$418m debt: Court fixes Dec. 21 to hear pending applications in 36 governors’ suit

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A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, fixed Dec. 21 to hear all pending applications in a suit filed by the 36 state governors over plan to deduct monies accruing to them from federation account to settle 418 million dollars judgment debt in relation to Paris Club Refund.

Justice Inyang Ekwo fixed the date after taking arguments for and against the plaintiffs’ application for interlocutory injunction from counsel to the parties in the suit.

Justice 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 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 ruled.

The judge adjourned the case until Dec. 21 for hearing of the preliminary objections of the defendants and the substantive matter.

It was reported that the 36 states Attorneys-General (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.

Reports also state that the court had, on Nov. 5, restrained the Federal Government from deducting the monies from 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 36 state governments (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.

On Dec. 7 when the matter came up, Justice Ekwo had refused to vacate the earlier order retraining the Federal Government from tampering with the states’ funds.

Instead, the judge adjourned the matter till today to take the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.

At the resumed hearing, Maimuna Lami-Shiru, counsel to the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th defendants, (President, AGF, Ministry of Finance and DMO respectively), urged the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ application for lacking in merit.

She argued that the application lacked merit to be brought forward in that the plaintiffs had no sufficient legal backing to pursue this.

Lami-Shiru argued further that the plaintiffs concealed facts about some previous judgments of the court which ordered them to make payment from the source; the local and state government accounts.

She urged the court to discountenance the application and set aside its earlier order.

Other defence counsel also argued in the same vein, urging the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ application.