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OGFZs: Don’t Demoralize Workers, Legal Practitioner Cautions Lousy Insinuators

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  • As Fidelity appoints Acting MD, following N23bn scam

A comment by a university teacher, insinuating that the Warri, Lagos, Brass Oil  and Gas Free Zones were illegal operations may have drawn the ire of a legal practitioner, Iyobosa Egerin who described the remark as “cruel, unfortunate, misleading and disheartening”.

Iyobosa who reacted on the sideline of the Labour Day Celebrations has subsequently allayed the fears of workers earning their pay from Free Zones to continue to put in their best,  because the view of  a Law teacher, as published by the Nation of April 20, 2016  was far from reality; and could seriously demoralize the OGFZs, with some fearing for their jobs.

Before the recent alleged observation of the University don, there had been several insinuations, some of them bordering on sheer lousy remarks and threats, creating fears in the minds of both investors and their workers, in respect of the sustainability of the OGFZs operation in Nigeria.

“Without mincing words, I will like to state that the insinuations and publications are vexatious, offensive and completely untrue”,  he indicated”,  adding that his initial reaction was to ignore it and simply regard it as an aspect of the ongoing campaign of calumny against Oil and Gas Free Zones Authority (OGFZA) by some stakeholders for selfish business interest as against the overall interest of Nigeria’’.

“However, considering the negative impact such publications would have on the unsuspecting reading public, I have decided to respond to the said publication in order to keep the records straight”, the legal practitioner explained, noting that every informed Nigerian who has no intention of misleading either the Federal Government or the people knows that the law establishing the OGFZs, gave it “the statutory power to license oil and gas free zone’’.

” The law empowers OGFZA to take over and perform such other functions being hitherto performed by the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) as they relate to oil and gas activities from any of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones.

“The unambiguous implications of the law setting up OGFZA is that the legislature has expressly limited the functions of NEPZA over all export processing zones by virtue of the oil and gas free zones act’’, he said,  adding that anyone  who has doubts concerning the establishment and operations of the three OGFZs should do a little bit of research or be more thorough in their work, before making public pronouncement.

“If they do, they will realize that the oil and gas free zone, Warri, the Eko Support Oil and Gas Free Zone, Apapa, Lagos and the Brass oil and gas free zones went through the gamut of due process and diligence.

“I have confirmed that these oil and gas free zones went through the whole gamut of due process and diligence from the applications through the ministerial recommendations and culminating in the Presidential approval gazetted by the Federal Government,’’ he said.

He therefore called on stakeholders and commentators who have issues with the establishment of oil and gas free zones to visit the office of the OGFZA to seek clarifications on grounds that their assumptions and uninformed positions and posture has huge negative financial implications to the Federal Government.

In the meantime, the Board of Directors of Fidelity Bank Plc has appointed the Executive Director, North, Alhaji Mohammed Balarabe, as the Acting Managing Director/Chief Executive of the bank with immediate effect subject to regulatory approval.

The appointment, according to a statement by the bank on Monday, follows the absence of the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, who was last week arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission alongside some officials of the bank for allegedly receiving $115m (N23bn) from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to prosecute the re-election of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The bank, however, reassured the over 400,000 shareholders and 3.4 million customers of its continued seamless services.

The EFCC also arrested the bank’s Head of Operations, Mr. Martins Izuogbe, for his role in the alleged scam, which the anti-graft agency described as unprecedented.

During the build-up to the 2015 presidential election, Alison-Madueke allegedly invited Okonkwo to help her handle some cash, which would be disbursed to electoral officials and groups.

A source disclosed that the fraud was uncovered when the EFCC began investigations into how officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Rivers, Delta and Akwa Ibom states received N675.1m.

The detective said, “The MD of Fidelity Bank has been arrested and is currently in our custody. During investigations into the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners, we got a major breakthrough as funds disbursed were traced to Fidelity Bank.

“We invited the MD, who then confessed to us that during the build-up to the presidential election, Diezani invited him to a meeting in Abuja. Diezani told him that some companies would deposit some funds in his bank and that she would give him further instructions on how the funds would be disbursed.

“The first company, Auctus Integrated, deposited $17,884,000 into the bank. The second company, Northern Belt Gas Company, deposited $60m, while another company, Midwestern Oil and Gas, deposited $9.5m. A fourth company, Leno Laitan Adesanya, deposited $1.85m, while the MD himself received $26m in cash.”

The source alleged that Diezani’s son, Ugonna Madueke, later served as a middleman between the former minister and the MD of the bank.

He said it was Diezani’s son who forwarded the names of the beneficiaries of the funds, which included INEC officials and several interest groups as well as election monitors, who were expected to compromise the electoral process.

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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