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Controversial $3.2 billion Customs Modernisation project haunts Ali in retirement

Hammed Ali, former CGC
—as concerned customs officers call for probe
The Eyewitness reporter
Days after the unceremonious exit of Col.(rtd) Hameed Ali from the Nigeria Customs Service as its Comptroller-General, the controversial Customs Modernisation project, which he allegedly midwife, has continued to haunt the former Customs CG, even in retirement.
It could be recalled that the Federal Executive Council(FEC)had in April 2023, approved the NCS modernisation project, also known as e-customs, despite a court order restraining the federal government from going on with the initiative.
The project is meant to digitalize the operations of the customs as well as cede the revenue collection of the service to the contracting firms.
However, some senior officers of the service under the aegis of  Concerned Group, have petitioned President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to stop the controversial project and probe the whole process. 
In a letter by a group of concerned customs officers, the president was informed that the project amounts to a concession of customs modernisation for 20 years and will result in some persons with vested interest taking away government revenue under the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme (CISS) account.

The officers described the customs modernisation that is already a subject of litigation in the Federal High Court as a channel to waste government revenue.

Faulting the award of the modernisation concession, the group alleged that the company handling it was hurriedly registered, without the required technical experience, and could set the gains achieved by the service backward.

According to them, Customs is presently one of the most automated government agencies in the country with a homegrown Nigeria Integrated Customs Information System (NICIS) that only requires an upgrade to meet the demands of current reality.

They added that NCS is the most modernised customs administration in West and Central Africa handling the highest volume of trade relying on a blend of technology and human expertise.

They queried an intended loan facility for modernisation that will impoverish the country.

They claimed that using the existing modernisation template of the service, the NCS has been able to move from generating N800 billion in 2015 to collecting N2 trillion in 2022 without the controversial concession.

The group said over 3,500 officers of the Nigeria Customs Service have been trained while 150 of them are presently undergoing technical training on various aspects of modernisation required for trade.

Bionica Technologies had dragged the federal government and the Nigeria Customs Service before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.

Also sued by Bionica are the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning; the Infrastructure Concession & Regulatory Commission (ICRC); Trade Modernisation Project Limited (TMPL); Huawei Technologies (Nigeria); Bergmans Security Consultants and Africa Finance Corporation (AFC).

Bionica accused the defendants of illegally replacing it as the lead promoter of the Customs modernisation project earlier approved by former President Muhammadu Buhari

In a memo dated September 17, 2019, signed by the late Chief of Staff to the former President, Abba Kyari, the Ministers of Finance and Justice were informed that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the engagement of Bionica Technologies West Africa (lead sponsor), Bergmans Security Consultant & Supplies Ltd (co-sponsor), Africa Finance Corporation (lead financier) and Huawei (lead technical service provider) to establish a special purpose vehicle to enter a 20-year concession arrangement with the Nigeria Customs Service and the ICRC for the Customs modernisation project with the aim of establishing a paperless Customs administration, the so-called e-Customs.

After President Buhari’s approval, the relationship between Bionca and Bergmans went sour.

The dispute between the two companies reportedly arose over the shareholding structure of the original SPV named E-Customs HC Project Limited.

On May 17, 2022, the Nigeria Customs Service announced the signing of the e-Customs public-private partnership contract with Trade Modernisation Project Limited (TMPL).

In the announcement, Bergmans was reportedly recognised as the sponsor of the e-Customs project instead of Bionica.

The announcement was a sequel to the incorporation of TMPL as the new SPV for the Customs modernisation project rather than the E-Customs (HC) Project Limited registered by Bionica and approved by the Federal Government for the project.

Bionica was not included in TPML, which was registered on April 7, 2022 – less than eight weeks before it replaced E-Custom (HC) Project Limited as the SPV for the e-Customs project. The officials of Bionica allege that TMPL’s lead sponsor, Bergmans did not participate in the project development and bidding phase but was somehow brought into the project in 2018 by the former Customs Comptroller-General, Hameed Ali.

“Our service is a regimented institution with sensitive roles to play in national security and economy and should not be distracted by an endless fight between companies struggling to benefit from modernising us.

“This is a big distraction and an impending setback, only the president can stop, “they said in their petition.

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News Alert: Wale Adeniyi revives CG conference, holds 2023 edition December 13-15 in Lagos.

Wale Adeniyi, CGC
The Eyewitness Reporter
After 11 years of interregnum in the annual Comptroller General of Customs conference, Adewale Adeniyi, the Customs boss, has announced the rescucitation of the annual conference which holds December, this year.
In the social media broadcast, Adeniyi said he was delighted to announce that the 2023 CG Conference will hold from December 13th- 15th, 2023 at the Grand Africa Ballroom of the prestigious Continental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
The theme of this year’s conference, according to the CGC, is “Leveraging Data Analytics for Secure and Efficient Trade Facilitation in Customs Operations”.
The Vice President of Nigeria, Senator Kashim Shettima, is expected as the special guest of honour while the Governor of Lagos state, Mr Babajide Sanwo- Olu and the Minister of Finance and the coordinating minister of Economy, Wale Edun, are also expected to grace the occasion.
Adeniyi stated that this year’s conference will centre around the discussion on implementing new measures to enhance service operations, championing secure and efficient operations across the federation.
“In line with my efforts and that of my management team to modernize the Nigeria Customs service through leveraging technology-driven Customs to shape the future of our operations, I am inviting you to this year’s Comptroller General Conference scheduled for 13tg to 15th December 2023 at the Grand Ballroom, Continental Hotel, Lagos.
” The theme of this year’s conference is Leveraging Data Analytics for Secure and Efficient Trade Facilitation in Customs Service.
” We are embracing innovation, utilizing the power of analytics to ensure the security and efficiency of Customs Operations.
“This significant event will centre around discussion on implementing new measures to enhance the service operations, championing secure and efficient operations across the federation.
“It will serve as a platform for attracting new business stakeholders to our shore.
” Don’t miss this opportunity to be part of this renewed hope experience as we consolidate on the achievements of the past, collaborate with our stakeholders and of course, bring in innovation to drive Customs Operations.
“The conference will be graced by esteemed guests, including the Vice-President, Senator Kashim Shettima as the special guest of honour, the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Finance Minister, Wale Edun” the CGC announced.
The CG conference is a platform for interaction where customs reviews its past operations and project for the future.
The last conference was held in 2012 in Katsina state.
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Adeniyi seeks Senate support to enhance Customs’ automation process

The Eyewitness Reporter 
The Nigeria Customs Service has sought the intervention of the National Assembly Senate Committee on Customs to address its core needs by providing modern tools for the complete automation of its operations to enhance trade facilitation and revenue generation.
Comptroller-General of Customs Bashir Adewale Adeniyi made this plea on Tuesday, November 28, 2023, at the Senate Wing, National Assembly, Abuja. He emphasized that this call underscores the Customs Service’s commitment to fostering economic growth, job creation, and dynamic trade relations.
Regarding the Senate Committee’s interest in doubling the NCS’s efforts in revenue generation, CGC Adeniyi emphasized, “not only introducing them but also standardizing them to enhance Customs’ clearance processes, revenue generation, which will be a better experience for both Customs administration and stakeholders.”
He recalled the initiation of the automation process by the Nigeria Customs Service in the late 1990s when it purchased modern gadgets, including computers and software, as part of the Service’s efforts to introduce computerization processes.
Discussing the concession issue, CGC Bashir Adeniyi highlighted some of the objectives of the Nigeria Customs Service’s requests to automate its operations. “The first major objective of the consortium was to provide an end-to-end ICT platform to digitalize procedures and processes.
The second one is to look at the present infrastructure and update it in line with international standards, ranking amongst the best in the world.” He noted.
He explained that the third objective was to provide technology-based solutions to address challenges faced by the Service, emphasizing, “The last part is the general organization of our infrastructure to provide the tools needed that will be associated with these objectives, deliverables, and part of deliverables first is to build a Unified Customs Management System.”
CGC Adeniyi further explained to the committee members, “The system needs to process the traditions of goods that will provide electronic party systems for the Service whereby its entire processes would be automated.”
He added, “The conditions of the non-intrusive inspection system include provisions, revisions of cargo tracking systems, intelligent gates, new infrastructure, like a data center to build the capacity of officers because it is essential in the last phase of the project.”
Speaking on the Service’s strategic approach to enhancing trade and ensuring smooth businesses for local traders, CGC Adeniyi urged the Senators to actively support local business people in exporting items, emphasizing that such a perspective shift could significantly contribute to boosting Nigeria’s economy and play a pivotal role in job creation.
Responding to the Chairman Committee’s call on the Service to double efforts in revenue generation, CGC Adeniyi highlighted some measures that should be adopted to achieve giant strides. He added, “If we properly monitor the impact of these kinds of instruments, they do not represent an absolute loss to the economy.”
He also mentioned that adopting these measures would create jobs for Nigerians, enhance tax payments, attract investors, and rejuvenate industrial sectors, which, according to him, would not be a loss for the economy.
In response, Senator Muhammad Sani, the Chairman of the Committee, commended Adeniyi for the strides made in revenue generation.
Expressing optimism, Senator Sani asserted that the Nigeria Customs Service, with its recent revenue records, appeared poised to multiply its financial contributions—an imperative for the country given its current economic needs.
He said, “By encouraging a more balanced approach, the aim is to empower local businesses through increased attention to export initiatives, aligning with a broader vision for a sustainable economic landscape.”
A similar interactive session with the Procurement Committee from the House of Representatives shed light on the financial commitments of the Nigeria Customs Service.  However,  discussions were postponed to another date.
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News Alert: Six Tin Can Customs officers reject $54,330 Tramadol bribe money 

The Eyewitness Reporter
The Customs Area Controller of Tin Can Island Port Command, Comptroller Dera Nnadi, has commended the six officers of the command who refused to be compromised with the mouth-watering amount of $54,330( about N50 million) by drug dealers who tried to smuggle in a consignment of Tramadol through the Tin Can Island port.
While handing over the bribe money this Tuesday, November 28th, 2023, to the Lagos Zonal Commander of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) , Mr. Michael Wetkas, Comptroller Nnadi reiterated the zero tolerance for corruption stance of the Comptroller General of Customs, Adewale Adeniyi.
 The Tramadol was falsely declared as electrical appliances valued at over N856m with a view to concealing them while the cash was offered to compromise the customs officers.
Nnadi said the act was in clear violation of Section 233 of the Nigeria Customs Service Act (NCAA) 2023 and commended the officers who stood their grounds to work ethically and lawfully in the interest of national security
He further called for continuous compliance on the part of port users and reminded them that the NCS with the collaboration of sister agencies like EFCC will continue to frustrate criminal activities in the port
Nnadi thanked Comptroller Oloyede, who under his watch, this seizure was achieved and described him as a good example of the NCS.
He said the two suspects arrested in connection with the two containers are currently being investigated by the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control for possible prosecution.
Mr. Michael Wekas, while taking over the cash, described the feat as a victory for the country and for all the security agencies.
He specifically celebrated the officers of the NCS that achieved it.
Wetkas also lauded the  Comptroller General for the letter of commendation in appreciation of the six customs officers who refused to bow to pressure and inducement from the owners of the illicit drugs.
He promised continued collaboration between the EFCC, NCS and sister agencies.
 According to him, the era of working without collaboration is gone as the agencies now work closer
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