n March 28, heavily armed men believed to be terrorists emerged from the Kateri-Rijana forest of Kaduna State, setting off explosives to derail an Abuja-Kaduna train and shooting at hundreds of passengers on board.
The attack sparked national outrage and fresh worries about the capacity of the federally-controlled security and intelligence systems to detect and prevent attacks.
Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai blamed the military for failing to attack the terrorists, despite identifying them long before the train tragedy.
The transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, in an apparent attempt to absolve himself of blame, said he had long warned of possible attacks on the rail line.
Mr Amaechi claimed he had requested some digital security and crime detection equipment that could forestall such terror attacks on the rail line but his requests were turned down.
“I warned that lives will be lost. Now, lives are lost. Eight persons dead, 25 persons in the hospital,” he said. “We don’t know how many people have been kidnapped. And the cost of that equipment is just N3 billion. The cost of what we’ve lost is more than N3 billion.”
Punch reported that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) rejected Mr Amaechi’s proposed N3 billion railway security surveillance project on the ground that the minister awarded the contract to a company without the required delivery capacity.
It was not the first time Mr Amaechi would try to or effectively abuse the procurement process.
Easily one of the ministers with a record of helping to move up the infrastructural curve, M Amaechi, however, has negligible regard for due process as he commonly indulges in arbitrary conduct around procurements.
Multi-Billion Maritime Contract Awarded to Medical Company
n several occasions, Mr Amaechi got himself mired in arbitrary conduct around procurement processes involving agencies under his supervision. One such case was the controversial award of the International Cargo Tracking Note to a medial company in 2021, raising concerns from the Bureau of Public Procurement, which said the process could cause the Buhari administration embarrassment.
The 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.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation, however, revealed how the minister sought the approval of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to conduct a selected tendering exercise to engage agents or partners for the implementation of the cargo tracking note scheme.
The BPP rejected the selective tender request and, instead, asked the transport ministry to conduct international competitive bidding (ICB).
But Mr Amaechi obtained presidential assent and sidestepped laid down procedures to award the contract to a non-qualified company. The violation was so brazen that the BPP expressed concern at the process of approving a huge national security-sensitive maritime contract to a medical company.
Section 40 (1) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 says that “subject to the approval by the Bureau, a procuring entity may for reasons of economy and efficiency engage in procurement using restricted tendering”.
In two separate memos addressed to Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to Mr Buhari, and Magdalene Ajani, the transportation ministry’s permanent secretary, the BBP informed the presidency that Mr Amaechi had violated the procurement law as there was no approval from the bureau before adopting a restricted tendering exercise.
On the strength of the BPP’s memo, Mr Gambari insisted on the adoption of an international competitive bidding exercise to engage contractors for the implementation of the ICTN scheme.
Mr Amaechi, however, accused Mr Gambari of “consistently” interfering with the procurement processes of his ministry. In a memo addressed to the president, the minister said the Chief of Staff was not acting in the public interest but to benefit from the contract.
“I am particularly concerned that his opposition to my Ministry’s initiatives in respect of the ICTN Scheme has increased in tempo after the visit of a certain Miss Bilkisu Gambari, at his behest, to my office with her partners to solicit for the award of this same ICTN contract — which request was not granted,” Mr Amaechi said in his letter to the president.
Published last November, Mr Amaechi and his ministry have not given any denial of the PREMIUM TIMES’ investigation.
Hand-Picked Local Companies for CCECC Contract
n another violation of Nigeria’s procurement laws, Mr Amaechi ordered the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) to award contracts to some hand-picked local companies.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that the contracts were in connection with the Nigerian Railway Modernisation Project covering the Lagos-Kano and Kaduna-Kano sections. Citing a non-existing “Local Content Policy on Construction Materials and Equipment” as his reasons, Mr Amaechi hand-picked some local companies to handle a government project.
However, officials contacted in the transportation ministry and the BPP said no policy or executive order could have given Mr Amaechi the express authorisation to unilaterally hand-pick contractors for a private company engaged by the government.
The NPA Dredging Contract Tussle
efore her suspension in 2021, the erstwhile Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Usman, had several confrontations with Mr Amaechi over the award of contracts.
In one of the controversial contracts, the NPA had written to the BPP, requesting to adopt a selective tender method for the engagement of nine dredging companies for the management of Port Access Channels across Lagos Pilotage, Bonny Pilotage, Warri and Excravos Pilotage Districts.
With the N65 billion project, the NPA resolved to adopt selective tendering due to the specialised nature of the service, PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively reported. The agency added that the “subsisting contract with the Lagos Port Channel Management Company Joint Venture and the Bonny Channel Company was due to expire in December 2019 and June 2020, respectively.”
Although the BPP approved the NPA’s move, Mr Amaechi interfered with the process and ordered it be cancelled. The minister claimed his directive was based on an advisory by the BPP to directors of agencies to suspend non-essential contracts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The battle over INTELS contract
eanwhile, in 2020, the NPA management had terminated the operation of a boat service contract handled by INTELS Nigeria Limited, a logistics company in Nigerian ports.
The ports authority said the termination of the contract was due to the failure of the firm to comply with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) directive of the Nigerian government earlier that year.
At the peak of the crisis, Mr Amaechi directed the NPA to restore the boat service contract with INTELS but NPA insisted that its contract with the company had reached its end.
In preparation for the expiration of the contract, NPA initiated a public tender process for the contract. Several bidders submitted bids for the tender but the INTELS allegedly violated one of the criteria for the tender process and was disqualified.
These disagreements drew in the BPP, the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Ibrahim Gambari, who reported directives from the president to both parties and sought external advice to resolve the issues.
The BPP argued in support of positions canvassed by the NPA and flayed Mr Aamechi’s stand.
Violates Govt Policy Suspending Ex-NPA Boss
n May 2021, Mr Amaechi suspended the former Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) boss, Hadiza Usman, from office on the ground that she failed to remit N165 billion to the federation account.
Ms Usman denied wrongdoing and argued that the agency paid the due amount as provided by the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Her previous disagreements with the minister over procurements and contract awards are believed to have played a role in her suspension, PREMIUM TIMES has gathered.
This newspaper found that Ms Usman was not queried, nor was she made aware of the allegations against her management before her suspension by the minister.
The suspension of the NPA boss without a fair hearing is a clear breach of the government’s disciplinary policy especially as it concerns heads of agencies.
In a memo circulated among government agencies in 2020, before the suspension of Ms Usman, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, said an issue of impropriety against the head of a government agency requires a minister, through the permanent secretary of the supervising ministry, to refer the matter to the governing board of the affected agency.
Mr Mustapha noted that this was in line with the enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline and government parastatals. He also said the board would then issue the affected official a query and subsequently advise the minister of its findings and recommendations.
Having fulfilled the above steps, the SGF, by the government policy, is then required to “conduct an independent investigation and advise Mr President on the appropriate course of action, including interdiction or suspension in accordance with the principles guiding sections 030405 and 030406 of the Public Service Rules, pending the outcome of the independent investigation”.
“It shall be the responsibility of the SGF to further advise Mr President on the next course of action,” Mr Mustapha noted.
However, a PREMIUM TIMES report found that neither the governing board nor the SGF was carried along before disciplinary action was taken against Ms Usman.
Long Experience in Public Office
two-term governor in the oil-rich Rivers State, Mr Amaechi was born in 1965. He started his early education at St Theresa’s Primary School from 1970 to 1976 and earned his West African Senior School Certificate in 1982 after attending Government Secondary School, Okolobiri. He would later earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Studies and Literature from the University of Port Harcourt in 1987.
His political career began properly in 1992 when he became special assistant to the Deputy Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, his political chaperon. He later became the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1999 before becoming the governor of the state in 2007.
First appointed as transportation minister in 2015, Mr Amaechi was renominated for the same office in 2019. He has been praised by some Nigerians and government officials for upgrading rail infrastructure in the country.
President Buhari, his principal, has hailed Mr Amaechi for building both standard and narrow gauge lines. He has also been praised for building modern and faster locomotive trains, coaches and wagons.
Mr Amaechi successfully supervised the completion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail line, secured the contract for the Lagos-Ibadan-Kano rail line, and delivered the Lagos-Ibadan section.
He had spearheaded the flag-off of freight services on the Itakpe-Warri rail corridor and haulage of pipeline materials for the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano gas pipeline project. The minister also completed the Warri-Itakpe rail line and kickstarted the Kano-Kaduna rail line, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line and Kano-Maradi rail line.
Mr Amaechi on Saturday declared his intention to run for the office of president in 2023.
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