By Chimezie Godfrey
The Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami has advised the body of Attorneys-General in Nigeria to minimize frictions and tension between the different tiers of government.
Malami who gave the advice at the opening session of the 3-days conference of the body of Attorneys-General held on Thursday at Lagos, noted that the theme of the conference, “UNITED APPROACH TO COMMON CHALLENGES”, is apt, timely and of great relevance to Nigeria’s contemporary situation.
According to him, the theme of the conference points out that Ministers in the hallowed Temple of Justice must be conveyors and promoters of peace, unity and harmony at such a time as this, in order to promote brotherly relations and development in the country.
Malami pointed out that the exalted offices which they occupy are products of Sections 150(1) and 195(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), adding that the very nature of these offices demand that they should always be guided by public interest and the interest of justice in the conduct of the legal business of government, as provided by the Constitution. “The foregoing constitutes the framework to guide our engagements as Chief Law Officers”.
He urged the Attorneys-General remain steadfast in all their public and private endeavors and be guided by the abiding provisions of Section 2(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides that Nigeria shall be one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign State.
He stressed that they occupy a prime place in the architecture of governance in the country, adding that it is incumbent on them to ensure that this constitutional provision is defended and sustained.
The AGF observed that recent developments, whereby the constituent States of the Federation have resorted to using the instrumentality of the law in advancing the interests of the States is a welcome development.
According to him, this will benefit the nation in terms of the expansion of its jurisprudence and development of practice of fiscal federalism.
He however cautioned that this developmental quest must be fought within the confines of relevant laws and with due regards to the underlying national philosophies of unity and harmony, adding that they must always take into consideration the symbiotic relationship between the Federal and State Governments.
He said,”Haven perused the Agenda of this Conference; it is my understanding that a number of these frontline national issues currently being litigated upon will be the subject of deliberation. Whilst being mindful of the sub judice nature of these issues, I wish to make a few remarks on some of them. For instance, the issues and cases surrounding the Paris/London Club Loan Deductions and Refunds to the States and Local Governments have since assumed an infamous dimension. I have been at the receiving end of unfair and sponsored media attacks and innuendos.
“It is hoped that the Body of Attorney-General of the States will avoid the dichotomy of personality being created between the Governors Forum and the 36 State Governors. I said this advisedly on the ground that, while the NGF and ALGON made representations and commitments to the Federal Government on behalf of the States and Local Governments on the Paris/London Club refunds, the State Attorneys-General acting for the State Governors turned around to depose, on oath, before the Federal High Court that both NGF and ALGON had no authority to represent them.
“The present controversies surrounding the Paris/London Club loan refunds could have been avoided if NGF/State Governments and ALGON, who engaged the services of consultants and contractors, honoured their agreements. NGF and ALGON have not denied engaging the consultants and contractors on behalf of their respective States and Local Governments.
“The Four (4) judgments under consideration were delivered at various times in 2014, 2015, 2017 & 2019. Two of these judgments were Consent Judgments, based on Terms of Settlement entered into by NGF in 2017 & 2019. Again, two of the Four Judgments were based on an earlier judgment delivered by the Federal High Court in 2013. Yet from 2013 – 2021, neither the States nor NGF nor ALGON deemed it fit to either challenge, or fully comply, with any of these judgments. Yet I am being accused of hasty compliance with these judgments, when there is no appeal or order staying the execution of these judgments.
“Indeed, the Federal Government would have remained aloof, had the Judgment Creditors not obtained attachment orders against the funds and assets of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The States, NGF and ALGON provided no legal comfort for the Federal Government against the Judgment Creditors. Thus, the Federal Government did not act in vacuum, before the decision to comply with the existing judgments were taken.
“I wish to note that the NGF itself previously paid billions to the consultants, based on the same set of engagements and judgments. By various letters addressed to me and the Hon. Minister of Finance, both NGF and ALGON expressed no objection and recommended the same set of consultants for payment. It is to be noted that the present appeal before the Court of Appeal in APPEAL NO: CA/ABJ/CV/405/2022 is not even an appeal against any of the Four main judgments.
“Even though the contractors/consultants’ claims were tied to court judgments, I subjected the claims of the consultants/contractors to investigations by both the DSS and EFCC to further ascertain the veracity of the claims. Recommendations for payment were thus made based on the positive outcomes of these investigations. It is also worthy of note that the NGF who called for a forensic audit since February 2021, has not taken any step in that direction even though doing so will amount to instituting an administrative review of court judgments. A forensic audit or media war are not recognized means of challenging court judgments, or, staying their execution.
“It is important for me to point out that NGF undertook in 2019 to settle these judgment debts from their FAAC Allocations. The Federal Government acted on the Undertaking/Indemnity provided by NGF; more so, the Judgment Creditors also obtained orders of mandamus compelling FGN to issue the promissory notes. NGF at various times in 2016 and 2018 received payments from the Federal Government under the guise of legal and consultancy fees related to the same Paris Club refunds. It will be most unfair, therefore, to state that the NGF did not act on behalf of the States in those circumstances.
“Similar issues bothering on VAT, Stamp Duties, beneficiaries of recovered assets, setting-up of Anti-Corruption Agencies by the States, etc. are at various stages of litigation. The underlying issues in all these cases goes beyond merely generating more funds for the States, who appear to be ignoring other salient national and broader constitutional issues. But as a believer in constitutional democracy, we await the outcomes of these cases and see how to move our nation forward in the overall interest of the entire citizens.
“Aside the foregoing, it is important to emphasize the point that while pursuing the legal rights and interest of the States, it is the duty of the Attorneys-General to see to it that such cases are not prosecuted or pursued in such a manner that is tantamount to promoting sectional or regional interests. These litigations should be targeted at promoting values that bind us as a nation and not divisive tendencies. As Chief Law Officers, we must be guided by the need to ensure that the actions of government are geared towards fulfilling the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as enunciated under Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
“Your Excellencies and Distinguished Attorneys-General, it is in this wise that I wish to state that, it is highly recommended that adequate consultations should be held with all relevant stakeholders before resorting to litigation to minimize frictions and tension between the different tiers of government. Some of the issues being litigated upon currently could have been better addressed through mediation and conciliation between the Federal and State Governments, as partners and not adversaries in progress. This indeed would be the more pragmatic approach to common challenges.
“Majority of the cases in question are based on monetary claims which probably requires more negotiations, adjustment of sharing formular or ratio, legislative amendments, etc. For example, in recognition of the rights or interests of the States in the forfeiture and recovery of assets, Section 70(b) of the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act 2022 has made provision for a State to be compensated, where it has suffered grave pecuniary loss in respect of the forfeited or confiscated asset. We need more of such initiatives and reforms in our legal process to address any perceived grievance of the Federating units.
“In closing, I have also observed the misnomer in the proposed name of the new body which you seek to float, that is, BODY OF ATTORNEYS-GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION. It is my considered view that this name conflicts with Section 150(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which established only one office of the Attorney General of the Federation. Therefore, while there can be a Body of Attorneys-General of the States of the Federation, a Body of Attorneys-General of the Federation is without legal justification. A platform under which the Chief Law Officers of the different States will operate should be duly clothed with legal or juristic personality. You may, therefore, wish to revisit your earlier resolution on this.”