The twin evils that have cast dark clouds over officialdom in this country are profligacy and dishonesty. While the first is deep rooted, the second is legendary. This is why the giant of Africa with all the natural endowments and potentials is haemorrhaging.
Besides politics where most of the players are confirmed liars, dishonesty has also become the way of life of individuals who were never politicians but who were called upon to serve the country in one capacity or the other. The maritime industry is definitely not left out.
One area that Nigerians have not been told the whole truth is the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF). The CVFF was created by the Cabotage Act of 2003 to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity by providing assistance to Nigerian operators in domestic and coastal shipping.
It is a consolidated fund accruable from the 2percent levy payable by ship owners on any vessel engaged in coastal trading as well as revenue accumulated from tariffs, fines and waiver under the cabotage act.
Since the scheme came into being, the accruable funds have never been used for what it was designed for and from investigation a lot of money have been realised from the funds but were frittered away by successive Director Generals (DG’s) of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the custodian of the fund.
No NIMASA DG has ever come out to say categorically how much has accrued from the scheme. When figures are dished out, they are either conflicting or far from the truth. As at last 2015, we read that the figures had accumulated to about 60billion. This year again we were confronted with a lesser figure.
During the tenure of the immediate past DG of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi, we were told that a major part of the fund was used to send over 2500 cadets overseas for the controversial National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP). We were also told that money was used to fund capacity development in some schools and to establish new academic institutions. Another version said it was used in the construction of shipyards and technical colleges.
Since the Buhari administration came on stream and searchlight thrown on how the fund was spent, we have been inundated with shocking facts. We heard how NIMASA spent over N17 billion to acquire the land for the temporary site of the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU) in Kurutie, Delta State which was yet to take off. The revelation came when a panel was constituted by the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMoT) to ascertain the desirability or otherwise of the university, which was inaugurated with pomp by former President Goodluck Jonathan 19 days before he left office.
The panel wondered how NIMASA spent N17 billion to get two hectares of land in Kurutie, which lacks basic facilities, such as power, water, road, school and health centre.
The members were obviously shocked with what they saw when they visited the site, with sources confirming there was nothing to justify the huge amount spent on the land.
Recently, the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi told stakeholders at a conference on the reform of maritime industry held in Lagos that Akpobolokemi dipped his hands into the CVFF to fund the now suspended Maritime University at Okerenkoko, Delta state.
According to the minister, the sum of N13billion was taken out of the funds to procure the land on which the university was proposed to be built. He had wondered where in Nigeria that land was so expensive. “Can you imagine that they dipped their hands into CVFF to purchase the land, the amount which was enough to build the university, yet there was no university,” the minister alerted.
From the minister’s alarm it was obvious that the action of the previous DG of NIMASA was illegal because the CVFF was meant for the empowerment of indigenous ship owners .Indigenous ship operators have been clamouring for the disbursement of the funds which comes from the proceeds of their contribution to empower them to compete with their foreign counterparts who have dominated the coastal trade. Despite much assurance from NIMASA that the money would be disbursed in form of loans, no single operator has so far benefitted from the funds more than 12 years after the scheme started.
This was in spite of the rigorous selection process of the beneficiaries which NIMASA under Akpobolokemi did, choosing six successful applicants from over 100 operators who showed interest in the loans.
Like the previous DG’s, Dakuku Peterside, the current DG of NIMASA has pledged to protect the CVFF from any form of abuse. But Nigerians are obviously watching to see the agency commit itself to the principle and letter of the CVFF enabling instrument as Peterside promised.
SHIPS & PORTS DAILY thinks that NIMASA in the past has disappointed Nigerians. The new DG has an opportunity to write his name in gold if he does not toe the part of others. Besides the minister’s assurance on the use of the fund, contributors need to know the exact figure that has accumulated and the mode of disbursement.
Copyright 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.