25 March 2014, Abuja – The Supreme Court, Monday, gave the Federal Government 21 days to file its defence to allegation by Governors of the 36 states of the federation that it has continued to deplete funds accruing from the proceeds of crude oil sales, petroleum profit tax and oil royalties, otherwise classified as excess crude proceeds.
A seven-man panel of Justice of the apex court, which yesterday fixed September 23 to commence hearing on the matter, equally gave the governors seven days to furnish it with all the particulars of their allegation on the federal government.
Specifically, the governors had approached the apex court, asking it to halt plans by the Federal Government to transfer the sum of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to a new account to be known as the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF.
Though the governors filed the matter since October 23, 2008, the FG, on several occasions, persuaded the Supreme Court to suspend hearing on the suit, saying it was ready to pursue an out-of-court settlement deal with the plaintiffs.
However, following the inability of both parties to reach a consensus on the matter, the governors, decided to dump the out-of-court settlement deal which was hitherto brokered by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, even as they yesterday urged the apex court to go ahead and determine their suit on its merit.
The Governors who were represented by a team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria led by Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, sought leave of the apex court to further adduce more evidence with a view to proving how FG had mismanaged funds that accrued from the proceeds of crude oil sales.
At the resumed hearing yesterday, counsel to the FG, Mr. Austin Alegeh, SAN, informed the court that the settlement deal had collapsed entirely, saying it was what informed his decision to seek for leave to amend his statement of defence.
Though the governors did not oppose his application, they however accused the FG of employing delay tactics with a view to stalling hearing on their suit.
The governors, informed the apex court that the last meeting they held with the Federal Government was in 2011 which they said yielded no result, decrying that the defendant only deemed it fit to amend its defence in 2014.They therefore accused FG of deliberately abusing the judicial process.
Responding, Alegeh, SAN, stated that it was the office of the Vice President that co-ordinated the settlement meeting, saying he was just briefed that the process ended in futility.
“I have not been part of that meeting, when the settlement process was going on, we did not amend our statement of defence. The need to amend it has arisen due to the collapse of settlement talk”, he stated.
In a short ruling, leader of the apex court panel, Justice Walter Onnoghen, adjourned the case for hearing.
– Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Vanguard