By Shaka Momodu
Finally, the fog surrounding the fraudulent motivation behind the failed Gas Supply Processing Agreement (GSPA) between Nigeria and Process & Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) is being cleared gradually by a United Kingdom Commercial Court, which has established a prima facie case of fraud against P&ID. The Nigerian conspirators are being exposed and men who had long presented themselves as the epitome of civility and patriotism have been outed in court records in a foreign land and pronounced dishonest. They have become the shame of our country and the legal profession that for far too long has rewarded rent and cant with the nobility of its silk.
Now, Mr Olasupo Shasore, SAN, does not need much introduction. He is no ordinary SAN, he is a former Attorney General of Lagos State, under former Governor Babatunde Fashola’s government, and would have succeeded Fashola as governor but for the strongman of Lagos politics who brought Fashola’s plan to a screeching halt. At first sight, Shasore is a likable person, urbane with a commanding presence. His voice resonates and distinguishes him from the pack; his diction and articulation are marvelous and brilliant.
Hitherto, he had busied himself trying to reenact and recalibrate our country’s history through new lenses. His documentary, “The Journey of an African Colony: The Making of Nigeria,” is a documentary modelled after his books, “A Platter of Gold: Making Nigeria” and “Possessed: A History of Law & Justice in the Crown Colony of Lagos.” A historical tour of duty and a thankless effort you would call it. I had been impressed by his post-office engagements. I had started to develop a liking for him after watching that documentary on Nigeria and listening to his interviews. I like this guy, I repeatedly told myself. Well, who wouldn’t anyway? The boy was good until that UK court judgment.
You can therefore understand my horror a fortnight ago when news filtered in that Shasore, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, had been found wanting in character and conduct by a London Commercial Court. I cringed when I read details of the judgment on Nigeria’s complaint against an arbitral award of $10 billion to Process & Industrial Development Limited (P&ID) for a failed gas deal. Shasore was at the early stages of the arbitration defending Nigeria, and was at the same time, working against his client and country. As the London Court has established and documented in court records, he defended his country “thinly”. Can anyone beat that? From what I know, lawyers are very particular about their choice of words and weigh carefully the weight and meaning of words thrown at them. So I am sure Shasore doesn’t think for a moment that we missed the weight of what just happened to his reputation and professional integrity as documented in court records in faraway London.
Here is a summary of the court findings from the judgment: Mr. Shasore was a partner in the firm of Ajumogobia, Okeke and Co. There is evidence given by the firm that Shasore handled this case secretly without involving his law firm. He rather ran the case through another law firm Twenty Marina Solicitors and was paid a $2 million fee. However, in a statement after the judgment, Shasore denied this claim and said his partners were in the know.
• He failed to file Nigeria’s defence by September 19, 2014 as was ordered by the Tribunal.
• He rather wrote to A-G Mohammed Bello Adoke, “There appears to be a lack of exonerating facts or documentary evidence with which to defend the claim.” Contrast this position with Mr. Howard, Nigeria’s new counsel’s submission in paragraph 212 of the judgment.
• Legal Adviser to the ministry wrote a memo recommending an out-of-court settlement on 11/11/14 and received $100,000 on 18/11/14. There was an equivalent payment to Mr. Oguine, the NNPC legal adviser. Both payments from Mr. Shasore. The three of them thereafter travelled to London in Dec 2014 for settlement negotiation.
• On 20/12/14, Ms Adelore wrote a memo to the P.S of the Ministry where she raised fears that the arbitration might award P&ID its claim of $5.9 billion and Nigeria should offer something lower which P&ID might accept.
• It is not surprising, considering the above and several other instances, the judge held that Shasore deliberately defended the case “thinly” such that the Tribunal had no choice but find and award in favour of P&ID. In effect, the court held that Shasore had colluded with P&ID with the inevitable result that Nigeria would lose the case.
• Paragraphs 211-214 of the judgment (all of which were upheld by the judge) were the most damaging excoriation of Shasore by Mr. Howard.
• In paragraph 221, the judge found Shasore dishonest and that he made payments to Ms. Adelore, Mr. Oguine and Ms. Taiga to purchase their silence in relation to his conduct of arbitration and settlement negotiation. He concluded on this basis that the arbitration was tainted.
The judge found that a prima facie case of fraud had been established and stated as follows: “However, what persuade me of a prima facie case of dishonesty in Mr. Shasore’s conduct of the arbitration are his payments of US$100,000 each to Ms. Adelore and Mr. Oguine. Ms Adelore occupied Ms Taiga’s position at the Ministry as the senior lawyer, and Mr. Oguine was her counterpart at the NNPC. Their salaries as public servants, according to the Attorney General, Mr. Abubakar Malami, were some US$5,000 per annum.
“Mr. Mill submitted that these payments had nothing to do with P&ID. Moreover, Mr. Shasore had volunteered the information about them to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and described them as gifts. The argument that Mr. Shasore volunteered the payments goes nowhere, since once the EFCC had information from the bank accounts; it was difficult to deny them. As to Mr Shasore’s account that these were gifts, that does not seem to me a complete and honest explanation for why he should make these payments to these senior public servants.”
In paragraphs 196 to 198 of the judgment, the Judge agreed with Nigeria’s argument that the contract was corrupt ab initio: “In my view, there is a strong prima facie case that the GSPA was procured by bribery. It is sufficient to focus on the two senior officials whose positions ensured its safe passage by giving the requisite approvals. First, there is Ms Taiga, who was the senior legal adviser to the ministry at the time of the GSPA and recommended its execution. In their second statements, both Ms Taiga and Mr Cahill accept that payments were made to her by P&ID, but their account is that they were intended for Ms Taiga’s medical expenses. There is no supporting evidence for this, such as contemporaneous communications between P&ID and Ms Taiga referring to her medical needs.
“In any event, whether these payments were for medical or other expenses, as the Attorney General explains in his seventh statement, benefits received by public officials from individuals holding or seeking to obtain a contract are assumed to be bribes under the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 and the Nigerian Constitution. Further, as he explains in his sixth statement, Ms Taiga’s annual salary was US$5,000. The total amount paid to Ms Taiga from 2009 was many times that amount.
“There is also the point Mr Howard highlighted, that Ms Taiga and Mr Cahill did not mention any payments to her before 2015, after her retirement. Earlier this year, following the applications in New York under 28 USC § 1782(a), the payments to Ms Taiga’s daughter of US$4,969.50 and US$5,000 on 30 December 2009 and 31 January 2012 respectively, were identified. The first payment is especially significant, since it was 11 days before the GSPA was signed.” From the contract award to arbitration over a breach of the agreement, everything was tainted.
Now, if we interrogate the timelines as we must do, the true purpose of the gifts and Adelore’s memo to the Permanent Secretary advising for a negotiated payment to P&ID becomes very interesting. After receiving a $100,000 gift from Shasore, Adelore drafted a memo expressing fears that if Nigeria did not make an offer to P&ID lower than their demand at the arbitration, they were going to be awarded the total sums at the arbitration. She advised speedy settlement. From the sequence of events, they were all in on the deal to defraud Nigeria. Senior lawyers in silk robes, government officials, were all in collusion with an international syndicate of fraudsters to defraud our fatherland.
As the Judge noted, the court is not sold on Shasore’s explanation. And I agree because it makes no sense. Shasore’s explanation would have been laughable if it weren’t so deadly serious and goes to the heart of corrupting the entire arbitral process and award. The attempt by Shasore to mislead the London Court as to the true purposes of the huge monetary payments, or “gifts”, as he claimed, paid to government officials became the corruptive predicate that established a prima facie case that the entire arbitral process was tainted. The defence that the payments or “gifts” may have just been coincidence of occurrence is not just implausible; it proved unavailing to Sharore in the circumstance, considering the probative weight of evidence established by the court against him.
He was one of those with dual loyalty, purportedly working for Nigeria and at the same time working against Nigeria’s interest. It’s a cruel revelation that makes me nauseous that someone of such high public standing has been caught in an epic misconduct by a court of law and referred to in such unflattering terms. Someone many, including me, I dare say, had begun to see as an inspiring figure.
You see, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion reached by the court about Shasore’s conduct. Indeed, his conduct is questionable and requires criminal investigation and prosecution. But as a first step, the judgment of the London Court should be referred to the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee, LPDC, of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to commence the process to debar him. In consonance, the Legal Practitioners’ and Privileges Committee, LPPC, should also withdraw Shasore’s SANship or suspend it immediately. Going by court records, he is unfit to wear the exalted robes as a senior lawyer and mark of professional achievement.
The scripture says the love of money is the root of all evil. After being paid $2 million of taxpayers’ money by the government to defend its interest in the arbitration, Shasore betrayed his fatherland to “collude with P&ID” to undermine Nigeria and work against its interest. He defended Nigeria “thinly” without rigour and vigour or transparency, and the evidentiary basis needed to win.
It is curious that after his scathing indictment by the English Court, all he did was to issue a general statement on the outcome, claiming some sort of vindication for Nigeria’s win. He was however silent on the payments he made to public officials and what those payments were for. He was also silent on key pronouncements of the court that rip apart his professional integrity with the potential of him facing charges.
Here is a senior lawyer accused of professional misconduct, unethical behaviour by colluding with P&ID against his country, and pronounced dishonest by a sitting Judge.
If Shasore’s conduct, as identified by the court, does not amount to a serious and severe breach of professional ethics or malpractice warranting punishment by his professional body, I wonder what else does. And all he could do was to issue a banal statement that failed to address his weighty denouncement by the court?
Accusation of colluding with P&ID should have drawn a forceful rebuttal from Shasore if he wasn’t so guilty. Why was he silent on such potential career-ending accusations levelled against him in a court judgment? Or do words not carry meaning anymore? And why did he give those public servants such huge financial “gifts” and at whose behest? No one knows him to be that generous as to wake up one morning and just give people cash handouts. Shasore’s gifts came with intent to corrupt, as established by the court and he can’t run away from that.
That he was paid by Nigeria to defend Nigeria and was surreptitiously also working for P&ID for whatever pecuniary benefits derived or to be derived, in a case where the stakes were so high, with grave implications for the country smacks of the ultimate betrayal.
I cannot think of a conduct more forbidden than what Shasore has been accused of in that judgment. There is no hope left that a good man still exists in this country. Clearly, our nightmare will not end in a miracle of a good man rising. For those who don’t know, the P&ID case threatened the future of many unborn children.
When you are blinded by greed, how much does it take to see the light? To do this and still claim patriotism, then that person must have a very warped sense of what patriotism means.
It took some diligent, astute London lawyers and a judge with a discerning mind to dismantle the pyramid of lies and elaborate ponzi scheme to fleece our country. I am staggered by the precipitous impudence of the actors. Thankfully, their hopes of a merry payday have fallen like a pack of cards.
Collusions between “criminal” minded lawyers prosecuting cases and defence attorneys to frustrate convictions, particularly in cases involving politicians, high-profile individuals, illicit drug cases, money laundering, deliberate obstruction of justice, etc., are quite rampant here. Lawyers aiding and abetting forgery and even procuring death certificates for drug suspects which are presented in courts to defeat or abruptly bring an end to the trial of their clients, are equally widespread.
It will frighten you the extent these people go to frustrate the trial of their clients. The temple of justice is a marketplace where black market injunctions are traded by a syndicate of lawyers, judges, court clerks, bailiffs, the police or even governments at all levels. It’s a bizarre quest to frustrate the ends of justice. If that case was heard here, the judge would have been promised a share of the money to pass judgment against Nigeria!
I have often told my friends each time we ruminate about our country that the main problem with Nigeria lies with the people who populate this geographical space. It is the people who structured the country into this dysfunctional unworkable giant contraption, full of potential, short on progress.
Shaka Momodu writes from Lagos