The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), at the weekend, alleged that the on-going face-off between the Senate and its Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), has its roots in the fact that Customs officials, early this year, seized a bulletproof Range Rover Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) which allegedly belonged to the Senate President Bukola Saraki.
They also alleged that Ali’s refusal to release about 30 containers of imported rice seized last year by the authorities of the Tincan Island Command of the Customs Service to a high ranking Senator, who pleaded that it should be released to him, might have incurred the anger of the Senators, who, according to sources close to the Comptroller General, had in the last 18 months of his administration, been visiting the Senate chambers several times for budget defence and other issues without any issue raised over his uniform. It was further claimed that the suspension of the Customs Auction Sales since August last year, which the lawmakers used to allegedly benefit from, could have also been one of Ali’s sins.
Sunday Telegraph learnt at the headquarters of the Federal Operation Unit, Zone A, Nigeria Customs Service, Ikeja, at the weekend, that the seized vehicle with chassis number SALGV3TF3EA190243, which market value was put at N298 million, was intercepted on January 11, 2017, because it paid a very low duty of N8 million instead of the N74 million duty payable on it.
This was even as the documents presented by the driver of the vehicle were found to be fake. The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak on the matter, noted that the vehicle was discovered to have been manufactured in 2014, in the United Kingdom, while the fake documents the driver produced showed that the vehicle was cleared in Nigeria in 2013, which means that the vehicle was cleared in Nigeria a year before it was actually manufactured.
Sunday Telegraph further learnt that at the interception of the car, its driver claimed that the vehicle belonged to the Senate President and presented a letter from the National Assembly Liaison Office in Lagos, indicating that the driver of the luxury vehicle was authorised to drive the Senate President’s official Range Rover bulletproof car. Our source disclosed that when asked to show evidence of duty payment and an end-user certificate from the office of the National Security Adviser – a document required for bulletproof vehicles – the driver presented documents that were found to be fake. The reportedly fake documents provided by the driver indicated that only N8 million was paid on the car (which means an under-payment of N70 million). Customs officials said that, apart from the fact the Customs duty was extremely low, they also discovered that the presented document itself was fake. They consequently seized the vehicle.
Later the same day, January 17, 2017, the Senate sent a letter signed by one Architect O.A. Ojo acting as the Secretary of Procurement, Estate and Works of the National Assembly, requesting the release of the vehicle, which he claimed belonged to the convoy of the Senate President. In its response, the Nigerian Customs sent a letter signed by Comptroller, Import and Export, Othman A.S, the letter dated January 24 2017, again requested for the end user certificate as well as evidence of proper clearance before the vehicle could be released.
Neither the Senate President nor the National Assembly provided the required documents. Shortly after the seizure of the car, the Nigeria Customs Service announced plan to commence collection duties across the country on vehicles that might have failed to pay the duty at the point of entry, the Senate replied by directing the Service to suspend the policy. The senators also summoned the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, to appear before the Senate in his Nigeria Customs uniform.
The International Conspiracy
According to a retired civil servant from the Federal Ministry of Information, lot of people talk about the international conspiracies surrounding ASCN but very few know what they actually were or are. He disclosed that in 1992, when the project was near completion and while the Russians (TPE) called on the government to work on needed infrastructure, powerful countries, namely France, America, Germany, Britain etc, including organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) started reaching out to the Nigerian government to terminate the project with the Russians.
The civil servant in the Accreditation and Monitoring Unit of Public Affairs Department of the Federal Ministry of Information, told Sunday Telegraph that precisely in 1991, he was opportune to have monitored two separate documentaries on Nigeria’s Steel Complex, Ajaokuta, Kogi State and the Aluminum Smelter Company, Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, respectively. He said: “It was in the course of performing my monitoring duties that I got the first hint that the steel complex will never be able to produce flat iron sheets due to a defect in its installation capacity.
“I was agitated at the information and wanted to know why the steel plant, which was celebrated for its unique role in blazing the trail for heavy industrial development in Nigeria, had to start with such defect the French film producer simply said, ‘has to do with the steel technology the Russian contractors in-charge of the project have installed. I think that the Russian technology is a stale one.
“Another expert, an American working at the Aluminium Smelter Company Nigeria (ALSCON), said that what happened there after was that the original technology the Russians were bringing to Nigeria was sabotaged, and the current technology proposed for Nigeria Ajaokuta steel project was swapped on the high sea for an obsolete technology which is what has been installed at Ajaokuta. Your country will not be able to produce flat steel sheet and that isn’t good enough”, the retired civil servant said.
According to him, most government officials listened to and believed these stories and the negative solutions proffered without ever considering the true intentions of the so-called experts from these powerful foreign countries. But Russia, all through, stood its ground alone against France, America and co and kept on reminding Nigeria of the need to ignore the adverse opinions.
The Ohinoyi of Ebira land, HRM Ado Ibrahim, also disclosed that he witnessed, first-hand, a plot by the IMF during a conference in New York where a team of Nigerian officials and foreign agents connived to get ASCL completely dismantled and forgotten. To them, Nigeria did not need to have a steel plant. Nigeria could as well buy steel from them if needed for its development. Nigeria’s government was too busy focusing on ushering in the Third Republic, June 12 saga and all. No attention was given to the Russians. TPE was no longer being paid. In 1994 TPE left Nigeria.
The Debt Buy Back
Nigeria’s contract with TPE was to construct ASCN for German Deutschmarks DM5billion and such that the Nigerian steel authority gave TPE promissory notes guaranteeing payment to the company. When the Nigerian government suspended payment and TPE left, TPE sold off these instruments to recover some of the debt owed to the company.
In October 1995, a series of secret debt buyback transactions took place whereby the debt instruments were sold at inflated prices to Liberian companies purportedly owned by the Abachas – Parnar Shipping Corporation and Mecosta Securities.
This involved the withdrawal in 1996 of $2.5 billion of public funds to settle debts owed Russia for the construction of the Ajaokuta steel plant, but which, in reality, had been discounted to only $500 million. Obasanjo, in 1999, settled the debt through OMPADEC and in 2003, concessioned the plant to SOLGAS -an American company which had nothing to do with steel, but specialises in petroleum. For a year and a half, SOLGAS’ zero progress raised questions as to their technical capacity to operate the ASCN. To this end, Nigeria terminated its contract with SOLGAS and Global Steel Holdings Limited (GSHL) became the second Concessionaire in 2004.
This concession, which saw the taking over of ASCN and Itakpe, has been described as one of the biggest scams against Nigeria in history. The plant was hugely undervalued for $300 million and GSHL was to pay nothing to the government but inject its funds to revive the plant with a number of conditions some of which were:
1. That the Federal Government should give GSHL two oil blocks.
2. That GSHL be allowed to be lifting crude oil from Nigeria.
3. That the Sapele Power Plant be given to GSHL to operate.
4. Concession of Delta and Warri Ports to GSHL to operate.
5. The supply of Natural Gas to GSHL at ‘competitive and reasonable tariff’.
GSHL came up with this condition after it failed to sign a Gas Supply Agreement with the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company. GSHL offered to pay N5.00 per cubic meter of Gas as against the market price of N30.00). It also inserted in its conditions that “Gas price should be kept reasonable and consistent”.
After all these conditions, ASCN still deteriorated as its equipment were moved to Delta Steel (which GSHL took over in 2005) while some to other private Indian-owned steel factories in Nigeria in the name of ‘borrowing’. The Federal Government, under President Umaru Yar’Adua, realised the huge mistake Nigeria once again made and terminated the contract.
A Senator Ahmed Lawan-led ad hoc Committee, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Architect Mohammed Musa Sada also revealed that the Federal Government, under President Olusegun Obasanjo, single handedly sold ASCN to GSHL and the Indian firm consequently finally ruined the Ajaokuta complex by stripping it of all valuable equipment and machinery.
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