Minister Of Transport Accused of Impunity Over Award Of Multi-Billion CTN Contract

Uncertainty has muddied the purported award of the multi-billion Naira Cargo-Tracking Contract to a Belgium-based company, Antaser, by the Ministry of Transport, after it emerged that it was done in defiance of a restraining court order, the legal opinion of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami SAN, and in contravention of two executive orders issued by President Muhammadu Buhari.

In 2018, President Buhari had in the Executive Order, titled “Planning and Execution of Projects, Promotion of Nigerian Content in Contracts and Science, Engineering and Technology”, directed Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to promote local content by giving preference to Nigerian companies (defined as companies formed and registered in Nigeria with no less than 51% equity shares owned by Nigerians) in the award of contracts, bids and projects.

The said order, which came into effect on 2 February, 2018, required Nigerian companies to be given priority in the award of contracts. Unless where the requisite expertise is lacking, then foreign companies, who demonstrate a plan for indigenous capacity development, could be considered.

Despite the said order, which was aimed at creating more opportunities for Nigerians and local companies, it was gathered that a powerful Cabal in the Presidency pressurized the Ministry of Transport, acting in concert with the Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council and Director-General of BPP, to go beyond the scope of its competence and award the CTN contract to Antaser, an Antwerp based company, who are currently in court with the Ghana Ports Authority over a similar contract.

The CTN contract was awarded on Wednesday last week to a foreign company Antaser, in preference to a Nigerian company, Donnington Ltd, which had both the competence and capacity, in breach of the Executive Order of 2018. Antaser was awarded the contract, alongside four Nigerian companies, suspected to be owned by the cabals in government, who unlawfully pushed for the award as possible “retirement benefits.” Because absurdly, instead of the usual five-year term, the CTN deal was given to Antaser for 15 years.

The purported award was also in disregard of another executive order of President Buhari, who had on May 10th, 2021 directed the Federal Ministry of Finance, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources to commence the immediate implementation of the said Advanced Cargo Declaration (ACD)/Cargo Tracking Note (CTN), which had lingered since 2011. In pursuance of this presidential directive, the two ministries jointly requested the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to issue a “No Objection” certificate in order for them to proceed with the award of the single-source contract to one Donnington Nigeria Limited, in view of the national security issues involved.

The purported award of the CTN contract to the Belgium company, coming less than four months after the Minister of Transport, Hon Muazu Sambo assumed office, was further in damnation of an overriding legal opinion of the Attorney-General of the Federation, which he communicated in a letter to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), dated 11th of January 2022, stating the position of the Nigerian law to the effect that only the Federal Ministry of Finance, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, have the competence to implement the CTN, which includes the award of contracts , in pursuance thereof.

“Only the Federal Ministry of Petroleum has the mandate to implement Crude Oil Services,” Mr. Malami SAN stated, adding that the Federal Ministry of Finance has the mandate for Container Cargo Tracking.

Despite these, the Ministry of Transport, acting at the behest of the Cabal, went ahead and purportedly awarded the CTN contract to Antaser, shunning Donnington, which had already committed funds to procure equipment, engaged staff and foreign partners, based on President Buhari’s approval of its proposal.

The CTN contract was also awarded in contempt of a court of competent jurisdiction. Recall that following a suit in Sept. 2022 by Donnington, the Federal High Court Abuja had issued an injunction, restraining the award of the said CTN contract.

The judge had ordered the maintenance of the status-quo, pending the determination of the substantive matter.

The Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transportation were listed as defendants in the matter.

Donnington Ltd had approached the court for protection and remedies when it sensed foul-play by some government officials.

The illegal award of the CTN contract to Antaser by the Transport Ministry has hurled the Buhari Govt into a dilemma, especially with the Donnington suit hanging over its legality.

“There is no way this illegality can stand,” A representative of Donnington said. “My take is that this disrespect for the Rule of Law was done without the knowledge of the President. Or he was misled about it. We expect the Attorney-General to take steps and nullify the contract.”

It should be noted that it is the duty of the AGF to ensure that all federal ministries and ministers act within legal tenets and obey the rule of law.

Attempts to get the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation to officially comment on this bizarre development had not been successful, as at the time of filing this report. However, a source in the ministry said Mr. Malami is “enraged” over the matter.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Transport has adamantly refused to speak to the issue, as he continues to shun our inquiries.

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