By Sodeeq Atanda
After a protracted arbitration, a United Kingdom court handed down a favourable order today discharging an $11b judgement debt Nigeria would have paid to the Process Industrial Development (P&ID).
The epic litigation came about when the little-known P&ID, an oil and gas engineering firm, claimed that Nigeria in 2010 awarded it a contract to construct and operate a gas processing plant in Cross River State vide Gas Supply and Production Agreement but failed to provide necessary enabling infrastructure.
After the contract collapse, P&ID channeled its grievances through arbitration in 2012, resulting to an award of $6.6 billion against the country on January 21, 2017. This outcome compelled Nigeria to take further steps in appealing the judgement, claiming the contract was obtained through bribery and corruption enabled by government functionaries.
While the appeal was pending in court, the $6.6 billion judgement debt was attracting interest at the rate of $1.2 million per day, now calculated to stand at $11 billion, an amount capable of depleting Nigeria’s foreign reserves.
Who were these functionaries? Rilwanu Lukman, the then Minister of Petroleum; Taofiq Tijani, head of the government contract reviewing committee at the time, and Grace Taiga, the then ministry of petroleum legal retainer. These three top government officials, who were part of the Umar Yar’Adua administration and Goodluck Jonathan’s government, were said to have received large sums of money in bribes to influence the contract.
In 2022, Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, told the Business and Property Courts of England and the Wales Commercial Court that the deal was abetted by Tijani who allegedly received $300,000 from P&ID through a company he had a substantial interest in.
The former minister also informed the court that another $94,000 was delivered largely in cash. Initially, Tijani reportedly denied culpability. He, however, owned up to the crime when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) got involved.
During interrogations, Tijani told the EFCC that he had a meetup with Michael Quinn and Neil Hitchcock of P&ID in April 2009 at a Chinese restaurant and they dropped a bag stacked with $50,000 into the boot of his car.
He allegedly revealed further that the two executives “promised that they will further take care of me better at a later date”. He said he got another $44,000 from Hitchcock to support his children’s weddings.
Tijani received most of these payments through Conserve Oil, a company he owned, and Lurgi Consults, a company registered in Nigeria and controlled by Quinn Adam (Michael Quinn’s son), James Richard Nolan and Zauro Muhammed Umar.
Adam and Nolan oversaw a subsidiary company owned by P&ID in Nigeria. In his revelations to the investigators, Tijani claimed that he had a directive from the now-dead Lukman that he should deliberately look the other way when passing technical comments about the competence of P&ID to handle the project.
Rilwanu Lukman died on July 21, 2014, and former President Goodluck Jonathan described him as “a brilliant engineer, technocrat and administrator who spent almost all his working life serving his country and the global community in various capacities”.
Lukman served as Secretary-General of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from 1995 to 2000. The EFCC found that Lukman brazenly turned laws on its head in awarding the P&ID deal. First, the company was said to be inexperienced in handling such construction. Second, legally required certifications from the National Petroleum Investment Management Services, Bureau of Public Procurement and National Office for Technology and Promotion were not obtained.
Odein Ajumogobia, Lukman’s junior minister, stated that he was bypassed in all the deals and did not know of the process.
Another figure linked to the shady transactions was Grace Taiga. She was part of the contract review committee.
Taiga was accused of accepting $9,969.5 as bribes from the company and its affiliates. During her trial between 2015 and 2019, she pleaded not guilty to the charges against her. The trial is still ongoing.
Malami stated that Taiga was due for retirement in September 2010 but somehow stayed in office for another one year, four months of which was during the pendency of the P&ID contract negotiations.
In today’s judgement, the court noted that both parties could still pursue further arguments if they wished to.