Come March 25, 2022, the governors of the 36 states in the federation would know if the federal government could go ahead as scheduled to pay six consultants, the sum of $418 million being fees accrued to them, for helping the states recover billions of dollars deducted in excess from their accounts in the payment of the Paris Club loan to Nigeria.
The governments of the 36 states had dragged the federal government before a Federal High Court in Abuja, for concluding and making arrangements that would enable government agencies deduct the sum of $418 million from funds belonging to the states to settle debts owed the said consultants.
However, after lawyers to parties in the suit adopted and argued their final written addresses, trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo announced that the court would deliver its verdict in the matter come March 25.
In the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1313/2021, the governors were praying the court to restrain President Muhammadu Buhari and others from effecting the planned deduction from states’ funds to settle the alleged $418 million debt owed the consultants by states and LGs.
While adopting his brief of argument, lead lawyer to the plaintiffs, Mr. Sunday Ameh, submitted that the defendants misconstrued the case of the 36 states to be one challenging existing judgments given by the court in favour of some of the consultants.
“We are not challenging the judgments, we are saying the way the federal government and its agencies are going about enforcing the judgments violates sections 120 and 162 of the constitution,” he said.
According to the senior lawyer, the governors were not averse to the federal government’s issuance of promissory notes to the consultants (also sued as defendants), but became uncomfortable when it (FG) issued a notice to commence deduction from the states’ accounts.
Ameh submitted further that since the federal government agreed that the contractors were owed in relation to the services they rendered, it should settle the indebtedness without deploying funds belonging to the states and local governments.
According to the plaintiffs, “if the federal government is inclined to pay the debt, it should look for other ways to do so and leave the funds belonging to the state govts and LGs alone.”
Ameh subsequently urged the court to grant the prayers of his clients and stop FG from making any deductions from their accounts in respect of the $418 million debt.
Meanwhile, the defendants on their parts faulted the argument of the plaintiffs and urged the court to rule in their favour.
Defendants’ lawyers, including Wole Olanipekun, Maimuna Lami Shiru (acting Director, Civil Litigation, Federal Ministry of Justice) and Olusola Oke, faulted the competence of the suit and urged the court to dismiss it.
Olanipekun, who represented one of the consultants, Dr. Ted Iseghohi-Edwards (14th defendant), described the plaintiffs as meddlesome interlopers, noting that the state governments claimed to be fighting for the local governments, a distinct tier of government, without the consent of the third tier of government.
He prayed the court to dismiss the suit for being time wasting and constituting an abuse of court process.
Also arguing, Mrs. Maimuna Shiru, who represented the federal government, argued that not only was the suit statute barred, the plaintiffs were seeking the impossible by asking the court to sit on appeal over judgments earlier delivered by it and other courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
Shiru informed the court that the decision by the federal government to issue promissory notes to the consultant as a way of settling the debt owed them was legitimate, adding that the plaintiffs cannot distance themselves from the decision taken by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) in engaging some of the consultants.
Another defence lawyer, Chief Olusola Oke, who represented Riok Nigeria Limited and Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu argued that the suit is without merit and should be dismissed.
After listening to the submissions of all parties in the case, Justice Ekwo announced that judgment is fixed for March 25, 2022.