Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, Chief Justice of Nigeria (left); Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker, House of Representatives (second left); Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (third left); President Muhammadu Buhari (third right); Ahmad Lawan, Senate President (second right), and Brig Gen Muhammed Takuti Usman, Guard Brigade Commander, during the Independence Day celebration at the State House, Abuja on Tuesday. PHOTO: TUNDE OLANIYI
Lagos – Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) has questioned why Nigeria last Thursday failed to raise the issue of ‘fraud’ before Justice Christopher Butcher (QC) of a London Commercial High Court which heard the case for stay of execution of the arbitral award given in favour of P&ID over a failed 2010 gas deal.
According to the company’s spokesperson in an email response to Daily Independent, “For weeks now, the Nigerian government, chiefly AG Malami, has loudly claimed P&ID was ‘fraudulent’, but in court, last week, the Nigerian government was silent on the claims of fraud.
“Why no mention of fraud? It’s because it is all media bravado and political theatrics. This is despite a widespread crackdown of detentions, denial of medical care, sham trials and forced confessions of those connected to the P&ID contract.”
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, the Federal Government had adduced fraud as reason why the award should be set aside.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information; Godwin Emefiele, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, and Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had unanimously described the deal as “fraudulent,” “irregular,” “illegal”, and therefore the reason the award should be set aside.
However, at Thursday’s hearing they failed to trumpet the issue of ‘fraud’.
In a monitored TV programme, the CBN governor stated: “All hands are on deck to ensure we destroy the foundation of this fraudulent transaction.”
On the same TV programme, the information minister said: “Ab initio the entire contract was mired in irregularities and illegalities. The first instance, the Minister of State for Petroleum, who was supposed to be in charge of gas matters, was not even involved.
“Two, the entire contract was signed without the Minister of Justice vetting it and advising accordingly. All these checks and balances were neglected.
“And we are here ahead of the Thursday hearing on why this enforcement should be stayed and why we are going to appeal the award/judgment, because if you can prove that there is fraud in this kind of thing,
it becomes a very good ground for setting aside. We still insist that this entire thing is a sham and will be exposed for what it is.”
Magu, on his part, said:
“The entire transaction is predicated on fraud, complete fraud and irregularities by people trying to exploit the weakness of the system to their advantage.
“I am also worried that the commercial court that sought to give the judgment on the award is so desperate on enforcement, the enforcement of the judgment itself.
“P&ID does not even exist in Nigeria. It is a shell company as far as I am concerned. The main actors who actually signed the MoU and the agreement incidentally are all dead, that is Quinn and Lukman. So there is something wrong with this.”
However, despite no claims of fraud entered by the Federal Government, a ruling by the court allowed for a conditional stay of enforcement pending appeal.
The court ordered Nigeria to pay $200 million in security within 60 days. The government was also ordered to pay P&ID in 14 days the interim cost of the proceedings assessed at $250 million.
Failure on the part of the government to comply with these conditions of the stay, the order will be lifted and P&ID will be entitled to bring an application for the immediate enforcement of the judgment.
But the development appears a “big problem for Buhari” and officials of his government, P&ID observed.
EFCC chair, Magu, in an inflammatory remark would cast aspersion on the integrity of the British judicial system, suggesting the English Commercial Court was interested, dishonest, and under some remote influence.
“We do not have confidence in the commercial court, because they seem to have interest in making sure they enforce the judgment, otherwise they should give us a chance,” Magu said.
He added: “We would have to approach at government or diplomatic level.
We will also appeal to the appropriate authorities to also investigate the conduct of the judges that actually passed this award because this is the worst in the world.
“There has never been an arbitration award at this level that is so high; nowhere in the world. It has not happened. $9.6 billion?”
He continued: “Do you know how it can aggravate the refugee situation in Nigeria? Do you know how it would affect our GDP? Do you know how it would affect the economy?
“That is almost about one-third of our budgetary allocation. What are you talking? We’re over 200 million Nigerians. We will not take it.
“That’s why we are here to deal with the situation on the ground. And after dealing with the situation on the ground, we would address other things.
“There are some other agreements – about six like that – that we need to look into that were against Nigeria, from same judges.
“The same judges have given another judgment of income against Nigeria. And the same expert opinion was being run. You can see the conspiracy. There is a great conspiracy.”
P&ID initiated arbitration against Nigeria in 2012 after the deal collapsed.
It spent $40 million on design and feasibility but didn’t construct the plant as the Nigerian government failed to supply the gas it was meant to process.
In 2017, the arbitration tribunal awarded P&ID $6.6 billion, plus interest, based on what it could have earned over two decades.
The award is accruing $1.2 million in interest per day, backdated to 2013, and is now worth about $9.6 billion— some 20% of Nigeria’s foreign reserves.