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Patel (centre) with then British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Nigerian vice president Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria ministers Geoffrey Onyeama and Udo Udoma in Nigeria

Priti Patel made some good points about Nigeria, but her credibility is in doubt

21 November 2018

Priti Patel, the former international development secretary in the UK, wrote a piece for City AM, a free financial newspaper in the UK on Monday titled: “If Nigeria wants to take part in global markets, it must shape up and honour its obligations”.

Her main grouse was about a £9bn compensation settlement owed by the Nigerian government to a firm, Process and Industrial Development (P&ID).  Patel wrote: “In 2010, P&ID signed a 20-year contract with the Nigerian government to create a new natural gas development refinery, but the project fell through after the Nigerian government reneged on its contractual commitments. Upon taking office, President Buhari promptly cancelled a compensation settlement, and has done his level best to pretend Nigeria’s obligations to P&ID do not exist.

“Since Buhari reneged on this deal, P&ID has undertaken legal efforts to affirm a tribunal award, first decided in London. It also made several attempts in court to force the Nigerian government to respect its obligations.

“The most recent court decision at a London tribunal confirmed that the Nigerian government owes P&ID almost $9bn for the initial breach of contract, loss of income, additional costs, and interest accrued after five years of non-payment.

“However, the Nigerian government has continued to flout international law and convention, and it refuses to respect the various court decisions.”

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has form in flouting court orders, but Patel, who is now a backbench MP, seems to be concerned about just this particular case.  Why?  Egyptian businessman and one-time owner of Harrods, Mohammed al-Fayed, once claimed that a lobbyist told him that “you can rent an MP like a taxi driver”.  Is Ms Patel available for “rent”?

While still international development secretary in August 2017, Patel went on a trip to Israel, which she described as a “private holiday”.  She held several meetings and visited several organisations discussing official government business and failed to inform either the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office or involve British diplomats in Israel.  Her behaviour was a clear breach of the ministerial code which states that:  “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise”.

A senior UK government source told the Telegraph newspaper that Patel “had a week full of meetings without officials and without contacting the embassy. She saw the Israeli Prime Minister with a donor lobbyist, and failed to declare or admit to the meetings. She commissioned policy work as a result. It is a total breach of the code.”  Patel was forced to resign in November last year after just 16 months in the job.

She now seems to be batting for P&ID and has not disclosed in Parliaments register of financial interests any links with the firm.  However, she went into Parliament from a background in lobbying.  Before becoming an MP in 2010 Patel worked for the PR company Weber Shandwick.  One of their clients was the corrupt and brutal regime of Bahrain.  A few months after becoming an MP, Patel visited Bahrain on a trip with all expenses paid by the Bahraini government.

The Open Democracy website described Patel after she resigned as minister as being “in the centre of the UK’s dark money-funded think tank-lobbying industrial complex”.

Patel visited Nigeria in August last year as international development secretary and there were no reports of her complaining about Buhari’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law.  She instead announced a “new package of humanitarian support”.

She made some good points in the City AM article about Nigeria’s dependence on imported petroleum despite being a major producer of crude oil, selective show trials against Buhari regime opponents, and so on.  But it is clear here that she is lobbying on behalf of a company in dispute with the Nigerian government and she has failed to disclose this, while fronting like a concerned former minister and current MP.  You would think that Patel would have learnt lessons by now from her fall as a minister with regards to failing to declare an interest. But the lobbyist in her and the pound signs always get in the way of her better judgment.

It’s quite instructive that a British MP, paid by UK taxpayers, is deploying her services on behalf of a firm registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands for tax avoidance purposes.   And the firm is using courts in the UK and the US that are funded by taxpayers in both countries to claim compensation for a business deal gone wrong with a corrupt government in Nigeria.  The good people of Witham in Essex must be wondering if this was what they sent Priti Patel to Parliament for.

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