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Court dismisses 36 governors’ $418m Paris Club debt suit against FG

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A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, dismissed the 418 million dollars Paris Club debt suit filed by the 36 state governments against the Federal Government.

Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgement, dismissed the suit for lacking in merit.
Judtice Ekwo held that the states’ Attorneys-General (AGs), who were plaintiffs, lacked the legal right to institute the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/1313/2021 without their governors’ consent.

“The states’ Attorneys-General cannot on their own bring this suit given the provisions of Section 211 of the 199 Constitution.

“This is beyond the powers of the states’ Attorneys-General to initiate this suit on their own.

“No cause of action can flow when a plaintiff lacks the legal right to institute a suit.

“This suit does not fall within the class of suits that can be initiated by the State Attorneys-General without the consent of the governors,” the judge held.

He upheld the objection by some of the defendants, stressing that the 36 states’ AGs, though filed the suit on behalf of the state governments, they lacked the locus standi (the legal right) to initiate it.

He said that since the debt being challenged arose from the actions of the governors, who are members of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), the AGs, who were appointees of the governors, cannot sue to challenge the actions of their principals.

“It is the evidence in this case that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (8 Defendant) entered into the contracts and judgements were awarded against them on behalf of their respective states and respective local government councils.

“This position leaves the 1st— 7th defendants in the position to pay the judgement debts from the Federation Account.

“The plaintiffs not being members of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum or Association of Local Government of Nigeria (as the 8th defendant) are not in the position to challenge this,” he said.

The judge also held that the suit amounted to an abuse of court process in that it was intended to seek a review of judgments already given in favour of the consultants.

Justice Ekwo said that his court lacked the powers to review judgments of courts of coordinate jurisdiction.

He proceeded to consider the suit on it merit and held that it was without merit.

“From the reliefs sought in this case, it is a declaratory action.

“The law is that the case of the plaintiff must succeed on the merit and not on the failure or weakness of the defence.

“In civil cases, the claimant has the burden of proving his claim on the balance of probabilities,” he said
The judge proceeded to dismiss the suit.

“I do not see any merit in this case on the whole and I hereby dismiss it for lacking in merit,” Justice Ekwo said.

Our correspondent reports that the court had, on Nov. 5, 2021, restrained the Federal Government from deducting monies accruing to the 36 states from federation account to settle 418 million dollars judgment debt in relation to Paris Club Refund pending the determination of the substantive suit.

The court gave the order following an ex-parte motion moved by counsel to the plaintiffs, Jibrin Okutekpa, SAN.

It was repored that while the 36 states Attorney-Generals are the plaintiffs on the suit.

Some of the defendants listed in the suit include the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Accountant General of the Federation and Ministry of Finance.

Others are Central Bank of Nigeria, Debt Management Office, Federation Account Allocation Committee, 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.

Although four prayers were sought for, Justice Ekwo granted three in the motion ex-parte.

The reliefs sought by the plaintiffs include 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 senior lawyer, who informed the court that the Federal Government had not commenced the deduction of the monies, withdrew the fourth prayer, asking for a refund of the monies deducted.

He hinted that the deduction was expected to begin in November, 2021.

He said in spite of his clients’ protest against such action, the defendants had vowed to go-ahead with the deduction.

He said if allowed, no state would be able to pay workers’ salaries.
Besides, Okutekpa argued that the states were not party to any contract resulting in such debts.

“That is why we ran to your court,” he said.

tribune news paper

Taiye Agbaje

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