From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The lingering crisis between the Government of Rivers State and a consultancy firm over the Paris Club refund has now taken a legal dimension with a suit by the firm claiming the sum of N25 billion as debt it incurred arising from the transaction.
In the suit before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the claimants, JO Atunbi (trading under the name and style of JO Atunbi and Associates) and Mauritz Walton Nigeria Limited, said the debt arose from the failure of the Rivers State Government to pay the agreed 18% of the sum of N143 billion as consultancy fees for its role in the federal government’s refund of excess deductions in the Paris Club loans.
Listed as defendants in the suit are Rivers State Government and its Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
According to the claimants, who are chartered accountants and renders financial services for corporate and governmental entities, particularly in the area of international business and financial consultancy, debt management and recovery, the Rivers Government had engaged them sometime in March 2014, ‘as consultants for the propose of forensic analysis and reconciliation of the deductions and consequential recovery of the excess debits/deductions which appeared to have been made against the first defendant by the federal government.’
The claimants said the defendants in the engagement letter agreed to pay them 18% of all monies recovered/paid from/by the federal government upon reconciliation and agreement on the exact excess debits.
They added that following the agreement they intensified their engagement with the federal government and discovered that the Rivers Government had between June 1995 and March 2002 suffered excess deductions regarding its external loans/debt repayment in the total sum of $462,593,183:07, which sum they therefore demanded to be refunded to the 1st defendant.
In a 33 paragraph statement of claim by the Chief Executive Officer of Mauritz Walton Nigeria Limited, the claimants said they continued interfacing with the federal government on behalf of their clients into the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which in 2016 agreed to commence with payment of 50% of the outstanding excess deductions to Rivers and other states with similar situation.
‘The federal government through its relevant agencies made good its word and paid to the 1st defendant in/by three installments between December 2016 and September 2018, or thereabouts, the Naira equivalent of the sum of $296,014,055 being the sum of N90,839,170,683:84, based on the said approximate exchange rate of N305/310 to $1,’ he said.
‘Notwithstanding its receipt and enjoyment of the refund of excess debits on its foreign loans account by the claimants’ intervention in the circumstances, the first defendant has refused/neglected/failed to pay the claimants the agreed 18% thereof in full or in part, despite several requests and and seemingly unfruitful meetings between the Rivers State Government and Dr Maurice Ibe over a period of 30 months.
‘The defendants still persisted in their failure/refusal to pay and finding the situation inexplicable and intolerable the claimants accordingly instructed their legal practitioners who by a letter to the Governor of Rivers State dated January 2019 demanded for the payment of the agreed consultancy fee,’ Dr Ibe claimed.
He added that following the failure of the defendants to respond to their solicitor’s letter, they engaged a set of senior lawyers lead by Chief Wole Olanipekun to continue to discuss with the Rivers Government, demanding for payment of their consultancy fee or for a meeting of the parties for a resolution of the matter.
At a point, the applicants claimed that Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, promised to settle the case outside the court, a promise which he has since renaged.
The claimants said, convinced that the defendants have no defence to their claims and seeing no other option, they decided upon initiating the suit.
Apart from the N25 billion they are asking the court to order the defendants to pay them, they are also seeking an interest rate of 20% per annum from November 2018 until judgment and thereafter at the rate of 10% per annum until full and final payment of the N25 billion debt.
The claimants are further asking the court for cost of N400 million or as may be assessed against the defendants.
The consultants have also filed similar suits against Enugu State and others, while they have judgements against Katsina, Cross River, Abia, Akwa Ibom and several other states.