The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to grant a second sanction for the implementation of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Modernisation Project, 38 days before its expiration, was met with controversy.
The E-Customs Project costs $3.1 billion (approximately N142 billion).
Wednesday, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo presided over a meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC. Minister of State for Finance, Budget and National Planning Clem Agba announced that the Council had approved a memo appointing Bergman Security Consultant and Supplies Limited as project sponsor, Africa Finance Corporation as lead financier, and Huawei Technologies as lead technical service provider.
Although two senior advocates (SANs) had written the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning about the need to obey a court order in a suit FHC/ABJ/CS/848/2022 filed by the original concessionaire, Messrs. E-Customs HC Project, Agba said he was unaware of a pending court order on the matter.
According to available records, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, presented memo number EC2020/153 to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the highest decision-making body of the Federal Government, on September 2, 2020, and obtained approval for the two plaintiffs to be granted the concession.
The FEC ratified the Modernization Project with directives to fully automate all NCS business processes and procedures through the development and implementation of a secure ICT platform. This involves the integration of all systems with the current ICT infrastructure, as well as the development and implementation of modern customs border stations, airports, and marine installations.
Ahmed told reporters at the State House at the time that the concession had been granted to E. Customs HC Projects Nigeria Limited for a concessionary period of twenty years. The government is projected to earn approximately $176 billion during the period.
The original concessionaire has raised the alarm over “a plot” to replace the approved concessionaire, Messrs E. Customs HC Project Limited, with an entity allegedly registered on April 5, 2022 with Umar –Ajijola Jummai Zainab as one of the Directors and shareholders.
The alleged circumvention of due process by senior Buhari administration officials may have rendered the E-Customs Project inoperable. As a result of the parties’ recourse to litigation, it has become apparent that Buhari may have been misled into vetoing an approval granted by the FEC, which he presided over in September 2020.
The claim made by Agba contradicts the available evidence. In separate letters sent last week, senior solicitors Ahmed Raji and Dipo Okpeseyi warned the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF); the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) of alleged efforts to obtain the “Federal Executive Council’s approval or ratification of the re-award of the E-Customs Modernisation Project.”
In a follow-up letter to Osinbajo, Ahmed Raji and Co. drew attention to a pending suit on the subject at the Federal High Court, Abuja, and alleged that the Ministry of Finance, at the instigation of the NCS Comptroller General)CG), had perfected plans to present a memo for the Council’s approval of a new concessionaire in flagrant disregard for the rule of law, as reported by Vanguard.