The $9.6bn judgment: A curious red-herring

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. 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.

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.

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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