Nigerians and the federal government in particular were shell-shocked when the Commercial Court in London gave a damning ruling on August 16, that Nigeria was to pay $9.6 billion to a Swiss gas company, Process and Industrial Development (P & ID), over breach of contract for gas installation for Africa’s largest nation.
Nigerians expressed outrage over the judgment, which would have depleted the foreign assets of the nation grappling with challenges of insurgency, poverty and other issues related to catering for its huge population of about 200 million.
P&ID, an engineering and project management company, had taken Nigeria to the Arbitration in London over an alleged breach of Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA) signed by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in January 2010.The Company won the liability case in July 2015 and was awarded $6.6 billion in damages. A British Commercial Court had in August affirmed the ruling of the London Arbitration Tribunal.
Nigeria did not take the judgment whose enforcement would have depleted its foreign assets to low ebb. In the appeal at the same court whose ruling was given on September 26, the court upheld Nigeria ‘s appeal that the federal government should be permitted to present arguments against the enforcement of a US$9 billion arbitral award despite having missed a filing deadline – citing the size of the damages and the “major impact” it could have for the country’s citizens and tax payers among other factors.
The indication by the Federal government that it would file a fresh suit against P&ID is a welcome development deserving the full support of citizens.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, also said besides the stay of execution and the leave to appeal the judgment obtained by Nigeria on September 26, the federal government’s delegation to the UK succeeded in changing the narratives of the case in favour of Nigeria before the international community.
“As we have been saying everywhere we go, we have been compiling arguments that will make our case and position to set aside the judgment debt, an easy thing” he stated. He expressed optimism that the entire arbitration decisions and the whopping judgment debt of N9.6 billion against Nigeria over a botched gas contract would be set aside.
Mohammed said with the reprieve granted by the court, Nigeria has the opportunity to take appropriate steps to set aside the entire judgement debt in favour of P&ID.
According to him, the federal government delegation’s meeting with investors and other stakeholders, helped to change the negative narrative that the case might hamper foreign investments into Nigeria.
“Many of them at the meeting are investing in Nigeria and holding key positions in the society. By the time we came out of the meeting, they had more empathy for our course and even many of them volunteered to serve our course in a very patriotic manner.”
Mohammed further added: “We came here with the sole purpose of not just winning in court but also winning the minds of the international community.”
Speaking in similar vein, Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice said: “Stay of execution granted subject to $200m security payment to the court pending the determination of the leave which the court has granted. “The minister expressed delight over the development in the court and sees it as “a positive resolution that constitutes an important step in the government’s effort to defend itself in a fair and just process.”
We wish to commend the federal government legal team for getting a reprieve on the seizure of its assets worth more than $9billion as a result of the latest judgment from the London Court.
Even though the case is still in court, the matter should serve as a lesson to the nation’s legal authorities. It begs the question why adequate legal steps were not taken ab initio to save the nation of the tension and anxiety generated by the London Court decision.
Against this background, we call on the Federal Ministry of Justice to carry out a comprehensive legal audit of all pending cases against Nigeria in international judicial jurisdictions and to take steps to avoid a repeat of this ugly situation.
For the on-going London legal battles, nothing should be spared to secure a more favourable judgment from the Appeal and even fresh litigations on the matter.
The country is currently contending with numerous soci-economic problems and therefore, cannot afford to lose such a collosal amount at this critical period of the nation’s history.