The Confounding Case of Petro Union Oil and Gas Limited – Another P&ID-type Saga?


Ebenezer Johnson

Since the commencement of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration in 2015, the anti-graft war has been a major fixture in the government’s agenda, having been a key component of the administration’s pre-election promises to the Nigerian people, others being insecurity and economic improvement. However, the administration’s performance in these three focus areas has been the subject of much debate in many circles, with several observers decrying the slow rate of progress across board.

Thus far, the success of the anti-graft war has been evident in some sectors where the war against corruption has been particularly felt. Whether the fight against corruption has been entirely free of favouritism is a different matter entirely.

Nevertheless, the fact that the Executive arm of Government has thrown its weight behind the nation’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commissioner (EFCC) has gone a long way to boost the efforts of the agency. The EFCC in turn has continued to secure convictions in its bid to win the war against corruption. Between January and October 2019 alone, the agency successfully secured 890 convictions and recovered billions of naira in looted funds.

However, five years after the start of the administration, a question that begs to be answered is whether all arms of Government are aligned with this war.
The judiciary, largely regarded as the standard for justice and equity in the land, and tasked with the role of delivering justice without fear or favour, has in recent times come under fire from many Nigerians for its role in passively or actively supporting corruption through seemingly questionable judgements.

One of the biggest and most controversial landmarks on the Nigerian political scene in recent years was the Supreme Court’s unanimous judgement in favour of Hope Uzodinma over Emeka Ihedioha in the Imo State Gubernatorial elections.

Despite indications that neither Uzodinma nor Ihedioha met the constitutional requirements to be declared winner in the election, the Nigerian Apex Court, in a highly controversial move, unanimously awarded judgement to Uzodinma the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, instead of ordering a re-run of the election.
In a similar instance, the famous case between Nigeria and the British Virgin Islands-registered engineering company, Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) was one which caused ruckus across the country and beyond, as it exposed the propensity of highly-placed Nigerians to collude with suspicious parties to defraud the nation.

PI&D had allegedly entered into a 20-year gas contract in 2010 with Nigeria for the establishment and operation of a gas processing plant in Calabar, Cross River State. However, when the Nigerian government reneged on the said agreement, P&ID took the government to arbitration and was awarded $6.6 billion which having accrued interest since 2013, amounted to $9.6 billion in 2019. Questions raised include the authenticity of the contract and the extent of due diligence carried out before it was awarded to the British Virgin Islands Company.

A Bloomberg article described P&ID Chairman Michael “Mick” Quinn as “a 68-year-old Irishman with a rakish mustache and decades of experience in Nigeria, mostly as a military contractor.” The article also stated, “The company and its founders remain elusive. A Nigerian newspaper recently published a list of unanswered questions about the firm: Where are its offices? How many people does it employ? How did such a tiny company win such a large concession?”

It is worthy of note, that despite the seeming absurdity of certain elements of the case, P&ID had obtained an award and received High Court and Appeal Court endorsement of the award here in Nigeria, and it had been thought impossible to get any relief.

However, a recent turn in events around the case has seen Ross Cranston, a judge of the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales, grant Nigeria’s application for an extension of time and relief from sanctions. While delivering the judgement, the judge expressed that Nigeria has established a strong prima facie case that the contract was secured by bribes paid to insiders as part of a larger scheme to defraud the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Another similar case is the one involving Petro Union Oil and Gas Company Limited, an oil and gas company on the one hand and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Union Bank of Nigeria Plc. (Union Bank) on the other, in what appears to be another brazen attempt to defraud Nigeria, this time to the tune of GBP2.56bn together with interest at 15% per annum from 1995.

The oil company is laying claim to the said sum, which it claims was imported into the country via a Barclays Bank UK cheque deposited at a Union Bank branch sometime in 1994.
Following the deposit of the cheque, Barclays Bank in the UK was contacted and it confirmed that the account on which the cheque was drawn was closed on 21st September 1989 whereas the cheque was issued on 29th December 1994 – five years after the account was closed!
This discovery was reported to the EFCC which absolved Union Bank of any wrongdoing after carrying out its own investigations.

Even more shocking is the fact that despite these revelations, Petro Union has been successful in pursuing the so-called fraud up to the Court of Appeal where the oil company obtained judgement to support the notion that the £2.159bn was in the custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

In response, both the CBN and Union Bank have appealed to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, requesting it to set the case aside and execute justice, especially considering the fact that Petro Union officers were recently arrested, detained and are currently undergoing criminal prosecution at the Federal High Court, Lagos.

Quite obviously, the war against corruption in Nigeria is far from won. It is, however, more imperative than ever before for all hands to be on deck, in full support of the fight against the decay. In the words of President Muhammadu Buhari, “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us.”
––Johnson, a public analyst, writes from Abuja