Former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
By Levinus Nwabughiogu, Abuja
The Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, said yesterday that approval was duly secured in the award of the $195.3 million Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure in Nigeria, otherwise called Deep Blue, to HSL International Limited.
The contract, which was launched on June 10, 2021, was expected to deploy modern security and surveillance equipment to secure Nigerian territorial waters up to the Gulf of Guinea.
The project included the specially trained Maritime Security Unit, MSU, with personnel drawn from the Nigerian Navy, Air Force, Army, Police Force and the Department of State Service, DSS.
Appearing before the Yusuf Gagdi-led House of Representatives Committee on Navy investigating the legitimacy of the contract yesterday, Amaechi said execution of the contract has reduced piracy and the level of crime on Nigerian waters.He said: “I thought we have concluded it when we appeared.
They saw navy, everybody. The EFCC has invited us and we are back again. We have finished with the EFCC. The report has been submitted to the President. A committee set up by the President, headed by the vice president, has concluded investigation and submitted report to Council.
”There was a committee headed by the Minister of Defence. That was concluded and reported to Council. So, this should be twice in the National Assembly or House of Reps by the same Navy committee, twice by cabinet, once by EFCC. May be the Senate will invite us too.
“I worry a lot about what is the special interest in this deep blue project. I was to be in Nairobi last week because the AU gave us an award for it. Our crime rate in the sea has come down drastically. It was so bad.
”We were number one in the world. When we introduced this, the crime rate reduced. So, I don’t know why I am going round, pursuing the same issue all over but I will say to you that we followed all the processes.
“The first process is what they called RFB (Request for Proposal) which came through an Israeli firm that says they will be paid at the conclusion of the project and we looked at it. The next thing to do after we had finished was to go to the BPP and we went to BPP. That’s why the chairman said it was bulky.
“If you go Annexure 2, you will see the BPP approval. So, we have that approval for the certificate of no objection. We have that due process and at the end of that, no objection certificate, you go to the cabinet.
”We went to cabinet and we have cabinet approval. Subsequently, we have been going through the cabinet approval in implementing this and we have been implemented it by saying that everything that must be bought was bought, cleared, installed and handed over to about three or four agencies.
“Initially, we should have been under Navy but the reason we said no in our memo was the fact that the rate at which the crime was committed in the Maritime sector was becoming a bit unbearable. So, we got in army and police to take care of the land to coast.
”Then we got in the Navy to take care of the water. We got in the Airforce to fly the aircraft. The police to work with the army and the DSS to work with intelligence. So, they trained Nigerian military and the police. Some of the training appeared to be outstanding because by the time they were to train the police and DSS, they were involved in the elections.”At the last meeting we had, we directed them to commence that training now that the elections are over.
“The other thing to say to you is that beyond the successes, if you look at the attachment, you will see the approval by cabinet. The agreement is also attached.”So, we discharged our responsibility modestly with minimal cost and what I don’t know is about payment because as minister, my responsibility is just to approve up to the cabinet level. I don’t approve payment.
”Once the cabinet is over, then, NIMASA is responsible for implemention. As supervising minister, I have special interest in making sure contracts are delivered because my interest is to make sure there is security in the waters.
“We have reduced the number of attacks we used to have in the waters. That’s what the situation is now. And I want to thank the commission for inviting us to appear before the committee. Thanks very much.
“The Minister also gave a detailed background of how the project was conceptualized as demanded by the committee.
He said: “I said it was an RFP but this time, we didn’t ask them. By the time they came forward, when we took over the reins of affairs in government, we were number one in terms of piracy in the world. It was Somali, Gulf of Elem, Gulf of Guinea and we are Gulf of Guinea.
”In less than two, three years, we are now number one. On rampant killings, you heard of the fact that Denmark came to our waters and killed two Nigerians and arrested some others and we protested. It was worst than that.
”It became so bad that Americans wrote to us that they want to come with their guns, we said no, you can’t come into Nigeria because of sovereignty. And they said they won’t come down from the vessel. We said whether you come down or not, the moment you enter our waters, you are under our protection.
”But what they are telling us is that you can’t protect us because you have been having this crime all the time. It got so bad that Europe now had a meeting and decided to send their war vessels.
“At that point, Nigeria had no option but to act and I wrote to the President for an approval to engage them and he approved. We set up a committee headed by the NSA, and made up of the Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Defence Staff, IGP, DG, SSS.
”At the end of that assessment, there was a bit of disagreement between us and them, we went back to the President who then removed the NSA and replaced him with the Minister of Defence. It was at that time we went to the BPP after getting the President’s approval. It was the BPP that gave us approval. That’s what happened.”
But in their presentations before the committee, the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP which issued the certificate of no objection to the HSL, failed to provide evidence showing the legitimacy of the company.
Speaking on behalf of the Director General, Mamman Ahmadu, the officer who reviewed the procurement, Isaiah Yesufu, said the company was qualified to handle the project.He was responding to the committee’s concerns with section 16 (4) of Public Procurement Act which stated certain criteria for award of contract.
“This procurement came to us through the ministry of transportation in 2017 and it was for the procurement of a contractor to install some security equipment on our coast line. Specifically, the project is integrated security of waterways and solution in favour of HLS international.
”When it came, there was an approval for the engagement of the contractor for a request for approval. There is a section of the law that permits sourcing and this procurement has a letter from the office of the NSA and office of Mr. President indicating the security nature of the project.
”So, under that, we approved the use of direct project. We went through the processes, looked at the request the minister made, documents that were submitted and we were satisfied with it and we issued a certificate of no objection. We submitted the reviewed report that contains the details of our findings.
“The law permits international companies from participating in our procurement. It doesn’t forbid them. So, if they are not on CAC register, it’s not an offence. It is that they are anh international company.
“It is not stated that the company must be registered in Nigeria. What is said is that they must possess the capacity to handle the contract not that they must be registered in Nigeria. We are not saying there is a waiver of anything. Procurement is an international thing. A company incoperated outside can do business in Nigeria. There is no law against that.
“The documents that were brought which was the basis for our review was brought in 2017 and when we conclude our reviews, we don’t keep them. We have returned them to the ministry of transportation. So, what we are going to do is write to them to bring those documents. We will try to retrieve them so that we can add it to what you have said and make a secondary submission as you have requested,” he said.