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Swiss govt moves to repatriate fresh $321million Abacha loot

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Representatives of the Swiss government are expected in Nigeria on Tuesday to discuss with their Nigerian counterparts on the repatriation of another tranche of huge public funds stolen by late Head of State, Sani Abacha.

The delegation would be led by the Swiss Minister for Foreign Affairs, Didier Burkhalter, who is expected to meet with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, over the repatriation of the $321million confiscated from the family of late former head of state, Sani Abacha.

An official of the Swiss Embassy in Nigeria, Pascal Holliger, confirmed the visit on Monday.
“Yes, our foreign Minister is on his way to Nigeria on Tuesday,” Mr Holliger said. “He is coming on a working visit to Nigeria. During the visit, he would open the Consular General’s office in Lagos and meet with the Vice President of Nigeria and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to discuss the issue of the repatriation of the second tranche of the Abacha loot,” he said.

But some Swiss and Nigerian civil society groups, who got wind of the impending visit, dispatched a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding that his government give assurance that the $321million that would be returned to Nigeria by the Swiss government would be put to good use.
Copies of the petition titled “Restitution of Abacha funds: Swiss and Nigerian NGOs demand guarantees,” was sent to the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and her foreign affairs counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, and the Attorney-General of the Federation and minister justice, Abubakar Malami.

A copy of the petition obtained was also sent to the World Bank Vice President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, and the Federal Department for Foreign Affairs Office for International Public Law (DDIP) in Berne, Switzerland.
Signed by representatives of eight civil society groups, the petitioners expressed concerns that the fund could disappear just like the repatriated funds by the government of Liechtenstein in 2914 if government did not take steps to guarantee transparency and accountability.

“Swiss and Nigerian NGOs demand that the authorities of these two countries, together with the World Bank, take all measures necessary to guarantee that these funds be returned in a manner that is transparent and benefits the general population of the country, the people that were initially cheated out of their money,” the petition said.

The groups said their fears followed the confidential agreement reached between the Nigerian government and the Abacha family in 2014, in which the Nigerian government agreed not to prosecute any member of the family in lieu of the returned loot.
The controversial agreement reportedly received the backing of Geneva’s public prosecutor, resulting in the withdrawal of all criminal charges against Mohammed, the eldest son of the late dictator, allegedly implicated in a case of laundering his father’s loot.

“There are fears in civil society, in both Switzerland and Nigeria, that this money could be embezzled once again,” Executive Director, African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, David Ugolor, said in a report.
Mr. Ugolor said the petition was sent to the Nigerian and Swiss governments, as well as the World Bank, to demand a guarantee that these funds would actually be used to finance projects that would improve the living conditions of the Nigerian people.
“It is imperative that they be allocated through a transparent process that involves both Swiss and Nigerian NGOs,” Mr. Ugolor said. “The transfers must also be performed in installments and upon the condition that the sums returned in previous installments were used as supposed,” he said.
Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, Mr. Ugolor said the $235million returned by the Liechtenstein government vanished without trace after government said the money was used to acquire arms to fight the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

Other signatories to the petition included Olivier Longchamp, Berne Declaration (Switzerland); Martin Hilti, Finances and Tax programs coordinator, Transparency International (Switzerland); Adetokunbo Mumuni, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (Nigeria); Mark Herkenrath, Alliance Sud (Switzerland); Debo Adeniran, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) (Nigeria); Godwin Uyi Ojo, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (Nigeria), and Blair Glencorse, Accountability Lab (UK).

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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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