By Ochereome Nnanna
NIGERIA’S national till, also known NIGERIA’S national till, also known as the Federation Account, is chiefly fed from three main sources. The first is revenue from crude oil and gas exports. The second is the non-oil aspects which come through the Nigerian ports. A third leg, which supposed to be the first but which is only being given a belated serious look, is taxation. The importance of the Nigerian ports system is evident in the manner in which its leadership had almost always been reserved for people from a privileged section of the country. In other words, appointments to the Board (especially the Managing Director/Chief Executive) and award of major, multibillion naira contracts have been heavily politicised such that only people from the privileged section find it easy to corner and keep the lion’s share.
Apart from that, the dirty politics of the Nigerian Ports system has made it obvious that only ports from a part of the country (the Lagos Ports at Apapa and Tin Can Island) have been given exclusive attention to the detriment of ports in the Eastern areas such as Warri, Port Harcourt and Calabar. I will come back to this later, but let me first address the two storms in the Nigerian Ports teacup which have become entwined in a complex interplay of selfish and sectional interests to the detriment of the overall national interest.The first is the recent allegation that between 2010 and 2016, no fewer than 282 ships “vanished” from the Ports.
The Senate has already summoned the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman and other top officials to come and clarify the true facts of this unbelievable news, though they appear unwilling to respond. As if to give credence to this allegation, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, at a recent public function, also sensationally disclosed that Nigeria loses an estimated seven trillion Naira in revenue annually due to leakages linked to corruption and smuggling.
If Dogara is correct, Nigeria would comfortably fund this year’s budget from port revenues alone without needing to enslave our current and future generation of Nigerians through mindless borrowing. Certainly, this report deserves to be deeply probed into, and only the top echelon of the NPA, Nigerian Customs Service and all other revenue-harnessing ports agencies can explain more about the truth or fallacy of the matter before the relevant National Assembly committees.The second issue concerns the dealings of Niger Global, a company linked to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs,
Excise and Tariffs, Senator Hope Uzodimma. In a nutshell, the NPA MD, Ms. Bala-Usman and her supporters who have spoken out through the various media, are crying foul over her invitation by the Senate.It all started when, on 6th November 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan decided to break the age-long unwillingness of the Federal Government to develop access to the Eastern ports. This lack of development has been a major reason for the low traffic of vessels to that axis of the nation’s ports, thus creating room for the congestion nightmares the Lagos ports and their users suffer.
Niger Global, an indigenous company which had been adjudged as the front-runner in a prequalification exercise, was appointed as the technical partner to the NPA and its subsidiary, the Calabar Channel Management Limited, CCML, to manage the Calabar Channel to achieve safe navigation and optimum use of the port.The NPA MD and her supporters are alleging that this appointment was done ignoring the “objections” of the Bureau of Public Procurement ,BPP. In other words, it did not follow due process. Contrary to this claim, Niger Global is brandishing a Certificate of No Objection issued by the BPP signed by its then DG, Mr. Emeka Eze and dated15TH August 2014. It was addressed to the Minister of Transport to certify due process.Again, the NPA MD and her supporters are claiming that Niger Global is asking to be paid huge sums of money it did not work for.
However, the Report of the NPA Committee on the review of activities of the Calabar Channel Management Ltd set up by the its MD, Ms. Bala-Usman, and dated November 2016, not only affirmed that Niger Global did carry out the contracts awarded to it to help dredge the Calabar Ports, it also stated as follows in its recommendation (iii): “having verified volumes dredged, all outstanding payments due to the CCML should be effected in line with the provisions of the Joint Venture agreement”. It is interesting that the NPA MD has lost interest in the work of the Committee headed by Prof. Idris Abubakar, which she set up. Instead, attention is being drawn to the fact that Senator Uzodimma is the Chairman of the Senate Committee that summoned the Ports MD and her lieutenants.Indeed, it will be an act of impunity and injustice to expect the Ports leadership to appear before the Senate Committee, with Senator Uzodimma, a stakeholder in Niger Global, as the presiding chairman. Nobody can, in good conscience excuse that. Senator Uzodimma should either excuse himself as the Chairman of this Committee while it is enquiring into this affair of which he is an interested party, or be asked to provisionally step aside by the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki.
His Deputy should conduct the hearing which should have members of the public and social activist groups in attendance as observers. Even if the NPA MD has no confidence in the work of the Committee she set up, she should, at least expect a transparently conducted hearing by the Nigerian Senate on the matter to unravel the truth for the benefit of all. This idea of mobilising opinion against our legislators even before they engage an issue will not help anybody. It will be another thing if they fail to do their jobs or collude with criminals in the course of their assignments.
There is no way that this Senate Committee will be able to subsume the interest of the country and allow their colleague’s business outfit to take away the whopping sum of $14.8m belonging to the Nigerian taxpayers without being fully certified to have earned it. We must begin to do away with unnecessary ethnic or sectional sentiments when it comes to appointments into our public institutions, including the distribution of the commonwealth of the nation.
This country belongs to all of us. While the unnecessary quarrel over this matter continues to drag, the dredging of the Calabar Channel has gone back to being moribund. Those who are bent on sabotaging the development and use of the Eastern ports are still enjoying the upper hand. Nigeria by now should have at least seven national seaports functioning round the clock every day of the week. Instead of just the Apapa and Tincan Ports, we should have Koko, Warri, Onne, Port Harcourt and Calabar Ports fully active, with the new ones proposed for Ibaka in Akwa Ibom, and Badary/Lekki in Lagos soon to be at the service of the nation. In fact, by now, the long-awaited river ports at Oguta, Onitsha, Lokoja and Baro should be functioning. This has not worked because of self-immolating sectional politics.That way, we spread development, make doing business easier and more profitable and give impetus to more boisterous economic activities. The concentration of our port efforts in Lagos alone grinds the Apapa economic zone to a halt, what with its broken-down road and rail infrastructure. Everybody suffers, except a few privileged individuals from a better-fancied part of the country sitting like mandarins and perpetually freeloading from the Lagos Ports as if it is their sectional birthright!