The controversial payment of $418 million to consultants over the Paris Club refund has been suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was learnt that Buhari on Thursday directed the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to ask the Debt Management Office (DMO), expected to pay in form of promissory notes, to hold on “until all the cases are exhausted”.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum had protested against the payment of $418 million to consultants as directed by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.
Buhari had reportedly approved the payment of the sum in Paris Club refund-related judgment debts to six creditors, following which Ahmed directed the Debt Management Office (DMO) to commence issuance of promissory notes to the creditors, as approved by the president.
However, the governors kicked against the move, warning the Central Bank of Nigeria and other banks against proceeding with the payments.
In 2008, the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) contracted Linas International Ltd, a company belonging to Prince Ned Nwoko, a former House of Representatives member, to secure the payment of Paris Club refunds for the local governments.
The assignment was said to have been completed in 2018 and Linas was paid.
Nwoko’s firm, among others, were also said to have been contracted by some state governors for a similar purpose, with both parties agreeing to pay about 20 per cent of recovered money for the consultancy.
However, the due sum, which presently stands at $418 million is being contested by governors who insist that a forensic audit be carried out to ascertain the actual money involved and the terms of the contract.
In a letter signed by P.H. Ogbole, the lawyer for the governor’s forum, the governors called for the disregard of the promissory notes issued by the DMO on the orders of the Finance Minister.
The NGF, in the letter addressed to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN); Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and the Director-General, Debt Management Office (DMO), Patience Oniha, questioned the rationale behind the payment of the alleged debt to the contractors when the said payment is already an issue of litigation.
The governors in the “Caveat” letter dated Friday, September 3, 2021, also wondered why the federal government was in a rush to make such payment to individuals at a time when both the federal and state governments need funds for provisions of critical infrastructure for the people.
Ogbole, in the letter titled, “Caveat on the Payment of $418 million Suspicious Debts”, argued that since the federal government was aware of the current court cases challenging the payment of the alleged debts, it ought not to take any further steps on the matter.
According to the senior lawyer, the governors on August 3, 2021, got wind of the federal government’s move to effect the payment.
He noted that the governors learnt that some consultants/contractors alleged that they were retained by some states and had done some work for the states and local governments in Nigeria about the Paris Club refund.
“The Minister of Finance is said to have directed the Director-General, Debt Management Office (DMO) to issue Promissory Notes in favour of the Consultants. The purported amounts claimed by the various consultants are as follows: Ned Nwoko – $142,028,941; Ted Iseghoghi Edwards -$159 million; Riok Nigeria Limited, Orji Nwafor Orizu, and Olaitan Bello – $142,028,941.95 and Panic Alert System Limited and George Uboh – $47,831,920,” Ogbole explained.
Similarly, the Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives had cautioned Buhari against approving the payment of $418 million judgement debt.
In a statement signed by the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, last Thursday, the caucus stated that payment of the suspicious debt had generated widespread objection by stakeholders, including governors, chairmen of local governments and anti-graft agencies.
The lawmakers noted that the consent judgement being relied upon for the payment is “cloudy, opaque and raises apprehensions of huge swindle on the nation’s treasury”.
They stated that the issue requires immediate investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The caucus, therefore, called on Buhari to, in the national interest, halt the payment processes until after investigations.
SaharaReporters, New York