The federal government and the United Kingdom (UK)-based firm, Process and Industrial Developments Ltd (P&ID) have spoiled for war over the controversial $9.6 billion judgment debt given in favour of the latter by a London court.
While the federal government, which is contesting the judgement said that “vultures” were out to use the verdict to feast on its rising foreign reserves, the foreign firm replied that it was only determined to enforce its legal rights in the UK.
Nigeria yesterday declared that the judgment debt awarded against it over a botched gas contract was a calculated attempt by international and local “scammers” to deplete the country’s rising foreign reserves.
Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who featured on a TV Continental programme: “This Morning,’’ asserted that “anytime the foreign reserve of the country is rising, there is always this attempt by vultures that will come with one scam targeting the reserves.
“It is also important to state here that these international scammers would not have succeeded without the collaboration of the people within. That is why the federal government is focusing its searchlight on this particular contract to unravel those behind the move to inflict economic injury on Nigeria and its people.’’
The minister said that the $9.6 billion (about N3.5 trillion) translates to 20 per cent of the country’s foreign reserves.
Mohammed reiterated that the contract was designed to fail from conception, adding that there were deliberate efforts to circumvent all the checks and balances in the system.
He said that the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources which signed the contract had no technical knowledge and the capacity and competence to execute gas contract of such magnitude.
The minister added that the contract was not approved by the then Federal Executive Council (FEC) as required by law, stressing that when it was signed in 2010, there were about seven other gas development projects that were endorsed about the time that followed due process.
Mohammed said that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration would leave no stone unturned to ensure that the judgment was set aside.
According to him, the federal government would work to ensure that the case was resolved with Nigeria not losing its foreign reserves.
But P&ID has stated that it is serious on enforcing its legal rights in the UK, including seizing Nigerian assets in line with the court judgement.
In an official statement which LEADERSHIP Weekend obtained yesterday in Abuja, the process of seizing Nigeria’s assets would start soon.
The statement read: “This will begin as soon as possible. It is another day, and with it comes another attempt from the Nigerian government to create a fictional history of the P&ID case.
“This week’s series of desperate conspiracy theories point to something deeper: the Buhari administration is refusing to admit its own role in the P&ID case from 2015-2019 after it came into office.
“Appearing on CNBC Africa, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami sought to wipe his hands and the hands of the Buhari administration clean when he stated, ‘[t]he government as a unit was delicately involved. And that was the government in 2010, the award was in 2012, and then three years thereafter the current administration under the leadership of Muhammadu Buhari came into place. So, the time when this administration came to place in 2015, the award was over three years, there was no appeal, no application for execution, no application to set the award aside.”
The company further said that “Attorney-General Malami seems to have a case of amnesia. Let’s set the record straight: May 3, 2015: P&ID offers to settle the dispute with the Nigerian government for $850million. President Goodluck Jonathan indicates they are handing over the negotiations to the incoming Buhari administration.
“May 29, 2015: Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as the 15th president of Nigeria, but fails to appoint a cabinet for five months. July 17, 2015: The Arbitration Tribunal found in favoor of P&ID (i.e. – the liability award). The new Buhari administration did not make any attempts at settling or negotiating with P&ID, and did not make any effort to challenge the decision.
“November 11, 2015: Attorney-General Malami was sworn in, just under three months after the liability award.
“May 27, 2016: The Arbitration Tribunal wrote to the Nigerian government confirming that: ‘As the parties will be aware from Procedural Order No. 12, the Tribunal has decided that the seat of the arbitration is England. It follows that the Federal High Court of Nigeria had no jurisdiction to set aside its award.’ Neither Attorney-General Malami, nor any representative of the Buhari administration did anything in response other than continue with the proceedings, thereby tacitly accepting the analysis of the Arbitration Tribunal.
“June 24, 2016: Having failed to set aside the liability award by falsely claiming the seat of arbitration was in Nigeria; not England, Attorney-General Malami wrote personally to the arbitrators to say ‘my office has taken over the handling of the above arbitration on behalf of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.’ He asked for and obtained an extension of time to file a defence to quantum, and appointed his own legal team in place of the Ministry of Petroleum Resource’s legal team.
“August 30-31, 2016: The quantum hearing (i.e. – amount of damages payable) takes place in London. Attorney-General Malami’s legal team conducted Nigeria’s defence at the quantum hearing. Expert witnesses as to quantum were called to give evidence and were cross-examined.
“After the quantum hearing, Attorney-General Malami instructed his lawyers to request a standstill agreement, which would take effect from the date of the award. This fact has never been publicly reported until today,” the company alleged.
The statement further read that on “January 31, 2017: The Arbitral Tribunal issued a final award, ordering Nigeria to pay P&ID $6.5 billion plus $2.3 billion in uncollected interest as of March 2018.
“February 17, 2017: The award on quantum was delivered to the parties on February 17, 2017.
“Despite the 60-day standstill having been agreed by P&ID, Attorney-General Malami made no attempt to negotiate with P&ID during the period following the handing down of the quantum award. April 28, 2017: After the 60 days had expired, Attorney-General Malami instructed his lawyers to write to P&ID’s lawyers and explained that ‘the delay was occasioned by the bureaucracy of the federal government in a bid to determine a reasonable strategy after receipt of the Arbitral award.’
“The attorney-general’s lawyers added: ‘we now have the authority of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to meet with the claimant to negotiate the terms of the Arbitral award.’
“Today: In the lead up to the judgment by the English Commercial Court, Attorney-General Malami allowed the time for acknowledging service in both the United States and London to lapse without filing any response. In both jurisdictions, Nigeria’s lawyers Curtis Mallet had to apply for ex post facto extensions of time and make the necessary apologies and explanations to the court.
“In London, a senior Curtis Mallet partner explained that the Claim Form was ‘immediately filed and not passed up the chain of command’ at the Ministry of Justice. The partner pleaded that ‘the delay was neither deliberate nor intended to be disrespectful to the Court.’
“In the US, Curtis Mallet explained that the deadline was missed because they were in the process of being formally retained by the Nigerian government and had been instructed to enquire about the potential for a settlement
“The attorney-general’s pronouncements in the Nigerian press are a clear attempt to cover up his own incompetence and that of the Buhari administration. This is a matter, which could have been settled shortly after he took office in November 2015 for $850 million.
“Instead, he personally took the decision to gamble on the arbitration and turned an $850 million liability into a $9.6 billion liability.
“And at no time has Attorney-General Malami assumed responsibility as he raised any allegation of fraud or scam, either in the arbitration or in the subsequent enforcement proceedings. The reason for this is that there was no fraud. All of this raises serious concerns for foreign investors in Nigeria, whether you are investing in a commercial enterprise or buying Eurobonds. Not only will Nigeria deliberately refuse to pay an international arbitration award backed by an English Court, but they are prepared to launch sham investigations and character assassinations when all else fails. This is a serious assault on the rule of law by a demonstrably dishonest administration.”