“While Ahia was alive, he complained in writing about the breach of his intellectual property. He was invited and a proposal was made, which was not in writing.”

Simeon Mpamugoh

Do you know that the electronic stamp duty collection system being used by the Nigerian Postal Services (NIPOST) to generate revenue for government was conceived and developed by a Nigerian businessman?

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Unfortunately the inventor’s name, Sam Ahia has never been mentioned in connection with the innovation. The project was allegedly hijacked from him and converted into a revenue generating process for the government.

Ahia died allegedly of heart attack in March 2016.

In January 28, 2000, the deceased, then Managing Director of an Abuja-based consultancy firm, Frontiers Ranks Ltd. submitted to the then administration government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a proposal to introduce the electronic postage stamp duty on receipt (POSDOR) to replace the adhesive paper stamp.

He got a reply from the Federal Ministry of Finance and its Budget Office in a letter referenced BO/R.10260/V/S/42 and dated 12th May 2000, seeking time to study the proposal. Nazeer M. Bello signed the letter for the Finance Minister.

His proposal was targeted at convincing the government to quickly adopt the electronic stamping system since it was obvious that the world was going digital, and the paper stamp would soon go extinct. He had already developed an electronic stamp duty prototype which he said could be introduced at that time to replace the old order.

The e-stamp duty project was projected to earn the government more revenue than the conventional one.

Following series of negotiations with government, the deceased was referred to NIPOST to deliberate on the final implementation and contractual plan for the project. He was, however, told by then management of NIPOST that the project could not be implemented at that time. He kept the project even as he continued more research works.

In 2011, he reintroduced the project to the then government of Goodluck Jonathan.

In a letter addressed to the Federal Ministry of Finance on 19th August 2011, Ahia submitted a proposal to the ministry on the establishment of a Federal Controlled Postage Stamp Duty Paid Receipting System (FCPSDPRS) to enable the federal government to properly monitor the revenue being generated from stamp duty. The Federal Ministry of Finance,

In a letter dated 15th September, 2011, and signed by Dr. J.A. Akinwunmi for the Permanent Secretary, referred Ahia’s proposal to NIPOST, instructing that the proposal be accorded the needed attention.

But NIPOST opted to negotiate with Ahia and his company.

After two years, NIPOST, in a letter of approval dated 4th March 2013, entered into a contractual agreement with Ahia and his company, Frontiers Ranks Ltd. The firm was appointed Stamp Agent but with only a limited scope of coverage. While Ahia requested a nationwide scope of coverage in his proposal, he was licensed to cover Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt only.

But Ahia wanted more. So he approached the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) with his proposal. After perusing it, the OSGF, through its Economic and Multilateral Team, promptly responded to the proposal through a letter dated 14th August 2012, with reference number ECD/P/37/S.1/17/116. Again, the project was recommended to NIPOST for necessary consideration and action.

Upon receiving the recommendations from the OSGF, the NIPOST Stamp Duty Committee had a short deliberation on it and again rejected its adoption, describing the project as highly sophisticated.

But dissatisfied with NIPOST’s claim and convinced that the project was feasible and implementable, Ahia organised a symposium to demonstrate the operability of the project. He was able to convince his audience that it was possible for Nigeria to launch and sustain e-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).

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Experts from Switzerland assisted the project, while the symposium was organised with the full approval of NIPOST. Held at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, on January 31, 2014, it was chaired by the then Deputy Postmaster General, Mr. I. Y. Bitiyong.

But the project was again rejected by NIPOST.

Disappointed, he sought audience with then President Goodluck Jonathan, through a letter dated February 17, 2014, and signed by his Swiss partner, S. J. Simon, urging President Jonathan to expressly approve the implementation of his project. Jonathan acted on his request and promptly mandated the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and her counterpart in the Communication Ministry, Omobola Johnson to act on it.

While waiting for a feedback from the presidency, Ahia was shocked to discover in August, 2014, that the project he initiated had been hijacked by NIPOST.

It was gathered that the project had been renamed ‘Stamping Protocol’, and his financier and supposed Swiss partner, Mr.

S. J. Simon appointed the programme convener. The project was launched at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, on the August 19 and 20 2014. Another company, Signal Resources Ltd. was employed to manage it for NIPOST. Other postal agencies like Double Platinum Global Project and Z-3C Nig. Ltd were also appointed to help manage the project. Ahia’s company, the original owner of the project, was left out.

In March 18, 2016, Ahia put up a public petition addressed to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other relevant bodies. He drew their attention to the injustice and breach of trust. He wanted the apex bank to look into the seizure of his intellectual property and take appropriate actions towards addressing the situation.

It was gathered that Ahia was billed to dispatch copies of his petition on March 21, 2016. Unfortunately, he died two days before the date.

Those close to him at the time he died claimed he complained strongly of severe chest pains before passing on, leaving behind a wife and four children.

The reporter learnt that the family had made several calls through his company, Frontiers Ranks Ltd to all those concerned with the project to honour the terms of agreement entered into with their benefactor and originator of the project. It was gathered that several letters had been dispatched to the ministries, departments and agencies concerned with the project, including NIPOST and CBN, without any response.

To this end the family is threatening to approach the court for redress if the prayers were not granted. The family’s lawyer, Don Chidi Akaegbu has written the Senate, Attorney General of the Federation, Ministries of Finance and Communication, CBN and President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the matter.

The family lawyer, Mr. Don Chidi Akaegbu said: “We all know that NIPOST went moribund with the issue of stamp duty since the evolution of wireless mobile telecommunications in Nigeria. We are no longer posting letters through the adhesive stamp duty. So, Sam Ahia proposed to NIPOST, Ministry of Communications that there is a technology that can make NIPOST continually collect their stamp duty electronically.”

He said though Ahia had died, his firm, Frontiers Ranks remains and has a new MD. He further narrated: “While Ahia was alive, he complained in writing about the breach of his intellectual property. He was invited and a proposal was made, which was not in writing. Few months after he refused the amount, he had a heart attack and died.”

He said the new MD had been fighting to get justice. “It was the new managing director and I that went to the Senate. We also visited several other places in pursuit of justice for Ahia, including the presidency. We had one session with the Senate. It was adjourned with a promise to invite us back. But up till now, we have not been invited again. Since we have tried our best possible by contacting all the relevant agencies, and having a meeting in the offices of the Ministry of Communications, the last resort might be the court.

“The relations of the deceased are saying they don’t want a court case, and some members of the senate are saying the same, since the matter is pending before them. They said the moment the matter goes to court, it becomes sub judice.

“We are for any move that would ensure that the needful is done amicably. Ahia who originated the project, but schemed out while he was alive, deserves to be paid monetary compensation commensurate with the worth of the project, and as the brain behind what the federal government is enjoying. There is also the key collaborative partnership with NIPOST in the collection of the e-stamp duty, as that was the earlier agreement reached between the company and NIPOST.”

Wife of the deceased, Mrs. Winifred Ahia insisted that the state must see to it that all those complicit in the hijack were brought to book.

When NIPOST was approached to give its own side of the story, the company’s legal department confirmed the veracity of the story. The company, however, declined giving further details on the matter,
saying a statement handed the deceased’s company was its final position on the matter.

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