenses and across the 13 zonal offices of the Ministry.”

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