- London magazine suggests she may have been paid
- House sets up committee to investigate $9.6bn judgment debt
- Knock for Oguntade for consulting for Esso while in public office
Ejiofor Alike in Lagos and Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja with agency reports
United Kingdom’s Home Secretary, Ms. Priti Patel, Wednesday faced an integrity question over her support for the attempt by a British Virgin Islands-registered company, Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) Limited, to squeeze $9.6 billion out of Nigeria for a gas-to-power project that was never built.
The Nigerian government had stridently contested the company’s claim, insisting that the contract was a scam, in which P&ID did and spent nothing on the failed project, adding that it was a heist that could impoverish the over 200 million Nigerians.
Besides, a former minister of Defence, Lt.Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), has since contended that the $40 million the company claimed to have spent on the project was provided by him, claiming that the main promoter of the company, Michael Quinn, double-crossed him in the deal.
A London magazine, Private Eye, questioned the motive of the British politician, wandering if she was paid for her support even as the Chief Trade and Brexit Adviser at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Mr. Shanker Singham, received a similar question mark for his support for the offshore company against Nigeria.
According to Private Eye, in its 1505 issue published yesterday, Patel reportedly wrote articles between November 2018 and May this year, pushing the P&ID case in City AM and Telegraph.
That was after she had lost her earlier job in government over alleged unauthorised meetings with officials while on holiday in Israel.
On his part, Brexiteer trade guru, Singham was also said to have written in Telegraph and produced research papers in favour of P&ID.
Also, the House of Representatives yesterday set up an interim panel to probe the Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA) Nigeria signed with P&ID, whose alleged breach triggered arbitration that resulted in the award of $6.6 billion, which with interest has now ballooned to $9.6 billion and still rising.
There are strong concerns that the opinion of these top officials may have influenced the judgment of a UK commercial court, which recently endorsed P&ID’s quest to enforce the award against the country.
It was not clear if they were paid for their favourable articles in favour of the company, but they were said to have argued that the issue between Nigeria and the company was a trade dispute.
However, British lobbying firm, InHouse Communications, which worked for the legal team of P&ID had reportedly stated that it did not recruit Patel and Singham to fight the company’s case.
InHouse is said to be run by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former policy adviser, Katie Perrior.
P&ID signed the GSPA with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in 2010 to build a gas plant that would process wet gas into dry gas for electricity generation.
Under the terms of the agreement, Nigeria is to supply the wet gas to the plant, to be built by P&ID in Cross River State.
The GSPA documents, however, contained what has been described as a “curiously careful provisions for what should happen if the deal soured.”
When the deal went sour, the arbitrators awarded all the theoretical profits P&ID might have made in a perfect world in 20 years, in a very imperfect part of the world (Nigeria), according to an analyst.
President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Inspector General of Police to conduct a thorough investigation into the botched gas deal.
So far, EFCC has questioned a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, who was a consultant to a foreign legal firm hired by the company and some senior lawyers, among other officials, to help unravel the circumstances that led to the arbitral award against the country.
THISDAY also reported on Wednesday concerns about the nation’s former judicial officers rendering legal consultancy services to foreign business enterprises who raise issues with Nigeria.
Belgore, for instance was criticised and being queried by the EFCC for rendering the legal opinion that did in the country at the London arbitration panel that gave the punitive award to P&ID against Nigeria.
This happened against the dictate of Section 5(1) of the fifth schedule of the 1999 Constitution as altered, which forbids a former chief justice of Nigeria and others from holding foreign briefs.
The former CJN’s action is believed to amount to a constitutional misconduct, particularly given the fact that he got a hefty N2.8 billion pay out when he exited office in 2008 in lieu of the constitutional limitation to his otherwise right to exploit his wealth of experience and knowledge of the law.
Also criticised was a retired justice of the Supreme Court, Justice George Oguntade, now Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK.
He was said to have rendered a legal opinion to Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited and the NNPC over a sour contract.
Although he is not caught by the restraining section of the constitution, lawyers feel that a former public officer of his status and close associate of President Muhammadu Buhari ought to have been more circumspect in dealing with foreign interests, like Mobil in matters that affect Nigeria.
While Esso, based on the former justice’s legal opinion, got $1.8 billion award, an enforcement proceeding failed on September 4, when a US District Court presided by William Pauley III dismissed the company’s application against Nigeria in New York.
Saying Oguntade gave the expert opinion in December 2018 and January 2019 while he as High Commissioner was wrong, lawyers told THISDAY that this was wrong for two reasons.
“First, Code of Conduct rules prohibit public servants from carrying on private legal practice,” said a senior lawyer, adding: “Secondly, he had a massive conflict of interest as High Commissioner for Nigeria and acting for Esso, a foreign interest seeking Nigeria’s assets.”
House Sets up Ad-Hoc Committee to Investigate P&ID $9.6bn Judgment Debt
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives also waded into the matter yesterday, setting up of an ad-hoc committee to probe the failed gas deal.
The decision to probe the matter was sequel to a motion on urgent need to investigate the negligence in the handling of the P&ID transaction by the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Petroleum Resources respectively, moved by Hon. Julius Ihonvbere.
After amendments to the initial motion, the House resolved to mandate a 17-man ad-hoc committee, to as a matter of urgency, invite the ministers of both ministries as well as other officials of the ministries saddled with the responsibility to negotiate the agreement with P&ID and the prosecution of the matter before the tribunal to give situational report with a view to finding lasting solutions to the avalanche of extant and future cases.
The lawmakers also agreed to recommend appropriate sanctions, where necessary, in line with Order 14 of the Standing Orders of the House and also to initiate a process of reviewing all agreements and treaties signed by Nigeria through the appropriate committees to create opportunities to discover anomalies and avoid a repeat in the future.
Ihonvbere had noted in his motion that the recent judgment debt of $9.6 billion “leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.”
He said: “For a country with foreign reserves of only $45 billion and a sovereign debt profile of over $80 billion, this judgment debt is not only punitive but would devastatingly affect the Nigerian economy.”
He regretted that Nigeria has a penchant for disregarding the sanctity of contracts and terms of agreement, coupled with the failure of Nigeria’s representatives in many cases, to carefully or diligently scrutinise agreements they sign knowing, that the consequences will affect past and future generations.