News Investigators/ The $3.1 billion suit filed against the Federal Government of Nigeria on the controversial customs modernisation project has suffered a set back with a party to the case withdrawing as plaintiff.
Messrs E-Customs HC Project Limited, listed as the first plaintiff in the suit before Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja on Tuesday, said its consent was neither sought nor granted and therefore disowned the suit.
Two companies, E-Customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited were listed as plaintiffs in the legal action against the government claiming in which it is claiming $3.1 billion USD as damages over a disputed customs concession agreement.
Counsel to E-Customs HC Project Limited, Mr Ugochukwu Nnoli, alleged that it’s consent and authorisation was neither sought nor obtained by the second plaintiff, Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited before filing the suit.
It however claimed that it had a joint venture company and a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) promoted by Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited in 2019 with equal shareholders standing.
In its application for withdrawal from the suit, E-Customs HC Project Limited argued that the purpose of forming joint venture to bid for a contract for service to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) had since failed.
Adding that the company had consequently applied to the Corporate Affairs Commission for a voluntary winding up.
According to Mr. Nnoli, using the company’s name as first plaintiff to obtain or seek for further injunctive reliefs against the government amounts to obtaining by false pretense or fraudulent misrepresentation, stating that E-Customs no longer has any grouse against the federal government.
It further explained that the essence of its application was not just about which lawyer to represent it but on the much more fundamental question of false and wrongful commencement of the suit in its name as an unwilling litigant.
It further stated that the name E-Customs was generic and that it had not registered same as a trademark or trade name and that it did not object to the use of the name by any person.
The company also said it was anxious to escape any criminal liabilities that may result from disclosure of privileged communication protected by the official secret act.
Mr Nnoli also told the court that he had written a letter to the other counsel in the matter explaining that his client E-Customs HC Project Limited no longer wanted to be a part of the suit.
“They are no longer interested in being part of the proceedings because they are an unwilling litigant,” Mr Nnoli said.
In his response, Counsel to Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited, told the court that neither he nor his client had received any such correspondent
The judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo said that he couldn’t proceed to hear the matter because there was a clog in the wheel of the case.
Justice Ekwo held that unless the issue of representation was resolved, the case could not proceed.
The judge adjourned the matter until Dec. 6 to enable the two parties to put their house in order.
It would be recalled that Messrs E-customs HC Project Limited and Bionica Technologies (West Africa) Limited on June 17, 2022, dragged the Federal Government and the concerned agencies to before the Federal High Court Abuja, challenging the alleged “unlawful and fraudulent” concession of the e-custom project to the defendants TMPL.
The two plaintiffs had in their statement of claim narrated how they proposed to carry out the Customs modernisation project for the benefit of the Nigeria Customs Service.
They averred that on September 2, 2020, the Minister of Finance presented a memo number EC2020/153 to the Federal Executive Council, FEC – the highest decision making body of the Federal Government, and secured approval for the two plaintiffs to be granted the concession.