The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, has accused President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari, of interference with the procurement process in his ministry, the latest such skirmish between senior officials in the Buhari administration.
The accusation was the minister’s response to Mr Gambari’s apparent insistence on the adoption of an international competitive bidding exercise to engage contractors for the implementation of the International Cargo Tracking Note (ICTN) scheme, domiciled in the Nigerian Shippers’ Council under Mr. Amaechi’s supervision.
A PREMIUM TIMES investigation, based on leaked confidential memos and interviews with sources, showed how the president and the minister awarded the security-sensitive contract to two companies – MedTech Scientific Limited and Rozi International Limited – in ways that breached the procurement law and caused the Bureau of Public Procurement to complain about lack of due process.
Mr Amaechi was able to circumvent due process and got Mr Buhari to approve the contract, brushing aside BPP’s advice that only a competitive bidding exercise was appropriate. BPP said the contractors were “hand-picked” instead of a process that would have allowed interested companies, locally and internationally to compete.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that Mr Gambari, on the strength of a BPP’s memo decrying the “embarrassing” process followed by Mr Buhari and Mr Amaechi, had still been desirous of causing a reversal.
In a memo dated October 14 and addressed to the President, Mr Ameachi said the Chief of Staff had consistently sought to impose his interests on issues relating to procurement processes in his ministry.
Making it official that he had evidence the Chief of Staff was not acting in the public interest but to benefit from the contract through proxies, Mr Amaechi told Mr Buhari that Mr Gambari’s daughter, Bilkisu Gambari, approached him for 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.
“It would appear to me that it is the desire to satisfy multiple partners such as those referenced above that has led to the Chief of Staff’s continued advocacy and advice that this sensitive contract is split into several tranches with multiple service providers -even against standard practice in several jurisdictions.”
He requested that Mr. Gambari refrain from interfering with the procurement process of his Ministry and the agencies in the interest of service harmony.
“In view of the foregoing, | respectfully solicit Your Excellency’s intervention and directives in respect of the following matters:
i) That the Chief of Staff should refrain from these multiple acts of interference in the procurement processes in my Ministry and the agencies in the interest of service harmony and In order to ensure that Your Excellency és given the benefit of honest and objective advice, devoid of personal interest at all times, especially in relation to matters affecting the Federal Ministry of Transportation; and
ii) That the procurement process as earlier approved by, Mr Excellency should continue and be concluded by the Federal Ministry of transportation/Nigerian Shippers’ Council.”
Mr Gambari did not honour a request for comment. A text to his phone was not replied.
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Mr Amaechi’s letter was received at the office of the President on October 15 and subsequently the President noted and once again approved the continuation of the procurement process, which the BPP said was flawed.
In a way that suggests humiliation, the president directed Mr Gambari to reply to Mr Amaechi and assure him that Mr Buhari had noted his complaint and approved that the procurement should continue.
The reply memo reads: “I write to forward reference A to you to draw your kind attention to Mr. President’s notation of your prayers in para 5(i) (-refraining Mr. Gambari) and approval of (ii) (-continuation of the project) on page 2.
“Submitted for your kind action please”.
The two contractors awarded the shipping tracking scheme contract have no record of work in the area. MedTech is a healthcare company, and Rozi is a property development firm.
BPP said Mr Amaechi did not submit their profiles to enable the procurement agency to determine their competence.