By Kingsley Anaroke
The N180million said to have been approved by the Minister of Transportation, Muazu Sambo to fight corruption at the nation’s seaports may have amplified a raging crisis of confidence in the Port Standing Task Team (PSTT) as some team members have alleged covert misappropriation of funds arising from the alleged failure of the leadership to account for money earlier disbursed by agencies for operations.
PSTT has made claims of success in anti-corruption fight at the ports with statistics and funds saved or recovered over time with the support of non-governmental organizations, especially in the area of capacity building. But with the myriad of mixed feelings and reports, especially from within, and the rising number of work men on the field, which leaves little hope for control; the fervent prayer of stakeholders is for PSTT not to ride on corruption to fight corruption. The process of an action is as important as the result and this gives credence to the 21st century moral creed of “The end sanctifies the means!” This is a clear departure from the Machiavellian principle of the end justifies the means!
It is on record that PSTT is a circumstantial initiative driven by the commitment of the leadership of maritime agencies and the presidency to simultaneously curb corrupt practices at the nation’s seaports and promote ease of doing business. And given the inherent rivalry among agency workers, it is expected that there will be raising of eyebrows at issues. What matters however is the objectivity and realism of the narratives peddled. But one cannot rule out absence of communications and a choice for exclusivity and exclusion in decision making on the part of the leadership for the obvious cleavages along interests and agency affinity.
Expectedly, members of PSTT are divided on why and what the approved sum should be for, with tacit insinuations that the anti-corruption task team could be conniving with some government functionaries to obtain and divert funds at this critical period of leadership transition.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have denied knowledge of any approval to donate funds to PSTT from the Minister.
The Federal Government was said to have instructed the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), NPA and NIMASA to provide funds and operational vehicles for the PSTT. The agencies were said to been directed to provide N60million each to carry out anti-corruption awareness across the sea ports.
MMS Plus was however told that an internal committee was set up by the management of NSC to investigate series of allegations against the leadership, especially bordering on accountability of funds disbursed by NSC for PSTT duty. External witnesses had been contacted awaiting the committee’s sitting before it was resolved to be treated in-house and consequently, the team members involved were redeployed.
Latching on this, some NPA and NIMASA sources also said the National Coordinator of PSTT, Comrade Moses Fadipe demanded four buses, three Hilux vehicles and N5million from each of the agencies for operations annually, asking why he needed to have a fleet of vehicles for operations.
“My concern is that whatever they are doing let them go through the right channel. If NSC calls NPA to say they need funds or vehicles to support their work as the regulator, NPA as the Land lord has no reason to object to it. The key word is collaboration. NPA may give but NSC would not want to say that NPA donated vehicles and money to them”, a source stated.
Arguing that the task team has no locus standi to write agencies like an independent body but through the CEO of NSC, the source asserted, “Fadipe demanded four buses and three Hilux, he is asking for N60million again as claimed that the Minister approved. How can he account for it? What they forget is that these agencies came together to set up this platform but there is a lead agency, which is the NSC because it is the port economic regulator, NPA is the port Landlord and NIMASA the apex maritime administrator. So let’s sit down together and chart the way forward for the taskforce instead of this occasional blackmail from the leadership.
“You need vehicles, but you don’t have vehicles yet whenever you have assignment we attach vehicles to you. Now, that you are demanding for six vehicles, who pays the drivers and maintain the vehicles? Is he running an autonomous agency? At the end of the project, what happens to the fleet of vehicles? In fact, the whole thing does not have a framework! “
Note the emphatic use of the Noun-“Fadipe.” This, according to the source, is to explain that the PSTT as a body is divorced from the alleged personal whims of the Coordinator in some of the actions in review.
Despite having desk officers assigned as members of the team, the other agencies have alleged alienation from the affairs of the PSTT; absence of accountability, no report of activities, no clear- cut delineation of duties and expected results; no strategy, among others. They are of the view that the operational modalities should be devoid of commando style with the use of force like a paramilitary agency which makes it difficult for the enforcement to be sustainable.
They argued that they were not aware of the N180million approved by the minister until they heard what they described as stage-managed question from an event last week. “Are we not supposed to be part of the decision-makers to determine what and why the funds is needed?” They added.
“The Permanent Secretary was not at the meeting and the DMS never mentioned anything about the money. It was during the question and answer session that one officer of the Federal Ministry of Transportation stood up and said “You came and I know that the Minister approved N180millon for you to fight corruption. Have you been given the money?” Automatically, we knew it was Fadipe that stage-managed that question.
“At that point, Fadipe responded that NIMASA and NPA had not paid their N60million each to the standing committee as approved by the Minister. Only NSC had paid.
“There has to be a demarcation between special duty job and that of PSTT if they want other agencies to function alongside.” The sources noted.
Recall that the Nigerian Port Process Manuel (NPPM) chaired by Prince Olayewole Shittu on creation led to the formation of the Port Standing Task Team. It was created to ensure sanity at the business of running the ports with the adherence to the port Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) domiciled at NSC.
However, the numerous allegations and arguments have given rise to some questions: What is the N180million for? Was the request and its need discussed among team members? Are there defined lines of duty for members of the task team? Are there reports and review of activities daily or weekly? Are there benchmark of operations? What are the criteria for assessment or evaluation of work and impact on port efficiency?
Unfortunately, the 3rd Roundtable discussion on Maritime Sector Reforms: “Consolidating The Gains” organized by the Maritime Anti-Corruption Network (MACN) and Convention on Business Integrity (CBI) which is incidentally a key partner of PSTT really had little to say about tangible results of anti-corruption campaign at the ports apart from the usual presentation of statistics that are usually at variance with the reality of operations. There was no record of performance assessment from PSTT at the event where the controversy of N180million approved by the Minister of Transportation emerged.
This is not different from the occasional dramatization of statistics on ease of doing business at the ports by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council(PEBEC),a specialized agency set up by the President of Nigeria for Nigerian businesses.
After eight years of leadership by President Mohammadu Buhari and the administration of ease of doing business under PEBEC, the ship turnaround time is still dependent on vessel calls at a given time. Port charges, ship dues, bottlenecks in customs and clearing process as well as congestion remain poignant elements and nightmares that make Nigerian ports uncompetitive among neighboring ports. The driving fluid of these challenges remain corruption within and outside the ports. So, where are PEBEC and PSTT here?
Speaking with MMS Plus, the National Coordinator of PSTT, Comrade Moses Fadipe insisted that there was a ministerial approval in November,2022 to that effect, which was sent to the chief executive officers of the listed agencies even as representatives of the agencies in the task team were copied and asked to follow-up, reiterating that only NSC had responded to the call.
“The story in question originated from the Ministry not me. They only asked me question if there was any approval and I said yes. But go to the Ministry of Transportation, they gave the approval and gave the full details. That explains why it was the Director of Maritime Services who made the explanation on behalf of the Permanent Secretary. There was an approval and it was the Ministry that sent it to agencies. It was the Minister that gave the approval and sent it to them. The Nigerian Shippers Council has done its own bit just that it is not good enough. The approval came from this current Minister, Muazu Sambo.
On how the N180 million will be used to fight corruption, he said details of the planned expenses is attached to the approval from the Ministry. ‘ Every bit of how the money will be spent is in that approval from the Minister.” The approval was done in November, 2022. No! They can’t say there are not aware. The schedule officers were called to follow up as soon as the memo was sent out. They were asked to bring it to the attention of their Chief Executive Officers.
On allegation that he has not been accounting for the funds disbursed from NSC, he said, “Nobody gave us funds. We also don’t have an impress to work from and retire later. The way we function is that we forward proposal for anything we resolve to do and when we are done we retire. For instance, the taskforce has officers who are collecting money every day and as they collect they sign for it. So how can someone say they gave us money but we could not account for it? Let the person who gave the money explain how much he gave that we can’t account for.
“People are not even asking how we are getting the money we are spending. Even members of NPA and NIMASA in our team are collecting allowances from the taskforce but they have never given anything. We went to them for vehicles and assistance but they did nothing. So how do we function effectively? NSC has been the one funding our activities and providing vehicles for logistics. We are operating in Lagos, we have officers in all the terminals, we have officers on the roads comprising different agencies of the government, including the Police, Department of State Services (DSS). In Port Harcourt; Rivers and Onne ports, we have our team. Tell me, if we have to pay them N3000 each can N60million be enough in a month? With the number of officers I am telling you, can this enough? Remember that there are hazards allowance. We should be encouraged instead of castigating us. So far, nobody has given us a dim apart from NSC.
“We operate both in Lagos and Port Harcourt. We operate in all the terminals in Lagos ports-Apapa and Tin Can Island Port. So do we operate in the terminals in Rivers and Onne ports. From my records here, we have 121 personnel. In Apapa corridor alone, we have over 40 combined agencies comprising Federal Road Safety Corp (FRSC), Police, DSS, Navy, among others. So even if you are giving them N100 per day, you can see it is not only possible but also not enough. If other agencies, like Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) that have task force on the same corridor are effective like us this job would have been a thing of the past. The good thing here is that we are working and people are seeing the benefits,” Fadipe noted.
It is seemingly clear that PSTT has to divest itself of immature and unprofessional practices and seek inclusiveness for ease of funding and room for checks and balances. If possible, let the coordinating duty be rotated among the collaborating agencies with interest and defined terms and tenure of management, if it is meant to be a sustainable task force for anti-corruption at the nation’s seaport. This will engender a level-playing field for all the members and gives hope of better results and impact on ports operations.