After NNSL was grounded by the military government of General Sanni Abacha in September 1995, NUL was named its successor and granted a national carrier status.
NUL formally commenced operations in July 1996 with Retired Rear Admiral Samuel Atukum named as its Managing Director. Atukum was Military Governor of Plateau State during the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari.
Atukum had no pedigree in merchant shipping. He never worked for any shipping company.
The closest experience he had to the maritime industry was working as a naval officer where he retired a decade earlier.
Government said it formed the company to serve as a model shipping line in the country and to optimally exploit the extensive opportunities for the bulk carriage of dry and wet cargo “including the affreighment of crude oil and refined petroleum products”.
NUL suffered a fate that was worse than NNSL’s.
In 1979 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, NNSL had 26 ships with a combined tonnage of 552,000 deadweight. By 1999, only one of those vessels named MV River Madaremained.
The ship was later renamed MV Trainer and was converted to a training vessel for Nigerian cadets.
In 1996, while the liquidation of NNSL was ongoing, MV Trainer was sold to Mediterranean Shipping Company, a Greek shipping company registered in Cyprus for US$785,000. The ship was renamed Axion 11 by its new owners.
In 1998, the National Maritime Authority (NMA), now Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), repurchased the same ship for $4.5 million from Mediterranean Shipping Company and renamed it MV Abuja. The country had been swindled to the tune of $3.75 million, and possibly more if you factor in other associated costs. This was the kind of practice that destroyed NNSL and NUL.
To date, no one has been prosecuted in connection with the scandalous transaction.
MV Abuja was the only ship owned and managed by NUL in its entire history. The operation ofMV Abuja was as scandalous as its purchase.
On its last known voyage in February 2002, MV Abuja was arrested on the orders of the Maritime Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, following an action by the International Transport Workers Federation representing the ship’s crew members for various charges including the non-payment of crew wages, repairs and creditors expenses.
NUL owed $826, 7772.82 as staff salary arrears, repair charges and other forms of bills. It also reportedly owed Lloyds $52, 000 for cover due and inspection charges.
Atukum travelled to Sri Lanka and was away for 68 days to get the vessel released. After over a year of detention and after posting a bond of $500,000, the 10,000 metric tons deadweightMV Abuja was released on 14th February 2003.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police Force will do well to open investigation into this monumental fraud. Apart from the financial loss, the evil deeds of those involved also destroyed the nation’s aspiration to play effectively in the seaborne trade.
The starting point in my opinion is to invite the dramatis personae including those at the helm of affairs at NMA at the time of the fraudulent transactions and that should include the former Director General, Mr. Buba Galadima and his successor, Mr. Patrick Egesi. All the directors, deputy directors and others connected with the disposal of MV Trainer and its repurchase asMV Abuja should not be spared.
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