Paris Club refund: Governors and rule of law
Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), a body unknown to the Nigerian Constitution, has been quite influential and prominent when it comes to issues that have to do with welfare and security of the 36 state governors. The NGF is registered, with registration number CAC/IT/NO/31439, under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 1990. The body pops up now and then only when the states plan to arm-twist the Federal Government on matters pertaining to revenue allocation and sharing. It is only of recent they came up collectively with a demand for legal decentralisation of police operations that other bodies have advertised as state police in the context of restructuring of the complicated federation.
The Governors’ organic vision is to form a strong non-partisan institution, which actively and effectively promotes inclusiveness, democratic values, good governance and sustainable development; and their mission, to provide a platform for collaboration amongst the Executive Governors on matters of public policy; to promote good governance, sharing of good practice and to enhance cooperation at state level and with other arms of government and society. There have not been indications that they have lived up to this fundamental objective and directive principle.
Furthermore, going by the oath, which they swore to before assuming offices as governors, they ought to be promoters of the rule of law and due process rather than constitute a clog on the wheel of progress both in the administration of law and good governance. In the said Oath of Office as contained in Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria: these Governors each “…solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that I will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…to do justice to all manner people…”
Curiously, the NGF has observed these ideals more in breach and has really not carried itself in a way that would enhance its image. The Governors have weaponised the forum and often used it to block progressive policies by the Federal Government, hiding behind their status as federating units while abdicating most responsibilities for economic development, security, peace and stability. They hardly use their opaque security votes for security of the people of their states. They always call on the federal authorities in Abuja for rescue operations.
Today, the Kayode Fayemi-led Nigeria Governors’ Forum is alleged to be mounting pressure on the Federal Government not to comply with the verdicts of courts of competent jurisdiction to meet up with the financial obligations owed some indigenous consultants on benefits they have been enjoying from debt management consequences. Of particular interest are the judgments resulting from the non-settlement of agreed consultancy fees to the firms that carried out the spade work, which compelled the Paris Club to refund to the Federal Government, States and Local Governments of the excess charges incurred when Nigeria first exited the foreign debt overhang in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. This is curious and unacceptable.
The Governors’ current stand not to obey court judgments to settle liabilities owed to legitimately engaged consultants who are Nigerians is indeed in bad faith. Such action constitutes further recklessness of the executive arm, which has continued to act at variance with the very essence and quintessence of the principles of separation of powers. Yet, many of them enjoy their offices as governors today by virtue of judgments in their election litigations returned in their favour by the same courts they now disregard.
The Federal Government has already clarified why the payment is necessary via a letter to the Chief of Staff to the President dated October 6th 2020, titled, “Re: Liquidation Of Judgment Debts On Behalf Of Federal MDAs, States and Local Governments” and signed by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning. The minister’s letter was in response to an earlier one by the Governors’ Forum, which declared the planned payments illegal, stating, in part: “The NGF as a legal entity cannot bind the States without the said States first authorising it to do so.” One then wonders the essence of the NGF if it cannot act on the behalf of states in a collective bargaining.
It may also be pertinent to ask: which enactments of States’ Houses of Assembly authorised the formation and incorporation of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum? If none exists, the governors cannot approbate and reprobate and so cannot choose which action of the NGF to accept or repudiate. The Nigerian governors also need to be reminded that by acquiescing to the formation of NGF, the people have also invariably accepted the body as their representative and NGF’s actions, inactions and contracts on their behalf are accordingly binding.
The governors’ plea that there are several deductions from the statutory allocations of states and that further deductions would spell doom is such a weak defence. So also is their imploring Mr. President to order an independent forensic audit of the proposed deductions to determine the validity of deductions and a hint at flagging corruption are also belated defence mechanisms on a long concluded contract and transaction, which were executed at the NGF’s instance.
As the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) rightly noted in their commendation statement over the process of the funds’ recovery that began from 1992 to 2002, it was a patriotic duty that involved a lot of risks and hard work. It took a lot of time and expertise to pursue the creditor-countries to refund the excess deduction of funds that they creamed off from Nigeria’s repayment of the foreign loans by the creditors.
Finally, it is obvious that the state governors are simply treating the Paris Club refunds as a windfall from the sales of crude oil thus disregarding the fact that there were no ways these refunds running into billions of naira could have accrued back to Nigeria if the Consultants did not play their professional roles. Even the ancient word we quote regularly says that the labourer is entitled to his wage. The Nigerian consultants who recovered the funds should be paid without any further delay. They earned it. That is the only way Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) the governors regularly fly abroad to invite to their states too can trust the country’s national character – in the context of ease of doing business.
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