The pressure being mounted by the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, for payment of $418 million to consultants over the Paris Club refund is highly misplaced and prejudicial to a matter pending in court. An officer of the status of the federal attorney general should be the last person to be seen canvassing the claim. That action is disrespectful of the court and derogatory of the independence of the judiciary. Malami should retrace his steps accordingly and allow due process of court to prevail.
The attorney general has recently said that the consultants allegedly engaged by the state governors with respect to the Paris Club refund should be paid a contentious colossal sum of $418 million for their services despite the fact that the matter is trailed by multiplicity of lawsuits in various courts. On their part, the 36 state governors are vehemently opposed to said payment. But in dismissing the state governors’ reservation, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) has said that if the governors had engaged the services of the consultants it stands to reason that the consultants be promptly paid for their services.
It will be recalled that the 36 state governors had filed a lawsuit urging the Federal High Court Abuja presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo to restrain the Federal Government from going ahead to deduct the aforesaid sum from the Federation Account for the payment to the consultants. And in delivering his judgment on the matter, Justice Ekwo ruled against the state governors. But in exercising their right of appeal under the law, the state governors had lodged an appeal against the judgment as well as filed a stay of execution of the judgment praying the court to stop the payment of the contentious fee to the consultants pending the determination of the appeal lodged by them on the matter at the Court of Appeal.
It is noteworthy that the same Justice Ekwo had in November last year restrained the Federal Government from making any deduction from the Federation Account for the purpose of settling the contentious consultants’ fees pending the resolution of the issues on the matter before the court. It is also on record that Justice Ekwo refused to vacate the stay of execution order when pressed upon to do so by the Federal Government and others. Without going into the merit or demerit of the pending law suits since they are sub-judice, it is unassailable that the payment of the $418 million is the subject matter of multiple lawsuits both at the State High Court and the Court of Appeal. It is surprising therefore that despite the pendency of these multiple lawsuits, the AGF is consistently maintaining that the consultants should be paid the mind-boggling sum of money. As the chief law officer of the country and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the AGF ought to lead in enforcing the principle that any party who is aware of a court decision against him is obliged to uphold, comply with it or obey it until a court of competent jurisdiction sets it aside.
It is incomprehensible why the AGF wants the order made against the Federal Government to be ignored. More importantly, it is trite law that once a party submits himself to the jurisdiction of a court for the purpose of adjudication of a suit, whatever actual or perceived rights he has or thinks he has are subsumed under the jurisdiction of the court; and the parties must maintain the status quo until the court pronounces on their rights. The AGF ought to be mindful of a plethora of decided cases including Ojukwu v Governor of Lagos State (1986)1 SC. Pages 227-324: John A Osagie v Alhaji S. O Oyeyinka and Ors SC 194/1985; Ogundami v Arabia & Barclays Bank of Nigeria Ltd (1978) 6 & 7 SC; Alakija v Abdulai (1998) 5 SC 1 at page 7 ; Iheka V Njoku (2017) LPELR-42002, to the effect that a party to a case must not dispose of or tamper or attempt to tamper in any way with the res or the subject matter of the dispute through self-help or otherwise, so as to render the courts decisions on the suit nugatory. To hold otherwise will be tantamount to descending to the low level of resorting to self-help and over-reaching both the High Court and the Court of Appeal and other litigating parties in the suits.
Specifically, in the case of Ezegbu v First African Trust Bank Limited (1992) 1 NWLR (PT. 220) page 699 at 724, the court held: “It is trite law that where a matter is before a court of law, none of the parties can legally or wrongfully take any unilateral action that will prejudice or tend to prejudice the hearing or adjudication of the matter by the court. Parties who have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court are under a legal duty not to do anything to frustrate or make nonsense a possible court order. They must, whether they like it or not, wait for the court order. They must, whether they like it or not, wait for the court to make a decision one way or the other…the parties cannot jump the gun and do their own thing in their own way. That will be tantamount to undermining the integrity of the court.”
Consequently, the AGF and the Federal Government should refrain from making the payment to the consultants since it is a subject matter that is in contention before the law courts. Resorting to self-help or forcing the settlement of disputes is a recipe for anarchy. The rule of law must triumph over and above the arbitrary and capricious exercise of power. The misplaced doggedness and passion deployed by the AGF in pursuing the payment of this money to the consultants have the potential of suggesting that he has interest in the payment beyond the common good and the general public interest.
In fact, the misplaced passion with which the AGF is demanding for the payment to the consultants is prompting the public to ask: whose interest is the AGF serving? – the public interest or interest of the consultants or the interest of the AGF himself? At this critical time in Nigeria when state governments are broke and cannot pay their workers’ salaries, it is illogical that the AGF should be anxiously demanding for payment of such huge sum to the consultants even when it is still a subject of litigation before the courts of law.
The AGF should not continue to give an impression that he is undeserving of his job, or be seen to be undermining the integrity of the judiciary. The rule of law is sacrosanct; otherwise the country is ruled by the unruly passion and wickedness of man, which is a threat to the country’s survival.
The function of the judiciary as a dispenser of justice, sustainer of good governance and economic growth should not be endangered by the undermining of the integrity of the court and disobedience to court orders. The country’s democratic experiment is in danger of being aborted through statements and actions undermining the integrity of the court and resorting to self-help in settling disputes.