Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The 36 state governors have, again, failed to stop the implementation of guidelines issued by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), directing banks not to allow transactions in States/Local Government Joint Accounts.
The NFIU guidelines rather directed that such accounts should only be used to distribute allocations to accounts of local governments directly.
However, governors, under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), filed a suit against the NFIU, challenging the legality of the guidelines.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/563/19, before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, the aggrieved governors had urged the court to quash the guidelines and declare it null and void.
But, Justice John Tsoho in his ruling on an interlocutory application moved by the applicants on Monday, declined to restrain NFIU from implementing the guidelines pending the determination of the suit.
Justice Tsoho ruled that since the matter is a constitutional issue, he will not “bother with interlocutory injunctions.”
Meanwhile, following the absence of the lead counsel to the NGF, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), in court, proceedings were stalled.
Fagbemi was said to be at the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal, sitting at the same Abuja division of the Court of Appeal.
Although he had initially applied for a stand down to 11:30am, to enable him come and argue on the matter and was obliged, he still could not attend court.
Consequently, lead counsel to the NGF, Arthur Obi-Okafor (SAN) informed the court that they ”had shown good faith by waiting for the plaintiffs counsel till 11:30am and there is no guarantee he will be through at the Court of Appeal if the matter is stood down for another 30 minutes”.
He also informed the court that they are already challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter, which has been served on all the parties.
The lawyer holding brief for Fagbemi, for the plaintiffs, while not opposing an adjournment, urged the court to restrain the NFIU from proceeding with enforcement of the guidelines but the court declined to grant the request.
Thereafter, the court adjourned the matter to October 23; to hear all pending applications
The NFIU had, on May 6, issued ‘Guidelines to Reduce Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria,’ which stopped governors from tampering with funds meant for local government areas.
The guidelines took effect June 1.
Last week, banks reportedly rejected cheques which emanated from states, on behalf of local governments; in compliance with the NFIU directive barring state governments from spending funds meant for local governments.NFIU spokesman, Sani Tukur, confirmed hat the directive recorded 100 per cent compliance. He said: “So far, there has been 100 per cent compliance, thanks to the banks and the efforts they have made in ensuring that only cheques from local governments are honoured. Of course, they should know by now that only cheques issued by specific local governments will be cleared. As long as the cheques are not from the local government, they will not be honoured by any bank because they stand the risk of being sanctioned.”