The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), on Monday, solicited for the intervention of the 36 Attorneys General and Commissioner of Justice on issues ranging from the administration of our criminal justice system, Stamp Duties, Value Added Tax (VAT), the fallout from the London Paris Club Refunds culminating in the criminal bid to deprive States of $419 million by Federal Government.

The NGF Chairman, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State who gave the charge in Abuja, at the maiden meeting with the Attorney's General of the 36 States, underscored the need to align the NGF’s shared goals and address certain legal issues plaguing the States as a collective.

He observed that: “At every meeting of Governors, decisions are reached, the implementation of which is largely the responsibility of the NGF Secretariat. Obviously, some of these decisions are legal in nature and would be the won’t of the Legal Unit to deal with.

“The decision to convey this gathering is a consequence of the Forum’s determination to achieve an alignment of purpose between the activities of the NGF and the work that the Attorneys General are appointed to do.

“As you well know, often in our meetings, there are Agenda items, usually national issues which would greatly impact States and require our attention as Governors. Some of them are sufficiently contentious as to require resolution in court. We have a number of these cases and there is a need to carry you along and seek your input.

“This is one of the reasons for this gathering and some of the lawyers handling these cases will be here to address you. You are all aware of the controversy occasioned by the question of the autonomy of the Judiciary and Legislature.

“The Forum has often been in support of autonomy, but we felt that the onus was on the States to determine and implement it. It is therefore expedient that as chief law officers, you exercise the right to review and monitor the extent of implementation in your states.

“The spate of insecurity across many states, political and economic uncertainties in the country and the States have placed the office of the Attorney-General on red alert in ensuring that the state is not ambushed through frivolous cases/ Court Orders that may lead to heavy financial losses and grounding of government business.

“We have no doubt that this meeting would afford you the opportunity to seek solutions. Also, the Forum through its Peace and Inclusive Security Initiative (PISI) has commenced discussions with Stakeholders on diverse ways to handle some of these security challenges and restore peace to our communities.

“Just last week, the Forum hosted one of such multi-stakeholder meetings in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with very satisfying results.

“Learned AGs of the 36 States, there are many burning issues before you today, ranging from the administration of our criminal justice system, Stamp Duties, Value Added Tax, the fallout from the London Paris Club Refunds culminating in the criminal bid to deprive States of $419 million. These require your attention, and the Forum looks forward to your views and advice on the way forward,” he urged.

On his part, NGF Director-General, Barrister Asishana Okauru, explained that NGF being a not for profit organization was registered under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act and operates as a policy hub.

“It is basically a not-for-profit organization registered under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act. It operates as a policy hub. Its membership is exclusive only to the 36 democratically elected Governors of our country who as you know are all politicians.

“However, the Forum itself is not set up to cater for partisan political interest. All members across party lines enjoy the protection of the Forum. Resolutions are arrived at based on consensus, not unanimity. The Chairman of the Forum is first among equals and he is assisted by a vice-chairman. The NGF Secretariat is the administrative arm of the Forum. A few of our officials will be talking to you about some of our projects.

“Overtime, the NGF has become influential, especially in protecting the collective interest of its members, and would ordinarily prefer to negotiate with stakeholders and other related parties. However, it has found itself going to court to address a number of issues,” he noted.

Speaking earlier, Ekiti State Attorney General, Mr. Olawale Fapounda disclosed that the South West Attorneys General Forum had four Ordinary Meetings and 3 Extraordinary meetings and jointly prosecuted Court cases.

He added that all the 6 States unanimously contributed towards the development of a regional security policy document called Amotekun as well as the South West Development Commission bill in the National Assembly, as well as ongoing efforts toward addressing gender-based violence across the geopolitical zone.

He, however, noted that subnational governments do not seem to be making progress about judicial financial autonomy or legislative autonomy.

“But for me, there are still core issues that need to be addressed as a country the tragic salaries and allowances of judicial officers, no matter how we visually guess your apartment, you have fancy cars, you have fancy courts if they still struggle with what they take home how can we possibly begin to talk about our judicial independence?

“So for me and a number of us you know yes judicial financial future is good, it’s good that we have very good courts but ultimately and we also need to have a standard of living that is commensurate to the position of a judicial officer, so these are issues.”

In his remarks, NGF’s Head of Legal, Chijoke Chuku observed that NGF Legal Unit has been handling all the legal needs of the organization and is also responsible for providing legal guidance to the Forum in its decision making aimed at reducing the liabilities borne by the States.

“In line with this responsibility, the Legal Unit thought it expedient to initiate this meeting to foster a joint voice in areas affecting States and to avoid duplicity of efforts by States and the NGF.

“Over the years, the NGF Legal Unit in the course of the work that it does has partnered with different external Counsel in representing the interest of States in diverse suits which have largely yielded positive outcomes. However, we find that owing to obvious gaps in communication, some of the efforts on our part have been duplicated by the States leading to avoidable waste of resources, human and material.

“We accept responsibility for the gap in communication. It is for this reason amongst others, that this meeting became necessary. The NGF Secretarial and the Offices of the Learned Attorneys General of the States would be going forward to align their resources, leverage, and experience in the interest of the States.

“Currently, the NGF is involved in some suits with huge potential impact on States and our different Counsel will brief the meeting on each of these cases. We also look forward to receiving robust contributions from the meeting regarding the way forward for contentions between States and the Federal Government on the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) and Stamp Duties leveraging the provisions of the Constitution.”






By Kehinde Akintola,
Nigerian Tribune

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