Fresh indications emerged, yesterday, that the Federal Government is set to explore a loophole in the controversial $9.6 billion gas contract judgement by a United Kingdom arbitration tribunal.
The Federal Government is set to prove in court that the entire contract was a “fraud” as the firm, Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID), which was awarded the contract in 2010, was a ghost company.
The new window, for Nigeria, is premised on the fact that P&ID had no physical office, and the contract itself was neither presented, debated nor approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the Ministry of Justice, which usually ratified such contracts, on government’s behalf.
Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Shehu Malami, SAN, disclosed these at an interactive session with the media in Abuja, yesterday.
He also revealed how the award and defence of the gas contract were concluded in June 2014, long before President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
The AGF also disclosed that investigation of collaborators in the gas deal has now extended beyond Nigeria and there were no sacred cows, as anyone implicated would be prosecuted.
He said: “To give insight into antecedence relating to the case, the contract in its own right was signed and executed by the parties in 2010; that was precisely five years before the government of President Muhammadu Buhari came on board.
“The court ruling, of which award relating to purported breach of contract was handed down in June 2014. The Nigerian position, in terms of defence and associated matters, were engagements and execution that had taken place before the government of President Buhari.
“As at 2015, first, there was a contract in existence, there was a court ruling, and there were lawyers involved and engaged by both parties, on the part of P&ID and the previous government, even as at the time Buhari’s government came in.
“ Yes, there was a purported contract, yes, there was a purported award and parties were also before the tribunal, but while arbitration proceedings were going on in the United Kingdom, there was an attempt, just before the government of President Buhari, by the lawyers that were engaged by the previous government, to file a fresh action in Nigeria, relating thereto, with the hope for the court to set aside the award ruling.
“The lawyers were engaged by the government that preceded that of Buhari and that case that was instituted in Nigeria pursuant to an award were from the lawyers engaged by the previous government and, indeed, there was an action at the Arbitration Court in the UK and Federal High Court in Nigeria, conducted by the same lawyers engaged by the previous government. That background is relevant to what is on ground.
“As at the time we came on board as a government, there was already an award ruling, to the tune of $9.6 billion and the time within which we could have appealed had already elapsed. There was no time to appeal because the previous administration did not appeal the judgement of June 2014.
“With the time lapse, Nigeria could not have filed an application to either set aside the ruling or want stay of execution, as of right. You require the leave of the tribunal to appeal the award and that leave would have been a very difficult process because Nigeria, as at then, would have been adjudged to have slept over its right of appeal, which could have been done within a regulated time.
“So, the immediate option open then was to consider that of negotiation and that was our decision. Along the line of negotiation, many facts came to light, inclusive of the fact of insinuation of fraudulent underhands among the parties involved.
“Legally speaking, fraud could be a ground for setting aside an award, without necessarily having to go through the route of seeking for leave. If you can establish fraud, there is no time limit within which you can raise it, as against appealing the decision of the tribunal on the basis of law or fact.
“There is a lead investigation, intensively and extensively carried out by agencies of government, and it is concerted, borderless and there is no limitation as to who and who can be invited and who and who cannot be invited.
“I wouldn’t like to be specific on personalities but I want to state categorically that those that were involved in the process of drafting the agreement, in the process of signing and executing the agreement, in the process of the conduct of arbitration, before the tribunal, in the conduct of the trial before the Federal High Court, relating to the case that was filed and all other personalities of interest, local and international, are indeed being investigated, to get to the bottom of what indeed transpired, for the purpose of establishing the existence or otherwise of fraud and fraudulent conspiracies between the parties or among the parties.”
The minister added that, “The Nigerian government will not sell out the interest of the country and the Nigerian people in order to satisfy some elements who are consciously out to extort the Nigerian people for their selfish aggrandisement.
“It is to be noted that, while we are willing and ready to negotiate and meet the terms of agreements reached with all genuine investors, which have done business or are still doing business with Nigeria on mutually beneficial terms, we will not allow fraudulent local and foreign collaborators to rip off the resources of Nigeria for no just cause in order to be seen as being nice or ‘investor-friendly’.
“Those who are clapping for P&ID and blaming Abubakar Malami and the Buhari administration for the huge $9.6 billion slammed on the country as a result of the so-called gas supply and processing contract awarded the firm on January 11, 2010, five years before President Buhari came to power and I became minister, should be kind enough to ask those who awarded the so-called contract what it was all about and why there was no attempt by either those who awarded the contract and the contractor to implement even an aspect of it.
“Nigerians should also ask the PDP government that awarded the contract why it was given to a company whose address is C/O of a lawyer’s office: Trident Chambers, P.O. Box 146, Tortola, British Virgin Island, and that means the company does not have an office of its own and has no record of executing any project of any kind close to what it was awarded in Nigeria.
“The questions to further ask are: In whose interest was the critical contract awarded and what was it to achieve? Why was the centre of arbitration taken to London, and not Nigeria, a sovereign nation? Why was the contract not passed unto the Federal Ministry of Justice for vetting? Why was the Federal Executive Council’s approval not sought in the execution of the agreement? Was there any direct capital inflow arising from the contract? Were NNPC, NPDC and IOCs who were to have supplied the gas component of the agreement not made parties to it?
“So, it is clear from all indications that the so-called contract was a well-organised scam, consciously, deliberately and intentionally orchestrated by some dubious and well-placed Nigerian government officials at the time with some shrewd foreign collaborators to defraud Nigeria and inflict heavy economic and financial loss on Nigeria and its people.”
Malami also dismissed reports that the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) is investigating the National Assembly leadership, its management and the Judiciary.
He said by its enabling Act, NFIU need not write the banks before it can conduct forensic investigation of any account as it is statutorily empowered to do so.