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Workers ground Imo, forcing Okorocha to recall sacked civil servants

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  • As PENGASSAN, IPMAN, others back NNPC on oil swap scrap

Imo State workers and the national leadership of the organised labour on Wednesday started a three-day warning strike to protest against the concession of 19 parastatals by the Governor Rochas Okorocha-led administration.

The workers described as obnoxious and crude, the government concession policy, which led to the dismissal of over 3,000 state workers.

While public schools, banks, government institutions, local council secretariats, filling stations, and supermarkets, among others were completely shut, the Owerri Main Market and its adjoining commercial areas witnessed low patronage.

When our correspondent visited some parts of the state, heavily-armed policemen were seen manning some strategic points.

The workers had around 8am converged on the Nigeria Labour Congress secretariat on Edede Street, Owerri, where they were jointly briefed by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress.

After the briefing, they commenced a peaceful march to the Orlu Road Roundabout.

The workers vowed not to succumb to government harassment, coercion or intimidation to shelve their planned strike over the concession policy.

The state Chairman of the NLC, Austin Chilakpu, had said the protesting workers would commence an indefinite strike if the government failed to meet their demand to rescind the controversial concession policy and recall the sacked workers.

The workers wore black clothes and chanted solidarity songs, while displaying placards bearing inscriptions, some which read, “Okorocha, you are wicked,” “Rochas revert your policies, it is anti-workers” and “We cannot fear your antics again,” among others.

They eventually stormed the Government House despite the heavy presence of security men, where they were addressed by Okorocha.

The governor said the ‘suspension’ of parastatals workers was for the overall interest of the state.

He noted that his government which started in 2011 never owed workers, adding that it was only in Imo State that N20,000 minimum wage was paid to workers.

Also addressing journalists, the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, noted that the fate the APC was suffering today was borne out of the recklessness of the past administration led by the Peoples Democratic Party.

He said that there was a colossal drop in the national income following the drop in oil price.

It was later learnt that Okorocha ordered the recall of the sacked workers.

In the meantime, operators in the oil and gas sector of the economy are yet to comprehend why the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) dumped the Offshore Processing Agreement (OPA), barely a year after it received bids from willing investors.

The federal agency made a u-turn after receiving 101 expressions of interest. The decision followed news that the Federal Government will replace OPA with Direct Sale-Direct Purchase (DSDP) beginning from November 3.

Minister of State for Petroleum Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who dropped the hint, also said that the Federal Government paid zero subsidies on fuel importation last month.

It was learnt that the corporation backed down on the procurement arrangement after discovering the portfolios of the businessmen jostling for the agreement, also known as oil swap.

In times past, oil swap was a lucrative deal through which the government exchanged crude oil for refined products.

But upon scrutiny, most of the bidders were found out to mere middlemen and not direct owners of refineries. The corporation said it engaged the reverse gear to enshrine transparency and ease out middlemen in the crude oil exchange for product matrix.

It has announced its plan to begin direct purchase of petroleum products from credible international refineries as from next month.

The government considered the primacy of accountability, transparency and efficiency over patronage and settlement, especially with the dwindling revenue from the sector and the perennial shortage of products in the country.

As far as the government is concerned, what matters most is profit and efficiency, irrespective of the service provider.

Like in every other business predicated on market fundamentals, the NNPC has considered the most viable and profitable way for selling its crude and achieving all- season sufficient supply of products.

In a clear departure from the business as usual practice, the corporation has said that participation in the new regime will be restricted to those already identified to be genuine refinery owners and not just middlemen.

Besides the direct purchase plan, the minister said the NNPC will partner with owners of refineries.

The Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Mr. Ohi Alegbe, said that the NNPC took the decision following discoveries at the pre-qualification evaluation of the bids.

The evaluation revealed that most of the 44 companies earlier shortlisted for the next stage of the process mere have affiliations to refineries abroad, a situation that may bring toll into the value chain.

He said that the outcome of the process would have constituted a significant loss to the federation in terms of accruals if the NNPC had allowed the bidding process to go on.

Alegbe said: “Therefore, the NNPC resolved that only bona fide owners of refineries identified in the ongoing OPA Tender Evaluation process will be further engaged. “The identified refineries will be subjected to due diligence and analysis by NNPC-appointed consultants to confirm suitability in line with international best practice.”

Ten of the 34 firms that pre-qualified for the commercial bids were indigenous firms and they have withdrawn from the process.

Giving further explanation on the proposed direct sale of crude oil and direct purchase of products days after the he announced the cancellation of the OPA, Kachikwu said the government had adopted OPA “but the aural in the the world was negative even though we save about two hundred and something million dollars in the three months of temporary system, we still hope we could do better.”

The minister noted that the DSDP was adopted to replace the Crude Oil Swap initiative and the OPA to introduce and entrench transparency in crude oil transaction by the corporation in line with global best practices.

He explained that under the old order, crude oil was exchanged for petroleum products through third party traders at a pre-determined yield pattern.

The minister stated that the DSDP option eliminates all the cost elements of middlemen and affords the NNPC the latitude to take control of sale and purchase of the crude oil with its partners, adding that the initiative would save $1 billion for the federal government.

His words: “When I assumed duty as the GMD of NNPC, I met the OPA and like you know, there is always room for improvement. I and my team came up with the DSDP initiative with the aim of throwing open the bidding process.

“This initiative has brought transparency into the crude-for-product exchange matrix and it is in tandem with global best practices.”

According to him, the DSDP initiative has whittled down the influence of the minister in the selection of bid winners as it allows all the bidders to be assessed based on their global and records of performance.

Throwing more light on the need for the introduction of the DSDP, Kachikwu noted that the policy is aimed at reducing the gaps inherent in the OPA and the losses incurred by the corporation in the past.

According to him, the new arrangement would help the corporation to grow indigenous capacity in the international crude oil business and generate employment opportunities for lucky local firms.

The minister informed that the DSDP initiative gives other government agencies such as the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Nigeria Extractive Industry and Transparency Initiative (NEITI) the opportunity to participate in the bidding process to further engender adherence to due process.

The abolition of crude oil swap has eliminated some dubious indigenous companies from the ‘juicy’ petroleum product business, especially as government has tactically stopped subsidy on petrol.

There have been criticisms that the subsidy regime benefitted the privileged few to the detriment of the masses.  But the direct sale and purchase of products has become a torn in the flesh of the proponents of the Nigerian Content.

According to the minister, government will in March replace the crude swap with DSDP arrangement.

But the interest of some oil sector operators is on the minister’s conviction that the nation will be $1 billion richer under the DSDP regime.

The stakeholders unanimously urged the government to guide against financial leakages from the proposed arrangement.

Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) Vice President Alhaji Abubakar Dakingari described the abolition of oil swap as a necessary evil that the government could use to stamp out corruption in the sector.

To him, SWAP deals bred corruption in the past and that the country has no reason to experiencing fuel scarcity.  He insisted that direct product purchase, being a standard way of running the petrol business globally, would not in any cause fuel scarcity.

Dankingari expressed confidence in the commercial capability of indigenous fuel importers to compete favourably in the direct purchase of products.

He said: “if you allow the marketers to buy, definitely it will bring about availability of the products. That oil swap is another way of cheating, another way of corruption. Everybody knows that there is a standard way of doing it globally. If we are doing it that way there will be availability of products.

“If they are following the global standard way, automatically, there will be no fuel scarcity in the country. There is no reason we should be experiencing scarcity. It is a shameful thing.”

The national spokesman for the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Emmanuel Ojugbana, said oil workers have no objection to the stoppage of oil swap in as much as the DSDP will benefit the citizenry.

According to him, PEGASSAN’s primary concern is how to avoid negative impact of whatever regime of fuel supply being adopted by the NNPC.

Ojugbana said the oil workers will support NNPC provided the new system would not lead to financial leakages.

He said: “For us, the decision by government must have been due to what it has seen concerning the process. So, if government is coming to say they are stopping oil swap, it means it is for the good of the generality of Nigerians.

“So, we don’t actually have any issue with that. We don’t have any issue with whether they stop or they don’t stop. Our own is that whatever we are doing, let it be that, at the end of the day, it will not have any negative impact on Nigerians.

“If the direct purchase will promote transparency, we don’t have any problem with it. If it will block leakages for us now we don’t have any problem with it.”

A source within the NNPC, who believes that indigenous importers could be among the pre-qualified companies, however foresees problems “since they always hiden their identities at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).”

The noted that since crude prices are now falling, local importers will be able to square up competitively, but that the rising exchange rate may be an encumbrance.  Her words: “If you consider the cost of processing, cost of import, Customs charges, there may be little or no profit in the deal for them now that government has suspended payment of subsidy.”

On how the corporation could compromise the process, the source said: “If the government does not act fast as the sole importer of the product, it could under declare its products in exchange for the crude that was swapped. The leakage that government must mend is to ensure that there is complete delivery of products that is exchanged for crude.

The source said that between now and March when the new regime kick off, there could be manipulation in the oil swap.

The fear is predicated on a recent report credited to the NEITI that owners of oil blocks and assets in the oil and gas industry are difficult to identify because they conceal their identities at the CAC.

Kachikwu however allays fears over any under-hand deal in the purchase of products.

Speaking on some of the reported misgivings by some federal agencies over alleged non-transparent nature of past crude-for-products’ exchange arrangements, the minister inform that the reconciliation process has begun.

He assures that the ministry will deploy technology to track cargoes and trans-border shipment at the reception depots in order to forestall any incidence of round tripping.

The NNPC source said that when Dangote and other greenfield refineries begin production there might be no need for importation and this would create employment opportunities in the country.

According to some stakeholders, the directive will serve as a wake-up call to serious indigenous petrol marketers to establish their own refineries now that the government has blocked the financial leakages that thrived under the subsidy regime.

Despite the exponential benefits derivable from the proposed regime, not a few Nigerians see the development as inconsistency in government policy. They warn it could trigger fuel scarcity someday.

The corporation is now working out modalities to expand its affiliate petrol stations to curb incessant petrol scarcity.

The Federal Government, according to analysts, is planning to increase its regulation of the business so that it could not remain a tool in the hands of independent marketers whenever they are averse to any government decision.

In Nigeria, trade unions often embark on strike to create artificial scarcity whenever government refuses to allow uninterrupted disbursement of slush fund such as the petrol subsidy.

The NNPC has therefore concluded plans to raise the market share of its retail business to an appreciable level from the current 12 per cent by building a mega station in every senatorial district.

In a deft move designed to ensure efficient distribution and country-wide distribution of petroleum products, the NNPC has initiated nationwide consultation with stakeholders to drum up support for the planned expansion of its retail outlets.

Officials of the corporation, led by Group Executive Director, Commercial and Investment, Dr. Babatunde Victor Adeniran, recently took the campaign Kaduna State  Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

The team asked the state government provide lands for the new petrol stations in three locations in the state.

Adeniran said: “Our mission is to build three mega stations, one each in the three senatorial districts of the state. We need about five thousand square meters for each of the station. Each station will have six pumps including that of Liquefied Petroleum Gas which is cooking gas.”

The governor expressed gratitude to the NNPC management for deciding to launch the outlet expansion programme in his domain. “Any time NNPC comes visiting, it comes with good news,” El-Rufai said.

Giving express approval for lands to be made available NNPC for the mega stations, the governor said: “I want to assure you that we will give you all the support that you need.

Punch with additional report from Nation

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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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