The Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, is a drain to the Nigerian economy and has already caused the loss of at least N14 billion in questionable legal settlements, the House of Representatives have alleged.
The House has therefore resolved to investigate questionable lawsuits that has accumulated into a N90 billion judgment debt against the federal government, which lawmakers say may have been initiated by Justice Ministry officials prodding litigants to file claims, so that they can present a frail defense on government’s behalf.
The government’s judgment debt profile stands at more than N90 billion.
On Tuesday, the lawmakers spoke of the “apparent zeal” of the Ministry of Justice, and the minster, Mohammed Adoke, to pay the claims instead of “diligently” defending the government in court.
“The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has a duty of representing the government of Nigeria and protecting fully, its pecuniary and other interests,” said Robinson Uwak, who tabled the subject Wednesday, calling for a probe.
“This must be in all contractual transactions, including litigations brought against it by parties,” he said.
An investigation by the House committee on Judiciary will unearth details of how the claims climbed within a few years, and to possibly determine if the responsibility could have been avoided or even minimized. The committee has 21 days to turn in a report.
This year, the federal government has voted N12 billion to defray part of the huge judgment cost, leaving at least N80 billion. But the finance ministry says sourcing scarce funds from tax payers to clear a bill that hardly contributes to a frail economy, remains a challenge.
At a budget briefing in April, Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the N12 billion for 2012, will be the last provision ever made for clearing judgment debt in the budget.
“Henceforth, if there is an issue in any sector, then that sector would have to pay for the judgment debt out of their budgets, because any time government starts provisioning for anything in Nigeria, all of a sudden an industry would begin to build up around it,” she said.
“We are all very clever in this country, and government must not do anything that helps towards undue cleverness in this regard.”
The minister’s remarks suggesting the government viewed the debt buildup as staged by officials, was shared by the House on Wednesday.
The lawmakers suspect there may be a scheme that has been existing for years in which dubious officials instigate suits that exploited government’s weak structures and then shared in the proceeds of the claims. The investigation is expected to locate such circumstances.
But Mr. Uwak said there were indicators pointing at the possibility of the Office of the Attorney General encouraging judgment debts against the government through negligent prosecution.
The lawmaker cited the case of the AGF’s decision to commence payment of over N14 billion in judgment debts to a telecommunication company while the case remained in court.
The suit, between Interstella Communication Limited and NITEL, is currently before the Court of Appeal. But while the decision is awaited, the Attorney General, Mr. Adoke, had commenced payment of N14 billion as claims to Intersella, Mr. Uwak said.
The House has urged President Goodluck Jonathan to direct the immediate suspension of the payment pending the outcome of its investigation.