The expensive media razzmatazz and the glitzy photo ops with top politicians and other prominent Nigerians, these may just be a facade to hide the fact that the national identity card project currently lie in a legal limbo that may eventually cost the government as much as N44 billion of tax payers money in damages for an alleged breach of contract.
The current legal logjam hovering over the project was occasioned by what the Managing Director of Chams Consortium Limited, Demola Aladekomo, described as an abuse of office and executive highhandedness by the Director General of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Chris Onyemenam.
Chams, which was the initial concessionaires of the project, has therefore dragged NIMC to a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order to stop further implementation of the programme. It is also asking the court to order the Federal Government to pay N44 billion in damages.
In interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Aladekomo said his company was awarded the concession in a transparent bid process that involved 65 international companies in 2007, following the recommendations of a 2006 Presidential Implementation Committee, headed by the then Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, on how to deliver on a project that has gulped several billions but has remained largely in limbo for decades.
Other notable members of the committee were the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia and Chairman of Heir Holdings, Tony Elumelu, Mr. Aladekomo said.
He said trouble soon started after Mr. Onyemenam started dilly-dallying in getting the concession agreement ready. He said it took the NIMC chief executive three years to prepare the concession agreement.
“Unfortunately for us, the DG NIMC just got a law degree a year before he was appointed,” Mr. Aladekomo told PREMIUM TIMES in his office in Lagos.
“He then used us as guinea pigs to practice his law. From May 24th when the contract was signed it took him to July 26, 2010 that he signed the concession agreement. He became more Catholic than the pope. He became more civil servant than the civil servant. He asked us to draft the concession agreement we drafted one and gave it to him. He appointed a law firm, Banwo Ighodalo and Co. He said what they drafted was not good. He now started to write the concession agreement himself in 2008 and finished in 2010.”
He explained that in-between that time the company had invested upwards of N7.1 billion into setting up the facilities for the kick-off of the project.
“Meanwhile, because we have promised the president that we were going to deliver in 2009 and he said ‘don’t wait for the concession agreement, start work’. We invested. We did an IPO, raised N8.4 billion, spent N7.1 billion on the project. One of the things we got out of the project was the Guinness World Record for the Chams City that we built. We built a switch that could handle 100 million Nigerians. We built a card plant that could produce 1.7 million cards a day in Abuja for national ID. We spent 7.1 billion of shareholders money preparing for the take off so that we can do consumer finance and credit bureaus, this man was busy writing concession agreement,” he explained.
Mr. Aladekomo said by the time the concession agreement was ready for signing, Mr. Onyemenam had another surprise waiting for Chams.
“By the time the concession agreement was ready we said let’s start he said. ‘No no no, I want to see all your designs, I want to see all your partners’. We gave him all our designs and showed him all our partners and had a big meeting in Abuja. We gave him our final design and showed him all our partners in 2012.
“The day we showed him all our partners and gave him all our design that was the last day he spoke to us. The same night we introduced our partners to him in Abuja he went to all their rooms in the (Transcorp) Hilton that they should be dealing with him directly,” he said.
When contacted Mr Onyemenam said he was not interested in engaging in media debate of the issue with Chams as it is a subject of an ongoing litigation.
“As of today I am under advise to not speak on the concession which has been cancelled and over which Chams has gone to court and the next hearing has been fixed for sometime in June 2015,” he said in an email.