Maritime stakeholders are beginning to enforce their rights to critical information under the Freedom of Information Act, and have engaged the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency( NIMASA) in litigation at the Lagos Federal high court where they forced it to declared its collection into the country’s Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund(CVFF) in the last 10 years.
The CVFF Act of 2003 authorizes the agency to collect, from ship owners, two per cent of the contract sum they executed at any given time within the country’s maritime domain, be it off shore or on shore . The Act also made it mandatory for the agency to keep all monies collected in a special fund to be domicile in a bank and to use whatever it has in the fund to develop indigenous shipping, by empowering Nigerian ship owners.
But 10 year on, none of the expected ben-eficiaries have derived any benefit from the fund, which the agency allegedly have been moving the fund from one bank to another with accumulated interest
Till date, NIMASA, which is manag-ing the fund has failed to allow stakehold-ers have useful information as to its worth , which they considered as “esusu” being collected on their behalf
Apparently not pleased with the agency position of secrecy over the fund, one of the stakeholders from Borderless Ltd|GTE, a law firm, has dragged the agency to the Federal high court of Lagos, asking it to de-clare whatever it has collected from the ship owners into the fund since its inception. The Federal Attorney General was also joined in the suit which may have forced NIMASA to declare N39 billion collection into the fund so far
But other stakeholders said, few days ago, that they were not satisfied with the figure declared by the agency, and have therefore called for external audit of the fund for a satisfactory collection fi gure, including the interest it has attracted since the fund was domicile in the banks . They said the Local Content Development Commission, which was established few year ago and started collection of 1 percent of contract executed in a sister sector in the same economic zone has collected well over $200 million dollars (about N3trillion) in just two years
Specifically, the agency which acted on oath said the value of the fund, as at 1st July 2014, was almost N30 billion and $57m (or N9.4 billion), making a total of N39bn in 10 years.
The figure which was already being hotly contested as falling, far short of expectations was actually made available through the At-torney General’s Office, consequent upon a legal suit brought by the principal partners, in the law firm which evoked the Freedom of Information laws.
The principal partners had in a suit, FHC/ L/ CS/ |301|14 of July 16 2014 between Borderless Ltd /GTE as applicant and the NIMASA and the Attorney General of the Federation [AGF] as respondents urged the court to compell NIMASA to make public the collection into the CVFF since its inception.
So, compelled by the law of the land, the Federal Ministry of Justice, in a letter dated 31st of July and signed by the counsel to the second respondent, Mrs. Maimuna Lami
Shiru had disclosed, perhaps on behalf of the agency that total value of the CVFF, after a whole decade of an “esusu” the collection of N30 billion and $57m [N9.4 billion], thus, bringing the grand total sum to N39 billion.
The International Trade Monitor (ITM) learnt however that hardly had the sacred figure been released, when some industrial operators began to cast doubt on the reliability of the figures, insisting that it was too low, to their expectation.
One seasoned freight forwarder, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he would begin to believe, only when he is told how the figure was arrived at.
“For an esusu which has never been officially audited, I should be an idiot to believe that figure”, he argued, adding that while the agency may be absolutely honest, diligent and altruistic in the protection of the public fund, he would still not believe the figures, as a man who has stayed and operated long in a Nigerian system, with all its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies.
“Look, I am a Nigerian and I know that people like Gani fawehinmi are presently getting fewer by the day”, he said further. But an importer, Emmanuel Ebong in his reaction stated that the time for doubt had not come; adding that what the agency needed to do, was to now open its books wider, and bare all the facts.
“The money is our money. It is not the government’s money. It is not revenue. It is esusu. And if the agency was not hindered, towards a disclosure of these figures; then the NIMASA management should also not be disturbed in ensuring a total disclosure”, he said, noting the need for the agency boss, Patrick Akpobolokemi to invite the leadership of the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-owners Association [NISA] to come and see how the funds accumulated.
But another industry watcher, Anthony Emordi counseled those in the shipping terrain to also inquire whether the declared sum was before or after the interest from the banks had been added to it.
“The money has been in the bank for quiet sometimes now. I think we should also be interested in knowing how attractive it had remained with the bankers, except they want us to believe that they simply put it there in a current account, where they have also been paying the normal N5 per every N1,000.
The Director General of the agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi refused to respond to all enquiries on the matter. He failed to respond to all text messages, just as the agency’s image-maker, Isichei Osamgbi also declined to pick telephone calls or respond to all text messages, requiring NIMASA’s official position, to the matter.—International Trade Monitor