By Celestine Okafor (Editor-in-Chief) @CeleOkaf11

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has impugned media reports, especially in the online genre, alleging that he was “pushing for payment of” contradictory and incongruous figures regarding judgment debt and Paris Club refund.

The Minister made this refutation on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, during a press conference at the Ministry. He said that his attention "has been drawn to some mischievous and perfidious reports churned out especially by online media purportedly alleging “pushing for payment of” contradictory and incongruous figures regarding judgment debt and Paris Club refund".

Malami said that his "initial reaction was to ignore the reports for it is palpable for any discerning minds that the report lacks merit as evidenced by not only contradictory submissions but also a hasty collection of feeble fabrications, unsubstantiated concoctions and a figment of the imagination of the writer".

He stated that the crux and truth of the matter are that he and Hon Minister of finance, Gambari, and indeed the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari, have been applying extra-ordinary due diligence to avoid whatever was suspected to be suspicious liability whose antecedents were rooted in past administration in respect of which the affected online media (not Nigerian NewsLeader Newspaper) were allegedly complicit in failing to question the issues or draw the attention of the general public to the matter at that time.

"In order to set the record straight and to clear the mischievous insinuations and misconceptions intended to be the aftermath of the report, the record needs to be set straight and, in an attempt, to do so, we respond as follows:

"In view of the enormous volume of the judgment sum and dwindling resources coupled with the policy imbibed by the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to save the Government of the Federation of frivolous liabilities the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice embarked on extra-ordinary due diligence including directing for investigation of the matter by law enforcement and security agencies with a view to assessing the veracity of the claim in view of the lessons learned from the fraudulent P&ID case.

"The genesis of said judgment debts was based on the fact that some affected Local Governments and ALGON instituted action against Federal Government of Nigeria in suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/130/13 – LINAS International LTD & 235 ORS V. Federal Government of Nigeria & 3 ORS to recover the sum of $3,188,079,505.96. Judgment was delivered in favor of the plaintiffs on 3rd December 2013 (that is years before President Muhammadu Buhari came to office and long before Malami was made a Minister).

"Consequently, upon a Garnishee Order Absolute was granted in 2016 directing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as Garnishee to pay $3,188,079,505.96 to the Local Government. The Garnishee Order was granted by H.B Yusuf (Hon, Justice).

"It is interesting to note that both the Premium Times and Sahara Reporters have chosen to turn a blind eye to the judgment and its adverse effect on Nigerian economy when it was delivered and in effect chose to attack Abubakar Malami who had exerted extra efforts in saving the nation from the scourge of consequential liability.

"In fact even when it became inevitable that the payment had to be effected with the consent of Governor's forum and ALGON the office of the Attorney General of the federation had to extract undertaking and indemnity from Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in 2019.

"The fact is very clear that In consideration of the financial status and the volume of the transaction, due diligence relating to contractual undertones and the judgment were carried out by the Office of the AGF in order to guard the government coffers against being robbed by some unscrupulous agents like the case of P&ID.

"The Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice took steps to be double sure that about the engagements. The Office wrote letters to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Department of State Service, and the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) to furnish the HAGF with facts that will guide the legal opinions to be proffered by the HAGF.

"On 29th day of August, 2018, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice through the then Director of Civil Ligitation, E.O. Omonowa, ESQ wrote a letter (MJ/CIV/ABJ/440/16) to the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the ALGON seeking among other things:

a) Evidence of the resolution by ALGON to engage Ted Edwards. Edwards Partners to recover funds related to the refund of Paris and London debt over-deductions.

b) Evidence of any amount so recovered by Ted Edwards/Edwards and Partners.

c) Evidence of the authorization by the various Local Government Councils consenting to the payment of professional or legal fee to Ted Edwards/Edwards and Partners from their portion of refund of Paris and London debt over deductions.

d) Confirmation of the engagement of Redemption Chambers (E.A Egbebu &Co) to file an action challenging the judgment obtained by Ted Edwards/Edwards & Partners against ALGON.

e) Evidence of the resolution by ALGON to award contract to Riok Nigeria Ltd for the construction of boreholes across the 774 LGAs.

f) Evidence of the execution or performance of the said contract by Riok Nigeria Ltd.

g) Evidence of the authorization by the various Local Government Councils to the payment of the contract sum due to Riok Nigeria Ltd from their portion of refund of Paris and London over-deductions.

"Contrary to the claim by the Premium Times report that a letter from ALGON dated 10th September, 2018 denied involvement of Ted Edwards/Edwards and Partners for the said project, seven years before the so-called letter ALGON resolved to and did engaged the parties for the project.

"In a letter titled “Extract of Resolution of the meeting of the Board on 29/09/2011” Paragraph of 1 of the letter indicated “That Edwards and Partners Law Firms should be appointed as Solicitors and Legal Representatives for the Board of Incorporated Trustees of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON).

"The Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice wrote letters to Law Enforcement and Security Agencies including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissions (EFCC) to conduct independent investigations on the issue Sahara Reporters and Premium Times were not only mischievous but economical with facts in failing to present the above facts to the public.

"By deliberate design to misrepresent the public, they refused to draw the attention of the public that the EFCC and other security agencies had at the request of the office of the Attorney General investigated this matter and I provided investigation report on the matter, inclusive of an interim report, a work in progress report and a final report which efforts the two media houses have mischievously chosen to overlook in their report.

"A point of interest In the final report of the EFCC maintained that “the respective judgments obtained by Riok Nig. Ltd and Edwards & Partners affirming their entitlements to payments were confirmed by the records obtained from the respective FCT High Courts”.

"Findings of the investigation of the Law Enforcement and Security Agency also revealed that there exist a valid consultancy and legal service agreement between TED EDWARDS and PARTNERS and Incorporated Trustees of ALGON for the recovery of Local Government’s share of London Debt Buy Back and Exist from the Federal Government of Nigeria consolidated revenue fund.

"The report concluded that so far, facts of the case as revealed in the course of investigation do not indicate any act(s) of criminality on part of the parties in the transaction, please”.

"Above information were contained in the submission to the OHAGF dated 13th June, 2017. It is imperative to further note that at the further request of the office of the Attorney General to security and law enforcement agencies, all out of desire to cover the field and have thorough investigation of the issue the agency wrote to the HAGF and concluded thus:

“With regards to the level of completion of the contract awarded to RIOK NIG LTD and its physical existence, verification exercise conducted through the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria confirmed the existence of the projects. However, while some have been completed, others are at various stage of completion, The various stages established are as follows:

Completed 182 Functional 91 Abandoned 33 Ongoing 205 Non Identified 107 Those geographically surveyed 178 The report concluded thus:

“In view of the forgoing, it is humbly recommended that the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice may wish to direct the Federal Ministry of Finance and CBN Governor to pay the contractor to enable him complete the project for the benefit of this people.

"The question calling for the consideration of the discerning publics, against the background of the due diligence carried out by the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice in this matter is whether the reckless, mischievous and treacherous conclusion of the Premium Times is logically and justifiably founded or not. The answer is logically clear and indeed led to an irresistible conclusion as follows:

  1. The office of the OHAGF has arising from a clear historical antecedent of the role it has played in the case of P&ID, remained steadfast in the sustenance of the public interest which in effect is saving the Federal Government from frivolous financial liabilities.

  2. That extra-ordinary due diligence was carried out by the OHAGF on the payment of Supreme Court Judgment in contention with particular regards to the efforts put in place to unravel the veracity of the claim and whether in fact any fraudulent undertone could be discovered.

  3. The reports and due diligence of the Law Enforcement and Security agencies provided on this matter speaks for itself as to the reasonability or otherwise of the mischievous publication of Premium Times and Sahara Reporters but the fact remains inevitably glaring that their report is baseless and mischievous.

  4. That the factual antecedents stated above belies their titles:

“Malami, Gambari Silence Governors’ Forum and Forced CBN to pay N133bn Judgment Debt” or perhaps “Malami Ignored Fraud Warning while pushing payment of Suspicious N159b Debt”, the Minister said. NNL.