282 ‘missing ships’: Oversight duty or vendatta?

Stories by Isaac Anumihe

Senator Hope Uzodinma’s Joint Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport, recent revelation that over 282 vessels got  missing from Nigerian seaports has raised no small dust in the maritime industry with many Nigerians crying blue murder in the wanton sleaze of our sovereign wealth.

The committee was unsettled with the activities of a port cabal that had defrauded the nation of over N30 trillion through infractions perpetrated with commercial banks, shipping companies, terminal owners, customs  and operators.

“It is common knowledge that infractions abound in daily transactions at the nation’s ports, with commercial banks, shipping companies, terminal owners and operators. They connive at ease with officials to defraud the nation of trillions of naira. Preliminary evidence before us suggests that this is the case in all sea ports,’’ Uzodinma said.

He, therefore, vowed that those fleecing Nigeria of trillions of naira will be brought to book. Even with these startling discoveries, the question most Nigerians are asking today remains, “can anything good still come out of this probe?

The committee  was told that goods worth N7 trillion are smuggled into Nigeria every year, just as he lamented that “the annual turnover in the hands of smugglers is more than our annual federal budget.”

“Consequently, all those indicted in this crime will be made to face the full wrath of the law. The nature and methodologies of these infractions include abuse of Form M and violation of foreign exchange manual issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN);  incorrect classification, under-valuation and incorrect declaration. Others are incorrect origin, error in calculation, temporary importation, exemptions and waivers; foreign exchange manipulations, unit cost analysis on excise, smuggling and illegal removal of cargo from terminals and lack of exit certificate by vessels” he said.

While pointing accusing fingers at some agencies of government under whose watch the nation is bleeding, Uzodinma vowed to block the loopholes, recover the missing funds and prosecute the perpetrators.

“Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), shipping companies , operators of bonded terminals and importers and exporters have questions to answer,’’ he said.

Also,  Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara  lamented recently that an estimated N7 trillion is lost annually through insecurity and revenue leakages in the waterways. Nigerian  Navy at the weekend,  recovered over N420 billion or $1.17 billion of Nigerian crude stolen  in 2016 alone. That was aside the  stolen oil worth N6.7 billion or $18.8 million destroyed in various illegal refineries between January and June 2017.

These discoveries generated a lot of controversies, anger and condemnations in the maritime sector with the stakeholders calling for strong sanctions against the perpetrators.

The co-ordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr Osita Chukwu agreed with Uzodinma on the area of prosecution saying that some agencies are responsible for the infractions.

“Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)  and Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) know what happened. How can a ship berth without record? Who berthed the ship?. NPA is the key stakeholder in that regard. Any berthing of ship is NPA. Anything about shipping is NIMASA. Both NPA and NIMASA are deeply involved. They should be queried. Shippers Council is only a commercial regulator.

Let the law take its course. There is a conventional law. There is a law for monetary abuse. There is an act setting them up. There is imprisonment; there are other punishments. The law should take its course. If the law finds them culpable they should go in for it. All the people involved should be taken care of,” he said.

A freight forwarder, Mr Olusegun Ologbese, was not excited over the probe because, according to him, nothing will come out of it at the end of the day.

“One is not excited about  the senate’s investigations because at the end of it nothing will come out of it. Otherwise we should be happy and praise them for digging into issues like this which makes the country to lose huge revenues. When you look at the many investigations of this nature, there is no conclusion. How did those vessels enter? Who brought them in? How much were  they supposed to pay at that time? Those who are concerned should be sanctioned.

It is not that those vessels are missing but those vessels came in and there is no record. Some people knew that such vessels came but there is no record of payment. So, they declared them missing. If we find out those who brought the ships in and those who gave the order for the ship to berth, they should pay for the money the ships were supposed to have paid” he posited.

Director General of Association of Customs Licensed Agents (ANLCA), Mr Joel Nwosu, accused the Senate of carrying out a vendetta mission because of the probe of Calabar Channels. He argued that the matter had since been rested but because of the involvement of one of the Senators in the deal, the Senate excavated a deal that had since been buried.

“The Senate is on vendetta mission because of the probe of the dredging of Calabar Channels as one of the senators was involved in the deal. However, there could be an element of truth but let us be sure of our facts because we have it on good authority that this information had come up in the past and the authorities concerned were able to debunk it. For it to have come again means that somebody had come to cook some information that had been rested by the concerned authority after thorough investigation and decided to use the weapon against his enemy because of the dredging of the Calabar channels.

“From our side we have told our members in the   meeting that just ended last week that  if they are called for the investigation, they should put together their Form M, the e-payment and we will be able to do a memo to the concerned Senate Committee now trying to exonerate ship members that are likely to be indicted. All and all, let them do their investigation. The just will always be exonerated,” he noted.

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