From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Contrary to reports that President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the suspension of the deduction of $418 million Paris Club refund owed four contractors from the Federation Account, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has said the deductions will continue.
He made this declaration at the 46th Session of the State House Briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday.
While reminding the state chief executives that they created the liability whose payment they have also indemnified, he said all the noise making that the governs were making is not only unjustified but indeed, a clear case of absence of defence.
Malami while responding to the question on the controversy that has trailed the recent deductions, the Minister affirmed that when the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) made a request for the refund, one of the components was the settlement of the consultants who were engaged by the forum.
Malami recalled that when the refund was paid to the states, the governors initially made to states, and part payment was also made to the consultants..m
However, he said the governors later decided to stop payment while asking for an out-of-court settlement.
The minister said this resulted in a request to the president to make the payment, a request he said, was then passed on to the Office of the AGF for a legal opinion.
Malami noted after being subjected to necessary checks, it was found out that there was no element of fraud involved.
According to him, the indemnity of the governors was also sought and received.
Malami who said Buhari’s administration has not incurred any debt since it came into office, stated the genesis of the Paris club refund controversy.
He said: “On the issue of Paris club that is raised. You mentioned that there exists a presidential directive that payments should not be made and that in breach of that directive 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 the 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 refund, liability or judgement debts related to Paria Club was indeed a liability created by the governor’s forum in their own right.
“How do I mean? The Governor’s forum comprising of all the governors sat down commonly and agreed on the engagement of consultants to provide certain services for them relating to the recovery of the Paris Club. So, it was the governor’s forum under the federal government in the first place that engaged the consultant.
“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 refund. 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 recognised the consultants, recognised their claim and presented such a claim to the federal government.
“Three, when the claims were eventually processed and paid to the governor’s 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 the same.
“And then four, when eventually they made such payments at a point they took a decision to stop the payment. The consultants instituted is 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 to settle out of court. The court granted them an opportunity to settle. They commit terms of settlement in writing, they signed the terms of settlement, agreeing and conceding that such payments be made to the consultant.
“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, that the same treatment we meted to P&ID, that let us subject this claim, the consent judgment to an 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 problem 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 these 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 defence.
“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, 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, 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 submitted to judicial proceedings, and 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 questions on that.”