Nigeria: Ahead of Buhari's Visit - Aggrieved Amnesty Contractor May Head to Court in Russia

21 October 2019

Another litigation looming against the Nigerian government over a case of debt and breach of contract against the Presidential Amnesty Program. The situation is true, a problem, that may likely turn into a huge embarrassment to Nigerian Embassy Moscow and, of course, the Federal Government of Nigeria.

This development is more worrisome as African leaders including Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari will be expected to gather for the forthcoming Russian-Africa Economic Summit which is scheduled to hold from the 23rd to 24th October in Sochi, Russia.

The problem started in 2011 when the Niger Delta Amnesty students were facing deportation and the problem was fast turning into a huge embarrassment for the Nigerian Embassy and the Federal Government of Nigeria, the authorities pleaded with one Mr Mauris Okoli, Director General of Emman Logistics Limited.

It was the intervention of Mr Okoli that saved a situation that would have led to violence and deportation of Nigerian students. He was appointed the coordinator of Niger Delta students in Russia back then. These students were sent to study in Patrice Lumumba People's Friendship University in Moscow and the South-Western University of Kursk. The total debt is said to be about two hundred and seventeen million nairas.

In a recent letter dated 10th of October 2019, a Russian law firm was known as Iniurcollegia, wrote on his behalf to suggest that issue of compensation to him to prevent litigation. A copy of the letter was sent to our reporter by mail. According to several sources among notable Nigerians in Russia, Mr Okolo might have mobilised the support of the African community in Russia to stage a massive protest in front of the embassy during President Buhari's scheduled visit.

The controversy started when in 2011, the Niger Delta Amnesty programme sent 95 Nigerian students to Russia on various academic courses, before the end of the first-year preparatory course, 45 of them deported to Nigeria. The key reason was due to an approach fraught with deep-seated corruption connected with the delay in payment or outright non-payment of all the necessary fees including tuition to the Russian universities. Resultantly, the remaining 50 were served with deportation letters for failure to non-compliance of terms of agreement with the universities on the side of the Amnesty office in Abuja.

On 12 September 2011, the remaining Amnesty students who got their deportation letters violently attacked the Nigerian Embassy Moscow damaging property including cars and furniture and inflicting injuries to a member of staff at the Embassy. The Amnesty students occupied the Embassy for several hours, protested and demanded the payment of all necessary fees including their hostel and monthly stipends.

To pacify the rampaging students, the Nigerian Embassy through His Excellency, Maj. Gen. Mai Shelpidi, pleaded with Mr Okolo for financial assistance to enable, at least, pay the Amnesty students' monthly allowances. The contractor obliged and made available the sum of US$60,000 to the Embassy of Nigeria for the payment of monthly allowances that, in fact, calmed down the protesting students and made them go back to their hostel. Those who are familiar with the story are very shocked that someone who used his personal funds to salvage the amnesty program in Russia has been owed to date.

All the authoritative letters were written by four previous Nigerian Ambassadors, the letters written by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and including the order by the Senate have not been respected. The deafening silence from the government despite the intervention of the National Assembly might have contributed to the reasons why the businessman decided to go to court.

Unless this is quickly resolved, such litigation could lead to consequences that could tarnish the image of the country as one that does not honour their contractual obligations. This development can negatively affect the perception of the investment climate in the country. President Buhari is expected to hold talks with Russian President Putin during the visit. Several calls that were placed on the phones of the Coordinator of Presidential Amnesty Program, Prof. Charles Dokubo was not answered neither did he respond to text messages from our reporter.

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