The Commercial Court in London, United Kingdom, yesterday granted Nigeria's request to stay execution of a judgment which favoured Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) to seize Nigeria's assets worth $9.6bn over a contract scandal.
However, while granting permission to appeal the case, the UK Commercial Court asked the Nigerian Government to deposit $200m (N72.2bn) into the court's account within 60 days for the stay of execution to take effect.
Yesterday's order effectively halted P&ID from enforcing an earlier judgment granted by the UK Arbitration Tribunal, a development that paved way for Nigeria to contest the $9.6bn (about N3.25 trillion) granted the Irish firm.
P&ID was awarded the amount in damages against Nigeria following a failed gas supply contract between the two parties.
From London, Nigeria's Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami disclosed what transpired at the court yesterday. He said, "Stay of execution granted subject to $200 million security payment to the court pending the determination of the leave which has been granted by the Commercial Court.
"Application for leave to appeal against the award and enforcement of the award is granted.
"We will study the court rulings, exercise the right of appeal and consider the legal options available at our disposal as it relates to the payment of $200m in view of the 60 days window stipulated by the court."
Justice minister Malami also said, "I am pleased with today's development in the court and see this as a positive resolution that constitutes an important step in the government's effort to defend itself in a fair and just process.
"We look forward to challenging the UK Commercial Court's recognition of the tribunal's decision in the UK Court of Appeals, uncovering P&ID's outrageous approach for what it is: a sham based on fraudulent and criminal activity developed to profit from a developing country."
Daily Trust reports that about a fortnight ago, Malami had, while interacting with editors in Abuja, admitted that the timeframe for appealing the $9.6 billion judgment, which was first awarded in 2014, had elapsed, and that Nigeria's best and only option was to negotiate with the Irish firm, (P&ID).
The attorney-general had, at that session, blamed the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan for failing to appeal the judgment.
P&ID welcomes condition for appeal
Meanwhile, a statement from P&ID following yesterday's hearing in London said it was pleased with the conditions given before Nigeria could appeal the $9.6 billion award.
According to the statement, "The court has ruled that the Nigerian Government must put up $200 million to maintain a stay of execution whilst it pursues an appeal against enforcement of the now $9.6 billion award in favour of P&ID.
"The Nigerian Government will now have to put its money where its mouth is if it wants to avoid immediate seizure of assets.
"The Nigerian Government's recent media exercise to allege fraud against P&ID turned out to be a red herring. Indeed, the Nigerian Government did not present any evidence to support Attorney General Malami's "findings" from his sham investigation.
"The Nigerian Government knows there was no fraud and the allegations are merely political theatrics designed to deflect attention from its own shortcomings," the statement said.
'Good news for Nigeria'
A former President of the Business Recovery & Insolvency Practitioners Association of Nigeria (BRIPAN), Dr Biodun Layonu (SAN), has described the leave to Nigeria to appeal the arbitral judgment as good news for the country.
Layonu said the decision presented Nigeria with an opportunity to reverse or review the arbitral judgment. He added that the £200million awarded as condition for stay of execution is a recoverable deposit should Nigeria win the case at the appeal.
"It is not over yet but we have good chances of overturning this deeply embarrassing and offensive matter. It is also a great lesson to learn for the future. We must probe this to the roots and hold accountable all those found to be culpable," Layonu added.
Also speaking, a senior lawyer in the United Kingdom, Kirsty Brimelow (QC), said the granting of leave to appeal should not be misconstrued as an indication that Nigeria will win the case.
Brimelow, who is the Head of International Human Rights Law at Doughty Street Chambers in the UK, however, added that, "It is always a good start that the Nigerian government has complied with correct legal procedure and returned to the UK court. The allegations of corruption will be analysed on appeal. It is unusual that the allegation of corruption appears to have been raised by Nigeria so late in the proceedings. But all evidence will be analysed on appeal."
She further stated that the order of the UK court for the Nigerian government to pay $200 million into the court was to ensure that appealed order is stayed.
P&ID was first awarded $6.9bn in 2014, but the London court added $2.4bn in interest in August, this year.
If the British court judgment stands at the next round of litigation at the UK Appeal Courts, P&ID would go home with an equivalent 20 per cent of Nigeria's declared foreign reserves of $45bn.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on Tuesday, in New York, while addressing the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, told world leaders that the P&ID contract was a scam aimed at cheating the country of billions of dollars.
Before then, a Federal High Court in Abuja last week convicted and subsequently ordered the winding up of P&ID Nigeria Limited, for charges of fraud and tax evasion.
While P&ID Limited incorporated in British Virgin Island was represented in the dock by its Commercial Director, Mohammad Kuchazi, P&ID Nigeria Limited was represented by Adamu Usman, who is also a lawyer.
Among other charges, they were accused of fraudulently claiming to have acquired land from the Cross River State Government in 2010 for the gas supply project agreement which led to the $9.6bn judgment.
Similarly, Justice O. A. Adeniyi of the FCT High Court sitting in Apo, Abuja, had on Wednesday admitted to bail in the sum of N10 million Grace Taiga, former director, Legal Services in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, in the multiple fraud involving P&ID.
Justice Adeniyi on Sept. 21, remanded Taiga in the Nigerian Correctional Service in Suleja, Niger State.
The EFCC alleged that Taiga was a key actor in the fraudulent Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA) between the Federal Government and P&ID.
She was alleged to have used her position to administer undue favours to the company. She was arraigned on eight-count amended charges, bordering on accepting bribes and other related crimes.
Justice Adeniyi ordered the defendant to produce two sureties who must not be below the cadre of director in a federal ministry. Earlier, defence counsel Wole Olanipekun, SAN had prayed the court to admit his client to bail on grounds of health challenges. He informed the court that Taiga is a 62-year-old woman who has various health challenges, ranging from hypertension to diabetes.
Objecting to the bail application made by Olanipekun, prosecution counsel Bala Sanga stated that the ailments bothering Taiga were common in the society and can be adequately managed in the prison.
Sanga also stated that the defence counsel had no concrete evidence or proof to back up his claims.
The accused pleaded not guilty to all the charges.