Federal High Court in Abuja has voiced its concern over the Nigeria Customs Service’s (NCS) excessive interference in the $3.1 billion lawsuit brought by aggrieved companies against it and nine other parties regarding the contested e-Customs Project.
The court specifically criticized the NCS authorities for writing to the Chief Judge of the Court directly rather than through its lawyers of record.
In his remarks, Justice Inyang Ekwo recommended attorneys constantly advise their clients on how to follow due process in court litigation cases.
Senior Nigerian Advocate Audu Anuga, who represented the Customs in the lawsuit, apologized profusely for the behavior of his client and vowed that it would not happen again.
The Nigeria Customs Service stated in a letter to the court that the ex-parte decision previously issued by the court could hinder the Federal Government of Nigeria, a respondent in the lawsuit, from generating income. It requested that the ruling be overturned so that it could keep raising money for the government.
The parties to the lawsuit were brought back for further proceedings, during which the ex-parte ruling was annulled by the NSC’s argument, even though the matter had previously been scheduled for hearing on November 7, 8, and 9.
The Federal Government was prohibited by court order on June 17 from enforcing or implementing the contentious Customs Modernization Project, also known as e-Custom, which was purportedly carried out by its agents on May 30, 2022.
The Nigerian Customs Service, Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Nigeria Limited, and African Finance Corporation are the claimed agents who carried out the contested concession project.
The Federal Executive Council, Trade Modernisation Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Limited, and African Finance Corporation were awarded the Custom Modernisation Project, also known as the e-custom project. The court also issued an order of interim injunction prohibiting the Federal Government or its agents from retroactively ratifying this decision.
Justice Ekwo issued a restraining order that was to be in effect while the defendants’ lawsuit against them was heard and decided. The suit was brought by Messrs E-Customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited.
Mr. Anone Usman, the attorney for the two wronged companies, had presented an ex-parte motion in which he asked the court for preliminary injunctions against the defendants to safeguard his clients’ interests.
When making his decision on the ex-parte application on June 17, Justice Ekwo granted the plaintiffs’ requests after they presented enough proof of their interest in the concession project.
Justice Ekwo instructed the parties in the lawsuit to first look at an out-of-court settlement during Friday’s sessions.
Justice Ekwo approved November 7, 8, and 9 for a report of the settlement to be provided to the court and for a hearing in case the out-of-court settlement failed due to no objections from the parties.
According to the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, E-Customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited, the Federal Government and its agent’s decision to enter into a concession agreement with the defendants about the e-Customs project is illegal because it was made in flagrant violation of Section 2 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act 2005. They also claim that the defendants have committed other violations of the law.
Additionally, they requested that the court rule that E-Customs HC Project Limited is the legitimate concessionaire for the e-customs project by Section 2 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act and as approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, at its meeting on September 2, 2020.
The plaintiffs are also asking for a court judgment instructing the Federal Government to complete the e-Customs project with the first plaintiff (E-Customs), as authorized by the FEC at its meeting in September 2020, through the AGF, Finance Minister, ICRC, and NCS.
The Federal Government, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Finance Minister, the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Trade Modernization Project Limited, Huawei Technologies Company Limited, the African Finance Corporation, and Bergmans Security Consultant and Supplies Limited are named as defendants in the lawsuit.