Abuja — The Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN, yesterday vowed to prosecute all government officials involved in the failed Process an Industrial Development (P&ID) gas to power project that has plunged the country into a $9.9 billion judgment debt.
He told journalists at his first post inauguration press conference in Abuja that drawing a lesson from the development, the federal government had taken steps to protect Nigeria from losing monies as a result of legal battles arising from breakdown in contractual obligations.
Under the impending regime, being put in place in the wake of the August 16 British court's judgment endorsing enforcement of the $9.9 billion arbitration award to the Irish firm over the failed gas project, the AGF will now vet contracts, Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and other agreements entered into by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) before they commit Nigeria to any obligations.
Malami said the policy would be executed under a structured and systematised compliance programme for statutory entities that would be domiciled in the office of the Solicitor General.
The aim of the impending policy, according to Malami, is to ensure that all relevant laws are not breached thereby reducing, if not totally eliminating, potential liability by the federal government that may arise from acts of commission or omission of the MDAs.
He said: "In actualising this, we shall be creating a well-resourced functional, efficient and responsive desk in the Solicitor's Department where contracts, memoranda of understanding and agreements containing financial thresholds proposed to be entered into by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the FGN shall undergo a technical multi layered legal analysis, review and vetting before execution.
"The aim is to reduce the incidence of avoidable contractual obligations and commitments to which the FGN is exposed by some of the MDAs which have attracted to the FGN debts running into billions."
Malami reiterated that the federal government would punish anyone found culpable in the failed agreement between Nigeria and P&ID.
The British Court, in a judgment delivered on August 16, had ordered the seizure of Nigeria's foreign reserves, amounting to $9.9 billion.
Justice Butcher of the British Commercial Court while delivering judgment in the suit filed by P&ID against Nigeria gave the firm the go-ahead to seize Nigeria's asset to recoup the judgment debt.
The government has already instructed its lawyers to initiate appeal proceedings against the judgment in Britain.
However, the minister said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would not allow the matter to be swept under the carpet, adding that all those involved in the agreement, which according to him was not made in the interest of the nation, shall be punished.
According to Malami, the recent judgment is a proof that the war on corruption has to be taken to another level.
"Sadly, in spite of the spirited and concerted efforts of the current administration to combat corrupt practices and rent seeking in all its forms, Nigerians woke up on Friday, August 16, 2019, to the rudest consequences of the underhand dealings of the past administration that has resulted in the award of $9 billion against the Federal Republic of Nigeria by a British court which ruled that Process and Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) had the right to seize $9 billion in Nigerian assets," he said.
While accusing the previous administrations for the incident, which he said might plunge the country further into economic woes, the AGF said the current administration had viewed with serious concerns the underhand manner by which the negotiation, signing and formation of the contract was carried out by some vested interests in the past administrations in connivance with their local and international conspirators all in a bid to inflict grave economic adversity on the country.
According to him, "As a government that has the mandate of the people, and their interest at heart, we shall not fold our arms and allow this injustice to go unpunished as all efforts, actions and steps shall be taken to bring to book all private individuals, corporate entities and government officials, home or abroad and past or present that played direct and indirect roles in the conception, negotiation, signing, formation as well as prosecution of the purported agreement."
Unveiling further his roadmap for the justice sector, Malami said apart from strengthening the nation's legal system to fight corruption, the administration would concentrate its searchlight on Financial Institutions (FIs) and Non-Designated Financial Institutions (DNFIs) in order to ensure that they pay dearly for their alleged dastardly role in encouraging and deepening corruption.
"From arms procurement fraud, INEC bribery case to Diezani case and several others, quantitative data available to the federal government abundantly shows that financial institutions are directly involved in most of the major corruption cases investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) from 2015 till date," he stated.
Still on financial matters, the minister said he would strive to ensure Nigeria's ship of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) within the shortest possible time.
"We have made a successful effort to reverse Nigeria's suspension and it is one of my key plans to ensure that Nigeria passes all the relevant anti-corruption legislations capable of enhancing the fight against corruption," he said.
To achieve set targets, the minister, who acknowledged the daunting task before him and the ministry, said plans were already on to develop and promote executive bills capable of combating systemic and grand corruption that have ravaged and still ravaging the nation.
He added that he would develop a culture of cohesive synergy between the three arms of government, the executive, legislature and judiciary.
According to him, the collaboration is aimed at establishing a workable constitutional amendment towards ensuring better efficiency of the Nigerian judiciary.
Malami while thanking staff of the ministry and agencies under him for supporting his vision for the justice sector during his first term, promised to make their welfare a priority and leave a lasting legacy in the sector at the end of his second tenure.