The row over Paris Club debt – The Sun

The end to the disagreement between the Federal Government and the 36 state governors over the $418 million Paris Club refund debt is not yet in sight. The matter, which is allegedly stalling the disbursement of October Federal Allocations to the three tiers of government may likely put most states in a financial tightrope. The controversy over the $418milion refund is centred on the amount allegedly being owed to the consultants for services reportedly rendered during negotiations for the refund.

The governors under the aegis of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) are strongly opposed to the amount being paid to the consultants. The NGF has accused the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubukar Malami (SAN) of having more than a passing interest in the contentious $418million refund request by the consultants to the Paris Club refund. Consequently, the NGF has condemned plans by the Federal Government to deduct the $418million from the Federation Account to repay the creditors, describing it as unlawful and contrary to public policy and morality. Both camps have eloquently stated their positions on the matter. The governors’ position was contained in a statement issued by the NGF’s Head, Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazaq Bello-Barkindo. On its part, the AGF articulated government’s stand through his media aide, Dr. Umar Gwandu. All the parties are maintaining their grounds.

Available documents have shown that the present seed of discord was sown way back in 2013, when the Jonathan administration was said to have reached an agreement with the NGF and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) to engage certain consultants for the purpose of recovering certain amount of money relating to the Paris Club refund. The AGF says the Federal Government is relying on that document, in which the consultants were said to have delivered on the agreement reached.

According to Malami, the consultants were not paid for the services they claimed to have rendered on account of which they approached the judicial system for the determination of their fees. The AGF and Minister of Justice also said that “on account of that, there was a consent judgment of N3.2billion by the court in 2013, and based on that, the states were committed to pay, and actually made part-payment between 2016 and 2017. According to him, it was that consent judgment that “gave rise to the liability in contention.”

The point of interest, he further argued, “is that the Governors’ Forum and ALGON walked to the federal and conceded that payment should be deducted from their monies and then, should be effected to the consultants.” He described the present attempt by the governors to void their liability like “seeking to shut the barn door after the horse had been bolted,” adding that the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the State Security Service (SSS) were called to verify all the claims by the consultants and confirmed them to be authentic.

The aggrieved governors have a different narrative. According to them, there is a subsisting order of the Federal High Court in Abuja that barred the Federal government from deducting $418million from the bank accounts of the 36 states of the federation. Besides, the NGF maintains that it did not at anytime provide any undertaking or indemnity to the federal government to act on its behalf as represented by the AGF and Minister of Justice. It accused the minister of bias, of supporting private interests and hasty payment to the consultants, and insisted that he should have remained neutral until all pending matters are concluded.

We urge all the parties involved to embrace dialogue in resolving the matter. The AGF as the chief law officer of the federation should be diligent in advising the government in overall public interest. The explanation by the AGF that he intervened to pay the consultants to avoid execution of the judgment against the Federal Government resources is debatable as there is no existing order to that effect.

The debt relief granted by the Paris Club in 2005 was meant to enable Nigeria have a respite and use the resources saved for meaningful development. Anything that detracts from that goal is unacceptable.

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