By Odunayo Ajala
As I sit to write this piece, a wave of indignation is sweeping over me. As a stakeholder in the Nigerian project and a citizen concerned about the future of the country, I am miffed by the failure of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration that prides itself as an anti-corruption, equity, and transparency brand to move from just barking to biting at one of the powerful ministers of the administration, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, despite reports of his acts that fly in the face probity.
If what one has read in the newspapers over the past couple of months is anything to go buy, Amaechi has on two occasions recently misled Buhari into taking decisions that do not just rob the country of millions of dollars in revenue, but also impacted negatively on the image of the country. Apart from causing the country to lose millions of dollars and embarrassingly misleading or deliberately hoodwinking the President on key and strategic contracts, Amaechi has also serially violated his oath of office with impunity that is suggestive of an “untouchable or sacred cow’’. That anyone would consider himself to be a sacred cow or be treated as such by the Buhari administration is in fact an incredulous irony, but this is what Nigeria seems to be grappling.
The first indication of an Amaechigate is the multi-billion International Cargo Tracking Note for Nigeria (ICTN) allegedly fraudulently conceived by the minister. The International Cargo Tracking Note (ICTN) scheme is an electronic cargo verification system that monitors the shipment of seaborne cargo and enables a real-time generation of vital data on ship and cargo traffic in and out of Nigeria.
This contract is now a subject of litigation at an Abuja court. According to a December 22, 2021, report in Punch, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had restrained Amaechi, other agents and agencies of the Federal Government from taking any further step towards nominating any company or entity to be operators of the ICTN.
This is part of the details of a painfully uncomplimentary report published by Premium Times on November 1, 2021. Titled; “Buhari, Amaechi illegally award multi-billion maritime contract to medical company,” Premium Times told the whole world that the President and his minister committed illegalities by awarding contracts without due process to a non-qualified company.
The report said: “President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, have approved a huge national security-sensitive maritime contract to a medical company in a process the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) says is “embarrassing” and illegal…The development has unsettled the Buhari government, with senior officials sparring and trading accusations of bad faith and the BPP complaining of “procedural lapses” in carefully worded memos that only stopped short of directly accusing Mr Buhari and Mr Amaechi of lawlessness…The procurement agency said the contract was awarded in clear breach of the Public Procurement Act 2007.”
The report, to which the minister, has not given any denial, at least not to my knowledge, suggested that he deliberately hoodwinked the president into approving this illegal deal.
The Premium Times report said further: “…In what kick-started the current process that is now stuck in controversy and abuse, Mr. Amaechi’s transport ministry, on September 11, 2020, sought the approval of the BPP to conduct a restricted/selected tendering exercise to engage agents or partners for the implementation of the cargo tracking note scheme… But citing the “convoluted” circumstance of the initial contract, which attracted criminal investigation by the EFCC and the need to regain international confidence, the BPP rejected the selective tender request and, instead, asked the transport ministry to conduct international competitive bidding (ICB).
Premium Times reported that the BPP explained in its October 22, 2020, correspondence with Amaechi that the ICB was to ensure that reputable international firms with requisite experience and capacity to deliver on the job participated in the procurement process. Nevertheless, Amaechi defied this advice and went ahead with his plans! The Premium Times report alleged that: “But surprisingly,” the BPP noted in a memo, the transport ministry on August 26, 2021, reverted to the public procurement regulator with an approval dated August 19, 2021, from the president to adopt a direct procurement in favour of MedTech Scientific Limited, a healthcare company, in partnership with Rozi International Nigeria Limited, a property development company.”
Given the alleged impunity, including wrongly obtaining presidential assent and allegedly sidestepping laid down procedures to award the contract to a non-qualifying company, the BPP was said to have expressed concern at the embarrassment that the situation would have brought to the office of the president. The Premium Times report said: “Despite the arbitrariness of the procurement process, the BPP said it could not stop Mr Amaechi since he had managed to gain Mr Buhari’s anticipatory approval. An anticipatory approval means the granting of a procurement request before the statutory consideration and endorsement of the Federal Executive Council….Nevertheless, the BPP separately told Mr Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Mr Gambari, and the ministry of transport that “it is not correct” for the “exalted Office of His Excellency, Mr President, to be drawn into routine administrative approvals particularly contract-related matters that are open to litigation. This procedure should be strongly discouraged…”
It is shocking therefore that the same President, whose embarrassment the BPP was trying to prevent doesn’t even think anything of it. Unfortunately, this is not just about the President and Amaechi. The tragedy is that it also tells a lot on how seriously Nigerians and non-Nigerians can take the so-called corruption war of the president. If an official allegedly engages in blatant acts of impunity, which rub off on the country’s image and rob it of revenues in hundreds of millions and repeatedly away with it without even as much as a manifestable slap on the wrist, then something is wrong. It is pathetic that an example of the country’s sense of seriousness cannot be made with a man who drags the country and its leader into such situation.
Amaechi’s misuse of whatever privileges he might have with President gets even more flagrant with a newspaper report last week. On January 11, 2022, THISDAY published a story with the title: “Buhari Cancels Restoration of INTELS’ Pilotage Contract.”
In this front-page report, it was alleged that the President had ordered the reversal of his earlier instructions on the restoration of some contracts to INTELS. INTELS is a logistics services provider in the maritime and oil and gas sectors. It was reportedly co-founded by Gabriele Volpi, an Italian national, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice-President. And it has continued to be in the news for the wrong reasons over the past couple of years
On June 16, 2021, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa said the commission was able to recovere the sum of $100 million out of the Federal Government revenue, which INTELS received on behalf of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) but withheld until the intervention of the EFCC. This intervention arose after the management of the NPA sought EFCC’s assistance in the recovery of monies, which INTELS refused to remit into the Treasury Single Account. (TSA) and retained in its coffers. Reports indicate that this contract expired in August 2020, yet Minister Amaechi reportedly had the mind to misadvise President Buhari into restoring an expired and inexistent contract and then stall an ongoing legally instituted procurement process! Are we in a banana republic? This is the same company that is said to receive a whooping and unheard-of 28 percent commission on the boat pilotage contract it maintained with the NPA. Yet, a minister who should protect the interest of Nigerians wants the exploitation to continue!
According to the THISDAY report, “The Nigerian Ports Authority insisted that the 10 years contract with INTELS expired on August 8, 2020, after which it initiated procurement processes for the contract. The NPA thereafter submitted the outcome of the procurement process, which the Authority says INTELS participated in, to the Minister who, rather than forward same to BPP, sought the approval of the President to restore the contract to INTELS. This situation has brought the boat pilotage service operations to a standstill for about 16 months, with attendant revenue losses to the nation.” This indicates that the minister’s failure to follow due process led the president into taking a costly decision that he has now reversed when he got the right facts. Unfortunately, this was after the country has lost millions of dollars and reputational damage.
Quoting an advice said to have been sent to the President by the Bureau of Public Procurement, THISDAY wrote: “In the same vein, the BPP denounced claims by the Ministry of Transportation and urged the president not to restore the contract to avoid further litigation. The BPP in a letter addressed to the COS to the president, with reference, BPP/DG/2021/007, dated March 9, 2021, had stated that the decision by the NPA to initiate a procurement process in anticipation of the expiration of the contract for boat pilotage operation managing agent was in order.
“The BPP in the letter signed by its Director General, Mamman Ahmadu, concluded that, ‘There is a compelling need to ensure that contractors and service providers do not take undue advantage of government agencies and do not obtain contracts from government agencies through the court rooms. The correct procedure is that contracts should be won through a proper procurement processes that complies with the provisions of the PPA, 2007. Furthermore, there is need to avoid the kind of monopoly currently enjoyed by Messrs INTELS which has cascaded into entitlement mentality being demonstrated by the firm. Also, monopoly will inevitably result in charging a higher price to the consumer/client than what is obtainable from a competitive market, thereby eroding value for money.” This is the situation, which Amaechi has encouraged by advising the President to approve the restoration of the INTELS’ contract according to approval said to have been given by the President in January 2021. Now, according to THISDAY, that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the BPP have shown Buhari the light, revenues have been lost and Nigeria has given itself away as country of flip flops. How so?
One year after the president was misled into directing the restoration of the contract, he signed another correspondence counter-directing that the procurement process initiated by the NPA, that was submitted to, but allegedly withheld by the Ministry of Transportation should be forwarded immediately to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for evaluation and necessary action. The minister was also directed to see that the process was concluded within 60 days of Mr President’s directive to avoid further loss of revenue by the Federal Government. This becomes expedient as the AGF was said to have noted that the situation foisted on the country by Amaechi had created a vacuum in the provision of this critical service in the maritime sector with its attendant loss of revenue from service boat operation to the Federal Government. Yet Amaechi still gallivants around as a power broker in the administration. He is even said to aspire for Nigeria’s presidency next year, you can only just imagine what someone who behaves like this as minister will do as President! May God forbid that prospect.
Given the finality of a presidential instruction reported to have been directed at the minister earlier this month, a serious nation should be demanding the querying, if not outright removal of the former governor of Rivers State from office as Minister of Transportation. But this is Nigeria, where certain men feel like they own the country. But ordinary Nigerians like me, who queued up in the sun to vote for Buhari in 2015 and give him a second term in 2019, anticipated a Nigeria where people who subject national interest to any other consideration are made to pay for it. This is not what we are seeing in these cases about Ameachi, and it is heart-breaking! One still hopes though, that the President will act.
- Mr. Ajala, a forensic marine expert, writes from Lagos.