After one of the most long drawn out sagas in recent Nigerian history, The Honourable Mr Justice Robin Knowles CBE ruled in favour of Nigeria in the matter between The Federal Republic of Nigeria and Process & Industrial Developments Limited (better known as P&ID) and Nigeria was spared having to pay out $11 billion in damages at the worst possible time in its history.
Had the ruling been found in favour of P&ID, the scale of damage (to say nothing of the embarrassment) that Nigeria would have been exposed to are better imagined than experienced. In the end, the matter came down to a judge who seemed to have a visceral dislike of the idea of letting ordinary Nigerians suffer for the crimes of a few corrupt people. He went so far as to say he would do his own part by sending a copy of his judgement to the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board in the UK to make sure that the lawyers who acted for P&ID – and were motivated by the sheer sums of money they were going to make and nothing else – were punished:
592. This case has also, sadly, brought together a combination of examples of what some individuals will do for money. Driven by greed and prepared to use corruption; giving no thought to what their enrichment would mean in terms of harm for others. Others that in the present case include the people of Nigeria, already let down in so many ways over the history of this matter by a number of individuals in politics and administration whose duty it was to serve them and protect them.
593. I will be referring a copy of this judgment to the Bar Standards Board in the case of Mr Trevor Burke KC and to both the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board in the case of Mr Seamus Andrew. I trust that these two regulators of the legal profession in England & Wales will consider the professional consequences of the conduct of Mr Burke KC and Mr Andrew in relation to Nigeria’s Internal Legal Documents. As a separate matter, although there was argument before me about the acceptability of the remuneration arrangements for Mr Burke KC, that would be a satellite point for the issues I have the responsibility to decide and is best left for the regulator for whom it will be a central point.
Everyone was waiting with bated breath for the ruling and I don’t think that a judgement in favour of P&ID would have been a completely unexpected outcome. In that sense, I think Nigeria had some good fortune that the case came in front of a Judge who cut through the legalese of the matter and went into the substance of the origins of the contract and how the award came to be (I know that some people who acted against Nigeria’s interests got off lightly because of the approach the Judge took).
And this brings me to the main point of this piece. Here is the section of the ruling where the Judge discussed – to quote Patrick Obahiagbon – the fons et origo of the contract:
493. There remain three things that bring the case within section 68(2)(g), in my judgment, as an “irregularity” (to use the language of the section). Each amounted to fraud by which the Awards were obtained, and by reason of them the Awards or the way in which the Awards were procured was contrary to public policy.
Nigeria may not always be saved from itself
494. The first is P&ID’s providing to the Tribunal and relying on evidence before the Tribunal that was material but was evidence that P&ID knew to be false. Specifically, this was the evidence of Mr Michael Quinn in his witness statement of 14 February 2014 that he was “explain[ing] how the GSPA came about” when he did not do that because he did not mention that Mrs Grace Taiga had been paid a US$5,000 bribe at the end of December 2009 and a £5,000 bribe on 29 March 2010: see -177], - and  above).
495. The second is P&ID’s continued bribery or corrupt payment of Mrs Grace Taiga directed to the arbitration period in order to suppress from the Tribunal and Nigeria the fact that she had been bribed when the GSPA came about. This continued bribery or corrupt payment is fairly described by Nigeria as bribery “to keep her ‘on-side’, and to buy her silence about the earlier bribery”. Specifically, these were bribes or corrupt payments on 14 July, 14 August and 30 September 2015 totalling NGN 220,000 (then equivalent to US$900), a bribe or corrupt payment on 14 September 2015 of US$1,000 and a bribe or corrupt payment on 14 June 2016 of US$3,000 (sent to Vera Taiga): see - above.
Look at the amounts involved – $5,000, £5,000, N220,000, $3,000. These are amounts that you would normally associate with BAU corruption or what I call ‘normal cruise’. These were people just collecting bribes at the moment and not caring about the consequences of their actions. Remember Pausas? And yet, about 14 years after Mrs Grace Taiga collected her $5,000, Nigeria came within inches of paying $11 billion in damages, an amount, as the Judge said, equal to the country’s one year budget. It is safe to say Mrs. Taiga did not in her wildest dreams think this would ever become a billion dollar matter in December 2009 and she must have forgotten what she spent the money on long ago. Yet here we are (important to say that I am not just picking on her: several people took bribes including ministers and many others we will never know) – the matter grew and grew and grew and at one point a couple of Hunter Biden’s business partners were in line to make hundreds of millions of dollars from the award with a British MP also lobbied to fight their case for them.
The best lesson to take from this case is that Nigeria will not always be saved from itself by a judge in a foreign country. Another judge may well have decided to rule against Nigeria to ‘teach the country a lesson’ or some other justification. This was an incredibly close call. Sometimes it feels as if Nigeria is hellbent on killing itself and only divine intervention can save the country.
I always remember a former Nigerian minister once telling me that every time a civil servant was charged with corruption, she would go check the person’s file and without fail, she would find it was not the person’s first offence and they always began with taking bribes or stealing a very tiny amount of money. In other words, the best way to stop someone from taking a $5,000 bribe that may spiral into billions of dollars is to deal decisively with them when they take their first bribe of $100.
A word is enough for a wise country.