· NISA threatens court action
Contrary to the belief that the local ship owners who were the beneficiaries of the defunct Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund(SASBF) are still indebted to the Federal Government, MMS Plus gathered that all the beneficiaries were made to offset their loans during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime except the late Capt. Abiodun Omotoso’s East West Coast Services Limited. The debt recovery efforts at this point were truncated by the death of the company directors.
This is coming as the indigenous ship owners have said they were bent on ensuring that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA) declares the actual amount accrued in the coffers as the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund(CVFF), while deploring the discrepancies in the figures made public by government in a space of four years and threatened court action against the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
In a document made available to MMS Plus, NIMASA in 2014 explained to the Nigerian Shipowners Association(NISA) in response to an inquiry that the fund accrued to the CVFF as at July 1st 2014 was in excess of $124 million and therefore could not have remained stagnated for four years.
According to NISA in its statement,” The attachment contained herein clearly indicated that the CVFF should be above the US$124 million as reported by NIMASA boss in his recent media chat.
“ We take into consideration the Agency’s response of 31st July 2014 to our official Freedom of Information,FOI request attached, it confirmed that almost =N=30 billion and US$57 million accruals to the CVFF was recorded as at 1st July 2014. It also clearly showed that Dr. Dakuku is being economical with the truth.
They argued that,”Even if no more money was collected on account of CVFF since July 2014, the =N=30 billion when converted to USD at 360 current black market rate plus US$57 million, would surely give you over US$140 million, which is indisputably more than US$124 million reported by the DG-NIMASA and as at 1st July 2014”.
“This certainly situate correctly the position of NISA that the DG was incorrect about the actual worth of the CVFF. In specific terms, find what we consider could be the factual figures at the material time in 1st July 2014,” the statement continued..
The statement further read: “Note that the exchange rate in 2014 was N150 to $1. If we use the current CBN official rate, it would be N305 not N360, the black market rate”.. Therefore, using the exchange rate of N150 to a dollar the amount in the coffers of CVFF is $257million, with the current official exchange rate of N305 to a dollar it gives you $155.38miiion, while the parallel market rate of N360 to a dollar is $140.33
Threatening that they were working out ways to compel Dakuku to tell Nigerian ship owner and Nigerians the actual accruals to the last kobo, they added that NISA members and stakeholders may resort to court action or resolve to approach the court if all avenues to get the figures are rebuffed by the NIMASA management.
SASBF was administered to indigenous shipowners in the 90s under the National Maritime Authority(NMA)now NIMASA. Some of the personalities whose companies accessed the credit are, Alhaji Hassan Adamu, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho, Gen. Theophilus Y.. Danjuma
Confirming that the loans were fully repaid, a former Executive Director of NIMASA who was Surveyor in NMA then, Engr. Oliver Ogbuagu said,” Contrary to the views of the people, all the beneficiaries of the SASBF repaid their loan except the late Capt. Omotosho of East West Coast Services Limited, which we took to court. But all the principal actors there are all dead now.”
Successive ministers of transportation after the disbursement of the fund have continued to allege that the beneficiaries declined to repay the loan, and as such foreclosed the chances of government intervention in the shipping sector again. The present Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi since assuming office has severally said that the government would not disburse the CVFF because of the fear of repayment default, citing the SASBF and a similar intervention in the aviation sector, where the rate of default was said to be over 70 percent.
However, operators have maintained that the government has been busy looking excuses to justify their unpreparedness for the fund disbursement. But reacting to the seeming antics of the government, the former Minister of Interior, Capt. Iheanacho, who is one of the beneficiaries of the defunct SASBF, said:”Everyone knows that money is available in CVFF. NIMASA has to set the criteria and disburse the fund to people who have experience and capacity. There may have been claims by the government that certain people collected the money and failed to return it, but that is just the rumour peddled by the government. I borrowed and I returned the money.”
Recently, the Minister set up a committee to review the CVFF guidelines in readiness for the disbursement of the fund adding that their recommendations were subject to the approval of the President, a development that elicited mixed reactions from the stakeholders.
“All these stories are deliberate attempt to continue to delay the disbursement of CVFF. The NIMASA Act does not provide any role for the president in the disbursement process. In fact, we are in one chance bus. But like I have always said, the longest serving Director General of NIMASA will stay for eight years, Ogbuagu added.
He observed that “ And nobody has got that eight years. Temi Omatseye, Mfon Usoro, Ade Dosunmu and Patrick Akpobolokemi did not get that eight years. So, if Dakuku will get that eight years, we don’t mind but he will eventually leave and the industry will remain. The Cabotage guidelines is very clear. The guidelines is the explanation, the Act is the main thing. The CVFF is a contributory fund. It is for the industry; it is not NIMASA money but somebody has to organize it. And the 2% contributions are largely made by foreign operators that trade in Nigerian waters illegally”.
He continued:”That notwithstanding, the few Nigerians who have contributed know themselves, they can also apply for the fund,that is what the guidelines say. And then, they will get primary lending institutions to administer the fund. That is the guidelines, it is not in the Act. The Act says that those who are contributing should apply to NIMASA and NIMASA should appraise them and recommend them to the Minister, who will contact the National Assembly upon acceptance of the recommendation. The Act did not mention the President. In fact, nobody is sure that money is there. Dakuku is claiming that the fund has accrued to $124 million but we have a document we wrote to NIMASA from the Nigerian Shipowners Association(NISA) in 2014 on the status of the fund. NIMASA then said it was $124 million then and fours years after , NIMASA is still peddling the same amount. We wrote to the ministry under the Freedom of Information(FOI) Act, the Minister asked NIMASA to reply. What it means is that between 2014 and now they collected zero amount.
“ Why is it hard for them to say the money is N10 in the coffers? Under the SASBF, even with the 1% statutory contribution in the defunct NMA, NMA would always tell you how much the money was. And that was why people were able to apply for what they applied. The problem then was that the money was so small, those who applied for it could not get enough money to buy a healthy ship. Once you get a ship that is about ten years, it was about $6million to $7million, and NMA was not ready to do that. So people were getting ships of 15 to 18 years old but then it has created somebody like Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho, who is a multi-billionaire now. It strengthened Comet Shipping, among others. Bamanga Tukur did not buy a ship and NMA did not give Tukur the loan. Tukur and Hassan Adamu could not access the money because of the embargo then. But they eventually got the money from above. We did not know how they did it.
However, President Olusegun Obasanjo made sure they paid the money back,” Ogbuagu explained.
According to the Chairman of Ports Consultative Council, Otunba Kunle Folarin, the government’s reviewed guidelines for the CVFF disbursement could include, “ Who are your technical partners, how many bottoms have you acquired, how much have you paid into the CVFF that you want to take part of it?”
“Anybody who has not paid into it will not get any kobo. These will form the basis of the criteria for the disbursement of the fund. It will get to the point of determining what the ship traffic is like? Who are your major clients? What is the cargo characteristics? Most of the Nigerian ship owners don’t have all these because they only have supply or support vessels.” He noted