There is an ageless Yoruba saying, “every day is for the thief, but one day is for the owner.” Time may have made this adage meaning-bare, but how still aptly it applies to the historic day Nigeria had at a London court last Monday October 23. That day, the federal government spoiled an international fraudsters’s attempt to use the law to get from Nigeria $11 billion unearned.
Nigeria had approached the court, seeking to nullify a $6.6 billion arbitration award to a hedge fund-backed firm, Process & Industrial Developments (P&ID) in 2017 over a gas plant contract that failed. Interest brought the total amount the firm demanded to $11bn. The contractor is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a safe haven for stolen funds. The federal government protested, saying the contract was gotten through bribes. After a legal tussle lasting 5 years, judge Robin Knowles, Monday, found that the huge arbitration award was tainted by bribes. “The awards were obtained by fraud,” Knowles said in his ruling. According to him, the matter shows “what some individuals will do for money. Driven by greed and prepared to use corruption; giving no thought to what their enrichment would mean in terms of harm for others. Others that in the present case include the people of Nigeria.”
The Nigerian government has hailed the judgement, though not yet the end of the matter. “The brazen fraud perpetrated by P&ID has finally been revealed,” President Bola Tinubu said through his spokesman. According to him, the verdict “will ensure that any parties that think that African nations are an easy target for exploitation will be forced to think again.” He added, “Nation states will no longer be held hostage by economic conspiracies between private firms and solitarily corrupt officials.”
I like the way Bloomberg reported Monday’s court proceedings but for the word “dodged” it used, implying we got the victory by means other than fair. A typical western news reporting bias against the developing world. Reuters’s version of the same story is less judgemental. It even gave the story a significant perspective. It said the ruling would “come as some relief to Africa’s biggest crude oil producer’s economy that’s fighting double digit inflation and falling oil revenues. An adverse ruling could have added a debilitating liability on the country, where in the past eight years, debt has increased almost eight-fold to more than $110 billion.”
Besides the victory, the case was an eye-opener in terms of its astounding revelations. One, the 2010 contract was fraudulently obtained, using Nigerian oil industry officials who cut the deal behind the back of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’adua who, regrettably, died in May 2010. Two, P&ID bought off lawyers hired by the Nigerian government. Three, shortly after the 2017 arbitration award to P&ID, a hedge fund-supported firm, VR Capital Group Ltd, bought 25 percent stake P&ID, expecting to reap bountifully from the arbitration money. Four, two high profile British lawyers who represented P&ID traded their integrity for “mesh of porridge.” Justice Knowles’s stern rebuke of the lawyers and all others implicated in this “bribery of epic and industrial scale”, indicates that the itching palm isn’t a peculiarity of the Third World’s population. Whites can be and are as prone to corruption as blacks. Of the two British lawyers, in particular, the judge said they had “misconducted themselves out of greed.” Trevor Burke, an eminent criminal barrister and a nephew of P&ID’s co-founder, would have received $850 million while Seasmus Andrew, who represented P&ID during the arbitration, would have received up to $3 billion.
Trevor Burke, an eminent criminal barrister and a nephew of P&ID’s co-founder, would have received $850 million while Seamus Andrew, who represented P&ID during the arbitration, would have received up to $3 billion. Both received confidential Nigerian documents during the arbitration that they knew they were not entitled to see, the judge found. Their decision to say nothing and not to return the documents was “indefensible”, he wrote. They did so “because of the money they hoped to make” and gave untruthful evidence about it, Knowles added, referring his ruling to legal standards regulators. They succeeded in that, exploiting Nigeria’s lack of expertise in international contract negotiation, which was recognized by a world law reform conference in the late 1980s in Abuja. Burke and Andrew said in separate statements they did not accept the judge’s criticisms and believed they would be exonerated by the regulators. As I noted, the court’s decision could be appealed and the losers have said they would go on appeal. But for the moment, let us seize the day and celebrate.
Tinubu has been quick to rejoice over the court victory but will not credit it to Buhari who breathed life into a matter that got cold under PDP administrations. Since coming to power five months ago, the new president has systematically undone Buhari’s policies and decisions, including key personnel appointments.