The $9.6bn judgment: A curious red-herring, By Charles Onunaiju


That Nigeria, its government and supposedly enlightened public opinion are suffused and embroiled in the controversy over a London court judgment debt of a whopping $9.6 billion against Nigeria and in favour of an Irish company is curiously shocking to say the least.

The mood of national panic and even muscular debates about how to wriggle out, not only would embolden the affront to our national sovereignty, but encourage future reckless adventurers to try their hands in similar effrontery. How to respond to the well-orchestrated and syndicated attempt to swindle the country is to forthrightly denounce the snub. The panic that has gripped the federal government was evident when three cabinet ministers and the governor of the central bank addressed a press conference with their tones sounding overly desperate. The finance minister at the conference said that “paying the fine will seriously affect the economy and inflict more pains on our people”, but added “we take consolation in the fact the Nigeria government is making serious effort to get the judgment set aside”.

Even though that the judgment, even taken at face value, completely dissolves Nigeria’s sovereignty as a state entity, yet she added it “would be too tough on all Nigerians”. The strange method of officially glamorizing an irresponsible red-herring of a London court shows how crooked Nigeria’s governing elite are desperate to seize every distraction to foist more hardship on the people. If as the governor of the central bank said at the press conference that “we have gone through our records and there is no trace of any equipment or machine that the company had ever come to establish in Nigeria, despite claiming to have invested over $40 billion” then, why would the judgment of a London court that should ordinarily be treated as an accessory to the fact of monumental financial crime against Nigeria, generate an unnecessary debate and even panic?

The threat of asset seizure is a reckless red-herring and bluff, for which Nigeria should calmly inform that should her assets be compromised in any form or guise within the jurisdiction of any state entity, such state entity should expect and would get a reprisal of equal measure, if not more.

However, a lesson from a very small country, the Republic of Djibouti of less than one million people in East Africa would considerably suffice to end the needless controversy and even panic about losing a whopping $9.6 billion from already a lean national treasury or threats of seizure of Nigeria’s assets abroad. In February 2018, the government of Djibouti terminated the concession of its container terminal which has been given in 2006 to Doraleh Container Terminal management (DCT), a company controlled by DP World, a Dubai-based port management consortium. The Djibouti national port authority, Port de Djibouti holds 66.66% share while the terminal operator, the Dubai-based DP world held the remaining 33.34% share.

In terminating the concession, the Djibouti government cited that the “concession agreement contained severe irregularities and threatened the national interests and sovereignty of Djibouti”. Note that there was no unnecessary blame game of previous government personnel who may have negotiated the concession. The simple fact that the “agreement contained severe irregularities and threatened national interests and sovereignty” is enough to drop ugly deal and what role played by anyone whether in the current government or the past is a matter for the national law to deal with. The fact of the dropping of the ugly deal was of paramount national interest.

And as expected, the Dubai-based PD world headed to the London court of international arbitration, which, as in the case of the Irish company that dragged Nigeria, ruled that “the agreement remain valid and binding,” ordering Djibouti to pay $385 million plus interest for violating the agreement.

But the representative government of the Djibouti people did not panic, nor was scampering to appeal or negotiate but calmly issued a press statement from its presidency. The statement simply read: “Djibouti does not accept this sentence which has ruled that the law of a sovereign state cannot be enforced by that state.”

As a way to strengthen its rejection of the ruling of the London court, the Republic Djibouti invited the Hong Kong-based port operator, China Merchants Holding International as the management partner to her container terminal. In addition to rejecting the ruling of the London court, Djibouti nationalized with immediate effect, all the shares and corporate right held by Port de Djibouti in the Doraleh Container Terminal Company as measure, which the government explained was made to protect the fundamental interest of the nation and ensure that the situation of the DP world-controlled DCT company, which is no longer in charge of container Terminal since the contract termination aligns with reality.

The act of a country of less than 1 million people is neither revolutionary nor even radical, but a responsible patriotic measure to safeguard national interests and sovereignty. And here, is about 200million Nigerians with their government literally fidgeting about the blackmail of a company that did not drop a single equipment on the ground in Nigeria, according to the findings of the central bank governor, while in the case of Djibouti, the agreement was signed, sealed and went fully operational for years, before the government invoked the priority of national interests to revoke it. In Nigeria, the contract agreement was from beginning a compulsive fraud that never went into effect, and yet there are even talks to negotiate or appeal the judgment from serious quarters, including the federal government! However, the real danger of appealing the judgment, negotiating or doing anything to dignify this malfeasance is that in the future, a gang of international prostitutes who may outlandishly claim to have rendered conjugal service to anyone in Nigeria government whether past or present and are dissatisfied with the terms of settlement can easily file a case of breach of contract anywhere in the world, including in Marshal Island or Antigua and win another humongous sum that can trigger national panic, with cabinet ministers exhausting themselves on the national press gallery, just to look busy.

The judgment of the London court was so brazenly disrespectful of Nigeria’s national sovereignty that it completely disregarded part of the contract agreement with the Irish company that states in clause 20 that “the agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the federal Republic of Nigeria” and a further provision that “the parties agree that if any difference or dispute arises between  the parties concerning the interpretation or performance of the agreement and if they fail to resolve such difference or dispute amicably, then a party may serve on the other, a notice of Arbitration  under the rules of the Nigerian Arbitration and conciliation Act.”  So where is the room for redress at the international Arbitration tribunal or a London court that so much fuss is being orchestrated about appealing to vacate its judgment or to enter into negotiation with a company whose criminal intent to defraud Nigeria was manifestly obvious?

If this government is not complicit in a criminal intent to defraud Nigerians in cahoots with the Irish company, the things it should do is fairly simple. First to totally reject the London court judgment in all its entirety and enact a presidential order to the effect that the two Irish promoters of the company are declared fugitive and suspects of a criminal conspiracy to undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty and national interest through massive subversion of her economy and to seek international police warrant to arrest them and bring them to trial in Nigeria. Anything short of these and other measures that could be figured out through investigation is plain capitulation to international crime syndicate.

Recently, an Iranian oil tanker seized last July in the waters of Gibraltar by British Marines was released to Iranians but very quickly, an American court in Washington issued a ruling for the ship’s re-seizure on the ground that it is controlled by the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard blacklisted as a terrorist organization by the U.S. The Iranians dutifully set sail of their ship in total disregard to the Washington’s court ruling, while the British and other Europeans damned the ruling on the basis that they do not accept the Washington’s blacklist of the Iran Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.

Were it to be Nigeria, the talk of hiring the best law firm in the world to appeal and vacate the ruling of the Washington court should have rented the air. A perennially and remorseless corrupt elite, who see opportunity for personal profit in every misfortune of the country including national disaster to security challenges has made us, look like the most spineless people on the face of the earth.

But before the Nigeria governing elite squander the national resources in an unnecessary litigation and negotiation, Nigerians of all strata who earn their living by the sweat of their brows and contribute meaningfully to national growth should through their representative organizations including the NLC, ASUU, Students Union, market Association, Farmers Associations, Professional groups etc. rise to the occasion and forestall the imminent haemorrhage of the national resources, which the elites are plotting, using the smokescreen of  the phantom London court judgment debt, to perpetuate.

§  Onunaiju is of Centre for China Studies, (CCS) Utako, Abuja.

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