The federal government yesterday has moved for a stay of execution of the judgement debt of $9.6billion (N3.5trillion) delivered on August 16, 2019, by the United Kingdom (UK) court even as it declared that the verdict was not a threat to Nigeria's national assets.
Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, told journalists in Abuja yesterday that the 20-year Gas Supply Processing Agreement (GSPA) deal purportedly entered into with the P&ID in 2010, the company never performed as agreed.
He said that the enforcement of the award cannot commence now because the judge in the UK court ordered that the P&ID cannot carry out 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," Mohammed said.
Mohammed who briefed journalists alongside the minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, the minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emefiele, said that the federal government had perfected plans to appeal the judgment and also seek a stay of execution.
The government, however, linked the contract to the administration of the late President Musa Yar'Adua.
Mohammed said: "We are here to brief you on the recent judgement of a UK court authorising Process and Industrial Developments Ltd. (P&ID) to seize $9.6 billion in Nigerian assets over a contract entered into by the company and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in 2010."
While going through the details of the transaction, the minister said that the contract suffered a setback and the case went to arbitration. P&ID's claim in the arbitration proceedings was mainly for the loss of profit for the 20-year term of the GSPA.
In an interim award, according to him, the Arbitration Tribunal ruled that Nigeria had breached the contract. However, the federal government successfully applied to have that award set aside by the Federal High Court in Lagos, but tribunal ignored this decision.
The minister expressed concern over the underhanded manner in which the contract was negotiated and signed.
He said: "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."
To unravel the circumstances surrounding the entire transaction, Malami said that President Buhari had requested the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to conduct a thorough investigation into the company, the controversial agreement and the subsequent event.
Mohammed however insisted that Nigeria was not about to lose any of its assets, contrary to reports in some sections of the media.
"Despite the recent recognition of the award by the 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. Nigerians should be assured that the federal government is taking 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," he said.
The federal government further said that it would 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 government explained that "on 31st January, 2017, the tribunal rendered its final award against the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in the sum of $6.597 billion, together with pre-award interest at the rate of seven per cent per annum, effective from 20th March, 2013 and post-award interest at the same rate from the date of the award. This interest increased the size of the award to US$9.6 billion.
"After the arbitration award in 2017, Nigeria made several attempts to negotiate the award and resolve the whole issue amicably with P&ID but to no avail, which eventually led to the enforcement proceedings instituted, simultaneously, by the company in the UK and the US.
"The federal government then engaged the services of the US law firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP, which took steps to defend the proceedings in the US District Court of Columbia to dismiss P&ID's application for the enforcement of the award on the grounds that Nigeria, as a sovereign state has an absolute right to obtain an authoritative determination of its sovereign immunity. While Nigeria has recorded some successes in that case in the US, proceedings are ongoing in the US and the federal government will ensure that its interest and that of the people of Nigeria are vigorously defended.
"It is worth mentioning that in challenging the award, the federal government relied upon an expert report analysing the damages given to the P&ID. The expert concluded that the damages were clearly unreasonable and manifestly excessive and exorbitant; went far beyond any legitimate protection of the commercial interest of the P&ID; were completely wrong and obviously unjustifiable, and that the damages over-compensated P&ID on a frankly gargantuan scale and imposed a punitive award on Nigeria.
"It was on this ground and others that the federal government took all available steps to resist the enforcement before the court of the United Kingdom (UK). Unfortunately, the UK court has recognised the award and given the company the authorisation to seize Nigeria's assets," he said.
The government, therefore, appealed to the media in the reportage of the sensitive matter, saying that it was capable of threatening the very existence of the country, especially as some media outfits had clearly thrown overboard objectivity and patriotism in their biased coverage of the matter.