· Workers Jubilate Over Air of Freedom
It is unbelievable that Nigerians and the shipping community in particular may have been engaged in four solid years of theatre of deception with several sermons of accruals and preparedness to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the selected Primary Lending Institution (PLIs).
This revelation is coming as the head office of NIMASA in Apapa, Lagos was engulfed in jubilation, this week, by members of staff over what they described as “freedom from oppression” following the electoral victory of General Mohammed Buhari at the March 28, Presidential election.
A top bank official heading the Maritime Desk of one of the selected four banks meant to disburse the CVFF confided in MMSPlus Weekly that the current management of NIMASA has depleted the fund lodged in the banks for 11 years now.
Worried by the withdrawals of the fund from his bank, according to him, they contacted other PLIs, who confirmed that the fund had been equally withdrawn from their banks.
He further asserted that no lodgement has been made by NIMASA since the current management led by the Director-General, Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi assumed office in December 2010.
The banker who pleaded anonymity complained that no customer of any of the PLIs was able to access the fund despite fulfilling all conditions for accessing it,while condemning its diversion for other uses order than building indigenous capacity in the shipping sub-sector of the economy.
One of the Executive Directors in NIMASA had equally confided in a ship management consultant in Lagos that the “fund has since gone”.
The fund stood at USD$150m (about N30billion) as at June 2014 and had remained idle in the banks since the CVFF was established in 2003, following the passage of the Cabotage Act by the National Assembly. On assumption of office, Akpobolokemi raised alarm that politicians were scrambling for the funds,threatening to stop them. How it was subsequently withdrawn and for what purpose have remained in secrecy.
NIMASA, which has the statutory mandate to disburse the fund, in 2008 appointed four PLIs, which are: Skye, Diamond, Fidelity and Starling banks.
CVFF was created by Cabotage Act 2003, as an Annexure to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity by providing assistance to Nigerian operators in domestic and coastal shipping.
Section 42 part VIII of section 44 of the Cabotage Act empowers NIMASA to collect,deposit and administer the fund under guidelines proposed by the Minister of Transport and approved by the National Assembly.
The Act also limits beneficiaries of the fund to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerians. The CVFF is funded through the two percent surcharge of the contract sum performed by any vessel engaged in coastal trading and monies generated under the Act, including tariffs, fines and fees for licences and waivers.
Under the CVFF guidelines, the beneficiaries must tie their loan applications to a maritime project for which each must provide 15 present of the project cost, having been pre-qualified by NIMASA which guarantees the repayment of the facility.
Cabotage law was fashioned after the United States of America’s Jones Act of 1938, which has helped built America’s indigenous capacity in Shipping.
For over two years now, the Minister of Transport, Sen. Idris Umar has severally promised that the fund would be disbursed to the six local shipping firms which have since been penciled down as beneficiaries of CVFF.
No progress has been made despite announcing it at every forum until this discovery that the fund has since been depleted.
The speaker of House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal had last year, at a forum in Abuja, alleged the misappropriation of CVFF but the management of NIMASA denied it.
Meanwhile, NIMASA workers, this week, in Lagos, filled out in different groups, jubilating over the imminent removal of their Director-General, following the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan at the polls a fortnight ago. They chanted, “SaiBaba”, “Freedom at last”, at the head office of the nation’s apex maritime agency.
It was an expressive dirge for the alleged four years of “bondage” under the leadership of Akpobolokemi and some Niger-Delta militants who allegedly helped to administer NIMASA like a fiefdom. According to one of the workers in a jubilant mood, “our phones are bugged, some suspected militants are assigned the job of monitoring any staff suspected to stand on their way, directors are forced to sign documents at gun point. In fact, too many absurdities brought to civil service”.
According to the staff, “Can you believe that he has a new condition of service which he has kept to himself and the Director of Administration and Personnel (DAP),waiting to begin its implementation when President Jonathan returns. Already they had told the President that 80 percent of NIMASA staff is old and useless to the agency. They had concluded their plans to sack us. The first plan was to lay off 132 workers who have stayed from 20 years and above. Another phase is to sack those employed from the year 2000 and another batch penciled down for sack are those who are 50 years of age and above.”
Stunned, however, by the unexpected victory of Gen. Buhari over President Jonathan, Akpobolokemi was said to have slumped and was unconscious for hours in his home town on hearing the news.
Our source also added that the news upset his body system that he was intermittently throwing up convulsively at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, this week.
Recall that he had engaged the APC Presidential Campaign Committee on a battle over an alleged hate campaign against APC sponsored by NIMASA.