Alfa Belgore, a former chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), provided one of the key legal arguments used by the Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) Limited, an Irish engineering company, in securing the award of $9.6 billion (N3.2 trillion) against Nigeria, a PREMIUMTIMES report says.
A UK tribunal accepted Belgore’s opinion in ruling that the British Virgin Island firm is entitled to $6.6billion in damages, plus interest, the report said.
In 2010, the company entered a 20-year gas and supply processing agreement (GSPA) with the federal government to build a gas processing facility in Calabar.
But the company said after spending years preparing for the project, it collapsed because the Nigerian government did not build a pipeline or secure supply of gas as stipulated in the agreement.
It then sought judicial remedy in 2012, and in 2017, it was awarded $6.6 billion in damages.
The British court gave P&ID the fiat to seize Nigerian assets worth $9 billion, following the non-execution of the ”agreement”.
According to the report, Belgore who acted as a legal consultant to P&ID, analysed Nigeria’s laws, “exploited their shortcomings” and cited case laws for the benefit of the firm.
The report quoted some lawyers as saying the case presented a clear conflict of interest and that Belgore violated the constitution by choosing to offer his services to P&ID.
Section 5 of the fifth schedule of the 1999 constitution prohibits former presidents, vice presidents, chief justices of Nigeria, governors and deputy governors from working for foreign companies or enterprises.
The report said Belgore, in the written legal advice offered to P&ID, admitted that he was working for a foreign company.
It said the former CJN explained he was providing the legal opinion for the benefit of Harcus Sinclair LLP, P&ID’s solicitors, which provided him with the preliminary objections, the memorandum of understanding between P&ID and the government, and a copy of the gas supply and processing agreement between the company and the Nigerian government.
The retired jurist also said he considered several legal texts, statutes and case reports as well as evidence to prepare the report which he admitted will be used in arbitration against Nigeria.
“I have been instructed on behalf of Process and Industrial Developments Limited (“P&ID”), a company incorporated in the territory of the Virgins Island (“BVI”), to prepare a statement addressed to the Arbitral tribunal in answer to the questions put to me by P&ID in connection with this arbitration,” Belgore was quoted to have written.
“This report has been prepared solely for the use of this arbitration. I understand that the report will be made available to the arbitral tribunal, the ministry of petroleum resources of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and their respective legal advisers and other witnesses or experts.”
“I have no conflict of interest in accepting this instruction. Although I have acted and still act as an adviser to the Government of the Federal Government of Nigeria on several issues I have neither advised nor do I have relevant confidential information relating to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I understand my duty to the Court and have complied and will continue to comply with my duty to the English Courts, the duties of an expert witness as set out in Part 35 and Practice Direction 35 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
“My experience and expertise is appropriate for the evidence required in this matter.”
The report said the former CJN was asked two questions after affirming that he was competent to give the legal advice and also stand as an expert witness.
According to the report, the questions were: “Whether or not the ministry lacked legal and/or contractual capacity to validly enter into the GSPA as alleged, and whether or not the GSPA is void as a result.
“Whether or not the claimant failed to comply with the provision of section 54 of the Companies and Allied Matter Act, Cap C20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 (“CAMA”), as alleged and if so whether the GSPA is void and /or affected by illegality, as a result.”
In his response to the first question, Belgore said: “In my opinion, the ministry entered into the GSPA as an organ of government. As such the GSPA is binding on the government and the ministry is correctly named as a defendant in its capacity as an organ of government.”
On the second question, he replied: “In my opinion there was no breach of section 54 of the companies and allied matters act because: (i) a separate Nigeria corporation was set up on 21 July 2006, in compliance with section 54; (ii) in an event, P&ID was not “carrying on business” by entering into the GSPA; and (iii) even of the execution of the GSPA had constituted “carrying on business” within the meaning of section 54, the ministry has waived its right to rely upon section 54 and/or is estopped from so relying.”
Lai Mohammed, minister of information, described the agreement as dubious, saying the federal government is confident that it will be upturned.
Also, Abubakar Malami, attorney general of the federation, said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would prosecute all past government officials involved in the deal.