Rent seekers. This aptly describes the so-called consultants that want extra $418 million paid for supposedly facilitating refunds of over-deductions against states and local governments, in obligations to Paris Club, an association of Western creditors. I have spent quality time looking at the meaning of the word “rent seekers.” It’s an economic concept that occurs when an entity seeks to gain wealth without any reciprocal contribution of productivity. So, I can confidently say that these consultants seeking $418 million payments are rent seekers. On this war, I’m firmly with the governors.
The services the consultants claim to have offered are contained in a FAAC Reconciliation Committee Report constituted in 2005 and submitted in 2007, with recommendations on how states and LGAs should be refunded the excess deductions from the Paris Club repayments. This is the truth that must be told. The documents are still there. So, which useless services did these consultants render? These guys, in conjunction with some people in the Buhari government are just fleecing Nigeria.
They worked with some dangerous elements in government, arm-twisted the governors and got $205 million in 2018. Now, they want extra $418 million. At current official exchange rate, it would amount to another N168 billion of public funds.
The governors these consultants claimed to have worked for don’t even know them. The local governments don’t know them. They can’t show any evidence of contractual agreement before embarking on the weird job they claimed to have done. Suddenly, they came up with bills running into millions of Dollars, after the refunds to the states had been made.
The role of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, in these shenanigans has left me bemused. This minister has been issuing statements in support of the consultants. This was after getting President Muhammadu Buhari to approve the $418 million extra payments. I will come back to Malami later.
A lot of weird things surround the demands of the consultants. They went to court and obtained series of judgements for the payment. Governors say the purported judgements being bandied by Malami/consultants show that the states and local governments were not parties to the court action which resulted in the judgement debt. Is this not bizarre? According to the governors, “the purported contract claimed to have been executed for the states are not known to any of the 36 state governments and it is therefore, a phony contract.” I concur with the argument that the federal government was the only party to the court case that led to the judgements and therefore such judgements are not binding on the state governments. There are no documents to the contrary.
It is decent that the governors are in court to challenge the bills of the deceptive consultants. The good news is that after listening to the arguments of the states, Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja ordered the federal government not to go ahead with any deduction from the accounts of the states in respect of the purported judgement in favour of the consultants until all issues relating to it were fully determined.
Back in October, based on Malami’s recommendations and Buhari’s concurrence, the Federal Ministry of Finance directed the Debt Management Office to commence issuance of promissory notes to the consultants. This is also weird. Why the rush to make such payments when there are litigations on them? The consultants are relying on court judgements that are being challenged by the 36 governors in several actions in various courts across the country. The Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, the DG of DMO, and Malami were duly notified of these court actions. Why should the finance minister then direct that Promissory Notes be issued in favour of the consultants? I see a long chain of corruption here.
Honestly, I agree with the governors that the decision by Malami to throw his weight behind the consultants battling desperately to grab $418 million from the accounts of states and local governments raises questions of propriety and the spirit of justice.
My dear Malami has suddenly become “Attorney General” of the consultants. He argues that the consultants obtained four judgements, “two of which are consent judgements” and that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum/States and LGAs “consented, expressed no objection to the payments and had already paid part of the debts to the said contractors and consultants.” But he failed to indicate that the governors were already in court to appeal the judgements.
Besides, if indeed Malami is Attorney of the Federation, he should have initiated appeals against the judgements immediately he got wind of them, because huge public funds are at stake.
The governors aptly stated, “The AGF is supposed to be the chief arbiter in all matters concerning Nigerians, especially the poor masses of this country. It is incumbent upon him to, not just ensure that justice is done, but that justice is seen to have been done. It is even more curious that the AGF also recommended payments to some contractors allegedly based on judgements that did not make any monetary award or on claims that were struck out.
“The undue haste, with which the statement (Malami’s press release) was issued even before the service on the AGF of the court processes and the order dated November 5, 2021, restraining the federal government, seems to suggest that there is a special relationship between the Office of the AGF and the consultants over and above Nigerian citizens, whose interest the AGF as the chief law officer of the federation is statutorily bound to always protect.”
Still on Malami’s grumpy defence of the consultants, he said the federal government decided to intervene in the “negotiated settlement” because the consultants made federal government a party to the action against NGF and ALGON, “the implication of which was that the judgement may be executed against the interest and assets of the federal government over liability that was incurred exclusively by NGF and ALGON in respect of which the federal government is not responsible.”
So, Malami is telling this country that for years, he was aware of judgements that were threats to huge public funds and he did not take actions to appeal and thwart them? This is frightening. It means that the governors were right to claim that this minister has a special relationship with the consultants.
This minister is so happy to celebrate initial payments to the consultants. Malami must shape-up-or-ship-out. If he wants to continue working for the uncanny consultants, then, he should just resign. Throwing his weight behind consultants battling desperately to illegally grab $418 million from the accounts of states and local governments evidently raises questions of scam. For the consultants, I challenge them to make public the contractual agreement entered into with the states and local governments, the terms of references for the said consultancy service and when they were engaged. I rest my case.
Governor Ayade’s Callousness to Civil Servants
State and local government workers in Ben Ayade’s Cross River State finally called off their strike last Thursday after 31 days. While the strike lasted, public institutions were paralysed across the state. Schools were shut and students sent home. I doubt if governor Ayade was perturbed for just one day.
Well, the civil servants suspended their strike following the intervention of monarchs. The labour leaders were obviously stressed to end the strike because most of the issues raised were not properly addressed. Frustrated Labour signed a crooked memorandum of understanding with the Cross River State Government that did not even address the issue of endless non-remittance of deductions from workers’ salaries. The governor agreed to set aside a miserable N50 million monthly with effect from January 2022 for the payment of gratuities to both state and local government retirees.
Other agreements were that full implementation of minimum wage for Cross Rivers’ workers would commence “when the economy improves.” The balance of 27.5 per cent to teachers will also be implemented when the economy improves. All these are ridiculous. Virtually every demand was tied to “when inflows increase.” I wonder if payments to Ayade’s retinue of aides are tied to “when inflows increase.”
It’s so sad that the Ayade administration has spent over six years pummeling public servants. There is hardly any good news for civil servants in this state. These drivers of government policies and programmes are persistently treated shabbily. Promotions have become history. The retired ones spend years waiting for pensions and gratuities. That was why nine days ago, the retirees blocked the entrance to the Government House, Calabar.
The Chairman, Nigerian Union of Pensioners, (NUP), Calabar Branch, Eyo Eyo captures the plight of the senior citizens thus: “Interestingly, many of the pensioners collect as low as N4,000. Why are we still being owed? We have brought ourselves to Ayade’s doorpost. We need money for upkeep, many have died, countless are bedridden, we are dying daily.”
Another retiree, Francis Henshaw, adds: “The governor has no regard for either old or senior citizens. Many of the people he retired are either dead or bedridden.”
The pain in Cross River is unprecedented. This governor should at least show a bit of love to civil servants. Ayade must cut the cost of governance in his state. He should start by drastically reducing his retinue of aides.
A Plea for Abducted Askira Uba’s Royals
The situation in Borno State remains critical. This is contrary to the false stories persistently peddled by languid Governor Babagana Zulum. Boko Haram and ISWAP are still enjoying a free rein. Honestly, I see this Zulum as a man who lacks ideas about what a government should be doing. My dear Zulum, government should always be about the security and welfare of the people. A governor must not be seen endangering his people. Last week, I listed eight gory attacks by terrorists just within two weeks. Yet, somebody gets up and says that peace “has returned” to Borno State.
ISWAP’s new leader, Wali Shuwaram, and his boys are everywhere, kidnapping and killing hapless people. Boko Haram is also alive and kicking. Many of their atrocities are never reported. The abduction of three Askira Uba royals by ISWAP terrorists eight days ago is just one of the numerous daily atrocities by these terrorists. Mohammed Askira and his brothers were picked on their way to Maiduguri after attending a function in Askira Uba town. They are all brothers to the present Emir of Askira Uba. The terrorists are asking for N100 million ransom. I have never supported payment of ransom. But what can we do when our security agencies are incapable of doing the needful?
Terrorists have been emboldened by the failings of our security agencies. Just five days ago, ISWAP attacked a military base in Tamsukawu, a village in Kaga LGA of Borno. The attack was the second within a week, in the same Tamsukawu.
Last Wednesday, ISWAP returned to another part of Askira Uba (Chan Chan Dana) and inflicted pain in the place. Several blocks of classroom were burnt. Chan Chan Dana is the village of the Deputy Speaker, Borno State House Assembly, Abddullahi Musa Askira.
Also during this week, the terrorist boldly attacked soldiers in Pulka and in Ngwom, Mafa LGA. They entered Ngwom with six gun trucks. Troops from 195 Battalion Operation Hadin Kai in Jere were able to push them back. What has been giving the terrorists this kind of confidence? Your guess is as good as mine. What is the way out of this unending mess? My position remains the same. Nigeria needs military contractors, precisely from Israel, to help us end this security mess.