Abuja — The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN has raised the alarm Nigeria was currently in judgement debt of a whopping sum of N150 billion.
According to Malami, the large figure arose from bad cases, contract failures, damages and especially fines against human rights abuses, just as he requested that the Senate should appropriate an extra N30 billion to the ministry to service the debt annually.
Speaking yesterday in Abuja during 2020 budget defence of the Ministry before the Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, All Progressives Congress, APC, Ekiti Central led Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, the Minister said that the country was facing " hydra-headed challenges meeting up with the obligations.
According to Malami, while N10bilion was paid in 2017, N150 billion remains unpaid; prompting beneficiaries to mount severe pressure on the ministry, even as he requested that a commission of 2.5% of the total recovered loot should be given to the Asset Recovery Unit in his office to service bills.
Meanwhile, the total budgetary allocation for the entire Ministry of Justice is N33 biilion.
Malami said, "Paucity of funds remains a notorious challenge. Regardless, we shall not relent on what we have set out to accomplish largely because the rule of law is undoubtedly the pillar of democracy the world over.
"Distinguished committee members, the rule of law is good and noble but greatly capital intensive. At the home front, judgement debt kept mounting, threat to peace, breaches of the peace, outside aggressions and allied reprehensible violence, extremism have all combined to constitute suffocating legal challenges with attendant mounting financial demands in servicing them.
"It is in public domain that we are today contending with P&ID judgment prompting us to swiftly moved to action to save the country from a $9.6B judgement debt
"I want to state on record that no budgetary provision existed as it relates to contentious issues relating to the defence of the federal government for the purpose of setting aside this quoted demand and others.
"This is a clear sign and demonstration of the fact that the Federal Ministry of Justice work under a very difficult circumstances for the purpose of addressing issues with huge financial demands leading to circumstances where no budgetary provision exists for the purpose of addressing the challenges that kept arising day-in-day-out.
"In any event, there is a glimmer of hope within the foreseeable future we shall triumph over this hazard of international conspiracy and dramatic irony that is packaged for the purpose of creating serious economic setback for the country.
"There are several protocols and agreements which Nigeria is obligated that requires constant travels to keep faith at these fora.
I will like to reiterate my earlier request for a dedicated expenditure item to service these crucial international obligations in order not to renege our responsibilities as a nation.
"Critical functions associated with elections among others clearly as it relates to the execution of election and election associated matters keep cropping up and have serious financial demands that are in no way captured in our budgetary provisions at times.
"This platform provides another excellent opportunity for me to push for approval of 2.5% as requisite commission arising from recovery of our stolen assets stashed off the shores of Nigeria. A unit of asset recovery in the Federal Ministry of Justice has evidently deposited all recoveries so far into the federal government treasury it true enough we need a sizeable commission to replenish our efforts.
"Billions were recovered and have been recovered and are being pursued without any supporting budgetary provision for the purpose of pursuing the illicit finances being recovered day in day out through the Federal Ministry of Justice."
The lawmakers were favourably disposed to Mallami's request with a suggestion that he sends it to the National Assembly in form of a bill to avoid being misinterpreted as "padding", especially when the money was not contained in the budget for 2020.
Earlier in his remarks, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, said, "Let me emphasise that there shouldn't be a misunderstanding of the intention of the Senate. Our motive isn't investigation but we felt that as the Senate and as elected representatives of the people, beyond what we read on pages of the newspapers, we should hear directly from stakeholders who are in charge of the agencies.
"So far I want to assure you that from what we are hearing, the Ministry has been on top of the situation.
"Again, in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari has recently laid before the national assembly, the 2020 Federal government of Nigeria Appropriation Bill for consideration and passage.
"To underscore the importance of the national budget and in line with the mood of the 9th Senate and its legislative agenda, our Committee will perform legislative oversight over the Federal Ministry of Justice and agencies that report to it and has as its jurisdiction among others, the scrutiny of the annual budget ad estimates of the Ministry and its agencies.
"The Federal Ministry of Justice as a service-driven Ministry has enormous responsibilities and constitutional powers conferred on the Attorney General of the Federation, as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation.
"The Committee is aware of the additional responsibilities placed on the Ministry of Justice with regard to the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act which empowers the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, in Section 29(1) of the Constitution to monitor, promote and protect the right to records and information. These undoubtedly is an additional responsibility which we believe has placed additional financial burden on the Ministry.
"The Committee is worried about the judgement debt profile of the country which keeps soaring by the day as there are no corresponding budgetary allocations to handle such and it is a matter of concern to the Committee. It is on record that the last allocation the Ministry got for judgement debt was in the 2017 Appropriation Act where the sum of N10 billion was appropriated.
" The Committee is deeply concerned with the failure of our government to service its judgement debt as expected, which has put our image before the international community at stake. The Committee would strive to ensure that budgetary provisions are made in order to offset the debt burden. I am bit talking about $9.6B of P&ID because as far as we are concerned, it isn't a legitimate and credible debt.
The Committee is mindful of the mounting challenges the parastatals and agencies have been facing in the last couple of years, especially in the areas of releases of appropriated funds.
"The Committee would ensure that all these issues are looked into in subsequent budgets of MDAs and be taken up with the leadership of the Senate."
Vanguard News Nigeria.