· Registrar says, ‘It was a mistake’
· Nwabunike denies complicity
· Transport Ministry clears self
The Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT) has responded to the investigation by the League of Maritime Editors and Publishers (LOMEP) into the wanton financial irregularities in the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria(CRFFN) in three successive fiscal years as the immediate past members of the House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways have continued to trade blames over their shoddy over-sight functions on the Council in three successive budgetary appropriations.
Surprisingly, in what has been described as a mistake, N100million was padded in the 2019 budget of the Council under the over-sight supervision of the former House Committee on Ports, Harbours and Waterways, chaired by Hon. Patrick Asadu.
FMOT in a letter dated, August 27th, 2019 responded to the inquiries by LOMEP seeking explanations to the wild infractions in the Council and the role of the ministry, thus: “Pursuant to the your letter dated 8th April, 2019 on the above subject matter, I wish to forward herewith the submission of the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN), which position the current management of CRFFN has adopted in their separate explanations to the National Assembly and the Ministry”
The letter with the title, “Re: Allegation of Financial Irregularities in CRFFN” was signed by the Director, Maritime Services, Mr. S.U. Galadanchi for the Minister of Transportation.
While the details of the voluminous document from the ministry will be served next week, Hon Patrick Asadu who has been rattled by the petition and request by LOMEP for fresh investigation into the mess by the new leadership of the House of Representatives and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has blamed the seeming legislative oversight on the critical details on Hon. Ossy Prestige who presided over the investigation committee of the House of Representatives on the alleged fraud as raised in the motion order paper No. 161 of Thursday, May 3rd, 2018.
Hon. Prestige, on the other hand, has also said he was not to blame as industry stakeholders accuse him of complicity.
But the worst emerged in the approved copy of the Council’s 2019 fiscal budgetary appropriation with the padding of N100 million captured as “Feasibility study for the development of bonded terminal at Ozubulu, along Onitsha-Owerri road”. The concern of many stakeholders is that CRFFN is statutorily a government agency and as such has no business with the development of a private bonded terminal, which has no bearing with the object clauses of the Council.
With the dust raised by this, different freight agents associations’ members have accused the pioneer chairman of CRFFN and the national president of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Tony Nwabunike of conspiracy in the budget preparation which saw the inclusion of the bonded terminal development in Ozubulu, his home town, where he is currently developing a similar project.
Speaking with MMS Plus on this issue, the ANLCA President, Mr. Tony Iju Nwabunike said, “It is not my bonded terminal that was cited in the CRFFN budget. Our bonded terminal is Anambra Bonded Terminal and Freight Station Limited. If they are putting another terminal in Ozubulu, that’s not ours. Ours started since 2017. What we saw is visibility study of a bonded terminal in Ozubulu. Ours is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project with the state government. So, it has nothing to do with the federal government”
Nwabunike said that he had sent a letter to the Ministry of Transport for clarification as he did not go to National Assembly or make any attempt to put anything in the CRFFN budget.
“I don’t know where that thing comes from, but it has to go back from wherever it is coming from. We don’t need the fund, ours is near completion. We don’t need N100million to do a project of $7million. We have put in almost a quarter of the money into the project. It is a freight station and not just a bonded warehouse. Anambra State is highly interested in the project and they are working towards it”, he added.
Meanwhile, the Registrar of CRFFN, Barr. Samuel Nwakohu told our correspondent that the inclusion of the Ozubulu project in CRFFN budget was a mistake.
“It was added in the CRFFN budget in error. It has nothing to do with us and it is not part of CRFFN mandate. I know nothing about it. We have seen it; we have discussed it and decided that we are going to ignore it. You know what happens when you ignore an item in the budget, it is dead” he told MMS Plus.
Noting that the other way to correct the mistake was through corrigendum, he said such process would be complex and time-consuming, hence he didn’t want to take the option.
“I am sure that thing was put there in error because it has nothing to do with us. The bonded warehouse has nothing to do with us. Some people had even called me names, saying that I am a fraudster, whereas, I know nothing about it” Nwakohu assured.