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General News of Sunday, 12 September 2021

Source: www.thisdaylive.com

FG tackles states over alleged non-remittance of N2tn recovered assets

Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami, Attorney General of the Federation

The federal government has replied to the suit filed by the Attorney-General of the 36 states of the federation, faulting the claims that it failed to remit over N2 trillion received as proceeds from recovered and forfeited assets into the federation account.

The federal government in the reply dated August 9, 2021, argued that not all revenues must be remitted to the federation account as claimed by the plaintiffs.
The AGF, in the reply filed on his behalf by one Mrs. Maimuna Shiru, is asking the Supreme Court to discountenance all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs because they are lacking in merit and should be dismissed.

The 36 states in the suit with number SC/395/2021 dated March 9, 2021, alleged that the federal government between 2015 till date from both international and domestic forfeitures recovered the sum of N1.8 trillion cash, 167 properties, 450 cars, 300 trucks, and cargoes and 20 million barrels of crude oil worth about N450 billion, but illegally appropriated the assets meant for the three tiers of the government.

Among the issues raised for determination are whether, by sections 162 and 80 of the Constitution, assets confiscated, recovered, or forfeited to the Federal Republic of Nigeria constitute revenues payable to the federation account instead of the Consolidated Revenue Account of the federal government.

They further asked the apex court to determine whether, by the constitutional provisions mentioned above, revenues accruing to the federation can be appropriated and applied by the President through the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning or any other ministry or agency without due allocation from the Federation Account and the approval of the National Assembly.

If the questions raised are answered in the affirmative, the plaintiffs want the Supreme Court to declare, “that by the provisions of Section 162(1) and Section 162(10) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), all income, returns, proceeds or receipts howsoever described derived from confiscated, forfeited and/or recovered assets constitute revenue of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which must be remitted to federation account for the collective benefit of the federal, state and local governments.”

They also want the court to declare that “the failure and/or refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari, the minister of finance, the office of the AGF, and the Accountant-General of the Federation, and all other relevant authorities and/or agencies of the federation to remit the receipts, income, returns or proceeds derived from all assets recovered, seized, confiscated and forfeited into the federation account to be distributed by the provisions of the Constitution is unconstitutional.”

But, in his reply, Malami maintained that only funds accruable to the federation account are paid into the federation account, adding that funds not accruable to the federation account are paid into the government account such as the Consolidated Revenue Account of the federal government or Consolidated Revenue Account of the states if such funds belong to them.

The AGF in urging the apex court to dismiss the suit stated that some paragraphs of the plaintiffs’ affidavit are not facts and the conclusions offend section 115(2) of the Evidence Act.

In a 40-page paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Friday Zekeri, a Civil Litigation Officer in the Ministry of Justice, the defendant claimed that the proceeds of forfeiture ab initio belonged to the federal government.

He stated that the invitation of the apex court by the plaintiffs is to give an absurd interpretation of the constitution.

The AGF, while denying that recovered assets are being re-looted by the Buhari administration, said that the creation of a Recovery Account and Interim Recovery Forfeiture Account were for administrative convenience.

He explained that the enabling laws governing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other related offences Commission (ICPC), empowered the AGF to make rules for the sale and disposal of forfeited assets, adding that assets of former Chief of Defence Staff, the late Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh and others were assets gotten from the federal government, insisting that such proceeds should be remitted into the consolidated account and not the federation account as expected by the plaintiffs.

The defendant further noted that most of the actions of the federal government in respect of recovered loots were being handled in line with international agreements the country entered with other countries before identified looted funds were repatriated.

“Nigeria cannot rely on its internal law to avoid international obligations entered into”, the deponent said, adding that, “the management of repatriated assets complied with all known laws”.

While insisting that all the listed looted and repatriated property and funds belong to the federal government, the defendant urged the apex court to dismiss the case of the plaintiffs for lacking in merit.

The 36 states had, in a 71-paragraph affidavit deposed to in support of the originating summons, claimed that they had been denied their fair share from the federation account.

They also submitted that the establishment of the “asset tracing, recovery and management regulation 2019” done by the president through the AGF, contradicts the provisions of the Constitution, adding that the AGF acted beyond his constitutional powers.

The affidavit deposed to by the Director-General of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Mr. Asishana Okauru, alleged that the recovered assets have not been accounted for by the federal government, adding that it was in the interest of equity and fiscal federalism for the said assets already appropriated by the federal government to be recovered.

The plaintiffs are therefore seeking an order of the apex court directing the president, finance minister, Accountant-General of the Federation, and all other relevant authorities “to give an account of all the receipts, income, returns or proceeds derived from all assets recovered, seized, confiscated and/or forfeited to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the sum of N1,836,906,543,658.73 (cash) and N450,000,000,000.00 (non-cash)”.

They also urged the apex court to grant: “An order directing the earlier mentioned persons to reconcile accounts of all the receipts, income, returns or proceeds derived from all assets recovered, seized, confiscated and forfeited to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the sum of N1,836,906,543,658.73 (cash) and N450,000,000,000.00 (non-cash), and remit same forthwith into the federation account,” the document reads.

The plaintiffs are also seeking: “An order directing the president, the minister of finance, the Office of the AGF, the accountant-general of the federation and the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), to determine forthwith, the modalities for distributing the receipts from seized, forfeited and recovered assets, among the federal, state and local governments from the federation account; an order directing that any sum due to the federal government from the federation account should be set off against and to the full extent of any component of the receipts, income, return or proceeds derived from all assets recovered, seized, confiscated, and/or forfeited to the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the sum of N1,836,906,543,658.73 (cash) and N450,000,000,000.00 (non-cash), which has been utilised, applied and/or expended by the federal government without due allocation/distribution.”

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