In what appears to be a fresh twist to the purported suspension of the Customs modernization project, the Association of Retired Customs Officers (ARCO) has raised alarm over moves by some powerful interest groups in and outside government to repackage the suspended e-customs proposal to the Federal Government for implementation.
It would be recalled that Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Ahmed Zainab, reportedly directed the suspension of the Customs modernization deal following a resolution and letter addressed to the Minister by the House of Representatives in October last year.
But speaking with SHIPS & PORTS at the weekend in Lagos, a member of the association, who craved anonymity, described the suspension of the project as a ruse.
He said that contrary to media reports, the multimillion dollar project aimed at concessioning the revenue function of the Nigeria Customs Service and establishment of a digital and paperless Customs administration to a consortium of four private companies under a 20-year agreement with the NCS and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has not been suspended.
According to him, “The information in the newspapers that everybody read was that the project has been suspended, but that is just on papers. The suspension was a ruse.
“The minister did not make that statement. Let the office of the Finance Ministry come out to say she made that statement on suspension of the project. I can tell you categorically that the minister did not make the statement that it has been suspended even though it was credited to her. It is those people who want to get the contract done that are sponsoring that thing and they are going to buy a lot of people.”
The source said at a meeting held recently at the instance of the NCS, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation and the promoters of the scheme, it was revealed that under the 20-year concession agreement, the Federal government would spend a whopping $5.999 billion for the project.
“They say we will pay $300 million, but that is also camouflage. The exact money they have earmarked that they will pay for that project is $5.999 billion over the period of 20 years and they are proposing to get this money from 45 percent of CISS fund, 15 percent of NESS funding and 2 percent of another fund that Nigeria will be committing into the project,” he said.
In a letter titled “Suspension of proposed concession arrangement for the Customs modernisation project”, jointly signed by Chairman Finance, James Faleke; Chairman Public Petition, Jerry Alagbaoso, and Chairman Customs, Yuguda Hassan Kila, the lawmakers had described the proposed concession as “curious.”
The letter with reference number NASS/CHR/9/2019/JOINT/001 dated October 30, 2019, sources disclosed, led the minister to direct the Permanent Secretary to ensure compliance.
According to the letter, “The House of Representatives on Thursday 10th October 2019 at the plenary passed resolution No HR132/10/2019 mandating a joint committee on Finance, Customs and Public Petitions to investigate the curious proposed concession agreement between the consortium Bionaca Technologies West Africa Limited- (Sponsors), Bergman Security Consultant and Supplies – (Cosponsors), African Finance Corporation (lead financiers) and Huawei (lead technical service provider).”
The lawmakers added that their action is pursuant to Section 88 (1) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended, which confers on the National Assembly power to conduct investigations.
They urged all parties involved including the Nigeria Customs Service and Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission to maintain the “Status quo ante pending outcome of investigation.”