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Customs Eyes N1trn Target, As Importers Besiege Cotonou In Droves

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  • Metuh’s firm, others received N1.4bn for doing nothing —ONSA

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and the nation’s business class are yet to be on same page, for as the Service is eyeing a revenue target of N1trn, more and more stakeholders are already diverting their cargoes into neighbouring ports.

The Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammed Alli  (rtd), while speaking at a modest International Customs Day (ICD)  ceremony affirmed that that Government was yet to indicate a revenue target for the year, he also highlighted that the Service was on its own, already bracing to exceed N1trillion revenue  this year.

Mr Jonathan Nicol,  President Shippers‘ Association, Lagos State (SALS)

Mr Jonathan Nicol, President Shippers‘ Association, Lagos State (SALS)

“We have not received the target from the Budget Office yet. But we normally set target for ourselves. We are looking at targeting all we could, blocking all the revenue leakages and making sure that all the systems work perfectly. And hopefully, the policy of government will also be in our favour. We hope to cross the N1trillion mark”, Ali, who vowed to further plug revenue leaking holes, told newsmen at the NCS Command and Staff College in Gwagwalada, Abuja.

He acknowledged that the capacity to achieve his feat would be anchored on smoother trade facilitation, a more friendly import and export regime.

Mr. Hassan Bello, NSC Boss

Mr. Hassan Bello, Nigeria Shippers’ Council  Boss

“What we will do inward is to be able to re-invigorate our own system, block all the leakages and make sure the system is working perfectly.
“With that, once we get influx of export, import and collect the right duty, we will put it in the coffer of government,” he stated further, describing Customs officers as “obedient” persons, who knows that he would noose them up, if they fail to comply with the directive on assets declaration, while counselling stakeholders to avoid sharp practices, or be visited, by the full weight of the law.

But while Hameed Ali targets N1 trn in Abuja, the Shippers‘ Association, Lagos State (SALS) in Lagos opines that the Customs dream may only be achievable through strong prayers, as the nation’s business class are presently moving in droves to neighbouring ports, as a result of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) foreign exchange restrictions on some goods.

Specifically, 50 percent of goods meant for the Nigerian markets, according to SALS, are already being diverted to Cotonou.

“When the CBN forex restriction policy came into effect, we appealed to the Federal Government to review the policy and remove some critical items because it is hurting our business and the country‘s revenue. The reflection of that restriction is beginning to show up because we are having less cargoes in our ports. Rather than shippers bringing their cargoes to Lagos, they prefer Cotonou and they do their foreign transactions there because Benin Republic does not have such restrictions as we have”, SALS President, Mr. Jonathan Nicol indicated, confirming massive diversion  of cargo by Nigerians.

This development, according to Nicol would no doubt seriously affect the nation’s revenue target.

In the meantime, the Office of the National Security Adviser told a Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday that it had in November 2015 petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate about 78 firms and individuals, including a firm owned by the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, that were allegedly paid about N1.4bn by the ONSA for non-existing contracts.

This was revealed in the electronic mandate issued by a former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), to the Abuja branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria, authorising N1.4bn to 78 beneficiaries.

The document was tendered and admitted as exhibits by the court presided over by Justice Okon Abang on Tuesday, during the resumed trial of Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, who were charged with seven counts of money laundering and fraudulent receipt of N400m meant for procurement of arms from the NSA office on November 22, 2014.

“What is written on the document is payment for security services,” a Legal Adviser at the Office of the NSA, Mr. Bali Ndam, said when EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, showed to him the electronic mandate on Tuesday.

Our correspondent on Tuesday sighted the e-mandate which showed that N1.4bn was released by the CBN on Dasuki’s instruction to the CBN.

When the defence counsel, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), confronted Ndam with the document during cross-examination, the witness read other part of the document stating that the ONSA paid Metuh for providing “three operational vehicles.”

The prosecution alleged in the charges that Metuh and his firm used the N400m paid to them by ONSA for the PDP’s campaign, and were said to have given about N21m to a former Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih.

It alleged that the money was “part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity” of the immediate past NSA (Dasuki).

Ndam, who appeared as the third prosecution witness in court on Tuesday, said the incumbent NSA, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.), sent a petition dated November 28, 2015 to the commission over “payment of contracts without award.”

Led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Tahir, the witness said “a list of companies and individuals about 78 in number” was attached to the NSA’s petition to the EFCC.

He said he could “vividly remember” that Metuh’s firm, Destra Investments Limited, with whom the PDP spokesperson is standing trial, was the 78th beneficiary of the allegedly fraudulent payment.

The witness said, “On November 28, 2015, the ONSA forwarded a letter to the Chairman of the EFCC and the title of the letter was ‘payment of contracts without award’ for their necessary action.

“The letter forwarded a list of companies and individuals covering almost about 78.

“The one I can remember vividly is Destra Investment Limited.

“Following the letter, the EFCC sent a letter to the ONSA requesting e-payment mandate for these companies. The (EFCC’s) letter dated January 13, 2016 and signed by one Ibrahim Musa.

“The ONSA replied the request of EFCC forwarding the list of e-payment mandate, number 0799 to the EFCC on January 14, 2016. It was signed by one M. Abdulraheem, Group Captain.

“After the letter was forwarded to the EFCC, I was also invited to write a statement which I did.”

Justice Abang later overruled the objection by the defence lawyer, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), to the admissibility of the petitions and other documents with their annexure as exhibits.

The exhibits included a petition by the incumbent NSA, Monguno, to the EFCC asking for investigation of some payments to the 78 companies and individuals without any contract award.

The petition had with it an annexure of the list of the 78 beneficiaries.

The other exhibits also included a letter by the EFCC to the ONSA, asking for the electronic mandate authorising the payments to Metuh’s firm and other beneficiaries.

The last of the exhibits was the response by the ONSA to the EFCC attaching the electronic mandate issued by the then NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), addressed to the Controller of the Abuja branch of the CBN.

But during the cross examination, the defence counsel, Ikpeazu, said with Ndam’s witness statement only made after the charges had been filed against the defendants, it was obvious that he (the witness) was only “procured to manufacture evidence to entangle the defendants.”

Metuh, who has a pending application for variation of the conditions of bail granted him by the court, was also produced in court in handcuffs by prison officials on Tuesday.

Justice Abang fixed Wednesday for the hearing of the application for variation of the bail terms, which his lawyer said he had laboured unsuccessfully to fulfil.

Additional report from Punch

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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