Law firm may drag governor to court over N40m indebtedness

Kayode Lawal, Abuja.

An epic legal battle is brewing between the Gombe State Governor, Muhammed Inuwa Yahaya with the All Progressives Congress, APC, and a group of legal practitioners over an alleged N40 million debt in legal fee.

The lawyers, operating under the aegis of Steel Attorneys led by Abubakar Marshall, are insisting that the governor and APC are indebted to them to the tune of N40m, Governor Yahaya on the other hand is claiming he never engaged them for legal representation in any law court in Nigeria.

However, to press for recovery of the debt, the aggrieved lawyers have issued the governor and APC a 7-day ultimatum to settle the debt or be dragged before a court of law for redress to enforce the payment.

The legal fee debt, according to the lawyers, arose from their appearance for the APC in a pre-election suit instituted against the party by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, at the Federal High Court in Abuja and subsequent appeals at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

The APC had in its first letter dated August 31, 2022 and signed by its acting head of legal services, Ojochogwu Aiyejina on behalf of the National Legal Adviser, engaged the Steel Attorneys to defend it in a PDP case at the Federal High Court in Abuja.

In the letter of engagement, it was clearly stated that Governor Muhammed Inuwa Yahaya shall be responsible for the payment of the legal fee.

In the second letter of APC dated March 7, 2023, and jointly signed by Sanusi Samailla, its Director, Legal Services and Ojochogwu Aiyejina, Deputy Director, Legal Services on behalf of the National Legal Adviser, the Steel Attorneys were further engaged to stand for the party in the appeals that arose from the Federal High Court judgment.

As in the first letter, it was categorically stated that Governor Muhammed Inuwa Yahaya shall be responsible for the settlement of the professional fees of the lawyers.

However, in a dramatic turn of events especially after the victory in the court, the Gombe Government House denied that neither Governor Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya nor the APC in Gombe State ever engaged the Steel Attorneys law firm.

The Director-General, Press Affairs, Gombe Government House Ismaila Uba Misilli was said to have insisted that there was no record of engagement of the Abuja lawyers in their custody.

“There exists no record of the engagement of a law firm named Steel Attorneys to represent either the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Governor at any judicial level – be it the Tribunal, Appeal Court, or Supreme Court.

“Law firms representing our party, the Governor, and his Deputy were issued with engagement letters.

“For emphasis, we have never retained the services of a firm of solicitors/barristers by the name – Steel Attorneys. All counsel engaged by us at all levels of election proceedings are duly remunerated in line with terms mutually agreed upon.”

But the Steel Attorneys dismissed the claim of the Gombe Governor insisting that the Abuja lawyers were legally engaged and discharged the mandate at the court and must be paid freely or be compelled to do so by law court.

A fresh demand letter by the Abuja lawyers led by Abubakar Marshall noted with concern that the governor and the APC have been insensitive to the debt payment in spite of the binding written agreement and written engagement to defend them in the court cases.

In the letters of engagement issued to the aggrieved lawyers by the APC and obtained by our correspondent, it was categorically stated that Governor Yahaya whose interest in the 2023 general election was being threatened then by the PDP, would be responsible for the settlement of the legal fee of the engaged legal practitioners.

The fresh threat letter to the governor and APC dated March 28, 2024, was entitled “Final letter of demand to pay the negotiated N40M professional legal fees in FHC/ABJ)CS/1301/2022; CA/ABJ/CV/109/2023 and SC/2023 in PDP vs INEC and others.

It read in part “The above subject matter refers

“As your Excellency is no doubt aware, it is over a year and three months since you briefed us and 14 months since we effectively and successfully represented and defended your interest in the above-referred suit and appeals.

“Despite repeated calls, pleas and demands; we had written two previous letters of demand to you; we had written another letter to the APC National Chairman, yet, your Excellency has failed, neglected and refused to pay us our professional legal services.

“Your Excellency, it is over 450 days since we, as diligent labourers completed our job but without our just wage, we had pleaded, supplicated for it; severally informed you and your aides of pressing needs and challenges we are facing, yet, we have been ignored, leading to untold inconveniences, hardships and unjust deprivation to us.

“As stated in our previous correspondences, we are in urgent need of the professional fee for the job completed as each member of the team has urgent and pressing needs, and the money is directly needed to sort.

“We once again, beseech your Excellency to mandate the payment.

“Upon failing to accede to this request three days after from the date of receipt of this letter, we shall without further recourse to you, approach a court of competent jurisdiction for redress”.

The threat letter signed by Marshall Abubakar on behalf of Steel Attorneys was copied the APC National Chairman.

 

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