At Last, FEC Approves N142bn e-Customs Project

Col Hameed Ali, Customs Comptroller General

The Federal Government, on Wednesday, in Abuja, approved an e-Customs modernisation project worth at least N142.24bn amid reports of an existing court order restraining it from proceeding with the project.

The Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba disclosed this to State House correspondents shortly after this week’s Federal Executive Council meeting, presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

A key feature of the e-Customs Project includes an integrated and robust infrastructure for Customs Supervision, which will ensure the stability and efficiency of Customs operations at its Headquarters and Branches. The infrastructure includes Cloud Data Centre, All Connected Customs Network, Video Surveillance System, among others

The concessionaire includes Bergman Securities Consultant and Suppliers Limited as the project sponsor, Africa Finance Corporation UFC as the lead financier and Huawei Technologies as the lead technical service provider.

Agba said the concessionaire had furnished the government with $9m (N4.14bn) security from the satisfactory performance of the project plus a debt facility timesheet in the sum of $300m (N138bn) to finance the first phase of the project.

He also revealed that the concessionaire will take 45 per cent of all that accrues to the comprehensive input service scheme while 55 per cent goes to the FG.

The concessionaire will also keep 25 per cent of what accrues to the Nigerian export supervision scheme, while 75 per cent will go to the FG.

The concessionaire will also keep 25 per cent of what accrues to the Nigerian export supervision scheme, while 75 per cent will go to the FG.

Recall that two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, had asked the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to obey a court order in respect of a dispute on the multi-million Naira e-Customs Modernisation project.

The senior lawyers, Messrs Ahmed Raji and Dipo Okpeseyi have in separate letters warned the AGF; the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and Secretary to the Government of the Federation of “underhand efforts being made to obtain FEC approval and or ratification of the re-award of the e-Customs Modernisation Project.”

Specifically, the lawyers are asking the Federal Executive Council to suspend, discontinue or discountenance any request to initiate deliberations or a fresh request for approval for the award of the said contract to any other bidder aside the original approval granted by FEC to Messrs E- Customs Project Limited.

“It is in spite of all these that the Nigeria Customs Service is pushing to have the FEC grant another approval with the sole purpose to embarrass, over reach and undermine the earlier approval and ratification by the FEC and prejudice the matter pending in court,” said Mr Okpeseyi in his letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation dated April 11, 2023.

The Federal High Court in Abuja had in June, 2022, restrained the Federal Government from enforcing or giving effect to an agreement on the Customs Modernisation Project otherwise known as E- Customs allegedly executed by its agents on May 30, 2022.

On 20 February, 2023, the court had admonished all parties in the matter to preserve the res of any matter before court and do nothing to interfere with the proceedings.

The agents who allegedly executed the disputed concession agreement are the Nigeria Customs Service, Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Nigeria Limited and African Finance Corporation.

The court also issued an order of interim injunction against the Federal Government or its agents, acting through the Federal Executive Council, from retrospectively ratifying the decision to concession the Customs Modernisation Project also known as e- customs project to Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Limited and African Finance Corporation.

The restraining order issued by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Division of the court shall last till the hearing and the determination of a suit brought against the Federal Government and other parties by two aggrieved companies.

Hearing in the case resumed on April 19 but the plaintiffs have raised an alarm that the Minister of Finance and the AGF are going ahead to present a new memo to FEC on the matter despite a restraining court order.

The two aggrieved companies, E-customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited jointly challenged the alleged unlawful and fraudulent concession of the E-custom project to the defendants.

Counsel to the two aggrieved companies, Anone Usman had on behalf of the two plaintiffs argued an ex-parte application, praying the Federal High Court for the interim orders against the defendants to protect the interest of his clients.

Justice Ekwo while ruling on the ex-parte application granted the prayers of the plaintiff having placed sufficient evidence of interest in the concession project.

The judge also granted permission to the aggrieved companies to serve a writ of summons and all other filed processes on the African Finance Corporation at its head office, located in Ikoyi, Lagos through DHL courier services.

Defendants in the suit are the Federal Government of Nigeria; Attorney-General of the Federation; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; the Infrastructure Regulatory Concession Commission; Nigeria Customs Service; Trade Modernization Project Limited; Huawei Technologies Limited; African Finance Corporation and Bergman Security Consultant and Supply Limited being 1st to 9th defendants respectively.

The two plaintiffs had in their statement of claim narrated how they proposed to carry out customs modernization project through several government officials for the benefit of the Nigeria Customs Service.

They claimed that after series of meetings and negotiation with some of the defendants, President Muhammadu Buhari granted anticipated approval for the e- custom Project.

They averred that on September 2, 2020, the Minister of Finance presented a memo number EC2020/153 to the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the highest decision-making body of the Federal Government, and secured approval for the two plaintiffs to be granted the concession.

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