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NIMASA paid Fashion designer N546million for doing nothing – Witness

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  • FG threatens to scrap NIMASA over massive fraud, indolence

A prosecution witness has told a stunned Federal High Court how his account was credited with N546.8million by an official of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) even though he had no business relationship with the Federal agency.

Chukwuemeka Benjamin Onuoha, a fashion designer revealed this on Tuesday as the theft trial of former NIMASA boss Patrick Akpobolokemi continued.
Onuoha while being led in evidence by the EFCC prosecutor Rotimi Oyedepo said his company, Extreme Vertevex Limited was used as conduit pipe to siphon over N546,802,000 million from the coffers of NIMASA for a contract that was not awarded to him or executed by him.
He was the second prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of the former NIMASA boss, Patrick Akpobolokemi and six others over alleged theft of N2.6 billion belonging to NIMASA.

Akpobolokemi was arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba along with three others – Captain Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan – and three companies, namely Blockz and Stonz Limited, Kenzo Logistics Limited and Al-Kenzo Logistic Limited.
In a twenty- two count charge filed before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), they were accused of converting a total of N2, 658,957,666 between December 23, 2013 and May 28 this year. The accused pleaded not guilty to all the counts.

Onuoha told the court that N546,802,000 million was paid into his account with Zenith bank even though he did not tender any proposal or carried out any contract for NIMASA.
He further told the court that the disbursement of the money was facilitated by the third accused (Ekene Nwakuche) who was his secondary school mate.

He narrated in a graphic details of how he received the money. Sometimes in 2013 when Nwakuche was employed by NIMASA, he approached him and pleaded with him to ‘remember him’ if there was any contract he could implement. Shortly after he made the request, Nwakuche called him on phone to enquire if he had any registered company that could be used for transactions as well as the company’s accounts.
Onuoha narrated further that not too long after he supplied details of his company and his bank account to Nwakuche that, he received several alerts from his bank totaling N546,802,000 million.
On August 2014 he received N21, 802, 000, on November 6, 2014; he received the sum of N318 million and on November 25, 2014 he received alert of N207 million into his account.
He further stated that when he inquired from him on what the money was meant for, he was told to wait for further instructions.

Onuoha told the court that he was later instructed to transfer the money to different accounts by Nwakuche
Under cross examination, by Dr. Joseph Nwobike SAN, counsel to the first accused Patrick Akpobolokemi, Onuoha told the court that he had never met Akpobolokemi or received any instruction from him.

Also testifying today, a Bureau De Change operator, Hussein Sabo said on March 2014 he was approached by one Muhammed Darlington who told him that the second accused person (Captain Ezekiel Agaba) wanted to buy dollars,
Sabo in his testimony said ‘’Darlington collected my account numbers and several millions of naira were paid into the account which I used to buy dollars.
Sabo also confirmed that on March 3, 2014, monies were paid into his account namely, N33, 800,000; N35, 000,000; N20, 000,000 and N3, 000,000 respectively.
He also disclosed that between the month of March 2014 and December 2014 he received through his account, N85, 305,000, N155, 300,000, N13, 000,000, N10, 000,000, and N84, 000, 000 respectively.

Justice Buba thereafter adjourned further hearing in the suit till February 2,5, 16 and 19 respectively when EFCC is expected to call more witnesses.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Tuesday said that it was considering a move to scrap the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) due to what it called massive fraud in the commission.

The Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, who stated this while in a meeting with the Senate Committee Marine transport, said that the government may be forced to approach the National Assembly to repeal the Act setting up NIMASA.

He said that there was nothing to show for the N63billion revenue invested in NIMASA in 2015.

He cited an instance where he discovered that there was no equipment at the agency’s search and rescue unit meant to monitor movement of vessels and provide treatment for injured personnel.

According to him “Currently, the way NIMASA is, if you look at it very well, it was worse in the last administration. It was as if it was established just for the purpose of collecting money and nothing more. What we need to do is to ensure that NIMASA discharges its core responsibilities.

“If NIMASA failed to outsource its core responsibility then it has no business existing. If it is just to collect money from individuals, anybody can do that. We can hire a tax collector to collect money from maritime operators on behalf of Federal Ministry of transport.

“So it is either NIMASA sit up and carry out its own responsibility or we come to the National Assembly to repeal the Act setting it up and allow the department of marine security in the Ministry of Transportation, discharge the responsibility currently being discharged by NIMASA.

We are not going ahead with the university project proposed by NIMASA because we have an institution in Oron, we have Nigeria Institute of Transport Technology, Zaria, and we have the Nigerian College of Aviation in Zaria which we could upgrade to a university status and NIMASA is proposing to build a new one.

“Who will attend the university? How many parents will allow their children to go to such place where it proposes to site the university? What is the aim of the university that we cannot achieve in Oron where they have the necessary infrastructure.

“I don’t think we are proceeding with the university being proposed by NIMASA because it is a waste of resources, and unfortunately a lot of money had already been released for the university project, hence there is no structure on ground but just the feasibility study.

“Whoever is holding on to the money should better return it. The Chinese company contracted confirmed that only the feasibility study was in place.”

Upshot with additional report from Tribune

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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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