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Between General Electric and Nigeria

13 Dec 2012

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

General Electric (GE), an American multinational conglomerate, holds pre-eminent position in electricity generation and transmission in many parts of the world, including Nigeria. To that extent, when such a corporate giant makes a damaging allegation against any country, it stands to reason that it would receive worldwide reportage and have serious global implications. That exactly is what is happening today following a recent court disposition made by GE which clearly impugns the integrity of Nigerian judiciary.

Although the company has issued a terse press statement, apparently to play on the collective intelligence of Nigerians, nothing has changed because the company has not withdrawn its court statement from public record. And I believe the relevant authorities should not allow GE to get away with its irresponsible claims.

In the motion in question, GE had stated inter alia: “…the judgment was rendered under a judicial system that does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law…The judgment was rendered in circumstances that raise substantial doubt about the integrity of the rendering Court with respect to the judgment, and the specific proceeding in the foreign Court leading to the judgment was not compatible with the requirements of due process of law.”

Notwithstanding the press statement by GE, what the claims in the US court and the facts of the case suggest is that the company has no respect for our institutions, making us to wonder whether they deserve to still be in business in Nigeria. And while we concede that there is so much rot within our system—and our judiciary is not immune from corrupt practices—we should not accept the kind of general allegation being leveled by GE, a company that has made and is still making, considerable money here, especially from our power sector.

It all started almost three years ago when a Nigerian company, Q Oil & Services Limited sued GE for breach of contract at the Rivers State High Court in Port Harcourt. While available records indicate that the company was served with the court summons, GE refused to file any reply in court. That apparently left the plaintiff with no other option  than a motion for default judgment. Incidentally, evidence suggests that GE was also served notice on this but it chose to ignore the court process. In the circumstance, the trial court allowed the plaintiff to argue its motion and subsequently gave judgment in the sum of $5.1 million.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, GE promptly filed an appeal at the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal and proceeded to file a motion for stay of execution of the judgment before the High Court. This application was granted by the trial judge on the condition given by GE that it would produce a bank guarantee covering the judgment sum together with interests. Again dissatisfied with the conditional nature of the stay of execution granted by the High Court, GE filed applications before the Court of Appeal for its vacation but the applications were dismissed for as many times as they were filed.

Evidently frustrated by these seemingly unending court processes and determined to collect the $5.1 million, Q Oil & Services Limited filed a motion for the enforcement of the judgment of the Port Harcourt High Court in a Circuit Court in Michigan, United States. In its defence, GE asked the US court to dismiss the claims on six grounds. The first three grounds were that: the service of process was insufficient; the US court lacks jurisdiction over the person or property of GE Nigeria; and that the judgment is not “final, conclusive and enforceable” under Nigerian law.

Ordinarily those claims are fair and compelling enough but then GE would, in its claims five and six, ask the US Court not to enforce the judgment of the Port Harcourt High Court which was affirmed by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the Nigerian judicial system “does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law.”

Interestingly, it was after that claims came into the public domain that GE, apparently sensing it might damage its business interest in Nigeria, issued a press statement which on the surface repudiates its court claims but in reality says nothing: “As this matter is still in court, we are not able to comment on the details of the proceedings. GE has every confidence in the Nigerian Legal System’s ability to resolve this matter.”

Here, I want to make it abundantly clear that I do not know the promoters of Q Oil & Services Limited and it doesn’t matter to me whether they win or lose their case with GE. In any case, given my experience as a founding member of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) board and my stint in government, I am very suspicious of most of the companies (domestic and foreign) operating in our oil and gas sector. So to that extent, it is indeed possible that GE may know one or two things about how the court judgments came about and that they could have been corruptly procured.

However, the way and manner some foreign companies doing business in Nigeria display contempt for our institutions is what we should never condone. Unfortunately, the same GE that refused to diligently defend its case in our country turned around to ask the US court to hands off because it is a Nigerian matter that should be dealt with in Nigeria courts. Yet at the same time the company is claiming it cannot secure fair and impartial judgment from our courts!

Whatever may be its misgivings about the judgments of the Port Harcourt High Court and the Court of Appeal, it is bad faith to say the least, for GE to stigmatize the entire Nigerian judiciary. If the company has sufficient proof that the judgments were obtained through corrupt inducements, there are clear ways of dealing with such, even under our laws rather than hide under generalizations to further damage our image as a country. And owing to the seriousness and the timing of the reckless allegation (at a time our rating on corruption perception index is very dismal), the Federal Government must demand from GE not only a withdrawal from court of the offending motion but also a public apology.

We cannot continue to take all kinds of insults from foreign companies who do business in Nigeria, especially given that many of them adapt their ethics to suit local environment only to turn around and claim some dubious moral high grounds in their countries of origin whenever they are cornered.

Ghana’s Elections and the Day After

In December 2004, I was in Ghana to cover the presidential elections as then incumbent Mr. John Kufuor was seeking a second term, which he eventually won in a free, fair and transparent manner. Last weekend, I was back in Ghana for another presidential election and I could not but be impressed by how far their democracy has advanced.

I arrived Accra last Friday, the election day, and everything was normal. People were casting their ballots without any let or hindrance and I did not notice any unusual security presence. Immediately the results were tallied and announced at polling stations, the media were allowed to broadcast them. At the end of the exercise last Sunday evening, the electoral commission declared that incumbent President John Dramani Mahama won with 50.70% of the votes cast while his main opponent, Nana Addo Dankwa-Akufo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) scored 47.74%.

To be sure, there were challenges with the elections. The newly introduced biometric identification of voters to prevent electoral fraud came with hitches but at the end it served its purpose of eliminating potential ghost voters. It is a system that is very much needed in our country where elections are rigged at source. In Ghana, the idea of multiple voting or ballot snatching has been rendered ineffectual. But the newly introduced technology produced some interesting drama. A woman aged 101, by name Obaa Yaa, got frightened when asked to put her finger on the biometric verification machine at the Manhyia Constituency. The old woman was apparently afraid of the “magic box”. When attempts were made to coax her into placing her finger on the machine by her grand children who took her to the polling booth, she began to cry and had to be taken home without exercising her franchise.

Interestingly, even when Ghanaians have a tradition of voting along ethnic lines, there is also a penchant for swinging from one party to another by a significant section of the electorate. As I watched the analysis of voting patterns last Saturday night on their local television channels, I was amazed, especially as they compared voting in several constituencies with the results of the 2008 polls. However, the opposition is kicking against the result of the presidential election.

Having lost narrowly four years ago in the second round after he had led in the first ballot (but fell short of the mandatory 50 percent of total votes cast by 0.7 percent), Nana Addo and his supporters campaigned long and hard this time around. It is understandable given that the age limit for seeking Ghana’s presidency is 70 and with his age now at 68, that effectively means this is his last try.

The NPP has expressed plans to challenge the result in court. While this is part of democracy, it is my hope that the stakeholders in the country can quickly come together in the interest of the Ghanaian people. President Mahama now has a responsibility to calm frayed nerves and rally the country as one. In the current atmosphere, a winner-takes-all mentality will certainly not help Ghana.

In its Monday editorial titled “Ghana Makes it Again,” the Daily Graphic (Ghana’s leading newspaper) wrote: “In a contest for power, there will certainly be aggrieved parties. We shall demonstrate maturity if we embrace the aggrieved and find answers to their grievances instead of being dismissive of them because they are losers. There are certainly big-time winners and losers of the polls. But Ghana will be the big-time winner, if we all embrace the outcome of the polls and at the end of the day see to the improvement of the country’s democratic outlook.”

It is a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse even as I congratulate the people of Ghana who for me are the real winners given the way they have all worked to ensure that in their country votes would not only be counted, but also that the votes would count.

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