The Federal Government has announced that it will challenge the decision of a British court ordering the seizure of Nigeria’s assets worth $9.6 billion and its subsequent handover to an Irish company.
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, stated the government’s position at a joint press conference in Abuja on Tuesday.
A court sitting in London had on August 16, ruled in favour of Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) to seize assets of Nigeria to the tune of $9 billion.
The order was issued after the company had filed a case against the Nigerian government, with the former accusing the latter of reneging on a 20-year Gas and Supply Processing Agreement (GSPA) signed in 2010.
But at the press conference, Mohammed insisted that Nigeria will not lose any of its assets as the Federal Government will utilise all legal avenues possible to appeal the judgment at a court in the United States.
The minister also quelled fears that the implementation of the UK court judgment would take immediate effect, noting that the enforcement would commence only when the court sanctions the move.
Mohammed said: “Despite the recent recognition of the award by a UK court, and contrary to some reports, Nigeria is not about to lose any of its assets to P&ID. There is no imminent threat to Nigeria’s assets!
“In the first instance, the enforcement of the award cannot even commence now because the judge in the UK court ordered that the P&ID cannot enforce the judgment against Nigeria until after the court resumes from its current vacation.
“What this means is that enforcement action cannot begin until further hearing on the matter, which will take place on a date to be determined by the court upon its resumption.
“The Federal Government, therefore, wishes to use this opportunity to assure Nigerians that there is no immediate threat to Nigeria’s assets as has been wrongly interpreted by a section of the media.
“Nigerians should be assured that the Federal Government is taking all necessary steps to appeal the decision of the UK court, to seek for a stay of execution of the decision, to defend its rights and to protect the assets of the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Nigerians should be assured that the Federal Government will strongly avail itself of all defences customarily afforded to sovereign states under the United Kingdom Sovereign Immunity Act to stave off any enforcement of the award.”
The information minister also disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the National Intelligence Agency and the Inspector-General of Police to investigate the agreement and P&ID to establish the degree of culpability for those involved in the deal.
He stated that the probe was pertinent as the Federal Government deemed the terms of the agreement as being dubious.
Mohammed said: “We want to place on record that the Federal Government views with serious concerns the underhanded manner in which the contract was negotiated and signed.
“Indications are that the whole process was carried out by some vested interests in the past administration, which apparently colluded with their local and international conspirators, to inflict grave economic injury on Nigeria and its people.
“In view of the above, and in an attempt to unravel the circumstances surrounding the entire transaction, the Attorney-General of the Federation, with the approval of Mr President, has requested the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the National Intelligence Agency and the Inspector-General of Police to conduct a thorough investigation into the company, the circumstances surrounding the agreement and the subsequent event, which includes commencing a full-scale criminal investigation.”
Reiterating Mohammed’s comments, Abubakar Malami, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, claimed that the circumstances of the deal meant its implementation was doomed from the start.
The AGF wondered how the Ministry of Petroleum Resources would sign an agreement with a foreign company without involving the main producers of gas in the country – the international oil companies (IOCs) operating in Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Malami said: “Insinuations abound that the contract was originally designed to fail fundamentally against the background of the fact that there were inherent element of hitches that were designed into it right from conception.
“When I talk of inherent element of hitches, I want to draw attention first to the fact that by composition of the parties to the agreement there were two parties – the P&ID which is the company and – the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“As you rightly know very well, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources is not a producer of gas. Gas products are produced by the International Oil Companies, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
“So, when you conceived, signed and executed a contract for the supply of gas products without involving IOCs, NPDC, and NNPC as parties to that agreement, you know very well that there are a lot of questions to answer arising from the execution of that agreement.
“So, these among others, gave rise to the insinuations or perhaps certain criminal and fraudulent conspiracies right from conception of the agreement. The fact remains that you cannot sign an agreement to provide a product that you do not have.
“The Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources does not have oil wells, marginal fields or gas products so how can the ministry sign an agreement without bringing on board those that are the custodians or the producers of the gas products with the purpose of supply of gas products?”
On her own part, Zainab Ahmed, Minister of Finance and Budget and National Planning, lamented the court ruling, describing it as exorbitant and an assault on every Nigerian.
She said: “So this award that is unreasonable, that is excessive and exorbitant, is also unfair and it is an assault on every Nigerian. It is beyond trying to compensate for a commercial interest. It is an assault on each and every Nigerian.
“For us in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, we take comfort from the efforts that have so far been put in place by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to ensure that this judgment is set aside because the consequences will be unpleasant for each and every Nigerian.
She called on all citizens to support the Federal Government’s challenge against the judgment, noting that the $9.6 billion is equivalent to N3.5 trillion which, according to her, covers personnel cost in the nation’s annual budget.
Also speaking, Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, disputed a claim by P&ID that it had financially invested in the country before the cancellation of the agreement.
According to the CBN Governor, its records revealed that the company did not invest any money in the country, as reported by the media.
He said: “The money that they want to take is our own commonwealth that belongs to all of us. It is very sad that you will find some Nigerian collaborators with some foreign interests under a bogus intention trying to defraud this country.
“If they have proofs of their investment, we are calling on them to please come forward and provide us proofs of how they invested money in this project.”