Process and Industrial Developments Limited(P&1D), a virtually unknown entity among most Nigerians two months ago, has since seized the front pages of local and international news media after a UK court awarded a $9.6bn judgment in its favour against Nigeria on August 16.
It was a judgment many did not see coming, and the audacity of the parties to the dispute still leave many in shock. And for P&ID, which is a shadowy company of dubious antecedents, it is a moment under the sun that it is relishing.
As Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria had said, a company with zero dollar investment in Nigeria is now set to reap a whopping reward of $9.6bn awarded to it as damages “for loss of profit” for a 20-year contract that was never executed. The sum translates to about translates to about N3.5trn. This must be the easiest way of doing profitable business.
As expected, Nigerians and indeed the Nigerian government were rightly outraged at the judgement which many now see as a huge scam perpetrated on the country by some foreign agents and their local collaborators.
Not only was there nothing in the history of the promoters of P&ID that showed capacity and expertise in oil and gas and energy production to warrant the alleged contract, but the principal promoter of the company was a known dance organizer with only secondary school education.
There is no doubt that some Nigerian state officials knowingly connived in this dubious plot to defraud their country. The way the whole thing was rushed for the purpose of binding the country in a contract is a clear red- light. The president of Nigeria at the time was abroad and incapacitated, the VP was not in acting capacity and the Federal Executive Council and the Attorney General did not meet, reviewed or approved any such contract.
These facts must be very well known to the promoters of P&ID but in the world of business, anything that gives you an advantage is fair.
But what is unfair is to put out a narrative that suggests that the country and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, were to blame for the court judgement as P&ID has tried to do. It has put out media statements accusing Malami and Nigeria of failing to prevent the judgement.
In trying to defend the so-called contract award as legitimate and not fraudulent, the company had sought to put the blame on the current administration and the minister of justice. A statement attributed to the firm claimed that the Nigerian government failed to act when it offered to negotiate a settlement for $850m on May 3, 2015. The company claimed the then President Goodluck Jonathan “indicates they are handing over the negotiation” to the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari.
Then it claimed further that Nigeria and Malami failed to negotiate in 2017 after the Arbitration Tribunal issued a final award of $6.5 billion to it plus $2.3 billion in uncollected interest on January 31, 2017. As expected, Malami and other Nigerian state officials had debunked the claims of the firm as ridiculous and had since revealed how the contract was contrived on behalf of the government by some unscrupulous public officials in 2010-long before the Buhari administration.
Many senior lawyers who had reacted to the London court judgement had equally expressed shock about the nature of the contract which clearly was a premeditated fraud. The P&ID knew it had an unfair advantage against Nigeria and no one was responsible for the damaging judgement but the Nigerian officials who participated in the scam. Trying to pass the blame on the Buhari administration or Malami for ‘delaying’ negotiation is disingenuous.
Malami is on record to have acted proactively as soon as he came into office. Several official correspondences indicate that Malami had busied himself trying to find ways of extricating the country out of the noose created by the contract. As far back as June 2017, Malami wrote series of letters to relevant security agencies in Nigeria to investigate the criminal conspiracy and economic sabotage occasioned by the GSPA contract.
In addition, as the Chief Law Officer of the government, his office took appropriate steps to inform relevant government institutions of developments as they unfolded regarding the matter. More importantly, he also sought ways of getting a probable and favourable out of court settlement negotiations. Malami himself was quoted in the press to have said:
“The contract in question was a 2010 agreement signed five years before I came into office while the award by the United Kingdom Court of Arbitration was in June 2014, one year before I was appointed Minister of Justice by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“As a responsible and responsive public officer keen on protecting the interest of Nigeria, I took steps to engage local and international lawyers to defend Nigeria’s interest once the stupendous award was brought to my knowledge as the chief law officer of the federation.
“Among the prominent lawyers we engaged to pursue Nigeria’s interest in the UK court were Chief Bola Ayorinde, SAN, and Curtis Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, who did their best to defend our interest.”
Thus, it was obvious that Nigeria had no real leverage in the matter, and nothing could have changed the outcome the firm wanted and worked for. And P&ID claim that it was “a matter which could have been settled shortly after he took office in November 2015 for $850 million,” is deceitful and unfair. Michael Aondoakaa, Nigeria’s attorney-general when the contract was signed, has also called it fraudulent and asked government to challenge the legality of the contract. Other senior lawyers like Femi Falana, Mike Ezekhome Sylva Ogwemoh have also described the British court’s judgment as official fraud and urged the government to go on appeal.
Falana, who shared Aondoakaa’s views, also said the agreement was a package of official fraud as the local branch of the company was hastily set up for the contract in violation of the Public Procurement Act. He said the legality of the contract could be challenged on the grounds of fraud.
This is what every reasonable Nigerian expects the Buhari administration and Malami to do as quickly as possible to save the country from international embarrassment and damage to the economy the enforcement of the judgement would bring on Nigeria. Neither Malami nor the Buhari government can be faulted on this case. Malami should not be the fall guy.
Wale Solomon writes from Surulere, Lagos.