Nigeria: In the Name of Honour

11 May 2021

Nosike Ogbuenyi urges the Nigeria Governors Forum to abide by the terms through which Paris Club refunds were secured.

An African proverb says that character is a god which supports you according to your conduct or behavior. Candidly, integrity, honour, truthfulness, uprightness, honesty and rectitude are closely related sublime qualities. Sadly, they are in short supply among many leaders today especially in Nigeria. On the contrary, dishonesty, duplicity, fraud, rascality and cheating appear to have become the order of the day.

Otherwise, how would one explain the move of John Kayode Fayemi-led Governors Forum to plot to renege on the terms and conditions through which the life-saving Paris Club refunds were secured for Nigerian states and local governments at a time when they were in dire straits? Now the Ekiti governor-led forum wants to 'chop' both the principal payments accruing to them and the commission that belongs to the consultants who risked their lives to secure the life-saving refunds. How come the governors, many of whom joined in lauding the patriotic consultants for their heroics, have forgotten so soon that it was the refunds that bailed Nigeria from recession barely two years ago?

Men and women with honour refuse to cheat or attempt to take what does not belong to them. They religiously keep to the terms and conditions of agreements entered into by them or by their predecessors. However, the Governors Forum appears to lack these precious qualities - honour and integrity. They have resorted to goal post shifting in the middle of action which is disgraceful. The Governors' forum has thrown honour and conscientiousness to the winds by resorting to plots and chicaneries in order to flout the terms and conditions of the Paris Club payments which were secured at grave risks to the lives and businesses of those who successfully fought for it.

While the federal government is said to be disposed to honouring the agreements, the governors are mounting pressure on it not to comply. But the governors can only delay and cannot escape compliance with the terms and conditions upon which the verdicts of the competent courts of jurisdiction were predicated. They have no choice but to meet up with the financial obligations owed the courageous consultants such as Linas International Ltd which belongs to renowned Nigerian international attorney and philanthropist, Prince Ned Munir Nwoko.

The British-trained attorney was central to the decision of the Paris Club to refund Nigerian states and local councils the excess charges they paid under the guise of 'endless' debts payment, servicing and rescheduling. It took the eagle eyes of Ned Nwoko and other consultants to discover that in the process of servicing and repaying the loans, Nigeria was heavily cheated by those superintending the affairs of the international debt handling club.

For several years, Ned Nwoko and other consultants, at great personal risk, pursued and battled the powerful London/Paris creditor club from diverse fronts filing legal proceedings in London, Paris, New York, Switzerland, Abuja and other places. At the end they triumphed over them and the dividend is the multi-trillion Naira Paris Club refund earnings which the Nigerian states and local governments have been reaping in tranches. These judgments secured by Prince Nwoko and others opened the eyes of Nigeria on how to safely and efficiently manage her foreign debts thereby helping to secure the country's economy.

In the 2019 National Public Service Lecture of the University of Ibadan delivered by Prince Nwoko on, "Towards Efficient Management of Nigeria's Foreign Loans", the Delta State-born advocate of malaria eradication in Africa proffered 10 steps or measures which should be taken to ensure that the country's debts are effectively managed to avoid falling into bigger economic problems. Among the steps are thorough negotiation, careful signing, documentation, cataloguing and preservation of all the agreements for future references. That is just one of the many efforts of this consummate patriot to ensure that his country is never short-changed again by both foreign and local creditors. One wonders why such a great Nigerian and other like-minds who have been giving their best to their fatherland including securing the London/Paris Club excess payment refunds should be subjected to stress over payment of their accrued fees for services successfully rendered.

It is hard to contemplate that the same governors, many of whom fought through the Court system to validate their electoral victories, could be linked to any form of rebellion or sabotage against binding decisions of relevant Courts of Law to settle liabilities owed to lawfully engaged consultants who are Nigerians of high repute and standing.

A pertinent question begging for answer concerns whether the incumbent governors presently threatening the consultants with lawsuits are unaware that government is a continuum? Are they oblivious of the fact that agreements duly entered into by their predecessors are legally binding on them? It is ungentlemanly for them to try to change binding agreements, terms and conditions in the middle of the process. Why have they suddenly woken up to their unfounded claim that the agreements were reprehensible and unacceptable? Have they forgotten that it was on the basis of the agreements, terms and conditions that the London/Paris Club refunds they have been collecting in tranches were secured by the consultants?

Like Pontius Pilate, the federal government has washed its hands clean off the ignoble plots of the Governors' forum. Worthy of mention is the clarity provided by the Minister of Finance, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed on why the federal government is obliged to abide by the binding decisions of the competent courts of law to effect the payments to consultants who carried out the spade works that were instrumental to the multibillion dollar settlement made to Nigeria by the Paris Club.

The Minister articulated the federal government's position in her letter to the Chief of Staff to the President dated October 6th 2020 in response to an earlier letter by the Kayode Fayemi led Governors' Forum giving unconvincing reasons to delay or truncate the payments by attempting to renege on binding agreements.

As stated, the federal government, on its part, is disposed to amicably paying the parties involved for sundry services rendered to it, the states and local governments to avoid possible penalties and embarrassment that may accompany enforcement actions and Garnishee Orders. The option entails the federal government settling the consultants in whole through issuance of Promissory Notes. Thereafter, a sinking fund would be established by equal monthly deductions from the statutory allocation due to the states and local government councils over a period of 10 years to help defray the expenses incurred by the federal government on behalf of the states and local governments in paying off the judgment debts.

This is a neat and seamless arrangement but an avaricious clique within the governors believes it can deny the parties that rendered successful services their legitimate commission and agency charges. One is deeply pained that the patriotic Nigerians who staked all they have to free their country from the yoke of unjustified foreign debt deductions are now being subjected to litigations and torture by the same people they sacrificed so much to defend and liberate.

Ogbuenyi is a public affairs analyst and the executive director Centre for Unity, Tolerance and Equity, Abuja

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