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Suspicious N159billion Judgment Debt: 10 questions AGF Malami should answer

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on Saturday, broke his silence over the PREMIUM TIMES’ expose on his roles in the push for the settlement of the controversial N159 billion Paris Club-related judgment debts purportedly owed by states and their local governments.

In his bid to justify his input in the matter, Mr Malami insisted in a statement signed by his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, that his endorsement of the legitimacy of the indebtedness followed a “due diligence” carried out by his office.

But rather than clearing the thick clouds of doubts hanging over the debts, the statement which left gaps and many important issues unaddressed, has raised many more questions he should answer in the public interest.

PREMIUM TIMES’ expose on the controversial debts had revealed how Mr Malami along with Ibrahim Gambari, the chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, had been making frantic push for the settlement of the debts while disregarding the red flag raised by the current leadership of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).

Our reports, based on multiple correspondences and documents exchanged by the key players in the matter, also showed that the Mr Gambari-led camp had continued scrambling to have the debts settled against President Buhari’s directive in January suspending the plan for the payments until the parties reached an agreement.

In February, the National Executive Council (NEC), led by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, and has the 36 states governors, and other top figures of the Federal Government whose works are relevant to the economy, as members, also threw its weight behind the NGF’s demand for a suspension of the planned payments for a forensic audit to be done.

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the $418 million debts, roughly equivalent to about N159 billion, accrued from court judgments given in favour of six creditors who claimed to have been engaged by the NGF and the Association of All Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), either as consultants or contractors.

Part of the judgments gave monetary awards to “consultants” who claimed to have helped various states to recover funds that were over-deducted from their allocations by the Federal Government in servicing the Paris and London clubs debts between 1995 and 2002.

The other judgment awards were given in favour of “contractors” who claimed to have entered an agreement with ALGON to execute certain projects in the 774 local government areas of the country in anticipation of being paid from the Paris Club refund.

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the suits leading to the humongous awards largely succeeded with the tacit support of past leaderships of the NGF and ALGON which either conceded to them or offered feeble defence in court.

Responding to this newspaper’s expose on the controversial judgments, on Saturday, Mr Malami, in the statement by his spokesperson, said “the report lacks merit” and claimed that it was fraught with “contradictory submissions”.

Without denying the authenticity of the correspondences and documents which the reports were based on, Mr Malami stated that our reports and that of Sahara Reporters on the matter were “also a hasty collection of feeble fabrications, unsubstantiated concoctions and figment of imagination of the writer.”

He explained that the judgment sums stood at $3,188,079,505.96 as of 2013 before Mr Buhari’s administration came on board.

He added that in view of “the enormous volume” of the judgment sums and “dwindling resources” coupled with his office’s policy to save the government “frivolous liabilities”, he embarked on “extra-ordinary due diligence” in the handling of the matter.

He said part of the steps taken by him included ordering an investigation into the matter by law enforcement and security agencies with a view to assessing “the veracity of the claim in view of the lessons derived from the fraudulent P&ID case.”

But PREMIUM TIMES has now identified 10 key major issues which Mr Malami either failed to address, chose to gloss over, or tried to sweep under the carpet in his statement on Saturday.

Question 1: Why did Mr Malami tell the Chief of Staff to the President in a July 2020 letter that “a recent EFCC report” questioned the $159 million being claimed by one of the creditors, but, in contradiction, stated on Saturday that the anti-corruption agency validated it?

In his correspondence dated July 17, 2020 sent to Mr Gambari, and which PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained, the AGF referenced “a recent EFCC report”, which according to him, questioned the $159 million being claimed by Ted Iseghohi-Edwards, one of the six beneficiaries of the Paris Club refund-related judgment debts

Explaining what he termed as the “extra-ordinary due diligence” conducted by his office, Mr Malami stated in his statement on Saturday, that he ordered a probe of the matter by the EFCC and other security which he said later provided investigation reports “inclusive of an interim report, a work in progress report and a final report”.

But without disclosing to Nigerians his contradictory disclosure in his July 2020 letter to the Chief of Staff to the President, Mr Malami stated on Saturday that “the final report of the EFCC maintained that the respective judgments obtained by Riok Nig. Ltd and Edwards & Partners” affirmed “their entitlements to payments” and “were confirmed by the records obtained from the respective FCT High Courts.”

When was this “final report of the EFCC” issued? How did EFCC come about the new conclusion when only in July last year, according to Mr Malami, the agency claimed Mr Iseghohi-Edwards “is not entitled to this sum”?

Question 2: Why did Mr Malami fail to disclose to Nigerians that Mr Buhari in January issued a directive suspending the payments, and that both the NGF and the NEC have demanded a forensic audit of the indebtedness?

Shortly before stepping down as the chairman of the NGF in 2019, then Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, and the then leadership of ALGON, issued Indemnity and No-Objection letters authorising deductions from relevant statutory allocations to meet the Paris Club-related claims.

It was the peak of years of behind-the-scene supports which past NGF and ALGON leaderships gave the “consultants” and “contractors” to justify their demands for a share of the Paris Club refunds.

But despite the approval for the payments by his predecessor, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State has since taking over as the new chairman of the NGF, been pushing for the suspension of the settlement of the debts for a forensic audit into the agreements leading to the judgment debts, to be carried out.

While Mr Fayemi continued with his advocacy for a further scrutiny, the Mr Gambari-led camp, on December 24, 2020, succeeded in getting President Buhari’s approval for their proposal that the debts be settled through the issuance of promissory notes that would be funded “by equal monthly deductions from the statutory allocations due to the affected states and LGAs over a period of 10 years.”

But after meeting Mr Fayemi on January 8, Mr President Buhari issued another directive suspending the payment to allow parties to reach an agreement.

The NEC also in February endorsed the NGF’s demand that a forensic audit be carried out.

Mr Malami concealed these facts from the Nigerian public in his Saturday’s statement. Why?

The AGF needs to tell Nigerians if President Buhari’s doubts about the debts, informing his decision to suspend his earlier approval of the payments until an agreement was reached by parties, were unreasonable.

He also need to explain to Nigerians whether the NGF and NEC’s demand for a forensic audit was also borne out of mischief or frivolity.

Question 3: Why is Mr Malami, who claimed to have carried out a “due diligence” on the debts, unable to tell Nigerians which projects were carried out by Riok Nigeria Ltd to justify its claim along with two others for over $143.4 million (about N54.6 billion)?

PREMIUM TIMES reported that that the trio of Riok Nigeria Ltd, Orji Nwafor Orizu, and Olaitan Bello, are laying claim to $143,463,577.76 (about N54.6 billion) based on a judgment of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in the suit marked FCT/HC/CV/2129/2014.

While justifying Riok Nigeria Ltd’s claim on Saturday, Mr Malami went as far as giving statistical data on the stages of the “projects” executed for the various local governments in the country by the firm, but failed to provide the details of what the projects were and where they were located to enable Nigerians to verify them.

Question 4: Why did Mr Malami deliberately conceal the name of the particular agency that he claimed gave him the report on the stages of completion of the projects handled by Riok?

Apart from failing to name the projects handled by Riok Nig Ltd, Mr Malami also deliberately concealed the identity of the agency which he claimed provided him the details of the stages of the completion of the controversial projects.

He claimed in his statement that aside from asking EFCC to probe the monetary awards to Riok, he also said that, in his “desire to cover the field and have thorough investigation of the issue” he directed other agencies to carry out a probe.

But in trying to convince the public that he truly carried out “due diligence” over the matter, he concealed the name of the agency that reported to him that Riok Nigeria Limited executed the contracts awarded to it by ALGON to be entitled to being paid.

He merely stated on Saturday that “an agency wrote to the HAGF” and went ahead to copiously quote the conclusion in the “report” of the unnamed agency.

Why does Mr Malami think that Nigerians are not entitled to know the name of the agency when in the same statement he enumerated the roles the EFCC played in the matter?

Question 5: Why was Mr Malami silent on the September 2018 reply of ALGON president to his enquiry on Riok Nigeria Ltd’s projects, and chose to believe the report of an unnamed agency?

In response to Mr Malami’s August 2018 enquiry about the legitimacy of the claims by Riok Nig Limited and Ted Iseghohi-Edwards, successive presidents of ALGON wrote the AGF in September 2018 and October 2019 insisting that both the firm and the lawyer carried out no job for ALGON to be entitled to payment.

In his September 13, 2018 letter to Mr Malami, then ALGON President, Gambo Kagara, informed the AGF that neither Mr Iseghoghi-Edwards nor his law firm, worked for the association, as claimed by them, in securing the Paris Club refund to be entitled to the judgment awards.

Regarding Riok Nigeria Ltd, Mr Kagara stated that there was no evidence the firm executed the contracts it was awarded by ALGON in December 2013 to be entitled to any monetary claim.

“ALGON via an award letter dated December 17, 2013, awarded a contract to RIOK Nigeria Limited for the provision of boreholes and other water reticulating apparatus in all the 774 Local Governments and Area Councils in Nigeria,” Mr Kagara stated in his his September 13, 2018 letter to Mr Malami.

But he added, “From ALGON’s records, there is no evidence that RIOK has executed the required job.”

Mr Kagara also stated that there was “no communication from the company informing ALGON of the job execution/completion.”

“No job inspection has been carried out by ALGON and RIOK has not formally handed over any site of job completion; no certification of job completion has been issued to RIOK; consequently, the association categorically denies execution of the work by RIOK to justify any claims for payment,” his letter added.

Mr Kagara’s successor as ALGON president, Kolade Alabi, wrote another letter dated October 8, 2019, to Mr Malami, restating the association’s position as contained in Mr Kagara’s September 10, 2018 correspondence.

Mr Malami merely made a passing remarks on the ALGON’s letter on Saturday by saying, “Contrary to the claim by the Premium Times report that a letter from ALGON dated September 10th, 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.”

He was silent on the part of the letter that strongly denied Riok Nigeria Ltd’s execution of any contract for ALGON.

Yet, the minister chose to believe the report by an unnamed agency, while failed to tell Nigerians which projects the firm executed.

Question 6: If the report of the unnamed agency relied on by Mr Malami is taken as the true state of things, why was he more interested in pushing for Riok Nigeria Ltd to be paid, while most of the unnamed projects were either abandoned, not identified or ongoing?

In the report relied on by Mr Malami, he stated that the unnamed agency conducted a verification exercise of “the level of completion of the contract awarded to RIOK NIG LTD and its physical existence” throughout the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria.

He said the agency “confirmed the existence of the projects” but stated that 107 of the projects were “Non Identified”.

He said only 182 of them were “Completed”, 91 were “Functional”, 33 were “Abandoned”, while 205 were “Ongoing”.

He added, “Those geographically surveyed” were 178.

If truly Mr Malami was acting in the public interest as he claimed on Saturday, how did he come to convince himself to recommend payment for a firm that, by his own admission only executed 182 of the total 774 projects translating into mere 23.5 per cent execution of the contracts.

While pushing for the firm to be paid, Mr Malami incongruously admitted that 205 of the jobs, which is about 26.5 per cent of the contracts were still ongoing. Ongoing since when? What is the nature of the projects that are taking years to complete?

Question 7: Did Mr Malami’s “due diligence” also uncover that the $47.8million being claimed by George Uboh, Chairman of Panic Alert Security System (PASS) Limited, is the fee for allegedly helping the NGF “to pressure a judge” to reverse a judgment?

In his recent press release baselessly accusing Mr Fayemi of demanding 10 per cent kickback on the entire $418 million, Mr Uboh revealed that his entitlement to the $47.8 million accrued from helping NGF to pressure a sitting judge to reverse a $478 million judgment.

He stated, “I pressured a sitting judge to reverse a $478 Million USD judgment awarded to contractors that were not party to the underlying suit.

“I have sacrificed enough for my country way more than you have. After saving the NGF $478 million USD and being detained, don’t I deserve 10 per cent ($47.8M); or is it a case of the pidgin parlance ‘monkey work, baboon chop’.”

Although Mr Malami was silent on the entitlements being claimed by Mr Uboh, did the “due diligence conducted by him uncover the genesis of Mr Uboh’s monetary claim?

Does it occur to the AGF, who is the chief law officer of the federation, that his recommendation of Mr Uboh for payment is an endorsement of his contemptuous admission that he pressured “a sitting judge” to reverse a judgment?

Did Mr Malami uncover the methods used by Mr Uboh to pressure the said judge to reverse his or her judgment?

Question 8: With Mr Uboh’s revelation, why is Mr Malami, along with other influential figures in the Buhari administration, standing against the NGF’s demand for scrutiny of the entire judgment debts?

Why is Mr Malami standing against the same approach that was deployed in convincing a U.K court to suspend the $10billion award against the Federal Government in the P&ID case to be adopted in the $418 million judgment debts?

The AGF often brags about his contribution towards proving to the U.K. court that the agreement leading to the humongous P&ID award was based on a fraudulent agreement, but he is opposing the demand by NGF, the NEC, and ALGON for a further probe of the $418 million judgment debts. Why is that the case?

Question 9: Mr Malami, by his admission, found it worthy to query the judgment awards credited to Iseghoghi-Edwards and Riok Nigeria Ltd by engaging EFCC and other security agencies to probe the claims. He also took his enquiry over the matter to ALGON. Why has he failed to carry out such “due diligence” on the claims by other creditors? If he did, what were the outcomes?

Question 10: Why has Mr Malami not been seen trying to ensure the enforcement of court judgments awarding little monetary compensation to ordinary Nigerians for the violation of their rights or killing of their loved ones by various security agencies?

Many ordinary Nigerians, who are unable to get help from the AGF office, have had to resort to the ongoing #EndSARS panels probing cases of police brutality in various states to enforce the court judgments they obtained against the police.

Recently, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) announced that its own panel led by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Suleiman Galadima, had reviewed 20 petitions seeking to enforce judgment sums valued at over N500million.

PREMIUM TIMES obtained and reviewed many of Mr Malami’s correspondences in respect of settlement of judgment debts, in general, none of them tipped the judgment sums obtained by these ordinary Nigerians as top priority.

MALAMI’s STATEMENT IN FULL:

*You are mischievous – Malami replies Premium Times, Sahara Reporters*

The attention of the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN 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.

The initial reaction of the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN 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 figment of imagination of the writer.

The crux and truth of the matter is that Malami, 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 Premium Times and Sahara Reporters 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:

The judgment sum in contention relates to the judgment of the Supreme Court by which parties of interest were adjudged entitled to $3,188,079,505.96 in the year 2013 before Buhari’s administration came in place.

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 embark on extra-ordinary due diligence including directing for investigation of the matter by law enforcement and security agencies with a view to assess the veracity of the claim in view of the lessons derived 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 favour 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 Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON). The Garnishee Order omwas 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 Governors’ 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 from 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 of facts 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 opinion 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 Litigation, 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.

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 Trusstees 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 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 is that 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 exists 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.

Contrary to the claim by the Premium Times report that a letter from ALGON dated September 10th, 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.

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 other agencies, all out of desire to cover the field and have thorough investigation of the issue an 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 of 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. 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” *Dr. Umar Jibrilu Gwandu* (Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice) Saturday 3rd April, 2020.

Culled from Premium Times

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