Gabriele Volpi: A true statesman, patriot

VOLPI

There is an African proverb that says “It’s impossible to have an elder in the marketplace yet have the head of an infant warped”. In other words, you can always count on the wisdom of a true elder statesman to solve the impossible problems. This is why nations hold their elder statesmen in high esteem. They are the conscience of the nation. It is quite assuring to know that Nigeria can point to elders who care about the nation and always put the national interest first in all their actions. Mr. GabrieleVolpi, a naturalised Nigerian, has further expressed his love for Nigeria and the Nigerian economy by taking a bold step to resolve the Intels-NPA dilemma. By apologising and conceding to the TSA policy, he has shown that the protection of jobs is more important than obtaining a legal victory. And it is important to view this latest move as a commendable and exemplary act of statesmanship.

The Intels-NPA debacle that has been in the news for some months finally culminated in the termination of the pilotage agreement between NPA and Intels, which according to reports was in response to the counsel from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation. It drew the attention of stakeholders in the maritime industry, many of whom feel Intels has performed creditably as a company in Nigeria and deserves better treatment. However, no one knew how to resolve the debacle considering the knotty issues at stake. The termination also elicited interest from the general public with many ascribing political connotation to the move by the NPA. The popular perception in the public is that the government is on a mission to use Intels as a tool to dissuade the former Vice President, AtikuAbubakar, from contesting the coming elections in the country. Whether the action had some political motive or not; that colouration of politics in itself is perilous to the prevailing political climate of the country, which may eventually heat up the polity unnecessarily. The country needs a tranquil political atmosphere leading to the 2019 elections, hence the need to change the growing narrative.

Additionally, with the termination of the pilotage agreement, many young Nigerians are already lined up to lose their jobs in a manner that is detrimental to the nation’s economy. A jobless youthful population poses significant threat to the peace of the society. This is especially so considering the fragility in the Niger Delta from where a significant population of the Intels’ workforce is from. The termination not only has the potential to increase the state of unemployment in the present; it also has the capacity to create unemployment in the future bearing in mind that the current imbroglio is already threatening the multi-billion dollars deep sea port in Badagry, which is to employ over 100, 000 Nigerians upon completion. This is further accentuated by the ill-preparedness of the NPA to satisfactorily address the plight of the current employees of the company employed under the pilotage agreement. NPA claims that the existing employees that may be affected by the termination of the agreement will be absorbed by a new company that takes over. However, the agency does not currently possess a suitable replacement with the required potency and competence for the job.

Beyond the attendant job loss, businesses in the maritime industry using Nigeria ports are also likely to suffer as there would be no service provider for the moment should Intels eventually exits the pilotage agreement. Such situation will not only amount to loss of revenue for the nation; it may also jumpstart retrogression in the maritime industry in Nigeria with security concerns. Part of the pilotage agreement requires Intels to conduct monitoring of all vessels as they approach the port. The termination of the agreement would mean that until there is a suitable replacement for Intels, the monitoring service rendered by the company would be put on hold and that poses severe security concerns for the vessels that come into the country.

In terms of business investment in the country, the termination of the pilotage agreement has sent some bad signals to the outside world suggesting that investments in the country may not be that safe. And by extension, the decision threatened one of the most magnificent projects in Africa – the Badagrydeep sea port touted to be the largest in Africa. The management of Intels had threatened to reconsider their investment in the Badagry project owing to the manner NPA terminated the pilotage contract, which is in breach of the terms of the agreement. Logically, if NPA could not respect the terms of the current agreement, for which Intels has invested significant sum of money, how then can the multi-billion dollar investment in Badagry be safe? It is for this reason that the management of Intels had threatened to reconsider its investment in Badagry, and justifiably so.

After providing NPA with ample time to reconsider its decision, the company had also threatened to embrace the legal option if NPA did not rescind the decision. This is because the terms of the agreement provide for negotiations between parties, arbitration and adjudication, none of which the NPA respected. If the company had taken the legal route, chances are that the case would be in the court for as long as possible in addition to the possibility of getting an injunction from the court to stay action by NPA. If that had been the case, naturally the development of the maritime industry in Nigeria would have been threatened. This will stall investment and put the country on backward trajectory, especially the maritime industry.

In the same vein, the situation would have created unnecessary animosity between the NPA and Intels and make it difficult for further business dealings. It is also important to note the huge legal cost that would have been incurred by the management of Intels and the government for a likely prolonged case. In other words, the termination of the agreement by the NPA has suddenly opened up many issues that will require time to correct. The matter has taken this long to resolve because both parties justifiably have convinced positions they are clinging to and no party was willing to give in. NPA wants Intels to remit all funds into the Treasury Single Account; Intels finds it difficult to comply because the TSA was not factored into the terms of agreement signed by both parties. But a critical look also suggests that Intels is the victim in the whole confusion because the NPA seems to have exploited governmental powers to wield the big stick on a partner in a contractual agreement.

I have laid this background to aid proper understanding of the genuineness of what Mr. GabrieleVolpi has done to the Nigerian economy. It was really gladdening that Mr. Volpi called the NPA to state the willingness of Intels to comply with the TSA policy even when the terms of the pilotage agreement did not recognise the policy. It is a true show of statesmanship and a rare one in the business circle in Nigeria. That singular act by Mr. Volpi is a restatement of his commitment to the Nigerian economy and the country at large. It also shows his magnanimity and love for the country. He deserves the commendation of every individual and entity that cares about the growth and development of the Nigerian economy. As a businessman of many years with footprint in many sectors of the company, Mr. Volpi has displayed leadership. By this singular action, he has also provided assurance to prospective international investors that their investments are safe in Nigeria. NPA should see this as an invitation to sheathe sword and find a common ground for an amicable resolution to the issues at stake. To prolong the issue does not benefit any party; it only endangers the Nigerian economy. The international business community is watching to see how this will be finally resolved. The rating of the country and perception index is dependent on how this matter will be resolved. By extension, the Foreign Direct Investment to the country is dependent on how the issues are handled by the NPA. Mr. Volpi has offered an apology and the willingness to comply with the TSA, it is now up to NPA to also make some concessions and ensure a win-win for all parties. 

Copyright 2017 Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.