Expecting Abubakar Malami,the Attorney-General of the federation to satisfactorily defend the Buhari administration’s handling of the Process and Industrial Development Limited situation is no different from giving him a chance to explain how Section 174 of the constitution allows him to disobey court orders-he won’t make any sense.
President Buhari was sworn into office on May 29th 2015 and precisely 3 weeks 5 days earlier on May 3rd, PI&D had offered to drop its right to challenge the breach on the part of the Nigerian government of a contract to supply gas for a settlement sum of $850M. Jonathan then indicated to the company that he was going to hand over negotiations to the incoming Buhari administration and even if Buhari would deny ever being made aware,the arbitration tribunal’s liability award just 2 months later in July wouldn’t have escaped the notice of a proactive and responsive President. Buhari sat back and did absolutely nothing.
It is sad that we have sunk so low that ‘Buhari had no Attorney-General for 5 months’ is what some expect to us to accept as a plausible explanation. Why didn’t Buhari in that period, order the Solicitor-General of the federation to monitor the situation and advise him? Buhari could as a matter of fact have done what he ought to after assuming office any time after the tribunal passed its judgment-write personally to the company and plead for more time within which to have a sit-down. But he didn’t.
Malami was appointed Attorney-General in November 11th 2015 and opted to continue with the lawyer engaged by the Jonathan administration to prosecute the matter, Olasupo Shashore SAN. Shashore only filed an application to set aside the award at Federal high court of Nigeria only 2 weeks after it was refused in the UK on the basis that the time to contend the award had lapsed by 4 months. The records show the tribunal as affirming the UK as the seat of arbitration in line with its rules within this period and as such no Nigerian court has jurisdiction over its decisions. This was on May 27th 2016.If we count 4 months from May 2016, it stops at February in that same year. Malami had a whole 6 months counting from his appointment date of 11th November 2015 to facilitate the filing of an appeal against the award (different from an actual hearing for damages payable) which he failed to do. He even retained a lawyer ‘smart’ enough to think he could frustrate an arbitration tribunal in the UK with a Nigerian court.
P&ID are not lying. Buhari and his Attorney-General are the reasons why we are paying $9bn as a judgment sum instead of $850M or even less. $850M is less than 10% of $9bn. As the company itself has said, Malami could have still negotiated an award of $850M or even less i add, when he took office instead of pushing all the way to a quantum hearing (to ascertain the amount of damages payable). He has gambled away 20% of our foreign reserves and 40% of the 2019 budget. Experts are saying off-setting the debt would lead to a dollar crisis that may lead to a dollar being sold for as high as N500.
It has become quite typical of Buhari and his proxies to always forget they are here because Nigerians wanted better. If they were satisfied with how the country was being run under President Jonathan they wouldn’t have voted him out. Malami’s press statement instead of explaining the reason for government’s costly inaction and matching the P&ID’s version with dates and steps taken, basically had as its focal point a reiteration of the fact that the highly dubious contract and subsequent breach was under the Jonathan administration. Don’t let the metaphoric irony skip past-Nigeria’s problems have multiplied from $850M to $9bn.
It is sad how President Buhari has handled this matter so far. Instead of fashioning a reasonable way out of this mess, government has chosen to get confrontational and that would lead it no where. Malami’s claim in an interview on CNBC Africa of the Jonathan administration doing nothing for 3 years while neglecting to point out how their incompetence led to us losing this much prompted P&ID to release its diary of what transpired.
Now paid protesters have been told to lay siege at the UK and Irish embassies for the next 7 days till the $9.6bn judgment is reversed. The danger in getting overly adversarial is that P&ID will gradually be dragged into a position where if it negotiates, it could come off as being subdued. These companies have entire PR departments writing reports on how decisions affect their public image and reputation.
The President we deserve or at least one smart enough to surround himself with living brains, would understand his priority at this juncture would be hopping on a plane to the UK to try and talk the Prime Minister into prevailing on his Irish counter-part to lean on P&ID to accept a settlement well within our means and not paying people to protest against both countries. Dialogue is the key and not war. These are not people he can arrest and dump in a DSS cell.
The British are our colonial masters and would as a matter of courtesy, pretend to care at the very least. If they can woo the Irish government to our side, P&ID can either be cajoled or threatened into making a deal.
Whoever said we would be lucky to still have a country left by the time Buhari was done wasn’t exaggerating.
Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano