The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has asked the National Assembly to approve a commission of 2.5 per cent of recovered loots to be paid to the Asset Recovery Unit in his office.
The money will be used to “service bills”, the minister said Wednesday when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for the defence of his ministry’s budget for 2020.
“We are progressively making vital recoveries of our looted funds stashed abroad. However, let me affirm that the legal procedural requirements for these recoveries are all-together tasking and cumbersome,” he said.
“Most times, we have to engage the services of well-grounded lawyers and consultants to effect recovery. To smoothen our operations in this regard, it was deemed expedient to establish Asset Recovery Unit in my office and so far, the effort is quite sultry.
“I will like to reiterate my request to the effect that about 2.5 per cent of the recovered looted money to be earmarked to the Asset Recovery Unit to service logistics, operational cost, payment to private lawyers and consultants.”
Mr Malami has been accused of authorising the payment of $15 million to lawyers for purportedly helping to facilitate the recovery of the Abacha loot. The payment became controversial because the lawyers reportedly did little to deserve that amount since the bulk of the work had already been done by Swiss lawyers.
The lawmakers were favourably disposed to Mr Malami’s request for a 2.5 per cent commission, and told him to send it to the National Assembly in the form of a bill to avoid being misinterpreted as “padding”, especially when the money was not contained in the budget for 2020.
In his remark, Chukwuka Utazi, supported the request when he argued that such appropriation will greatly facilitate the recovery of more looted funds.
The lawmaker praised Mr Malami’s loyalty and consistent fight or Nigeria since 2015.
The minister also requested an extra N30 billion to his ministry to service judgement debts annually. This, he said, is because Nigeria’s judgement debt has risen to N150 billion.
He explained that the judgement debt arose from bad cases, contract failures, damages and especially fines against human rights abuses. He also said the country was facing ” hydra-headed challenges meeting up with the obligations.
Meanwhile, the total budgetary allocation for the entire Ministry of Justice is N33 billion.
The minister said while N10 billion was paid in 2017, N150 billion remains unpaid; prompting beneficiaries to mount severe pressure on the ministry.
“The Ministry of Justice was mandated to take inventory and explore avenues for the payment of judgement debt. This has arisen because it was only in 2017 that the sum of N10 billion was disbursed for the payment of judgment debt as an operative. As it stands, the sum of over N150 billion remains unpaid, prompting beneficiaries of this sum to keep mounting pressure on the ministry.
“I hereby request that you intervene on these long-standing issue by appropriating the sum of N30 billion annually to mitigate this challenge to forestall approved interest and unwarranted litigations arising from our failure to effect payment,” he said.
More allocation for personnel cost
Reading out the ministry’s 2020 budget proposal, the AGF noted an increase in the personnel cost. He gave reasons ranging from the N30,000 minimum wage to an annual increase of staff salaries.
“The aspect of personnel cost is the prerogative of the office of the accountant general of the federation and they are being managed, released and recreated by the office.
“The sum of N.42 billion is being proposed to service personnel cost ranging from harmonisation of the salaries and allowances for state councils in the ministries ad our lawyers residing in the Gambia.
“There is an increase from 3.8 billion to 4.2 billion for the following reasons:
-out of necessity, the Federal Civil Service Commission employed about 150 lawyers in 2018 that are yet to be payrolled.
-Adjustment of staff salaries with respect to the N30,000 minimum wage from grade level 03 to grade level 06
-Annual salary increment for staff.”
Mr Malami said regular funding for the requested items is crucial for a seamless administration of justice.
He also requested that the committee consider the ministry’s request to reposition the legal services and capital base of the ministry in dire need of funding service out huge legal commitment.