Former legislator Ned Nwoko has slammed the Nigerian governors’ latest protest letter against the payment of a disputed debt related to the Paris Club return.
Mr. Nwoko is one of six federal government creditors who are due $418 million in obligations related to the refund.
Mr Nwoko wrote to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, on September 6, 2021, saying there was no reason to keep withholding his $142 million portion of the money.
The former federal legislator, writing via his legal team, claimed that the governors’ lawsuits contesting the indebtedness, which they referenced in their protest letter, had no impact on his case.
Mr Nwoko, who is himself a lawyer, maintained that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF)’s protest letter to the finance minister contained “misinformation” and “ignored age-long established legal principles”.
“There is NO CASE in court over the payment to our client to warrant a stay of execution of the judgment by the Federal Ministry of Finance,” Mr Nwoko’s legal team, led by Joe Gadzama, wrote.
The governors wrote to the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, following her directive to issue promissory notes to the creditors.
The promissory notes, when issued, are to authorise payments to the creditors through deductions from the monthly allocations of state and local governments for 10 years.
President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the issuance of the promissory notes to the creditors, ignoring repeated calls by the Kayode Fayemi-led NGF for the suspension of the payment for a forensic audit to be carried out.
Mr Fayemi, the Ekiti State governor, since becoming the chairperson of the NGF in May 2019, had been asking for a forensic audit into the agreements and the work done by the creditors leading to the monetary judgements validating their monetary claims.
Some of the creditors, like Mr Nwoko, claimed they provided legal consultancy services to the NGF to help them recover funds over-deducted by the federal government from their monthly allocations to service, buy back the Paris Club loan and make the London Club loan exit payments, between 1995 and 2002.
One of the consultant creditors outlandishly claimed he earned $47.8million from helping the NGF to reverse a $478million judgment on the Paris Club refund matter.
Others among the six creditors claimed to have executed contracts for the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), a claim the association and an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s report had discredited.
Virtually all the “consultants and contractors” obtained consent judgements awarding the humongous amount of funds in their favour. But the current leadership of the NGF and ALGON demand that the awards be scrutinised before the creditors are paid.
Series of exclusive reports by PREMIUM TIMES had exposed the controversies surrounding the suspicious debts.
Despite the raging controversies, the newspaper reported how the finance ministry, through its permanent secretary, Aliyu Ahmed, subsequently directed the Debt Management Office (DMO) to issue promissory notes to the six creditors as the means of settling the debts.
In protest, the NGF, through their lawyer, Femi Falana, wrote a September 1, 2021 letter, to the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, urging her to withdraw the payment directive, which they said was in disregard for their appeals and other suits challenging the indebtedness.
Defiance to legal processes is an act of “corruption and lawlessness”, the governors said in their letter, and advised the minister to be guided by the Supreme Court’s warning against such conduct.
But, in his letter to the justice minister, Mr Malami, (one of the Buhari administration’s top officials behind the desperate push for the payment) Mr Nwoko’s lawyer said he had previously “corrected the obvious fundamental error which Mr. Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had fallen into”.
He pointed out the governors’ alleged mix-up between his case and the one the NGF was challenging in court.
According to him, “the payment by promissory notes” to Mr Nwoko “is not founded on Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/130/2013 which Mr. Falana, SAN, is seeking Leave to appeal against”.
“The judgment being enforced, with respect to our client, is a CONSENT JUDGEMENT in which the NGF, Mr. Falana’s client, is a party to, that is Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/148/2017.”
The lawyer, Joe Gadzama, also argued that it was erroneous for the NGF to ask the finance minister to stop the payment based on their pending suits which he said had nothing to do with the judgements his client was enforcing.
Questioning the propriety of the appeal being pursued by the governors, Mr Gadama asked, “The question with a notorious answer is, CAN A PARTY APPEAL A CONSENT JUDGEMENT? The answer is NO.”
“It is unfortunate that what is essentially a legal issue of simple contract is being politicised and sensationalised to skew public opinion and blackmail the Federal Ministry of Finance into declining the payments.”
Justifying Mr Nwoko’s entitlement to the monetary claim, Mr Gadzama said his client spent his funds to execute the contract with payment hinged on the success of the recovery of over-deducted Paris Club and London Club loan for the NGF and ALGON.
He added that despite the risk of bearing the whole of the possible losses, Mr Nwoko engaged other professionals and “in some cases borrowed through private arrangements to achieve the objective”.
“The states and local governments never had confidence in the chances of success of these consultancies and will not stake their money to fund the inherent costs therein,” the letter stated.
It added that Mr Nwoko agreed to the percentages of the achieved recovery, which he said was now being enforced.
Mr Nwoko’s lawyer also noted that his client “gave substantial concessions to the NGF and discounted the sum he is entitled to in the judgements being enforced”.
According to him, EFCC had investigated and issued three reports exonerating Mr Nwoko of any wrongdoing concerning his claim.
EFCC had in a previous report sent to the AGF office questioned the legitimacy of the $159million being claimed by one of the six creditors.
Mr Gadzama said while his client had been exonerated, the EFCC was still investigating a case of diversion of funds meant for legal consultants in connection to the Paris Club refund by the NGF. The NGF was then being led by former Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari.
The creditor’s lawyer alleged that the governors arm-twisted the former finance minister Kemi Adeosun, into paying to them $8.5million and N19.4 billion as first and second instalments of the five per cent provided for legal fees.
He also accused the NGF of illegally appropriating $100million out of the $350million approved by President Buhari for Mr Nwoko’s firm, Linas International Limited.
Instead of paying the “authentic consultants”, the NGF paid “later-day consultants”, Mr Gadzama wrote.
According to him, the anti-corruption agency is now investigating “cases involving the questionable and later-day consultants hurriedly contrived and used by the NGF to funnel these sums of money”.
“It is always easy to forget that people had paid back to EFCC the money paid to them without justification,” he added.
Mr Yari, who was then the chairman of the NGF as of the time of the transactions, had repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his handling of the proceeds of the Paris Club refunds.
Mr Yari, who was recently interrogated by the EFCC, had been under the anti-graft agency’s searchlight over his handling of the Paris Club funds since 2017.
Mr Nwoko’s lawyer said should the Mr Fayemi-led NGF “have the conviction” that the body is corrupt, “the bold thing to do is to call them out and conduct internal self-cleansing”.
“Nothing stops the governors from conducting ‘Forensic Audit’ on their activities,” the creditor’s lawyer wrote.