As a retired National Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) , I have been wanting to tell this story because Nigerians don’t have faith in our People, Corporates and Country. I am sure staff, and my colleagues then know who I am but for obvious reason, I have decided to use a pseudonym (Mr Kunle Obadasha).
In 2010, during Professor Attahiru Jega’s time as Chairman of INEC, after Professor Maurice Iwu’s technology advancement of INEC operations, INEC wanted to improve on it but we sincerely had no faith that any Nigerian company had the resources and skill to implement the new Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines being proposed. Some INEC staff had reluctantly mentioned that Zinox Technologies saved them in 2006 with supply and deployment at short notice when foreign companies failed Nigeria. Time was running out plus the fact that there was delay in the budget.
We had the confidence of some foreign consultants who recommended appropriate equipment and sources to choose from, we were almost concluding when Prof Jega suggested that we give few qualified local companies a chance to come and make presentation so that we are fair to both local and foreign companies because of his democratic nature, few of us reluctantly agreed. Zinox was invited with few others.
Zinox Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh, came to INEC with his Management and made a great presentation. What shocked INEC staff was that Ekeh came in a Toyota Corolla, and we started joking among ourselves, wondering if the guy that came in a Corolla car is the one to handle such mega project with a budget of about $270 million.
But one of the Commissioners, Dr. Nuru Yakubu, who was more tech amongst us, said the man has been a leader in IT business, but did not know his financial capacity for a contract this huge. Next visit to INEC, Ekeh still arrived just as simple and in the same Corolla car, and we were a little bit confused. But having seen his presentation which was very convincing and compelling, they reluctantly supported Zinox to compete with two other foreign companies we thought were giants because INEC had lost a lot of time.
Initially, the foreign consultant recommended Haier Electrical Appliances Corp Ltd, a Chinese company supported by the Chinese government, and Avante International Technology Inc (US company), so they went for the two, but at the last minute, INEC decided to have a Nigerian company to handle part of the job. This was a big fight that was almost destroying the image of the Commissioners and Jega for deciding to incorporate local content.
Jega said they should give everyone a chance. What shocked them was that Zinox beat everyone technically in the first bid, and by the rule of due process, if you fail technically, they won’t open your financial bid, but because they were losing time, they opened everyone’s bid.
Zinox decided to file a petition because the HP printer that was part of the configuration was about $452 in the marketplace, but the Chinese company quoted $59.
We had to go back to the National Assembly for some clarifications. While we were doing this, INEC had to invite the different companies again for clarification and the day Ekeh came with his team they made a presentation after which everything worked and in one minute, they could scan a voter and register him.
INEC invited them that day after going to the National Assembly to make sure they understood the configurations of the equipment, and announced the cancellation of the first bid. This time, the Zinox man came with the Bible but did not swear with it. He placed his hands on the Bible and said he is aware that they feel they have no capacity to deliver the job and that he is placing his hand on the Bible to commit that they have the financial and technical capacity to deliver the project successfully and that there is no other company that can do it in Nigeria, including the Chinese. That, somehow, offended the INEC team except one of us, a retired Army Colonel, and we wondered how a man can say his company is the only company in the country that has the capacity to do the job within the given period. He told us that he wasn’t as poor as they thought and should not see his humility as stupidity.
While they were escorting him out to receive the Chinese team, INEC staff were shocked to see the Chinese team, upon sighting Ekeh and his team, say it was Zinox that understood the project.
The Chinese made their presentation but it took longer time than Zinox’s, but what was shocking to them was four days later, Zinox sent to the Commission an agreement signed between Zinox and Haier indicating that Haier was paying Zinox $1.6 million as a consultant to cooperate with them and that legal agreement was also forwarded to Due Process Office that was chaired then by Mr. Emeka Ezeh.
They had to call for a re-bid because Zinox won the first one, but because of fear or lack of confidence they gave the other people more. What INEC chairman wanted was proper execution and at that point it was clear that Zinox understood the project, having saved INEC in 2006.
But what was shocking to us was each time we invited the Chinese company and the American company for a meeting they will say they’re waiting for the Chairman and the chairman they’re waiting for is the Zinox Chairman.
The second bid happened. Zinox won and INEC had to award Zinox 70 percent and the Chinese company 22 percent.
But what was surprising to us was that the day we signed the contract with Zinox in Prof Jega’s office, INEC team wanted to take photograph with Chief Ekeh but he told Jega that he won’t take a picture with them until he has executed the job.
For a contract they signed at about 2pm, with instruction that Zinox should provide a bank guarantee of N10 billion, they were shocked when the following morning at about 10am Zinox came up with the bank guarantee, and they thought it was fake.
When the Finance Head brought the Advance Bank Guarantee (ABG) issued by Access Bank, we all said he should hold it and first confirm it from the Central Bank. So, he went to the CBN with the chairman of Zinox and met with the Deputy Governor and after reading it, he confirmed it was genuine. When the Head of Finance returned to INEC office and confirmed it was genuine, we all told him to put that in writing and take responsibility, we all photocopied his letter and kept in our various files and finally authorized the payment of a huge amount to Zinox.
Later, INEC team travelled to China to inspect the Zinox pre-assembling plant to make sure that they’re not wasting their time because registration will soon commence.
The Chairman of Zinox was already in China. When INEC team got there, Ekeh showed them and the Nigeria High Commissioner’s representatives who were with them round the factory that had over 1500 Chinese working. They were impressed, but what shocked them was that as they were about to go, Ekeh used a remote control to open another department and that was Haier pre-assembling plant. The plant we later learnt was a partnership between Zinox and a Taiwan company.
We didn’t know that Zinox was also producing for Haier. The whole contract was to supply 132,000 DDC machines but because Zinox was able to build confidence, Zinox got the highest number to supply 80,000 units which included HP Printers, Biometric Scanners, Ink cartridges and other 33 items per box, while Haier got 30,000 units and Avante 22,000 units.
Zinox consciously had to undertake the entire project for everyone because the others didn’t have branches, human capital here in Nigeria and they didn’t understand the country.
When we were being economical to save money, the Chairman of Zinox told us that the three cartridges that we apportioned per printer to print out people’s ID card will not be enough based on data available to him and that it was harmattan season as Inks dry faster during harmattan, but we shouted him down that he wanted to exhaust INEC financially, we were very tight with our budget. A week after Voters registration started, our centres ran out of Ink cartridges and there was pressure from every registration unit to supply them Ink cartridges but it was not available. We started sourcing and all contractors that promised disappointed, we lost days and we were now desperate and in a meeting that evening one of us suggested we try Zinox.
We reluctantly called the Chairman, he said they could give us some quantities as intervention stock, but for the large quantity we wanted, they will supply in 3days, but we must pay for the volume in cash, no credit. On the evening of the third day, we prompted Zinox Chairman, and he assured we shall receive the next morning as 4 trucks loaded with Ink cartridges were enroute to Abuja and we should visit his Abuja office at Wuse2 to inspect but restated that we must pay cash. We visited his office the next morning and saw the four 30-ton trucks fully loaded and one us insisted we offloaded one to confirm all were Ink cartridges, we did and confirmed. We later heard, that HP consolidated the ink cartridges at Zinox warehouse in the UK close to Heathrow Airport in London and immediately we okayed, he chartered two Boeing 737 cargo flights to bring them in.
One of his staff told us that Mr. Ekeh was sure INEC must request for them and he took inventory risk of HP global stock and this created global shortage for that specific Ink. We paid N2500 more per unit but Zinox saved us. It was like a miracle as we were unable to reconcile what happened. We now trusted Zinox and innocently ignored the existence of other companies. Zinox staff had a large heart to assist their competitors. Like the Chairman of Zinox once said, if Zinox succeeded 100% and any of their competitors dropped the ball, the project has failed and they have all failed.
Same story happened when we were procuring 600 units of DELL Servers. At the end, it was Zinox that rescued us and did the integration and deployed in 36 states plus Abuja for all contractors. A lot of us were particularly concerned earlier in the project. We appreciated their capacity to assist their competitors without complaining and their ethical standard. Their leadership was hand- on and their Call Centre was critical in monitoring challenges and briefing us. Mr. Ekeh was a great resource at our point of need, it was later someone told us that he had all sort of cars including Rolls Royces but preferred Toyota Corolla for his official engagement and was always very comfortable with it.
I am aware Zinox experienced same at National Population Commission (NPC) during the bid for the supply of critical equipment for the Census. I had experienced this company to have the confidence in a chat with my very close Cousin who is one of the Commissioners at NPC. He was not in support of a local company because of a budget of over N149 billion dedicated for equipment procurement. He told me the budget was huge and the equipment complicated for a local company to undertake. While agreeing with me that Mr. Ekeh had visited their office and made good technical presentation acceptable to the United Nations representative, but they will be safer awarding it through UN. He also commented that a lot of their Management staff and Commissioners did not support a local company because of capacity to deliver within the short period before end of President Buhari’s tenure in May.
I assured him Zinox shall fight their way through based on technical competences and deliver better than any foreign company and I warned him not to underrate Mr. Ekeh because of his humility. I read a lot of media blackmail on Zinox and the person of Mr. Ekeh on a daily basis during the period to discourage FG and NPC from considering Zinox for the award and this stopped immediately my Cousin told me the contract has been awarded, a confirmation that the media attack was a clear hatchet job. I assured him that from what I knew about Mr. Ekeh, he focuses on the target and is never distracted but could be tough at point of decision.
I was happy one evening in March when he called me to say, this company Zinox is something else and confirmed full delivery to all locations nationwide and that everyone at NPC including the Chairman was excited. He concluded by saying Zinox is a blessing to NPC. He made my evening.
I decided to tell this story which I consider a great case study before I die. It was a personal experience to a lot of us and meant to encourage the informed youths that you may need to fight decently to get your share of this economy, and also to our new government to look inward and use our good corporates to make the economy better. Nigeria cannot be surrendered to other nations. Let’s have a sincere rethink and save our country.