Hearing in 36 governors’ $418m debt suit stalled
A suit filed by the 36 state governors over a plan to deduct monies accruing to them from the federation account to settle 418 million dollars judgment debt in relation to Paris Club Refund was, on Tuesday, stalled in a Federal High Court, Abuja.
Justice Inyang Ekwo adjourned the hearing in the suit until Feb. 15, 2022, after counselling to the plaintiffs, S.A. Ameh, SAN, informed him that some of the defence lawyers had just served fresh processes on him and will need time to respond.
Ameh said the applications were filed by the defendants on Monday and served on him just today (Tuesday).
The senior lawyer acknowledged that the court had, in the last sitting, adjourned to take all pending applications, including the preliminary objections and substantive matter in the suit.
He said the action of some of the defendants had made it impossible for them to proceed in the matter, though they were ready for the hearing.
He urged the court to adjourn the matter at the instance of the affected defendants (I.e 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 14th defendants) to enable him file their responses in line with the law.
Justice Ekwo then adjourned to hear pending applications upon consensus by counsel to the parties.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the 36 states Attorneys-General, who are the plaintiffs, had sued the defendants listed in the suit, including the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Accountant General of the Federation and Ministry of Finance.
Others are the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Debt Management Office (DMO), Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), Incorporated Trustees of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), among others.
According to the motion dated and filed Oct. 27, 43 defendants are sued in the matter.
NAN also reports that the court had, on Nov. 5, restrained the Federal Government from deducting the monies from the federation account to settle the judgment debt in relation to Paris Club Refund.
The ruling followed an ex-parte motion moved by counsel to the plaintiffs, Jibrin Okutekpa, SAN, seeking for an order of interim injunction, restraining the Federal Government from deducting any money accruing or due to all or any of the 36 states of the federation.
The court had also ruled that the restraining order would subsist pending the determination of the substantive suit.
However, when the matter came up on Dec. 13, the judge fixed Dec. 21 to hear all pending applications.
His decision was predicated on the applications filed by the defence counsel, challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter.
Ekwo, who refused to grant the prayers on the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction by the plaintiffs on the grounds that the jurisdiction of the court had been challenged by the defendants, ordered that the preliminary objections and the substantive matter would be taken in the next adjourned date.
“In the absence of jurisdiction, the court will be acting in futility no matter how well a proceeding is conducted.
“The product of such a proceeding in other words is a nullity.
“It is my opinion, that the jurisdiction of this court having been challenged by the preliminary objections upon the grounds which I have stated in this ruling, it will be improper and indeed, inappropriate to consider the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction or grant the prayers of the plaintiffs/applicants.
“It is also my opinion that the moment the jurisdiction of this court was disputed by the defendants, the motion on notice for an interlocutory injunction became overtaken by event and lost its priority in the proceedings.
“As it is, the prayers on the motion on notice cannot be granted. I, therefore, make an order refusing the prayers,” he had ruled.
He then fixed Dec. 21 for a hearing of the preliminary objections of the defendants and the substantive matter.