President Muhammadu Buhari

President Buhari is well known for strict concern with propriety, when it comes to fiscal matters. Many will be outraged by his insistence on approving the payment of the Paris Club judgement debt. The claims have been challenged widely and many of those involved have made opaque demands…. President Buhari should not stoke up the flames by paying this controversial judgement debt. It is in the public interest to order a forensic audit.

Arguably, President Buhari’s single most outstanding credential, in a morally besmirched landscape, is his personal integrity.  At this point in his career, he must truly care about this priceless resource. But a threat carrying a direct personal consequence now looms in the horizon. And here it is.

President Muhammed Buhari has reportedly approved the payment of a controversial $418 million in a Paris Club refund  related  judgement debt to six creditors . In doing this, the president is reported to have turned his back on well meant objections raised by several lobbies. These platforms include the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), not always known for its high volume, and also the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON).  These groups, as well aas a rising body of Nigerian opinion, have questioned the legitimacy of the payments. It is now public knowledge that the Federal Ministry of Finance has approved this judgement payment and has requested the Debt Management Office to commence the issuance of promissory notes to the creditors.

The debts had accrued from cumulative court judgements given in favour of the creditors as consultants or contractors. They claim to have been involved in assisting the States and local governments to recover overpayments deducted from their allocations by the Federal Government between 1995 and 2002 to service the London and Paris club loans. Other beneficiaries are also alleged to have carried out certain projects in all the 774 local government areas across the country. These works they say, were done in anticipation of payment.

However, the authenticity of these claims has been widely challenged and ALGON, an organisation which ought to  know, is in the front ranks of this critical vanguard. It has challenged the parties which seek to make hay from these judgement debts. Indeed, they insist that the consultants are Trojan horses. They pose as friends but they are in reality enemies, who seek to run away with the family purse.

The president is on his home run. He has publicly expressed a special concern for his place in history. These last winding down months carry a defining character. The controversial Paris Club payment is sensitive and concerning. The resource belongs to all Nigerians. But, in particular, it is a common man’s resource.

The Nigerian Governors Forum too has not been sitting on its arms. Kayode Fayemi, leader of the  Forum, has raised public alarm and sought a review of the payments. He has indeed called for a forensic audit, so that a more transparent payment regime can be established. It is not known if President Buhari has been personally apprised of all these developments. But in February, the National Economic Council (NEC), led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as well as all governors and several other top functionaries, threw its weight behind the demand for a suspension of the payments and the conduct of a forensic audit.

President Buhari is well known for strict concern with propriety, when it comes to fiscal matters. Many will be outraged by his insistence on approving the payment of the Paris Club judgement debt. The claims have been challenged widely and many of those involved have made opaque demands. We are in a period of great challenge. Our doctors are on strike; citizens are hungry and angry and inflation threatens to burn up what is left. President Buhari should not stoke up the flames by paying this controversial judgement debt. It is in the public interest to order a forensic audit.

The president is on his home run. He has publicly expressed a special concern for his place in history. These last winding down months carry a defining character. The controversial Paris Club payment is sensitive and concerning. The resource belongs to all Nigerians. But, in particular, it is a common man’s resource. It can raise our health infrastructure or be used to make our communities safer. Those who clamour for a stay of execution on this matter, do so because they care for the people and also care for the president’s reputation and believe he can still rescue the chestnuts from the fire. The President must save us from our friends.

Dele Olowu writes from Abuja.

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