‘Foreigners exploiting weakness in Nigeria’s administrative process’
Mr. Dapo Akinosun, a lawyer and Managing Partner at SimmonsCooper Partners, speaks in this interview on the controversial $9.6 billion judgment procured by a foreign firm – Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) – against the Federal Government, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and demands to restructure the country among others. SEYE OLUMIDE reports
How do you see the controversy surrounding the $9.6 billion judgment that a foreign firm secured against the Federal Government in a British court?
This shows that while there could be corruption in Nigeria, we have a lot of foreigners who seek to explore the weakness in our administrative processes. I have always felt that corruption or 419 (fraud) did not begin in Nigeria. Foreigners perfected the act and what you see is the re-export of it, because how do you explain somebody who has confirmed that he never did his own part of the contract? Even assuming for argument sake the contract was true, he was supposed to build a gas pipeline, he never did it and he never said they did it, but then you go ahead and sue and demand damages for what you have not done on your own part. Where in the world is that done? It is collusion between the white guys who are trying to take advantage of us. Also, it is there own court system that is being used to take advantage of our own processes. But in all honestly, from what we can all see and what we have heard, the entire contract itself was a sham from inception.
If you read the documents very well, the first thing you will see is that they were contracting for a capacity of gas that was not available. They said they were going to take flared gas. How much is the flared gas that is available and they wanted 1.5 million a day, which is not available in Nigeria. They said they want wet gas; they were speaking with Addax. The contract was private; it was between themself, Addax and Mobil which were supposed to supply them gas that they were flaring. Mobil, at that time, had its own gas processing plant. So, there was no way Mobil will ever give them the capacity of the wet gas that they wanted. They wanted unprocessed gas and wet gas so that they can process it. But Mobil was already processing its gas and Addax said we could not give you that quantity of gas; it is not possible.
It is so unfortunate that the country was in transition at the time, and they took advantage of that as well. When they were going for arbitration, they knew that ministers had not been appointed. This thing started under the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua. They were silent for sometime and came up again during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. When they saw that the country wants to settle they will keep quiet and show up again when there is a gap in the administration. Yes, government is one, but as we all know, there was a time ministers had not been appointed and elections were also going on and the country was distracted by those things, and they saw that and took advantage of it. I think it is a fraudulent thing.
What is your assessment of this administration since May 2019?
I think the Federal Government has started on a faster note than the first term. Now the cabinet is in place and things are beginning to take shape. The economy has not gotten to the point where Nigerians expect, but there are also a lot of things going on that can make it better. But as Nigerians, we are very impatient; we want everything to happen in one day. Rebuilding is always much more difficult and even more painful than when you are pulling down.
I did a study once and I looked at all the money we are talking about. Federal Government’s problem is that there is not enough money to carry out all the projects it desires, which the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) boss and the Minister of Finance have alluded to many times that the intake we have in Nigeria today is too small for all the amount of money we need to run. We have 200 million population, but our budget, if converted into dollars, is slightly over $2billion. If you look at Brazil, which is a country of about 210 million people, the budget of Brazil is about $20 billion.
So, when you look at what you want to achieve in a country of 200 million people vis-à-vis what Brazil of 210 million people seek to achieve in the same time frame, you will find that the first problem we have is that all the money that comes into government’s coffers to spend for is small compared to what it needs. Brazil has more infrastructure in place than Nigeria.
Can you justify your argument that Nigeria doesn’t have or cannot generate enough money to achieve all she needs to do despite all the monies recovered from corruption proceeds?
When a government says it recovered money, such money cannot just be spent like that. You have to recover it and bring it back into budget for the next cycle it can be spent. It has to be appropriated, otherwise if they just take it and spend, they will also be irresponsible and reckless. And any other person will believe that any money that is recovered can be spent anyhow. So, even if you recover the money, you are not free to spend it immediately. You must first of all put it in a budget and state what it is meant to be used for. So, recovered money is not money government can spend immediately. There has to be a process otherwise it would also be stolen again. There is also a process for recovering money. Even if I seize your asset, it doesn’t become what I can spend until all the legal burdens are cleared. So, until all those issues are clearly resolved, the government cannot start spending the money. Sometime as you know litigation can take one year and it can last for 10 years but until all legal hurdles are cleared, they cannot start spending it without budgeting for it.
On the issue of how much government is getting and spending on projects, it is clear to all of us that government is not getting enough money to finance many projects. Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been bad for several years. Government has budgeted for it over and over but there were no funds released because the money the government had was not enough. It is one thing for government to budget and say this year I want to spend N2 trillion but until government gets N2 trillion, it cannot give all the money out. Of the money government gets today, over 30 per cent of it is used to pay salaries; just salaries of staff and not infrastructure. As we all know, this government has not sacked anybody since it came to power. Governments in the past were known to retrench and sack people and those people who were sacked did not get their compensation until this administration came.
In that case should Nigeria not go back to what we have in the First Republic and let all regions manage their resources and contribute little to the centre as the proponents of restructuring are saying?
Unfortunately, I was not around during the First Republic and the question I will ask is, if it works then, why did we break it up? If it were working then, it should have been improved upon. There is strength in unity and number. When you are together, that is when you have a big market and we can say we are 200 million people. However, we can break more things into more state and regional control. There have been clamour for state policing; I agree with those kinds of things, that each region or state should have its own police.
Of course, there is danger of abuse of it that people are afraid of; that governors might abuse it. The most critical things are, how can it be sustained? And what we should be looking at in terms of state control is what each state should generate. Many of the states today don’t generate enough money to even pay their own salaries and Federal Government has to intervene to pay salaries of civil servants in those states. So, if you now make those states or regions and you say no more money from the centre, how would they survive? Don’t forget that the states have already being created. Should we now say the state should be dissolved and merged together? What we should be looking forward to is a situation where each state is able to generate enough resources to run.