The Forum of Non-Governmental Organisations in Nigeria, FONGON, has tasked President Muhammadu Buhari to come clean on the Nigeria Customs Modernisation Project, known as the E- Customs Project, worth $3.1 billion which was recently re-awarded by the Federal Government to a different company despite a subsisting court order.
The organization asked President Buhari to stop the hasty attempt to access hundreds of billions of Naira from the Comprehensive Import Service Scheme/Nigeria Export Supervision Scheme, CISS/NESS, accounts of the Customs Service by Trade Modernisation Project Limited.
The National Coordinator, FONGON, Comrade Wole Badmus at a Press Conference in Abuja on Thursday said: “President Muhammadu Buhari must come clean on this by informing Nigerians if Hameed Ali has his consent to hijack a project in favour of Trade Modernisation Project Ltd, a company registered in April, 2022, and which never participated in the negotiations on E-Customs Modernisation Project which started as far back as 2015”.
Badmus also alleged that the Nigeria Customs Service has already written to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning requesting, the new concessionaire, Trade Modernisation Project Limited to be included on the payment platform to commence draw down on the CISS/NESS accounts in clear violation of the Presidential directive.
“The clear implication is that the so-called new concessionaire will make no investment but depend on the CISS/NESS account”, the organization said.
The E- Customs Project is a Public-Private-Partnership concession aimed at easing the cost of doing business, boosting revenue, enhancing productivity and security as well as stopping arbitrariness in income assessment.
FONGON recalled that the DG ICRC in a letter to the Chief of Staff to the President dated 22 May, 2019 provided a succinct framework and financial plan for the project, saying: “The Private partners to the project will raise the required financing for the project through contributions from the Promoters Equity, Loans and Vendor Financing from all Original Equipment Manufacturers including Huawei.
“The proposed Financing Plan for the project shows that the project will be financed through $30million equity and $270m debt financing in Phase 1, while $180m will the Capital Structure for Phase 2, years 7 to 12.
“The third and final phase of the project will be financed through retained earnings and excess cash flows”.
Badmus said the organization is alarmed that this clause is not reflected on the concession agreement signed by Trade Modernization Project Ltd as document in court reveals.
“The HMOF and AGF simply looked the other way in order to allow TMPL access to the CISS/NESS accounts without showing evidence of commensurate investments done as envisaged by the financial plan drawn by ICRC. It was simply replaced with a clause to access the CISS/NESS account from date of commencement”, he said.
President Buhari had in 2019 approved the engagement of the consortium Bionica Technologies, West Africa, Limited, Lead Sponsor; Bergmans Security Consultant and Supplies Limited, Co-sponsor; Africa Finance Corporation, Lead Financier; and Huawei as Lead Technical Service Provider to establish a project SPV to enter a 20-year concession arrangement with Nigerian Customs Service and Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, ICRC for Customs Modernisation Project.
However, Badmus alleged that the Minister of State for Finance, Clem Agba at the FEC briefing in April, 2023 said that Trade Modernisation Project Limited, registered in April 2022 and which never participated in the negotiations on E-Customs Modernisation Project which started as far back as 2015, is the new concessionaire.
The NGO also claimed that “investigations at CAC show that Trade Modernisation Project Limited and Buhari Support Organization, BSO, are Siamese twins. Hameed Ali is the Chairman while Hajia Zainab Jummai Ajijola is the Executive Secretary of BSO.”
Badmus said: “Excerpts from The Punch Newspaper of 22 May, 2018 reveal that Hameed Ali led members of the Buhari Support Organisation to the Presidential Villa to see the President. The newspaper reported as follows:
“While receiving them, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed concerns about what happened to the $16bn allegedly spent on power projects in the past in the country, considering the current poor state of the sector.
“Commending members of the support group, the President admitted that not many of them had benefited anything for supporting him over the years from his opposition days until now.”
“If we may ask, is the scam on E-customs Project the grand plan by Buhari to compensate the BSO? Or as alleged by Deep Throat, is Hammed Ali desperate to amass funds for the proposed grandiose Buhari Presidential Library?”