Journalism of Courage

Why is Rotimi Amaechi untouchable despite proven cases of economic sabotage, graft, oath of office breaches?

As an industry watcher, it is crystal clear that the minister and his cohorts are misleading the President for personal gains, incompetence, desire to please business interests which had cost Nigeria billions of naira and in foreign currencies as well as national reputation.

By Odunayo Ajala

 

A wave of indignation and protests is sweeping over the stakeholders, concerned citizens and groups on the scams, economic sabotage, poor and self-serving decisions by a powerful minister of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and a highly-placed member of the kitchen cabinet at Nigeria’s seat of power and his continued stay in office in a government that prides itself as an anti-corruption, equity and transparency brand.

The minister and erstwhile governor of Rivers State in the oil-rich Delta, apart from causing the country to lose billions of dollars and embarrassingly misled or hoodwinked the President on key and strategic contracts, has also violated his oath of office with impunity as an “untouchable or sacred cow’’.

Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the “almighty’’ two-term Minister of Transportation of the Federal Republic, has been swimming against the tide with ill-fortune dogging every of his craggy and crafty steps and official decisions in the daily run of public affairs at his table and expectedly, he has been beleaguered by the “Fourth Estate of the Realm’’ – the media — and critical stakeholders and unions for the costly, poor and corruption-induced decisions for which he ought to have been fired by Mr President (Mr Transparency, Integrity and anti-corruption).

It will be recalled that two ministers, who are less birdbrained and corrupt, were relieved of their jobs in 2021 by President Buhari whose media adviser, Femi Adesina, had promised that the sacking of ministers would be a “continuous process’’.

Fired on 1 September 2021 were the then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Nanono and the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman.

According to Adesina, due to periodic “self-reviews,” more members of his cabinet may be shown the way out. “The significant review steps are meant to identify and strengthen weak areas, close gaps, build cohesion and synergy in governance, manage the economy and improve the delivery of public good to Nigerians.’’

 

Justifying the sack, he noted the changes were a necessary part of Buhari’s regime’s “tradition of subjecting our projects and programs implementation to independent and critical self-review” through sector reporting during Cabinet meetings and at retreats.

Surprisingly, about five months after that promise has not been kept as calls for the sack of some ministers to rejig the machinery of the administration to deliver in some core areas promised by the APC about six years ago.

The legion complaints or malfeasance against Amaechi which are tagged the many “sins’’ of Amaechi include but not limited to the Cargo Tracking Contract and Intels deals. President Buhari had directed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to void the boats pilotage agreement it had with Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) earlier misguidedly approved for Amaechi which expired on August 8, 2020.

INTELS, a logistics and facilities services provider in the maritime and oil and gas sectors was co-founded by Gabriele Volpi, an Italian national, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s former Vice-President.

As an industry watcher, it is crystal clear that the minister and his cohorts are misleading the President for personal gains, incompetence, desire to please business interests which had cost Nigeria billions of naira and in foreign currencies as well as national reputation.

 

Early in 2022 in a letter dated January 7, the Presidency through a letter signed by the Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Transportation titled, “Review of the Contractual Relationship Between Nigerian Ports Authority and Intels Nigeria Ltd’’, had ordered revoked the presidential approval dated January 22, 2021.

 

It directed that the procurement process initiated by the procuring entity, NPA, that was submitted to the Ministry of Transportation should be forwarded immediately to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) for evaluation and necessary action.

 

Rotimi Amaechi

 

Quoting from the letter:“That the Minister should ensure that the process is concluded within 60 days of Mr President’s directive to avoid further loss of revenue by the Federal Government.

“That the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice should ensure a quick determination of the cases in court in view of their economic importance.

“That this set of directives backed by the opinions of the Minister of Justice, BPP and ICRC supersedes the prior approval dated January 22, 2021 granted on this  matter (Annex A).’’

As the drama unfolds, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, declared the contract as void ab initio and relayed the government’s decision to the “suspended’’ Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, in a letter dated September 27, 2017, entitled, “Request for Clarification of Conflict Between Executed Agreement and Federal Government Treasury Single Account Policy’’.

Malami said the agreement, which had allowed INTELS to receive revenue on behalf of NPA for 17 years, violates sections 80(1) and 162(1) and (10) of the constitution.

In his words, he reacted by wondering if the management of the NPA and INTELS did not take cognizance of the relevant provisions when negotiating the agreement in 2010.

Facing the reality of losing several millions of dollars in commissions for the pilotage services it handles on behalf of NPA on Nigerian coastal waters, Volpi, founder of INTELS apologized to the government over the dispute that resulted in the termination of his company’s pilotage agreement with the NPA.

Preemptively, Volpi, while reacting to the incident, had promised INTELS would “comply with the directive of government” and transfer all the revenue collected from the boats monitoring and supervision services in Nigerian maritime waters to the Treasury Single Account. And what happened two years after the purported apology, INTELS and Volpi never fulfilled their promise thereby defrauding Nigeria of billions of dollars.

Consequently, after about two years of bickering, the NPA gave a notice of termination of its boats pilotage monitoring and supervision agreement with INTELS.

 

In a letter dated March 27, 2019, addressed to Bala-Usman, the NPA’s Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mohammed Bello-Koko, now calling the shots in acting capacity following the indefinite suspension of Bala-Usman, had accused INTELS of non-compliance with the presidential directive and circular on implementation of TSA and Article 4.1 of the executed supplemental agreement by refusing to remit the sum of $145, 849,309.33 being outstanding service boat revenue generated from November 1, 2017 to October 31, 2018.

Characteristic of Amaechi in his usual braggadocio and volte face, in February 2021, acting on a purported presidential directive, ordered the NPA to restore the contract to INTELS.

Whereas Buhari actually withdrew his approval for the reinstatement of INTELS’ contract after Bala-Usman wrote to President’s Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to explain NPA’s position which Gambari had forwarded to Malami for a legal opinion.

The development was seen as major victory and a vindication for Bala-Usman whose alleged “sin’’ was failing to honour a presidential directive on the said contract which Amaechi also listed as terms of reference for the panel of inquiry set up to probe the NPA.

This was despite Bala-Usman’s explanation that the president had withdrawn the directive pending further advice from the Attorney- General of the Federation and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).

Another Amaechigate is the fraudulently conceived multi-billion International Cargo Tracking Note for Nigeria (ICTN) which is now a subject of litigation at an Abuja court.

On December 22, 2021, following whistleblowers reports and a suit slammed on the senior public officials involved in the fraudulently conceived multi-billion ICTN, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had restrained the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, and others from taking any further step towards nominating any company or entity to be operators of the ICTN.

The court ordered that the injunction granted should subsist pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice filed pursuant to the substantive suit.

Other officers and agencies of the Federal Government affected by the court order are the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the ICTN implementing agencies appointed by Amaechi singlehandedly without due process —  MedTech Scientific Ltd and Rozi International Ltd.

Interestingly, our honourable minister is always entangled in a web of controversy and doing things without due process.

Guess what the negotiation or the contract is again characterized by a grand deception or divergence from absolute truth and as usual, he had the Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) and other maritime organizations to contend with as they rose to the occasion by raising concerns about the official malfeasance associated with the ongoing process of appointing an implementing agent for the ICTN in Nigeria.

Consequently, CASER decided to challenge in court the manner the process is being carried out by the Minister of Transportation.

CASER instituted the case out of serious concern for Nigeria’s internal security following the massive inflow of small arms and light weapons (SALW) through Nigerian seaports. CASER is also concerned that Nigeria loses huge billions of dollars following the improper tracking of cargo exports and imports.

The overall goal of the case by CASER, explains Mr Frank Tietie, the Executive Director, is to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) with international best practices and standards in procurement of such security-sensitive services and expressed gratitude to the legal firm of A.U. Mustapher (SAN) for accepting to take up the case on a pro-bono basis.

Messers Medtech Scientific Ltd in partnership with Rozi International Nig. Ltd with their technical partners as Frademar UK Ltd and Frademar SRL Genova Italy were appointed. A thorough profiling and check showed that Frademar UK Ltd is simply a trading company with a two-member staff, while Frademar SRL is merely a shipping agency.

Definitely, Amaechi does not believe in the gospel of transparency of his boss, Buhari, and he does not hide it; he had circumvented due process in the award of the multi-billion dollar contract for the ICTN and also raised a team to fleece Nigeria to visit Italy and London to carry out the required “due diligence’’ on the companies.

A peek into the companies shows that they have absolutely NO experience and knowledge of the service they want to render …Medtech is a medical equipment supply company registered and operating here in Nigeria. The company has neither implemented CTN for any country nor possesses any known platform to do so.

The minister picked a medical company in Nigeria without professional competence and knowledge in ICTN, thereby bypassing known procurement laws which is punishable under the law.

By way of education, ICTN, an electronic cargo verification system, 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. Also known as Advance Shipment Information System, Advance Cargo Declaration, ICTN is a global application in shipping trade that will provide accurate shipping data as well as monitor and verify cargo in transit from port of loading to port of destination.

Amaechi’s “smart and deft’’ move was to give the contract a semblance of due diligence after he had spurned and called the bluff of the National Security Adviser, retired Major-General Babagana Monguno and the Chief of Staff to the President, and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), who had flagged and queried the non-competitiveness of the multi-billion contract award without the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and BPE as required by law.

To further pull the wool over Mr. President’s eyes, Amaechi selected a team of loyalists from the Federal Ministry of Transportation, Nigerian Shippers Council and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) to hit Italy and UK to perfect the scam.

It is worth-recalling the minister’s four-paragraph letter to the President dated August 19, 2021:“I am requesting that Mr President reconfirms his earlier approval and direct that the ministry engage Messers Medtech Scientific Ltd in partnership with Rozi International Nig. Ltd to be presented to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Infrastructure  Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC)  to avoid delay in the implementation of ICTN.’’

The anticipatory approval of the President outside the Federal Executive Council has since continued to set tongues wagging among stakeholders in the industry.

In their patriotic zeal, the duo of Prof. Gambari and Monguno invited the “irrepressible minister’’ to several meetings over security and economic implications of the project which he repudiated and never batted an eye because he had successfully hoodwinked President Buhari to get “a midnight approval.’’

Uncowed and incensed by the fraudulent development, the Civil Society Against Business Malpractices (CSABM) – maritime practitioners and watchers – had blown the whistle on the implementation of ICTN in a 14-page petition dated September 9, 2021 and signed by Aliyu Suleiman (Chairman) and James Zaki (Secretary), alerting the nation of what it called an “unfolding ill-designed plan by persons and institutions to foist a fake ICTN on the country’’, pointing out that Pres. Buhari was “misguided to granting an anticipatory approval for a direct appointment of a puppet company.’’

The insistence of Amaechi to give the job to FRABEMAR and others has continued to raise dusts in Nigeria as the “international mafia’’ are set to scam the country in collusion with these high and mighty public officials.

Again on November 24, 2021, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was petitioned over the scandal by CASER in a letter dated Nov. 2, 2021 and addressed to Osinbajo, who doubles as the Chairman, National Economic Council comprising state governors, some ministers and the Governor of the Central Bank.

All in a bid to get Buhari’s attention at all cost, CASER was constrained to call the VP’s attention to the ongoing implementation of ICTN approved by Pres. Buhari, pointing out that it is “fraught with issues of official malfeasance, fraudulent misinterpretation, and brazen violation of known legal standards of public procurement.’’

Again, the seven-page letter signed by the Executive Director and Lead Advocate, Mr Frank Tierie states:`In the foregoing week, the Nigerian media have been awash with reports of the about said acts by certain unscrupulous public servants in cohorts with some desperate entities that are calculated to shortchange Nigerian people and to subvert the Federal Government’s economic policy of ease of doing business especially in the Nigerian maritime sector.

“Documents made available to us from our inquiries and willing whistleblowers show that the current attempts to implement the International Cargo Tracking Note (ICTN) in Nigeria and domiciling its management and operations in the Nigerian Shippers Council is driven only by the corrupt enrichment of a few persons who have mastered the art of deliberate manipulation of government processes for personal gain.

“We concur with the published reports that the approvals by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari as anticipated approvals to the Nigerian Shippers Council were based on highly criminal misrepresentation to which we suspect that the Honourable Minister of Transportation may just have been a victim, yet we maintain in the public interest that such nefarious fiasco of the failed implementation of the ICTN as it was in 2012 with millions of dollars accruing to Nigeria that are yet to be recovered but would open a floodgate of revenue loss to the Federal Government through the inaccurate value of imports and exports together with a highly compromised security of international cargo in Nigerian seaports.’’

With apparent hypocrisy, blarney and duplicity coupled with a breach of public officers oath of office, it is instructive to peek into this oath. For Amaechi,it is not in doubt that he has violated and breached the oath several times as he has been working at cross-purposes at the interest, well-being and prosperity of the generality of Nigerians.

The minister by the various infractions and malfeasance validated that contrary to the letters and spirit of the oath, he has acted against it by allowing “personal interest to influence his official conduct or his official decisions and failing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’’

Here is the oath/vow:

“Oath of Office of Vice-President, Minister, or Special Adviser etc

……………………………………………………………………………………………… do solemnly swear/affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that as Vice- President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria/Minister of the Government of the Federation/Special ………………………………………………. Adviser to , I will discharge my duties to the best of my ability, faithfully and in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that I will strive to preserve the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions; that I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that I will abide by the Code of Conduct contained in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that in all circumstances, I will do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will; that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria/Minister of the Government of the Federation/Special Adviser to ……………………..except as may be required for the discharge of my duties as Vice-President/Minister/Special Adviser. So help me God.’’

Intriguingly even with the violations, the relevant state agencies established by an Act of the Parliament are turning a blind eye to these grafts, scams and economic sabotages and ruination.

For instance, going by the primary functions of EFCC — Investigation and prosecution of financial crimes like bank frauds, evasion of taxes, capital marketing frauds, and other similar ones. EFCC is a national coordinator against laundering money and it is also an official Financial Intelligence Unit of Nigeria, it is unacceptable that the agency had yet to invite Amaechi despite several petitions to that effect.

 

Worried by the humongous fraud being perpetrated at the federal level, the federal government at a time ordered the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to investigate cases of infractions against the Public Procurement Act 2007, with the hope of punishing any civil servant found to have colluded with contractors to subvert the Act.

The threat by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, a lawyer, at the 2018 Procurement Retreat for Chief Executive Officers of Federal Government agencies and parastatals in Abuja, that any CEO found to have conspired with contractors to sideline the procurement process and procedures contrary to the act, would be dealt with may have been rested or put in abeyance.

CASER had stressed that the implementation of the CTN in Nigeria is very critically urgent for Nigeria, citing the reported case of thousands of pump action rifles that were registered in Turkey and destined by sea for Nigeria only for the manifest to be changed mid-journey and the guns entered Nigeria and were cleared as spare parts.

Hopeful of a possible launch of an investigation by ICPC, the organization reported the Amaechgate to the anti-corruption agencies in a five-page letter addressed to the ICPC Chairman dated Oct. 26, 2021:“We are confident in the patriotic resolve of the ICPC in preventing corrupt practices and to bring to book where acts of corruption have been perpetrated.

“Our member and legal representatives will be very much willing to assist the ICPC with further information and explanations when called upon in furtherance to the investigation of this petition.’’

To date what has played out is that neither the EFCC nor the ICPC has swung into action without waiting for the “Presidential directive’’ to go after Amaechi and other officials involved in the multi-billion dollar rip-off.

Without necessarily being a worrywart, I hold the reticence of the Presidency on the Amaechigate as scandalous as a favorite , hoping that the impression is not being given that those close to Buhari are shielded and exempted from investigation and prosecution no matter their crimes against the state.

I equally hold the view that for somebody who has committed so much atrocities and scandals, I don’t see why Mr President having discovered all these frauds and after his office and that of the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, have been inundated with documents, should not sack him.

The continued retention of the minister in the government, to me, smacks of tomfoolery and double standard on the part of the administration. Many questions no answer: How can just one man – the President’s ally – slap the Chief of Staff, National Security Adviser and other senior officials of government on their faces, violate his oath of office with impunity and cause the country so much losses to the tune of billions be allowed to get away with? He is not even getting a slap on the wrist can you beat that!

If Mr President is going to leave a legacy of openness, transparency and avowed aversion to corruption and all its appearances, he should do the needful and send Amaechi out of the government so that it will not stain it permanently.

It is our prayers and hopes that President Buhari with his untainted record of incorruptibility should exit in 2023 with his integrity and image intact as an anti-corruption crusader and fighter. In a saner society, the minister ought to have resigned and submit himself to scrutiny, investigation, and prosecution by the relevant agencies.

Mr. President had said recently that he did not want to disturb by court cases or summonses to come and give account or evidence after leaving office. To stave off the ugly trend of the prosecution of his ministers in his retirement in 2023, these baggages should be dispensed with forthwith.

 

Ajala, a forensic marine expert writes from Lagos

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