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Transport minister in last-minute move to renew Intels’ expired contract

May 21, 2023

In yet another controversial move, Mu’azu Jaji Sambo, minister of transportation, has launched a last-ditch effort to cancel the procurement process for service boat monitoring contract in the nation’s four pilotage districts which was started since 2019, TheCable has reported.

The pilotage districts are those of Lagos, Warri, Bonny/ Port-Harcourt and Calabar.

The newspaper had earlier reported how the minister pressured the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, ministry of justice and the presidency to terminate a procurement process and give the contract to July Seventh Ventures Limited, a company linked to a former governor of Ogun state.

Sambo, in his response, blamed the report on some persons whom he said were “intimidated” by his achievements and denied any involvement in a contract mess.

The new service boat monitoring contract contracting process was kicked off by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, following the expiration of the contract it entered with maritime giant, Intels, promoted by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

Aside the expiration of the Intels’ tenured contract, the NPA management at the time cited the need to break the company’s monopoly in the sector and then opened up the process to interested bidders.

With the tenure of their contract about to lapse, Intels participated in the new procurement process but was disqualified after being judged to have flouted some criteria.

The process, however, became embroiled in administrative squabble between the NPA and former minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, who also reportedly wanted the contract awarded to Intels despite the disqualification.

Intels went to court to challenge the disqualification.

Since then, the process remained frozen with the NPA management and transportation ministry sitting on the process despite selection of pre-qualified companies.

Moves to terminate the process were also opposed by both the pre-qualified companies and relevant government organs who pointed to the dangers of taking the extra-legal step.

Following the stalling, President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2022 directed that the initiated procurement should be concluded within 60 days.

The presidential directive was reaffirmed in another letter from the chief of staff to the president, Ibrahim Gambari, dated June 14, 2022.

But the minister began a fresh move to void the procurement process and re-award the contract to Intels’s despite its disqualification.

Though Sambo’s move is facing resistance from BPP and the office of the attorney-general, the minister is reportedly pushing hard for his position to scale through within the remaining five days of the administration.

On December 14, 2022, the transport minister wrote to Buhari seeking approval to direct the BPP to cancel the ongoing procurement process started the and initiate a new one.

He also sought to void the open competitive bidding process and re-award the contract to Intels without following any procurement process.

Sambo, in his submission to the president, highlighted some technical flaws with the procurement process in what insiders said was an attempt to discredit the process.

But in its response, the BPP opposed the minister’s move, saying there was no basis to warrant or legitimise the outright cancellation of the procurement process.

Mamman Ahmadu, BPP’s director-general, in a letter dated March 7, 2023, explained that the process Sambo was seeking to cancel “substantially complied with the provisions of Public Procurement Act, 2007”.

Re-echoing the position expressed in Buhari’s two previous directives, the BPP DG said “considering the importance of the procurement to the operations of the NPA coupled with the revenue loss that it is meant to address there is the compelling need for the procurement process to be concluded within the shortest possible time”.

But Sambo, on May 8, 2023, wrote to Buhari to make fresh arguments for the cancellation of the stalled process. In the new correspondence, the minister asked for permission to return the contract to Intels in place of the new companies being engaged.

Sambo quoted a voided presidential directive dated January 22, 2021, where his predecessor was accused of misleading the president to approve the re-award of the contract to Intels, a position which the president has since receded based on submissions by BPP and office of the attorney-general upholding the validity of the suspended procurement process.

In both his letters of January 7, 2022 and June 14, 2022, Buhari maintained that the existing procurement process should be concluded to avert further revenue waste, among others.

The BPP has also stuck to its guns asking the transport ministry to not void the advance-staged process, saying the ministry had not given enough justification to warrant the proposed cancellation.

Insiders who have been monitoring the developments say Sambo is pushing on with the agenda with support from two of Buhari’s in-laws to “hurriedl”y actualise the reversal of the process and to award the contract to INTELS barely eight days to the end of the administration.

“This could also be viewed as an affront on the incoming administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu that the Presidency is trying to empower a company where his biggest opponent owns a significant interest,” said one of the sources familiar with the intrigues.

Some key persons around the President-elect view some of these last-minute deals being pushed by officials of the outgoing administration as setting up of landmines for the incoming administration.

Culled from: Daily Nigerian/The Cable

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