How N52bn Cabotage fund was looted—Minister
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, has given an insight into how the multi-billion naira Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF) was looted by the last administration of Patrick Akpobolokemi, the immediate Director- General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
The fund, which exact amount is still a subject of conjecture due to high level of secrecy to which NIMASA, which is a custodian of the money, has over the years subjected it to, is the two per cent surcharge for all contracts under the Cabotage regime payable by indigenous ship owners.
However, the funds was said to have accrued a staggering N52billion as at 2015 while Haruna Jauro, the then acting DG of NIMASA, declared that the funds were still intact.
But last week, the minister at a stakeholders conference on the reform of maritime industry held in Lagos, declared that Akpobolokemi dipped his hands into the money to fund the now suspended Maritime University at Okerenkoko, Delta state.
According to the minister, the sum of N13billion was taken out of the funds to procure the land on which the university was proposed to be built.
”I wondered where in Nigeria is land is so expensive. Can you imagine that they dipped their hands into CVFF to purchase the land, the amount which was enough to build the university, yet there was no university” the minister noted.
He declared that the action of the last administration of NIMASA was illegal because the CVFF meant for the empowerment of indigenous ship owners.
Explaining why the project was suspended by the Federal government, Ameachi declared that government is not buoyant enough to embark on such a project, saying they money spent to purchase the land could have been used to developed Nigerian Maritime Academy(MAN),Oron, to an international standard.
”There is no money to continue with the project because government is broke and that I will have not have anything to do with the University project.
”Instead of developing the academy, they prefer building maritime institutions and maritime colleges in the country”, the minister noted.
Indigenous ship operators have been clamouring for the disbursement of the funds which is the proceeds of their contribution to empower them to compete with their foreign counterparts who have dominated the coastal trade.
Despite much assurance from NIMASA that the money would be disbursed in form of loans, no single operator has so far benefitted from the funds more than ten years after the scheme started.
This was in spite of the rigorous selection process of the beneficiaries which NIMASA under Akpobolokemi did when a name of six successful applicants from over 100 operators who showed their interest in the loans.
NIMASA also went through the circus show of selecting four Primary Lending Institutions(PLIs) to administer the funds while the then Minister of Transport,Idris Umar, who then acknowledged that the names of the selected six beneficiaries were on his table for verification , promising to give the necessary approval which he never did till he left the office.
Some indigenous operators who were bitter over the development accused NIMASA under Akpobolokemi and the then Transport Minister of conspiracy over the non disbursement of the funds.
”We never knew all this while that they have diverted the funds but kept deceiving us that it would soon be disbursed while busy taking us through the long and winding process of selection meant to pull wood over our eyes”, one of the operators whose company was shortlisted for the funds said bitterly.
Another female operator lamented that the high interest rate slammed on the beneficiaries of the funds was another ploy by NIMASA to keep the funds to themselves to continue to yield interests and for them to loot it.
However, some indigenous ship owners have identified the waiver clause in the Cabotage law as a lacuna which has hindered the successful implantation of the regime.
They believe that their foreign counterparts are successfully exploiting the loophole created by the waiver regime to invade and dominate the coastal shipping trade.
”The waiver clause is a cankerworm. It opens a corridor for the foreign operators to strangulated indigenous ship owners as about 80 per cent of indigenous vessels are currently lying idle”, they bemoaned.
They however appealed to the minister to sanitise the waiver regime which they claimed previous ministers gave indiscriminately, thereby saving the investments of Nigerian operators some of whom they claimed their investments have gone under.