Following conflicts among concessionaires in the $3.2billion Customs modernization project, a Federal High Court in Abuja today restrained the Federal Government from enforcing or giving effect to an agreement on the e-Customs project signed on May 30, 2022.
Recall that The News Diet earlier reported that the lead concessionaire, Bionica Technologies was planning a litigation to stop the project following the impasse with other concessionaires and the federal government on the contract.
The agents who allegedly executed the disputed concession agreement are; Nigeria Custom Service, Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Nigeria Limited and African Finance Corporation.
The court 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 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 Custom 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 hearing in the matter.
The two plaintiffs had in their statement of claim narrated how they proposed to carry out custom modernization project through several government officials for the benefit of the Nigeria Customs Service.
They claimed that after series of meetings and negotiation 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 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.
According to the plantiff, it was shocking to read in the news that Customs had executed a concession agreement on the e-Customs project on May 30, 2022, with Huawei Technologies Company and African Finance Corporation, even as they described the development as a total breach of the Concession Agreement vetted by the AGF in conjunction with the Minister of Finance.
They also opined 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.
Noting that the new company was just incorporated in April 2022, the plantiff posited that the company could not have obtained and did not obtain the full business case compliance certificate from the Infrastructure Regulatory Concession Commission (ICRC) and the approval of the Federal Executive Council to carry out the e- custom project.
They asked the court to make a declaration that the decisions of the Federal Government and it’s agents to enter into 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.
The plantiffs 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-Customs project with the 1st plaintiff as approved by FEC in September 2020.
Meanwhile, the two plaintiffs asked the court to compel the defendants to pay them a sum of Two Hundred Million Naira as cost of litigation.