Exclusive! Customs heads to court to vacate injunction against Customs concession project
—-accuses aggrieved litigants of pulling out of project
The Nigeria Customs Service has instructed its legal team to head to court in a bid to vacate the restraining order on the implementation of the $3.2billion Customs concession programme.
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday has restrained the Federal Government from enforcing or giving effect to an agreement on the Customs Modernisation Project otherwise known as E- custom allegedly executed by its agents on May 30, 2022.
Justice Inyang Ekwo issued the orders while ruling on an ex-parte motion filed by two firms – E-Customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited, which was argued on Friday by their lawyer, Anone Usman.
However, the Nigeria Customs, through its National Public Relations Officer, Deputy Comptroller Timi Bomodi, said the service will go to court to challenge the order.
In an exclusive interview with our reporter, Bomodi declared that the management of the agency will not engage in what he called small talk over the matter that is already in court because that would be sub-judicial.
”We will go to court”, he declared emphatically.
We can’t be making small talk over a matter that is already in court, that will be sub judicial.
”Customs will make its reaction in court and that will be for the public to judge what the issues are”, the Customs spokesman stated.
He further explained that the litigants, E-customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited, pulled out of the agreement on their own accord when they said they could not accept the terms and conditions of the projects.
Bomodi stated that the Trade Modernization Project Limited; Huawei Technologies Limited and African Finance Corporation, who eventually won the concession bid, agreed with the same terms and conditions that the litigants rejected for the same amount.
”The people that took the Customs to court were in the beginning part of the process, they disagreed with certain parts of the agreement and they couldn’t go forward.
”Of course, if you have some people who disagreed with what you are planning together and they pulled out and they were not asked to leave, they pulled out on their own, does that mean because they were there in the beginning, the project cannot go on?”, he asked rhetorically.
”That doesn’t make sense.
”The project was conceived to help the service better and those that we started the journey together couldn’t agree with the terms and conditions of the project and they left and some other people came in to take up their slot.
”Those ones said they could achieve the same results with the same terms and conditions which the other party rejected” Bomodi said.
He stated that the Customs shall argue its case in the court and will leave the judge to decide the merit or otherwise of the case.
Customs shall be in court and do the needful”, the Customs spokesman concluded with emphasis.
The court, on Friday, 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 the e- custom 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.
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.
Justice Ekwo subsequently fixed June 28 for the hearing in the matter.
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 a series of meetings and negotiations 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.
Plaintiffs further claimed that trouble started when the Nigeria Customs Service unilaterally reviewed the FEC approval and imposed other conditions among which are the shareholding formula and governance structure.
They claimed that the power of the NCS to unilaterally review FEC approval was protested and that the Comptroller General of Customs stood his ground.
Plaintiff asserted that to their surprise, they read in the news that the Nigeria Customs Service had executed a concession agreement with Trade Modernization Project on May 30, 2022, Huawei Technologies Company and African Finance Corporation, in total breach of the Concession Agreement vetted by the AGF in conjunction with the Minister of Finance.
They averred that Trade Modernization Project was incorporated April 2022 at the Corporate Affairs Commission with one Alhaji Saleh Amodu, a close friend of the Comptroller General of Customs as the chairman.
Plaintiff asserted that the new company, having been just incorporated in April 2022, could not have obtained and did not obtain the full business case compliance certificate from the Infrastructure Regulatory Concession Commission and the approval of the Federal Executive Council to carry out the e- custom project.
They, therefore, asked the court to make a declaration that the decisions of the Federal Government and its agents to enter into a concession agreement with Trade Modernization Project, Huawei Technologies Company and African Finance Corporation in respect of the e-customs project is illegal, null and void, having been made in gross violation of Section 2 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act 2005.
They also asked the court to declare that E-customs HC Project Limited is the approved and rightful concessionaire for the e-customs project as approved by the Federal Executive Council at its meeting of September 2, 2020 and in line with Section 2 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Act.
They also applied for an order of the court directing the Federal Government through the AGF, Finance Minister, ICRC and NCS to consummate the E- custom project with the 1st plaintiff as approved by FEC in September 2020.
Besides, the two plaintiffs asked the court to compel the defendants to pay them a sum of Two Hundred Million Naira as the cost of litigation.
The Federal Government had on May 30, 2022 signed the e-Customs concession agreement with Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and China’s Huawei Technologies Limited.
The Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) Hameed Ali, while signing the agreement in Abuja, enthused that the implementation of the project will generate a revenue of $176 billion over the next 20 years.
Ali said, the e-Customs concession project would ease the cost of doing business, boost revenue, enhance productivity and put a stop to every arbitrariness in the service.
“The $3.2 billion e-Customs project to be financed by the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) and managed by Huawei Technologies Limited under a 20-year concession window, when fully implemented, will quadruple Customs’ current N210 billion average monthly revenue collection” Ali declared.
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.
Apapa Customs frustrates covert attempt to exit illicit drugs from port
20 containers of gold, silver ore stolen within Customs control in biggest heist operation.
Eyewitness reporter with agency report
The Mexican Customs Authority has announced the biggest heist in the history of the port when 20 containers laden with expensive gold, silver Ore and television disappeared from a freight yard within the Mexican Customs control.
According to the Head of Mexican Customs, Horacio Duarte, thieves stole the shipping containers this month from a freight yard in what was described as an organised crime.
The theft took place earlier this month but was not reported until Monday.Local newspaper, El Pais, reported that over a dozen fully-armed thieves broke into a private freight yard near a port in Manzanillo, dubbing it the “biggest heist’ in the port’s history.
The thieves reportedly gagged the guards at the yard and took eight hours to pick out the high-value shipping containers.
El Pais reported that the men knew how to use the cranes and other gear at the location and connected the containers to several trucks before driving away.
“It is unprecedented, there had been no robbery of this nature before this,” Gustavo Adrin Joya, a spokesperson for the security department of Colima state, said in a statement to El Pais.
The goods have not been seen since then, the local newspaper reported.
El Pais reported that the port is a main thoroughfare for the cartel, especially for unloading synthetic drugs that are made in Mexico and sold in the US.
While freight theft is not uncommon, it is unusual for dozens of containers to be stolen at once.
CargoNet’s Vice President of operations, Keith Lewis, told Insider freight yards can be a vulnerable place for high-value goods.
“A shipment is most vulnerable anytime it is parked,” Lewis said.
In 2020, cargo theft hit a record in the US as hundreds of thousands of shipping containers flooded ports and nearby shipping yards amid the supply-chain crisis.
Lewis said that multi-million dollar shipments like containers full of semiconductor chips or television sets are often fitted with security devices in the US, including covert trackers and specialty locks to deter thieves.
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