The Court of Appeal in Abuja has queried the suitability of an appeal filed by Governor Seyi Makinde and key officials of the Oyo State Government challenging an order of an Abuja High Court concerning payment of a debt to sacked local council chairpersons.
In May 2021, the Supreme Court ordered the Oyo State Government to pay the erstwhile council officials their outstanding emoluments.
The Supreme Court said the ex-council chiefs were unlawfully sacked by Mr Makinde in May 2019, ordering payment of their salaries and allowances for the three years they ought to have served.
In partial compliance with the court order, the Oyo State Government computed N4.9 billion (N4,874,889,425.60), out of which it paid N1.5 billion, leaving a balance of N3.4 billion (N3,374,889,425.60).
Determined to recover the debt, representatives of the about 800 ex-council officials approached the FCT High Court where Achibong Ebong, the judge, issued a garnishee order absolute, directing bankers holding the government’s funds to pay the balance of the judgement debt in instalments beginning with N1.4 billion (N1,374,889,425.60) to be paid immediately.
Mr Ebong ordered the government to subsequently pay the remaining N2 billion at N500 million quarterly, with the first instalment payable on 31 July 2023.
However, Mr Makinde challenged the order at the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
Propriety of suit
At the resumed hearing in the appeal, on Monday, a three-member panel of the Court of Appeal led by Haruna Tsammani asked Mr Makinde’s lawyer, Ayodele Akintunde, about the appropriateness of the appellate court to adjudicate over a case that had been decided by the Supreme Court.
The court also asked Mr Akintunde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), about the timeframe given by the Supreme Court, within which the governor and other appellants were to fully pay the judgement debt.
The appellate court also questioned the competence of the appellant’s request to be allowed to pay the debt by instalment, noting that the appeal itself was against a similar piecemeal payment arrangement ordered by the FCT High Court.
In his response, Mr Akintunde said the Supreme Court ordered the Oyo State Government to pay the debt within three months.
The lawyer argued that the appeal did not directly touch on the Supreme Court decision.
He explained that the appeal was against the decision of the High Court of Oyo State, which was later registered in the FCT High Court.
Ex-council officials’ response
In his submission before the court on Monday, Musibau Adetunbi, lawyer to the former local government officials, lamented that 26 of his clients had died from penury due to Mr Makinde’s refusal to pay the debt.
Mr Adetunbi, a SAN, disagreed with the appellants’ argument that his client could not enforce the judgment through garnishee proceedings because the judgement sum was not reflected.
The lawyer informed the court of a letter written on 13 December 2021 by the Oyo State Attorney-General where the government put the salaries and allowances due to the ex-council chiefs at N4.9 billion (N4,874,889,425.60) and promised to pay everything within six months.
Moreso, Mr Adetunbi drew the appellate court’s attention to a letter dated 8 May 2023, written by one of Oyo State’s bankers, First Bank, and read a portion, where the bank said the N1.3 billion (N1,374,889,425.60) belonging to the state, which was attached by the garnishee order, would have been paid if not for this pending appeal.
The lawyer faulted the appellants’ contention that it was mandatory for the judgement creditors to first obtain the consent of the state’s Attorney-General where funds belonging to a state or its agencies were concerned. He argued that by a 13 December 2021 letter, the Attorney-General consented to the liquidation of the debt.
Mr Adetunbi urged the court to dismiss Mr Makinde’s appeal for being an abuse of judicial process.
Afterwards, the Tsammani-led panel reserved judgement on the suit.
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