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AGF rejects President’s approval, withholds $350m consultants fee on Paris Club refund

By Igho Akeregha, Head, Northern Region
18 December 2018   |   4:07 am
The Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF, Ahmed Idris, has refused to abide by the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari that all debts relating...

Accountant-General of the Federation, Mr Ahmed Idris

Cites verbal directive from Governor Yari for refusal
The Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF, Ahmed Idris, has refused to abide by the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari that all debts relating to the Paris Club loans refund be finally settled.

The accountant-general equally remained adamant despite subsequent advice by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the Minister of Finance that the presidential directive be complied with.

Investigation revealed that the accountant-general is relying on a purported contradictory oral directive by the Chairman of the Governor’s Forum, who is said to have given an oral instruction that funds meant to pay consultancy/legal fees, estimated at about $350 million, be withheld.

The Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, Abba Kyari had, by a letter dated June 28, 2018, disclosed that Buhari has approved the settlement of all claims related to the Paris Club loan reimbursement.

In the letter, copied to the Ministers of Finance and Justice, Kyari also sought the legal opinion of the AGF) on the issue.

Malami, in his letter dated July 11, 2018 (in reaction to the CoS’ request for legal opinion) and another letter dated August 20, 2018 (in response to request for legal opinion by the Minister of Finance), identified some third party claimants, who were entitled to be paid consultancy/legal fees for the services they rendered to states and local governments in relation to the Paris Club refund.

The Justice Minister warned that since the consultants and other third party claimants have obtained garnishee orders against the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Government was under obligation to settle these third party creditors before making disbursement to the states and local governments.

Following Malami’s advice, then Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, in a letter dated September 14, 2018 asked the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, to set aside the consultants’ fees estimated at $350 million.

However, in his letter of September 21, 2018 to the Attorney-General of the Federation, which he sent through the Finance Minister, Idris attempted to justify why the $350 million meant for the payment of legal/consultancy fees is being withheld.

He sought advice from the Minister of Justice, a request the minister was yet to provide since the letter was written on September 21.

Idris, in the letter titled: “Re: Payment of legal/consultancy fees deducted from states’ reimbursement in respect of final claim on Paris Club loan,” referred to a certain counter-directive by the Chairman of the NGF to withhold the $350 million.

The letter read in part: “The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, kindly refer to our tri-partite discussion at the Ministry of Justice on the above subject vide Mr. President’s approval and be informed that the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum has verbally instructed that the payment be kept on hold.

“In view of the President’s approval and the counter-instruction from the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, kindly advice accordingly.”

Commenting on the propriety of his action, the Office of the AGF said: “The OAGF had to write Attorney-General of the Federation in view of some emerging developments on the matter. We always comply fully with relevant directives and extant rules guiding public expenditure and payments.

“As Treasury, we perform our duties ethically and without compromising our professional callings as holders of public trust. Should you need additional information on this matter, Please contact us again. Thank you for the effort to hear from us.