Untold story of how NIPOST hijacked dead man’s intellectual property
Chidi Nwachukwu, August 11, 2018
The electronic stamp duty collection system as being used today by the Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST) to generate revenue for government, was conceived, developed and initiated by a Nigerian whose name has never been mentioned in connection with the innovation, because the project was hijacked from him, and converted into a revenue generator for government.
The originator of that laudable project, Mr. Sam Ahia, who is now deceased, invested his lifetime savings, energy, time and all he had, to see to the successful birthing of the project, but was not privileged to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labour. He believed in the possibility of introducing such an advanced technological feat into the Nigerian system, even when no one else had even dreamt of such a possibility.
In January of the year 2000, late Mr. Ahia, the deceased managing director of Frontiers Ranks Ltd, an Abuja-based private consultancy firm, submitted to the then government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a proposal seeking to introduce the electronic postage stamp duty on receipt (POSDOR), to substitute for the now obsolete adhesive paper stamp. His proposal was targeted at convincing the government to quickly adopt the electronic stamping system since it was obvious that the world was jetting into a digital era when the paper stamp would no longer be in much use.
Ahia reasoned that the analogue system of sending out postal orders and mails was limited in its scope and reach, and was soon going to be abandoned for the more enhanced and sophisticated electronic postage and mailing system, and therefore, went into research to develop an electronic stamp duty prototype which he was certain could be introduced in Nigeria at that time, to replace the analogue stamp duty system. He was certain that the e-stamp duty project would earn the government much more revenue than the conventional one, and more importantly, ensure that the NIPOST does not phase into redundancy.
Upon completing his project, he swung into action and started pushing for the adoption of his brain child. Following series of negotiations with government, Ahia was referred to NIPOST to deliberate on the final implementation and contractual plan for the project, but was disappointed when he was told by the then management of NIPOST that the project could not be implemented at that time because Nigeria was still 50 years behind the right time to adopt the electronic stamp duty system.
He kept the project in his kitty, and continued with his several other research works until the year 2011, when he reintroduced the project to the then government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Through a letter addressed to the Federal Ministry of Finance and dated 19th August, 2011, Ahia submitted a proposal to the Ministry on the establishment of a Federal Controlled Postage Stamp Duty Paid Receipt System (FCPSDPRS), to enable the federal government monitor properly, the revenue being generated from stamp duty. And the Federal Ministry of Finance, through a letter dated 15th September, 2011, referred Ahia’s proposal to NIPOST, instructing that the proposal be accorded the required attention.
But NIPOST, in a bid to retain its monopoly over the supervision and collection of stamp duties, suppressed the provisions and recommendations highlighted in that proposal, and later on opted to negotiate with Ahia and his company. After a period of about 2years, NIPOST, through a letter of approval and appointment dated 4th March, 2013, entered into a contractual agreement with Ahia and his company, Frontiers Ranks Ltd, and appointed him NIPOST Stamp Agent with only a limited scope of coverage. While Ahia opted for a nationwide scope of coverage in his proposal, he was only licensed to cover Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port-Harcourt.
In a bid to further seek government’s approval to vigorously and swiftly implement the full proposal he had put forward, he approached the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) with his proposal; and after having perused the proposal, the OSGF through its Economic and Multilateral Team, promptly responded to the proposal through a letter dated 14th August, 2012, and further recommended the project to NIPOST to consider implementing it without any hesitations.
Upon receiving the recommendations from the OSGF, the NIPOST Stamp Duty Committee had short deliberations, and still came up with the conclusion that Nigeria was not yet ripe to adopt such ‘highly sophisticated’ means of stamp duty collection, and insisted that the then status quo be maintained.
And in a bid to prove to NIPOST and the government that the project was feasible and implementable at that time, Ahia organized a symposium during which he demonstrated the operability of the project, and was able to convince his audience that it was possible for Nigeria to launch and sustain electronic stamp duty collection. Present at the symposium were major private sector stakeholders, members of NIPOST Stamp Duty Committee, representatives from various government ministries, departments and agencies, and experts from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The project was assisted by experts from Switzerland, and the symposium was organized with the full approval of NIPOST, and was even chaired by the then Deputy Post Master General, Mr. I. Y. Bitiyong. It was held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, on the 31st of January, 2014. Ahia was satisfied with the success of the experimentation of the feasibility of his project, and hoped for its prompt adoption and the attendant monetary compensation that should follow it, but had his bubble bursted when NIPOST again, insisted that Nigeria was 50 years from being fully ready to implement the project.
And frustrated from NIPOST’s vehement refusal to implement his project, Ahia contacted the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, through a letter dated 17th February, 2014, and sought audience with him to urge him to expressly approve the implementation of his project. President Jonathan acted on his request and promptly mandated the then Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and the then Minister for Communication, Omobola Johnson, to jointly look into the proposal on his behalf and advise him accordingly.
While waiting for a feedback from the presidency on the proposal he had sent in, Ahia was shocked to his marrows to discover on one fateful day in August, 2014, that the very project he had laboured very hard to initiate, had been hijacked by NIPOST, and subsumed under the name ‘Stamping Protocol.’ Ahia was even more shocked to discover that his financier and supposed partner, Mr. S. J. Simon, had been appointed the programme convener for the same project that NIPOST claimed was not feasible and implementable at the material time.
The hijacked project was again launched at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on the 19th and 20th of August, 2014, while another company with the name ‘Signal Resources Ltd.’ was employed to manage the project for NIPOST. Other emergency postal agencies like Double Platinum Global Project and Z-3C Nig. Ltd., were appointed to join in the management of the project, whereas Ahia’s company which is even the original owner of the project, was not incorporated in the management of the project.
On Friday, 18th March, 2016, Ahia put up a public petition addressed to the Central Bank of Nigeria and other relevant bodies, drawing their attention to the injustice and reckless breach of trust meted at him. He sought the attention of the CBN to look into the hijack of his intellectual property, and take prompt actions towards addressing the anomaly.
He took the draft copy of the letter of petition to his printer after he had proofread it, for multiple printing, and was billed to dispatch the letters to its recipients on Monday, 21st March, 2016, but did not live long enough to carry out that plan. Ahia died the next day being Saturday, 19th March, 2016.
His death was rather controversial as the exact cause of the death could not be fathomed as at the time of his death. Those who were close to him at the time he died, alleged that he complained strongly of severe chest pains, and passed on shortly afterwards. He left behind a wife and four children, without reaping the reward for all his effort.
Following his death, his family, through his company, has made several calls to all those concerned with his project, to honour the terms of agreement entered into with the deceased originator of the project. Several letters have been dispatched to the ministries, departments and agencies concerned with the project, including NIPOST and the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the last has not been heard from the side of these organizations.
The family of the deceased has threatened to approach the court for redress, if their prayers are not granted. The family, through its lawyer, Barr. Don Chidi Akaegbu, has since written to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Communication, the Central Bank of Nigeria and also, President Muhammadu Buhari, to intervene in the matter, and ensure that justice is served on the family of the late Sam Ahia.
The family of the deceased, through its lawyer, Barr. Akaegbu, has made some prayers, consequent upon which it will lay down its petition, and failure of which it would be prompted to approach the court, and the prayers include that proper recognition be accorded to the late Sam Ahia and his company, who are the original copyright owners of the said project, and that the monetary compensation commensurate with the worth of the said project be paid the deceased family and company.
The family of the deceased is also praying that the deceased’s company be reinstated as the key collaborative partner with NIPOST, in the collection of the e-stamp duty as that was the earlier agreement reached between the company and NIPOST. And the wife of the deceased, Mrs. Winifred Ahia, is insisting that the state must do well to see to it that all those complicit in the hijack of her deceased husband’s project be brought to book for sabotaging the deceased’s effort to actualize his lifetime ambition.
The family has declared its unequivocal intention to approach court for redress if the their prayers and demands are not met.
When our correspondent approached NIPOST to give its own side of the story, NIPOST confirmed through its legal department, the veracity of the story, and affirmed that it had interactions with the deceased Sam Ahia and his company. NIPOST declined making any further statement as it referred our correspondent to a statement it handed the deceased’s company, as its final position on the contractual agreement.