The federal government has expressed the optimism that the gas contract which snowballed into $9.6 billion judgment award by a United Kingdom (UK) court will be quashed upon Nigeria’s appeal.
The government said that its confidence was informed by the fact that the entire contract was dubious and targeted at Nigeria’s growing foreign reserves.
Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who commented on the issue yesterday, said that the federal government would leave no stone unturned to ensure that the dispute was resolved in the best interest of Nigeria.
During a courtesy visit the corporate headquarters of LEADERSHIP Newspaper Group yesterday in Abuja, the minister maintained that the whole process leading to the award of the controversial contract to Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) was suspicious.
According to him, it appeared that there are economic vultures who always wait to attack the country’s fortune. He also wondered why a company that claimed to have invested $40 million will suddenly recoup $9.6billion without any record of contract implementation.
The minister said that records from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) did not indicate that any fund was transferred into Nigeria by the company.
He said: “And now we are feeling very surprised that for a company that claimed to have invested $40 million into the project to be awarded about $9.6billion. In the first instance, the CBN is categorical that there is no record of any $40 imported into Nigeria.
“Like I said somewhere else, it appears that anytime this vulture companies see Nigeria’s foreign reserves growing, they plot ways to deplete it. This happened at about when our foreign debts were relieved and our reserve going high at that time. But of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without internal collaborators and that is why the president has ordered the EFCC, NIA, and other relevant agencies to investigate those who collaborated to aid the contract, in whatever form, because this is nothing but economic sabotage,” the minister said.
Although Mohammed did not reveal strategic plans by the government to resolve the impasse, he assured Nigerians that all efforts including legal and diplomatic means would be explored.
“I just want to assure all Nigerians that the government is doing everything possible, even yesterday, there was a stakeholders’ meeting, but like I said, I am not just at liberty to tell you exactly what steps we are taking,” he stated.
While assuring Nigerians that the country’s national asset is not under any threat of being attached to the judgement, the minister said that all efforts would be made to ensure that the judgement is upturned.
Mohammed said: “I assure you that Nigeria is not under any imminent danger of any of our assets been attached by this company, because the government has taken all necessary steps to ensure the safety of our assets.
“All the steps we have taken, we will not be at liberty to discuss publicly, but we want to assure Nigerians that the government is leaving no stone unturned, legally, diplomatically and otherwise, to ensure that none of our assets will be lost until we resolve the matter amicably and in the best interest of Nigeria, “ the minister added.
Mohammed, however, noted that the current administration was not interested in trading blames with past government on the matter, rather, he said the government established that the whole arrangement was dubious and suspicious as he vowed that Nigeria would explore all possible means to ensure an amicable resolution of the controversy.
“Although this matter was not discussed at any FEC meeting, we are very mindful of the fact that government is a continuum, and our intention is not to put the blame on any particular administration, rather, we would say that the entire contract is riddled with suspicion. This is why we are glad that Mr. President has ordered an investigation to ascertain who played what role in the entire saga. But to the best of my knowledge, we have not come across where this matter was discussed at FEC. Yet the arbitration went ahead to award full damages as if they had invested money. The company itself said it invested $40 million,” Mohammed noted.
Contrary to claims by the company that Nigerian government was nonchalant about the botched contract, the minister said: “It is not correct to say that the federal government did not vigorously pursue this matter. In the first place, it is a three-man arbitration, each party is to produce an arbitrator and jointly produce the third arbitrator. A former attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Chief Bayo Ojo, represented Nigeria and also, the Federal Ministry of Justice hired lawyers to defend Nigeria.
“But there were issues, particularly with the seat of arbitration. Whether Britain is the proper place for arbitration for a contract that was signed in Nigeria, whether the proper place for arbitration of a contract that will be governed by Nigerian law is UK? Sadly enough, we lost on all grounds. So by 2014, we were found liable, but even at this point in time, efforts were made to see whether we can resolve this matter amicably. The first thing that strikes the mind strangely is that the first time we went for arbitration, they were asking for $1.9 billion. Shortly after, it went to about $5.9. So the question is what transpired within a few months that warrant the increase from $1.9 to $5.9,” he queried.
Mohammed argued that an arbitration is supposed to restitute not speculate; “When a company claimed to have invested $40 million and you award to such company $9.6billion, there is no doubt that the award is exorbitant, excessive, fiercely unreasonable and it goes beyond protecting the commercial interest of the company, it is punitive in nature. But we believe that in terms of morality and in terms of law, we are very confident that we will upturn this judgment.”
Mohammed, however, dismissed claims that the company was taking inventory of Nigeria’s assets to be attached to the judgement, describing such move as wishful thinking.
“But you will see that there is a lot of grandstanding on the part of P&ID, as a matter of fact, they are already threatening that they have compiled the list of the assets of Nigeria. The truth of the matter is that, even the court judgement said they cannot do any attachment until the court resumes from its vacation. But like I said again, we are doing everything possible and we assure Nigerians that we are going to stay off any embarrassment from the attachment of this dubious award.”
On his visit to LEADERSHIP Group, the minister said: “The LEADERSHIP Newspaper is a very dear organisation to our heart. It’s not that you have always supported us, as we don’t expect any newspaper to always be with us on every issue. But this paper has shown that it can be a trusted partner in our efforts to move Nigeria to the next level.
“LEADERSHIP is one of our media partners in our national campaign against fake news as well as in many of our other campaigns and activities. For this, we thank the management and staff of LEADEWRSHIP and look forward to more cooperation in the months and probably years ahead,” Mohammed said.