Mixed reactions trail $9.6bn judgment debt against Nigeria by UK court

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Malami
Malami

The Nigerian government should act fast and negotiate with the Irish firm, Process and Industrial Developments Limited, P&ID, over the UK court judgment of $9.6bn against Nigeria for a failed gas contract. It should not be in any illusion that the court judgment may not be executed

By Goddy Ikeh

Since the news of the $9.6bn judgment debt against Nigeria by a UK court over a failed contract deal between the Nigerian government and an Irish firm, Process and Industrial Developments Limited P&ID, Nigerians have resorted to their cherished hobby of buck passing and media trial. Some civil society groups and former and present officials of the federal government have not helped matters as they have turned lawyers overnight and lead counsel in the media trial without studying the case or seek legal interpretation and advice on this raging matter.

A brief background to the matter showed that an Irish company secured a judgment debt amounting to $9.6 billion against the Nigerian government in a British court. The gas supply and processing contract signed about 20 years ago between Nigeria and P&ID could not be executed and the Irish company filed a suit in a London court claiming that Nigeria failed to execute its part of the contract and that it had spent $40 million on feasibility studies, licences, drawings and project management costs. The suit was filed in 2012.

 

It was gathered that a panel set up by the Nigerian government to study the case and advise it recommended that P&ID should be paid $250 million for breach of contract. It was also learnt that the attempt to get a Federal High Court in Lagos to vacate the order of the London court failed and that the government negotiated a payment of $850 million to P&ID. But this payment was not made until the arbitration panel awarded more cost to the company and the current figure of $9.6 billion included the awarded costs and interests accruing to it.

Reacting to the UK court judgment, a former Attorney-General of the Federation, AFG, Michael Aondoakaa, described the gas contract between Nigeria and Process and Industrial Development Ltd. as a secret deal, which lacked transparency and did not involve the relevant agencies of government.

Aondoakaa, who served as AGF from 2007 to 2010, said in a recent television programme that he was not aware of the contract and was never involved in the contract signing and negotiation. According to him, no such contract was ever brought before the Federal Executive Council, which underscored the high level of secrecy that surrounded the contract.

Aondoakaa explained that the contract was in clear contravention of the Infrastructural Regulatory Commission Act and Public Procurement Act as the key persons at the commission also read about the contract in the media just like himself.

“This happened in secrecy. I contacted the director general of the Infrastructural Regulatory Commission and he was also shocked. Everything that is coming to us now is shocking. Although ignorance of the law is no excuse but if you are a foreign country coming to Nigeria, you ought to know the law. You ought to know if the contract was appropriated in the budget. The contract was not appropriated in the Nigerian budget,” he said.

He noted that the contract contravened Section 5 of the constitution as well as Sections 2 and 3 of the Infrastructural Regulatory Commission Act, adding that the contract was between P&ID and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, which was wrong as the key agencies involved in the production of gas were shut out of the negotiation.

The coalition of civil society groups has lent its voice to the league of protesters against the court judgment. The group on Monday, Sept 2, protested the award of a $9.6 billion fine against Nigeria by a United Kingdom court following a botched oil deal with P&ID.

The protesters gathered at the British and Irish Embassies in Abuja carrying various placards calling on the authorities to promptly act on the matter and overturn the judgment,

The group had in a statement last week described the judgment as “fraudulent” and “those behind this huge corruption must be brought to justice”, thus echoing the stand of the current Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

Malami in his reaction to the matter, said that Nigeria’s deal with P&ID was designed to fail and that the deal was between the P&ID and the ministry of petroleum resources which does not produce gas.

He added that those who entered into the deal on behalf of the country subjected Nigeria to “economic sabotage”.

However, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has urged Nigerians to ignore the ostentatious claims by the Process and Industrial Developments Ltd. on the compilation of Nigeria’s assets for attachment over a $9.6 billion judgment debt.

Speaking during his working visit to the headquarters of the “Leadership’’ Newspaper in Abuja, the minister reassured that the government would take legal and diplomatic actions to ensure no asset of the country was taken over the case.

“You will see that there is a lot grandstanding on the part of the P&ID, especially by the Public Relations consultant it hired.

“As a matter of fact, they are already threatening that they are already compiling the list of assets of Nigeria to attach.

“The true of the matter is that, even in the judgment, the court said that it cannot start any attachment until the court resumes from vacation,” he said.

‘`How can people come into Nigeria with portfolio, and walk away with about 20 percent of our entire foreign reserves.

“We believe that both in terms of morality and law, we are confident that we will upturn the judgment.

“It is important to know that the government has also ordered investigations into the transactions because there are strong indications that under hand things went on,’’ he added.

Reacting to the judgment, Atiku Samuel, a policy analyst said that the Federal Government should negotiate with P&ID before taking any other legal action.

Samuel told the News Agency of Nigeria in an interview that getting a workable negotiation was the only practicable thing to do to get the nation out of losing such huge amount.

“If Nigeria decides to even appeal the judgment, on what basis will the appeal be grounded,” he said.

The view expressed by Samuel is in agreement with the views expressed by some lawyers in Lagos that the government should even renegotiate the contract since the contract could still be executed for the benefit of the country. In the alternation, the government should seek legal and diplomatic avenues to settle the matter.

And for the officials of government and civil society groups, who have dismissed the court judgment and described it as fraudulent, they should be cautious since the issue of arbitration in other climes has no room for impunity and they should not be in any illusion that the court judgment will not be executed.

– Sept. 7, 2019 @ 18:55 GMT |

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