Desperate judgment creditors laying claim to about N159 billion Paris Club refund-related judgment debts have resorted to a smear campaign against Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State over his objection to the settlement of the suspicious debts.
PREMIUM TIMES’ expose on the controversial debts triggered the attack on Mr Fayemi, as the creditors, initially hiding behind a mask, accused him of demanding 10 per cent of the total amount at stake to drop his objection to the settlement of the debts.
Checks by this newspaper, however, indicated the allegation is false and was merely orchestrated to smear the governor as a way of weakening his resolve to block the controversial payment.
Mr Fayemi, who is the incumbent chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), denied the allegation in an interview with this newspaper.
He said he was rather offered $80million to compromise his opposition to the total $418 million (about N159 billion) debts, but rejected the proposition.
Following Mr Fayemi’s interview with this newspaper, the creditors cast aside their veil, with one of them, George Uboh, issuing a statement in which he insisted that Mr Fayemi, through two unnamed ‘VIPs’, demanded a kickback of 10 per cent of the total amount at stake from the creditors.
“Governor Fayemi was actually writing to the President, the minister of finance, taking a tough stance on the matter in the press, thus creating the impression that he was against the payments, but under the table, he hand-picked two VIPs to come and negotiate with us, distancing himself from the negotiation and MoU,” the statement by Mr Uboh who is the Chairman of Panic Alert Security Systems (PASS) Limited, reads in part.
He said Mr Fayemi, whom he said was nursing a presidential ambition in 2023, was only maintaining a “holier-than-thou” stance on the matter to portray himself as “the nouveau anti-corruption Czar in Nigeria”.
“Governor Fayemi, you are pontificating. There is direct evidence linking you to the 10 per cent demand. I, George Uboh, will not in a million years offer you a dime to provide a non-service,” he added.
Mr Uboh, who likes to posture as a whistleblower, was convicted in the United States for credit card fraud and later in Nigeria for Criminal Breach of Trust.
‘Fayemi sent Proxy X and Proxy Y’
The ex-convict claimed Mr Fayemi on different occasions sent ‘Proxy X’, whom he described as a former minister, and ‘Proxy Y’, whom according to him is “a powerful man” currently serving in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, to strike the 10 per cent deal with the creditors.
But Mr Uboh admitted that Mr Fayemi, in a personal encounter with him in February denied Proxy X, and insisted that he never sent anyone to negotiate with the creditors on his behalf.
He said to his surprise, after Mr Fayemi disowned Proxy X, Proxy Y surfaced, claiming to have the mandate of the governor to negotiate the 10 per cent deal on his behalf.
He said due to the earlier denial of Proxy X by Mr Fayemi, he was reluctant to attend another meeting with Proxy Y without strong proof of a nexus between him and the governor.
Mr Uboh said he eventually attended a meeting with Proxy Y due to pressure from his partners.
But he said Proxy X left the meeting angrily following his assertion at the meeting that he did not require Mr Fayemi’s approval to execute a consent judgment awarding him $47.8 million.
He added, “When proxy Y left, my partners got angry at me, stating that for such a powerful man to leave his office to wait for me I should not have been that hard on him. I left angry too.”
He however said the evidence proving that both Proxy X and Proxy Y were acting for Mr Fayemi eventually came on March 14, when Proxy X allegedly revealed “for over 10 minutes all his communications with Fayemi on this matter and other matters.”
“As I write, proxy X has written Fayemi a letter – excuse me, a stinker,” Mr Uboh stated.
But when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Fayemi challenged Mr Uboh to reveal the identities of proxies X and Y as well as details of the communication he claimed took place between him and Proxy X.
“Now that he has done this, the only response he should get from the lawyers,” the governor added.
In his statement laced with threats suggestive of blackmail, Mr Uboh threatened to scuttle the governor’s rumoured 2023 presidential ambition.
“Any action you take contrary to the terms of the consent judgment would be deemed inimical to that consent judgment in which case I will come after you in your personal capacity and garnish your four homes worth over 6 billion Naira which I intend to blow the whistle on soon.
“If you want to pontificate to Nigerians as the nouveau anti-corruption Czar merely because you want to run for President in 2023, you are in for a rude awakening.
“I am not a politician, but I, George Uboh, will for the first time in my life publicly campaign against you and bring your secrets out in the open. I will dissect your hidden assets like a lizard is dissected in the laboratory.”
He also challenged Mr Fayemi to name those who offered him the $80million he said he rejected.
“How can someone looking for money to run for the highest office in the land decline $80 Million USD? Your statements on this matter are nothing but mere political demagoguery. If you name who offered you the $80 Million USD, I will name proxies X and Y. Period,” Mr Uboh said.
In what appeared a warning to Mr Fayemi about the extent of damage he could cause, Mr Uboh bragged about how his whistleblowing works had led to the sacking of an unnamed “federal judge”, and partly caused the removal of “a sitting EFCC chairman”.
When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, Mr Uboh, who is laying claim to a share of $47.8million in the $418 million judgment debt, insisted that he would not name proxies X and Y until Mr Fayemi name those who offered him $80 million in bribes.
Sources fault Uboh
But those with deep knowledge of the Paris Club refund-related debts at the NGF have picked holes in Mr Uboh’s claims, Mr Uboh’s allegations were not in sync with the reality of how far Mr Fayemi has gone to stop the payment.
PREMIUM TIMES’ report on the matter showed that Mr Fayemi has remained consistent in his opposition to the debt. On January 8, 2021, he succeeded in persuading President Buhari to suspend his earlier approval for the controversial payment.
Also, on February 18, 2021, Mr Fayemi similarly secured the backing of the National Executive Council (NEC) for the NGF’s demand for a forensic audit of the indebtedness until a forensic audit of the indebtedness is done.
“I have been there from the beginning and I can say there is no iota of truth in his claims,” said Asishana Okauru, the director-general of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
“Since he became NGF Chair in 2019, he has been consistent in his opposition to the judgment debts. He never wavered for one day and when Uboh contacted me to ask if Governor Fayemi wanted 10 per cent as claimed by someone, I told him that is impossible. I told him the chairman wanted nothing and that he was opposed to the debt strictly on principle and in the public interest.
“Uboh also met the chairman one-on-one and the chairman told him clearly that he wanted nothing and that he did not and would not ask anyone to demand anything from anyone on his behalf. So what is the basis of his claim based on some so-called proxies the chairman strictly warned him against?”
‘Fayemi denies Uboh’s allegations, demands apology, N5billion compensation’
Mr Fayemi has denied Mr Uboh’s allegations contained in a statement published on March 31 on his online platform, GeorgeUbohtv.
PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday obtained the governor’s pre-action letter giving Mr Uboh 14 days to retract the allegations and pay him N5 billion compensation.
Mr Fayemi, in the pre-action notice, issued through the law firm of Akinboro & Co on April 1, also demanded that Mr Uboh publish a repeated apology to him and the NGF for seven consecutive days or risk being sued.
“It is clear that your story is a fabricated one considering that you could not even mention the names of the proxies whom you claimed our client sent to you,” the letter signed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olumuyiwa Akinboro, read in part.
Mr Akinboro, who is acting on Mr Fayemi’s behalf along with four other SANs, stated that Mr Uboh’s allegations “are untrue and false”, insisting that the governor was not a criminal as suggested.
He contended that the allegations were published “with the intention to ridicule our client before the whole world and rubbish his hard-earned reputation for excellence and damage the good career and reputation he has built over several years”.
The letter added that Mr Uboh could not produce “the purported communications” which the “phantom or supposed Proxy X” showed him on the phone.
“Our client is firmly of the view that if at all the persons you referred to as Proxies X and Y exist (which is not conceded), they only exist in your warped or perverted imagination,” the letter added.
Denying the allegation of the purported 10 per cent deal the governor tried to strike with the judgment creditors, the letter added, “Just like you said in the publication that our client told you when you visited him at home that he never sent any proxy to you to make any demand, our client maintains that he never at any time appointed or commissioned anybody as a proxy or representative to meet or demand any money or thing from you or from anybody for that matter in respect of the Paris Club Refund or any matter howsoever.”
The letter added that Mr Fayemi “is not a criminal” and never demanded “kickbacks or any form of gratification from you or from any contractor or person.”
It added, “Our client’s records as Governor of Ekiti State, Minister of Steel Development and as Chairman of the NGF are there for all to see and clearly show that he never engaged in any form of corrupt practice, corrupt enrichment or collection of gratification for any purpose or reason in all the offices it has pleased God to put him in.
“It is not true that while he was a Minister, foreigners plundered Nigeria’s mineral resources and or carted away such resources under his watch or with his acquiescence, as you claimed in your lie-infested story.
“Our client maintains that he would not soil his hands or engage in any form of corrupt practice to finance any political ambition and is definitely not looking for money to run for president of Nigeria or for any political office.”
The lawyer informed Mr Uboh that as a result of the “dastardly publication of this deliberate falsehood against our client” Mr Fayemi “has suffered and continues to suffer severe humiliation, mental and emotional anguish, pain and suffering.”
“Accordingly, we hereby demand the IMMEDIATE retraction of the publication of March 31, 2021 from your online and other platform(s) and to publish forthwith on daily basis for a period of seven (7) days an open apology to our client and the NGF for the false and malicious publication.
“In addition, we hereby demand from you the immediate payment of the sum of 5,000,000,000.00 (Five Billion Naira) to our client for the utterly false and malicious publication.
“We hereby further notify you that failure or refusal on your part to meet these demands within fourteen (14) days from the date hereof, would inexorably leave us with no other option than to commence legal action against you and seek necessary legal redress for and on behalf of our client.
“A stitch in time saves nine!”
$418 million judgment debts
PREMIUM TIMES had, in an exclusive report on the controversial debts, exposed how the six creditors, through the tacit support of previous leaderships of the NGF and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), obtained the court judgments awarding them a total of $418million (which is about N159 billion).
The judgment awards were said to be the creditors’ fees for helping the states to recover excess deductions from their allocations for the servicing of the Paris and London clubs debts of the Federal Government between 1995 and 2002.
Our report revealed that the NGF under the new leadership of Mr Fayemi demanded the suspension of the moves to settle the debts until a forensic audit into the legitimacy of the entire indebtedness is carried out.
But the creditors have been able to secure the support of the Chief of Staff to the President, Ibrahim Gambari, and two other ministers, Zainab Ahmed (finance) and Abubakar Malami (justice), who are scrambling to ensure a quick settlement of the debts.
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