The Accountant-General (AG) of Oyo State, Kikelomo Adegoke, has faulted claim by Governor Seyi Makinde that the state lacked capacity to pay the N3.4 billion debt owed former council chairmen and councillors sacked on assuming office on May 29, 2019.
Adegoke’s position is contained in a fresh document filed by one of the state’s bankers before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in a garnishee proceeding initiated by the ex-council chiefs.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the garnishee proceeding was initiated against Makinde, Oyo State, and others, following the December 8, 2023, judgment of the Abuja Court of Appeal, ordering the governor to pay the debt, which now stands at N3,425,300,000.
In the court document, the Oyo AG revealed that there were sufficient funds in the state’s account with First Bank of Nigeria Limited, and that the bank had been directed to set aside the N3,425,300,000 for settlement of the outstanding judgment debt. NAN reports that the Supreme Court had, in a judgement on May 7, 2021, declared Makinde’s sacking of the council officials, before the end of their three-year tenure, as unlawful.
The apex court also ordered him to pay them the salaries and allowances they ought to have earned for the tenure, which the Oyo State government later estimated at N4,874,889,425.60.
The governor authorised the payment of N1.5 billion in 2022, leaving an outstanding sum of N3,374,889,425.60 (about N3.4 billion). Makinde later applied to the High Court of the FCT, via a motion filed on April 3, 2023, praying to be allowed to pay the outstanding debt in instalment of N300 million every six months, a request Justice Anote Ebong rejected.
He had, in the motion, claimed among others, that Oyo State had no resources to pay the judgment debt, and that the state would be unable to meet its obligations should the debt be paid in a manner deferent from what he proposed.
Justice Ebong, in a ruling on April 27, 2023, ordered one of the state’s bankers, First Bank of Nigeria, to immediately pay the ex-council chiefs N1,374,889,425.60 and directed Makinde to pay the remaining balance of N2 billion in instalment of N500 million every six months, with the first instalment payable on July 31, 2023.
But Makinde appealed Justice Ebong’s decision at the Court of Appeal, Abuja and repeated his claim that his state was broke and would be unable to meet its obligations should it comply with the order by the FCT High Court.
In a judgement on December 8, 2023, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal dismissed Makinde’s appeal and ordered him to comply with Ebong;s order and awarded N50 million cost against him.
Armed with the December 8 judgment of the Court of Appeal, the ex-council chiefs, led by Bashorun Mojeed Ajuwon, went back to Justice Ebong’s court for an order attaching Oyo State government’s accounts in 10 banks in a fresh garnishee proceeding.
It is in response to the court’s order for the banks to show cause why the garnishee order nisi should not be made absolute against them that one of the banks tendered the letter by the Oyo State A-G.
In the letter, Adegoke said: “We wish to inform you that First Bank of Nigeria Limited has already set aside the sum of N3,425,300,000.00 on Oyo State Joint Local Government Allocation Account” in respect of the garnishee order by Justice Ebong.
First Bank, in its response to the garnishee order, confirmed that it had sufficient funds in Oyo State’s account to cover the judgment debt. It added” Oyo State has an account with the bank with funds sufficient to cover the judgment sum of N2,050,300,000.00.”
At the resumed hearing in the garnishee proceedings on January 5, Makinde’s lawyer, Alfred Akinjo-Nelson, told the court that his client was unhappy with the Court of Appeal’s decision and has appealed to the Supreme Court.
When asked by Justice Ebong what his client’s grievance was with the judgment debt, Akinjo-Nelson said Makinde and the other judgment debtors were not contesting the judgment debt but were uncomfortable with the mode of payment ordered by the judge.
The lawyer also faulted the suggestion by Solomon Umoh (SAN), a lawyer to Access Bank Plc, one of Oyo State ‘s bankers, that other banks affected by the garnishee order nisi should be excused in view of the revelation that sufficient funds had been reserved with First Bank to defray the judgment debt.
Although lawyer to the judgment creditors (the ex-council chiefs), Musibau Adetunbi (SAN), agreed that the other nine garnishee banks be excused, except First Bank, Akinjo-Nelson disagreed with the submission.
Akinjo-Nelson, therefore, sought time to respond to some applications filed by the judgment creditors, including one in which they are seeking to play a recording of an alleged media chat by Makinde, where he was said to have commented on decisions by the various courts on the case. Justice Ebong adjourned the matter till January 18 for hearing in the pending applications and possible continuation of the garnishee proceedings)