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$3.1b customs automation deal

Webb Fontaine denies instituting legal suit

ICT service provider specialist, Webb Fontaine Nigeria Ltd has denied that it instituted legal suit against the Federal Government over the customs modernization contract awarded to Messrs E. Customs HC Project Limited at a whooping sum of $3.1m.

The Managing Director of Webb Fontaine Nigeria, Mr. Opeolu Babalola  who disclosed this in a media chat with maritime journalists said they have no problems with Bionica Technologies West Africa Limited, which was touted as lead sponsor of in the customs modernization project, up until the deal swung in favour of HC Project.

Babalola not only disassociated his organization from any misgiving or contention arising from the project, he also denied having issues with Bionica  and other companies that reportedly bidded for the contract.

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The Webb Fontaine boss said its management has commenced investigation on the media reports linking it to any opposition against the modernization initiatives of the FG, and assured of its unshakeable commitment to partner with the FG and its agencies in deepening government’s automation drive within the ports industry, and the national economy.

Fielding question from journalists regarding the contentious customs modernization contract and its reported posture in view of losing the contract to other firms, Babalola said, “We don’t know where those reports are coming from, I have read some of them and was surprised to also see Webb Fontaine’s name given prominent mention under the circumstances.

“We are investigating the source of the media reports. We won’t in anyway support a narrative that shows tendencies to discourage modernisation progress or against the work of the Federal Government of Nigeria to enhance revenue collection and border security.

“From what I have seen, the huge amount mentioned is even to be brought in by the private sector. We have no issues with Bionica or their plans, and we have neither initiated nor asked to be joined in lawsuit against them.

“Let me say here that Webb Fontaine is fully supportive of all the Federal Government’s move to continue to improve on its modernization and full automation of Nigeria Customs Service and its processes.  This will help to facilitate trade, increase revenue and enhance national security, and will improve Nigeria’s standing in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business indices. This has been our focus and we have remained consistent with this over the years.”

Prior to the contract award last month, industry stakeholders has described the proposed e-customs project as a costly duplication of the function of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to discard the proposal, which they further described as fraudulent, noting the deal has the trappings of economic rip off.

They urged both the president and the federal executive council to scrutinize the deal as well the consortium of four private firms it was contracted to, with a view to determine and expose those involved, to serve as deterrence in the fight against corruption.

Apart from opposition mounted by the organized private sector, Nigerian lawmakers also passed a resolution suspending the implementation of the proposal by the presidency, until it is subjected to legislative hearing and public bid.

However, despite the oppositions, the FG last month awarded the contract to Messrs E. Customs HC Project Limited.  According to facts of the contracts, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Ministers of Finance and Budget and Planning, were believed to have been mandated by the presidency to finalize the concession agreement between the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, ICRC, Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, and the Special Purpose Vehicle company,  Messrs E. Customs HC Project Limited . Designed as a digital/paperless customs administration in revenue-collection, the contractor is expected to draw its fee from the 1% Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme, CISS.

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