Anezi Okoro’s book ‘One Week One Trouble’ sums up the current saga of Parisian reimbursements well. For the past few weeks, the governors and the federation’s attorney general and justice minister, Abubakar Malami, have been arguing over the payment of $418 million in consulting fees.
Malami had said governors had no reason to complain about Paris Club reimbursement deductions paid to consultants they hired.
He also said the governors took steps to pay the consultants and then decided to stop the payment while seeking an out-of-court settlement when the case went to court.
This, he said, resulted in a request to President Muhammadu Buhari to make the payment, which was then forwarded to the AGF office for legal advice.
But governors last Wednesday described comments attributed to Malami that they had no reason to reject proposed deductions of $418 million from Paris Club reimbursement as selfish and fraudulent.
The Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi revealed this on Wednesday after a meeting of the forum at the presidential villa.
Reading the statement after the meeting, Fayemi promised the governors would pursue the case in the nation’s highest court.
The Paris Club rose to prominence in Nigeria in 2005 when the “Club” deemed the federal government’s economic reforms to be far-reaching and focused on canceling 60% of the US$30 billion debt of the country.
Between 1995 and 2002, before the debt was canceled, the federal government had entered into agreements with state governments to deduct certain amounts from their federal allocation for debt service.
Following a final agreement with the club in October 2005, some states that were overcharged under the debt service agreement demanded reimbursement.
In December 2016, the federal government finally agreed to reimburse the states, but in three installments.
The controversy arose when some consultants demanded money for their service by facilitating payment, a move the governors frowned upon. According to them, there are several deductions from the states’ statutory allowances, and further deductions would mean loss.
Recall that in April this year, the 36 states of the federation had warned the federal government not to tamper with the funds due to them and the 774 local councils under the pretext of satisfying an alleged repayment of 418 million dollars of debts linked to the repayment of the London/Paris Club loan.
But there is a new episode in the drama. Another twist to the story surfaced over the weekend as consultants working on London Club and Paris reimbursements for state and local governments on Saturday alleged that governors had demanded and received the sum $100 million in council fees to pursue elections in some states.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja, Principal Consultant, Hon. Ned Nwoko, alleged that when he submitted a bill for $300 million as a consultancy fee, state governors demanded to be paid 50% before they could honor it.
He said a former chairman of the forum explained to him that the money was needed to pursue elections in Bauchi, Ekiti and Ondo states.
According to him, the Department of Justice intervened and the governors eventually received the sum of $100 million.
Nwoko revealed that the money owed to his consulting firm is $68 million paid for the last installment of work done for the states and not $418 million which was in the public space.
He revealed that on the $300 million invoice originally submitted, the company offered a huge discount, noting that the consultants had nothing to do with $418 million, which he said must have been a miscalculation .
He absolved Malami of any wrongdoing, saying the minister was only trying to ensure the law was followed.
Nwoko said that although he was initially hired by all the local governments to lobby for their reimbursements, the NGF later got him to expand the services to cover the states due to the success of the councils, resulting in the acceptance by the federal government to begin reimbursements. in 2016.
He explained, “The federal government in refunds paid money into accounts provided by state governors for the receipt of refunds due to states. Governors have also provided accounts to receive reimbursements due to local governments.
“The first installment reimburses state and local governments for the federal government that wrongly paid NGF advisory fees. The advisory fees paid to the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) amount to $86.5 million and N19.4 billion.
“While we worked to secure the refunds for the benefit of state and local governments, Governor Yari Abubakar developed a parallel scheme to embezzle advisory fees. As recently as 2016, the FNG in a letter to the Accountant General of the Federation dated June 22, 2016 [SHOW DOC] claimed to have appointed a consultant.
“During an altercation on one occasion during the numerous meetings with HE Governor Yari Abubakar, I confronted him about the impermissible quest to appropriate the $86.5 million and N19.4 billion He claimed it was not for his personal use but was needed for election purposes in Bauchi, Ekiti and Ondo.
“Furthermore, it is worth recalling how some of these funds found their way to certain leaders of the National Assembly at the time. The EFCC was able to crack down and recover some of the money embezzled by the NGF.
“Most of these frauds are still being investigated as well as civil and criminal lawsuits, including our action against NGF and the federal government in Case No. FHC/ABJ/CS/148/2017.”
Nwoko also alleged that state governors misappropriated refunds intended for their local governments, except for five states, including Delta, Bauchi, Kwara, Benue, Ondo and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
As expected, the governors forum retaliated, denying claims that it received $100 million or any other funds from Nwoko to fund elections in any state.
The Media and Public Affairs Director of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said in a statement that if Nwoko is sure of his facts, he is free to approach the necessary authorities to bring to justice any person or persons. and any conspirators (including himself) who may have been involved in the diversion of public resources for campaign finance.
He said, “The NGF hereby unequivocally declares that it has at no time been involved with or received US$100 million or any other funds from NED Nwoko to fund elections in any state.
“Perhaps confirmation of our and the public’s fears that the AGF has abdicated its role as public defender and administrator and become the consultants’ most vocal advocate is now evident in the NED press release. NWOKO in which he praised the role played by describing AGF as inevitable.
“NED cannot say that the consultants do not have an official platform to make their case, while the AGF has, despite public protests, provided the strongest and most vocal platform to campaign. for the prompt payment of the sums claimed.
“AGF has issued and issued more than half a dozen press releases justifying why consultants should be paid immediately. Even NED’s lawyers couldn’t have done better.
The governor’s forum also accused Nwoko of blurring and obscuring the real facts and legal issues in the controversy by distributing blatant lies and half-truths.
Barkindo said the facts are and always will be: whether the consultants’ claims are legal and justified under the Constitution and whether any judgment pending appeal can be enforced or enforced as the consultants are now trying to do it.
According to him, if the answers to the two questions are negative, it does not matter whether the contracts giving rise to the complaints were concluded by a public official, past or present.
As the saga continues to unfold, experts are wondering where the interest of Nigerians is in this dispute.