The Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Civil Service Commission are presently enmeshed in an N82 million ($418,000) judgement debt mess created by the an alleged lackadaisical attitude of a legal officer attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some senior officials of the ministry.
The mess led to the closure of the Ministry of Finance on August 18 when court bailiff from the National Industrial court out of desperation, sealed off the gates of the ministry, paralysing activities for most of the day.
Exclusive details of the story dug up by Economic Confidential revealed that Mr. Bature, an account staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was on foreign posting was recalled and sacked for allegedly perpetrating financial misdemeanour.
Following a protest, a panel was set-up to review his case which recommended that Bature be reinstated with all his entitlement paid. After this, Bature again requested that his earlier travails denied him of a scheduled foreign posting and so, the sum of $418,000, which should have accrued to him be paid into his account.
The Ministry refused and so, Bature dragged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the National Industrial Court for redress.
According to documents available to Economic Confidential, Bature joined the Ministry of Finance and Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) in the suit.
Sources disclosed that during hearing, counsel to the Ministry of Finance moved that the name of the Ministry be struck out as it was not party to the issues at stake but the counsel representing Foreign Affairs Mr. Nature Jobs announced that it was not necessary as the ministry was ready to pay the $418,000.
With this development, the judge refused to strike out the Ministry of Finance from the case and on February 19, 2014 ruled that the money be paid as pleaded by Jobs.
A source at Finance told our correspondent that “since Foreign Affairs agreed to pay, Finance thought it unnecessary to cry more than the bereaved and did not see reason to appeal.”
When the unauthorised deal got to the knowledge of Permanent Secretary, Foreign Affairs Mr. Bulus Lolo, he contacted his colleague at the Ministry of Justice with a threat to further report the case to the Presidency.
The permanent secretary, Justice however, pleaded that the matter not be reported to President.
“It was a surprise when on August 18 this year, officials from the National Industrial Court stormed the Ministry of Finance and began to attach every vehicle in sight with notice that they have been impounded.
“Naturally, owners of the cars stopped them explaining that the cars were owned by staff and not official cars. The bailiffs then proceeded to attached staff bus. They were stopped again. They then attached the papers to the parked official SUVs of ministers.
“At that point, the Legal Department had been informed of the presence of the bailiffs. The Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Anastasia Mabi Daniel Nwaoba then directed the Director of Legal Services, Mrs Dimude to intervene.
Dimude our sources said, then invited the bailiffs, plaintiff and their lawyers to the office of the Special Assistant to the o permanent secretary. She also contacted her colleague in foreign affairs Mrs. Nwandu (director legal). Nwandu then disclosed that court bailiffs were at that time also performing the same exercise in Foreign Affairs as well as Civil Service Commission. Nwandu said her permanent secretary just returned from a trip and they were about then consulting on the matter, asking for some time to get back.
Meanwhile, as these consultations were still ongoing, the bailiffs had become very impatient and confiscated the personal computer of PA to permanent secretary.
“At this point, they attempted to bring in two tolling trucks into the premises of the Ministry but were stopped by security men who claimed to be awaiting instructions from their superiors. At this point, nobody was able to enter or exit the gate any longer. This continued until 4pm.
“By 5pm, staff had begun to agitate and then confronted the court officials and their lawyers insisting that they wanted to go home saying that they were not part of management. It was already after working hours and the court officials have lost the time to act and could only return the following day.”
Speaking on the development, Donatus Okwor who led the bailiffs said the Finance ministry had deliberately refused to obey the court judgement by paying the claims which run into millions of naira.
He said, “Actually, there is a judgment delivered by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria against the Federal Ministry of Finance and Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs which specifies that they should pay the claimant a specific amount of money, whom they have dismissed from work.
“Since February 19, 2014 till now, they have refused to pay the judgement. So, we are here to execute the court judgement.
“Once it comes to execution of judgment, there is no way we can go back except if there is any motion pending, but as we speak now, there is no pending motion which will warrant the defendants not to pay the money.
“For now, they refused to pay the money and obey the judgement of the court.
“Since we are here to execute the judgement, once that is done, we will go back. Whenever they are ready within the time limit, they should come and pay the judgement sum and take back their vehicles or whichever items we can seize from the ministry.”
But with the staff agitation and realisation that it was past enforcement hour, Okwor decided to leave and come back the following day but insisted on blocking the two gates leading to the ministry with the trucks so that no vehicle would leave.
Eyewitnesses said that at this point, the matter degenerated into violence and policemen were drafted from Federal Capital Territory Command. They ordered that the trucks be removed so that staff can go home.
However, some lawyers in the employment of the Federal Government told Economic Confidential that poor working conditions and maladministration are combining to hinder their functionality.
Speaking with our correspondent, one of them said there are no allowances approved for them to prosecute case in Abuja courts, which involves preparation of briefs, typing, photocopying and transportation services. He said that they suffer more during appeal cases because of the sheer volume of documents involved.
In addition, there are no libraries where lawyers could go to consult legal books and so, spend their personal funds purchasing expensive books for official cases.
The Senior Legal Officer also lamented that staff of various ministries refuse to cooperate with lawyers and so on many occasions, government lawyers are not aware of pending litigations until default judgments are made.
“And when processes are not served to the lawyer on time and he is therefore on default to file his papers, he is made to pay a penalty of N1,000 per day and the ministry never provides the resources even though the lawyer was not at fault.”