Fresh indications emerged at the weekend on why President Muhammadu Buhari granted a request of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) on N522 billion Paris Club debt refund.
This is coming at a time governors, in anticipation of of the money, have set conditions for payment of consultants, even as they have denied any rancour among them, with regard to sharing of the refund.
Daily Sun gathered that a governor from the North West, who is close to President Buhari, laid out the history of agitation for the Paris Club debt refund and how three former administrations rebuffed pleas to refund excesses deducted from their accounts.
The governor, on behalf to the NGF, informed, it was gathered, had informed the president that states were overcharged during the 2005 Paris Club debt relief, during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and that a refund would help pay salaries and settle outstanding and inherited pensions and gratuities of retired civil servants.
“That was why the president gave approval that 50 per cent be paid to states. The money was released last year. In fact, the total refund is $13.8 billion, but $6.9 billion was released in December 2016, which is now at the root of EFCC investigations. It was just half of it and some states shared just 25 per cent of the total amount,” an NGF source told Daily Sun yesterday.
Another source said consultants “used all the papers involved to prepare a document, which the president assented to, for the release of $6.9 billion, which translated to N388 billion last year. The president approved and asked that disbursement be done through the NGF, but a cap of N14.5 billion was the highest some states got in the first tranche. Release of the first tranche last year helped states settle December salaries and also, pension arrears in some states.”
Regardless, NGF Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, insisted that many consultants facilitated release of the refund and so, it was immoral to deny them commission.
He said: “This brings us to the issue of consultants, who facilitated the process. Indeed, a number of consultants were saddled with the task of verifying the amounts due to each state. These consultants were recruited by the respective states, but were eventually collapsed into a consortium of only a few, even though the others, who did not make it to the final group, were reimbursed, according to their input.
“Many more consultants, throughout the country, are still insisting that they did work on this same Paris-London Clubs repayments since a decade ago and that they are entitled to some compensation as well. Many of them had actually and verifiably done some work in the past and negotiated a fee of between 10 per cent and 30 per cent, with the different states that engaged them. It was, therefore, immoral and impossible to deny each their due, provided their input is verified and justified.”
He said if the Federal Government had found anything corrupt, illegal and unpatriotic about the payment or the utilisation of the first tranche of the Paris-London Clubs fund repayment to states, it would not have approved the payment of the second tranche to the states.
Said he: “After all, we all know the unimpeachable level of commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari on the issues of transparency and accountability. Note also, most importantly, at this juncture, that every decision that was taken in respect of all the transactions was with the full consent and blessing of the 36 governors.
“We, therefore, find the insinuation that monies went into the private accounts of seven unidentified governors as not only preposterous but also mischievous. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) itself had issued a release exculpating all the governors, saying it was investigating the matter further.”
The NGF also commended Buhari for releasing funds, which former presidents refused to.
Reacting to reports that governors were bickering over the sharing formula for the fresh funds, Bello-Barkindo said: “The (fresh) funds were covered by the first approvals and does not call for any reviews of the status quo. There has been no need for new consultants or review of the last agreements. The Paris London Clubs loan refund has been on the cards since 2005. Successive state governors had tried to get reimbursement for the excess deductions from their states in the past but did not succeed. The failure resulted from a number of reasons, varying from one state to another. It is, therefore, to the Nigeria Governors Forum’s credit that this set of governors was able to persuade President Muhammadu Buhari to authorise the release of the funds for disbursement to deserving states.
‘‘President Buhari’s desire to reflate the economy at a time when states were insolvent and unable to pay salaries was why he acceded to the request by the current group of governors that the money be released to the states. It is true that there were conditions attached to the disbursements, but these arose from the collective and voluntary resolution of the governors and not any draconian order from any quarters. It shows that the governors themselves are responsible, sensitive and compassionate enough to understand the plight of Nigerians that they govern and, therefore, work in the interest of their people.
“It is important to state that in approving the repayment, due process was diligently followed and each and every approving authority, including the Federal Ministry of Finance, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the office of the Auditor General of the Federation as well as the National Assembly were duly informed from the beginning to the end of all the transactions. Nothing illegal was done and no monies were paid into the personal account of any governor, legislator or top officials at any of the levels and arms of government in the country.”