Apex Court To Begin Trial After March 8, 2016 Deadline
The Supreme Court yesterday urged the Federal Government and the States until March 8, 2016 to find political solution in the dispute arising from the maintenance of the Excess Crude Account and the transfer of one billion dollars from the account to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
The Supreme Court had earlier granted a request by the parties to settle the matter out of court and to explore an amicable resolution of the disagreement. But both parties are still unable to do so.
The Federal Government had through its Counsel, Chief Wole Olanikpekun, SAN, at the resumed hearing yesterday, informed the court that the new Attorney General of the Federation who had just resumed office needed time to study the case file before taking necessary actions.
While adjourning, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Mahmud who presided over the matter urged the parties to try as much as possible to settle the disputes before the next adjourned date or the court will go into full trial. The CJN noted that the matter, which had lingered for long since 2008 is better resolved outside the court.
The sovereign wealth fund manages the surplus income produced from Nigeria’s excess oil reserves on behalf of the states and the Federal Government. The 36 state governors are seeking an order declaring the proposed creation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund illegal and unconstitutional. The states are also praying the apex court to issue an order to the effect that all sums standing to the credit of the Excess Crude Account should be paid into court or be otherwise secured as the court may deem fit pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
Governors of the 36 states also want the court to compel the Government of the Federation to pay into the Federation Account N5.51 trillion being the balance of the money that accrued to the central purse between 2004 and 2007 from the proceeds of crude oil sales, petroleum profits tax and oil royalties.
The Government of the Federation had classified such earnings as “excess crude proceeds” and “excess PPT and royalties” which were paid into an account termed the “Excess Crude Account”.
The governors also asked the court to order the Federal Government to transfer to the Federation Account all sums standing to the credit of the Excess Crude Account.
The Federal Government had challenged the jurisdiction of the apex court to hear the suit, arguing that the matter was not between states and the federation, but a dispute between the states and the Federal Government, which it said ought to have been filed before a Federal High Court.
In a counter affidavit filed on behalf of the Federal Government by the law firm of Alegeh and Co., it said efforts to find a common ground did not succeed.
Mr. Uchena Njoku of the law firm said: “I know as a fact that subsequent to the institution of the substantive case, the parties explored the possibility of an amicable settlement of the issues discernible in the case and mutually sought several adjournments of the case to enable them to conclude the settlement option and report same to the court.
“That when it became clear the plaintiffs/applicants were not amenable to the settlement options, discussions in this regard were called off and parties accordingly informed the court.”
The Federal Government also accused the states of mischief because they took part in the deliberation of the National Economic Council where the decision to transfer the $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to the SWF was taken.
It added that the states had also been receiving their shares from the money and accused them of insincerity.
In response, the states insisted that they had shared only the legitimate funds deposited in the Federation Account and not from the funds illegally deposited in the Excess Crude Account.
While asking the Supreme Court to refuse the application by the states to stop the Federal Government from transferring $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to the SWF, the latter’s counsel said his client would run into problem if the application was granted.
He said the day-to-day running of the nation’s economy would be put in danger if the application was granted.
The governors, through their counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, had applied to the Supreme Court to restrain the Federal Government from making any withdrawals howsoever from the account styled the “Excess Crude Account” (or any account replacing same by any name howsoever), pending the hearing and determination of a suit they filed in 2008.
The governors also asked the apex court to order that all sums standing to the credit of the account styled the “Excess Crude Account” (or any account replacing same by any name howsoever) be paid into a dedicated account at the instance of the court or be otherwise secured as the court may deem fit, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
Awomolo said the governors were forced to file the application because the Federal Government and its officials had consistently, and in total disregard for the pending suit, withdrawn, utilized, disbursed and allocated funds from the account and had nearly depleted N5.51 trillion being the balance on the account as at 2008 when the case was instituted.
He further stated that the Federal Government had announced its intention to withdraw, disburse and utilize another $1 billion from the credit balance from the account in disregard to the subsisting suit and in disrespect to the authority of the Supreme Court.
– Tony Ailemen, Abuja