This Day (Lagos)

4 December 2012

Nigeria: General Electric Tells U.S. Court it Lacks Confidence in Nigerian Judiciary

United States-based multinational corporation, General Electric (GE), has said it lacks confidence in the country's judiciary, arguing that it is understaffed, inefficient and under undue influence.

In its motion for the summary disposition of a petition before a Detroit, Michigan Circuit Court, to recognise a Nigeria money judgment which was filed against it by Q Oil Services Nigeria Limited, GE urged the US court not to recognise the Nigerian court judgment, because it "was rendered under a judicial system that does not provide impartial tribunals or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of the law."

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), in its submission to the court on why the Nigerian court judgment must not be recognised in the US, GE relied on the US State Department country's report on Nigeria for 2012, which contained the following findings about the Nigerian judicial system: "Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch of government remained susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches and the business sector."

GE has a strong presence in Nigeria and enjoys the patronage of the Federal Government in the energy sector.

However, the US company is concerned that political leaders influence the judiciary, particularly at the state and local levels. Understaffing, underfunding, inefficiency and undue influence have also continued to prevent the judiciary from functioning adequately.

"Judges frequently failed to appear for trials often because they were pursuing other sources of income and sometimes because of threats against them. In addition, court officials often lacked the proper equipment, training, and motivation to perform their duties with lack of motivation primarily due to inadequate compensation. During the year, Supreme Court judges called for a more independent judiciary," GE argued.

According to the US engineering conglomerate, the US State Department's findings on Nigeria were consistent with a similar finding in the Liberian Courts for the same year, which a US Court of Appeal had relied upon to refuse recognition to a Liberian court judgment in the US.

"The court found the country's reports reliable because the reports are submitted annually, and are therefore investigated in a timely manner. They are prepared by area specialists at the State Department," GE said.

GE argued that based on the State Department's findings, the judgment of the Nigerian court is unenforceable in Michigan.

In addition, GE also urged the US court not to recognise the judgment because it was "rendered in circumstances that raise substantial doubt about the integrity of the rendering court with respect to the judgment, or the specific proceeding in the foreign court leading to the judgment was not compatible with due process of law."

Accusing the presiding justice of a High Court of Rivers State of possible bias in the proceedings, GE stated that "the Nigerian trial court's September 29, 2010, default judgment granted Q Oil's claim for declaratory relief claims and all of the damages it sought, including $5,000,000 in supposed "general" damages without a shred of evidence, and without a formal trial, contrary to the Nigerian law and public policy."

Finally, GE prayed the court to dismiss the petition for recognition or in the event the court does not dismiss the complaint to enter an order staying the proceedings until the conclusion of all appeals in Nigeria.

The plaintiff, Q Oil and Gas Services Nigeria Limited, had asked the US Court to recognise a Nigerian court judgment in the sum of $5.5 million entered against the defendant, GE International Operations Nigeria Limited, pursuant to the Michigan Uniform Foreign Country Money Judgments Recognition Act of 2008 (UFCMJRA).

Q Oil and Gas Services is expected to file its response to the allegations this week.

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