Nigeria’s apex maritime agency is enmeshed in series of financial recklessness, including the controversial multi-billion naira contract with Global West promoted by ‘Tompolo’, a former militant leader
By Bayo Bernard
As pressure mounts on the federal government to revoke the
multi-billion naira contract awarded Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, GWVSL , a company owned by Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, the former militant leader is also breathing down on the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi, to either sit up or be kicked out from the influential position as boss of the maritime agency. Tompolo’s alleged threat is not lost on the NIMASA boss who confided in some close aides recently that his job is on the line. He told them that as Tompolo is not happy with the barrages of criticism that has greeted the contract so far. The NIMASA boss, it will be recalled, rode on the crest of the ex-militant to replace Temisan Omatseye as the Agency’s chief executive in December 2010.
Sometimes in February 2012, the federal government awarded Global West the contract to provide the platform to police the nation’s maritime domain against incessant piracy and oil theft on the nation’s waterway. The swift manner the contract was approved by the Federal Executive Council, industry watchers said then indicated that President Goodluck Jonathan was committed to routing of oil thieves. Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has put the value of oil theft in Nigeria at over $5 billion per annum. But critics now say that Global West has so far failed to live up to the confidence reposed in the Tompolo-led company to protect the nation’s oil wealth from both local and foreign thieves as the activities of hoodlums have risen to an all time high in the last few months.
Just last week, armed pirates attacked an oil tanker and kidnapped the crew members including 12 Pakistanis and five Nigerians. The gun men wielding automatic weapons stormed the Nigerian flagged vessel, MT Matrix 40 nautical miles off the oil-rich Bayelsa state. Throughout last week NIMASA and Global West could not provide tangible answers on why the pirates operate successfully without any resistance.
Reuters, an international news wire warned recently that of oil gangs in the Niger Delta have risen outrageously and their tactics now more violent, thus increasing the risk of doing business in Nigeria. The report came on the heels of a N200 million ransom demand by pirates for the release of six foreigners kidnapped recently. Tom Patterson, a maritime risk analyst at Control Risks, an international risk management agency said the rate of criminal activities in the Niger Delta, has increased tremendously since Akpolobokemi became NIMASA boss; “the recent upsurge in maritime kidnap off Niger Delta has not been witnessed since 2010”, Patterson said.
Global West on its own has not, based on the contract, prove that it is capable to stem criminalities within the nation’s maritime domain. The questions: what has Nigerians gained by awarding the $100 million contract to Tompolo’s company? Between January and April this year alone, armed bandits successfully hijacked 37 vessels. The government of the United Kingdom threatened a diplomatic face-off with Nigeria when a British flagged cargo vessel, Esther C was hijacked early February by dare-devil pirates off the Gulf of Guinea. Three days earlier, heavily armed gun men attacked a chemical tanker killing a Filipino.
Aside Britain, the United States of America recently warned of dire consequences if Nigeria failed to stamp out activities of gangsters from its waters. speaking through Jeffery Hawkins, an official of the US Embassy in Nigeria warned that criminal activities poses sufficient threat to the country’s maritime development. Industry analysts warns that the US position was a serious indictment on NIMASA under the leadership of Akpolobokemi.
Indeed, the NIMASA management and Global West, from all indications appear to have failed to assist President Jonathan in its avowed quest to secure Nigeria’s oil wealth particularly, by using an alternate platform provided by Global West. The plan to look elsewhere for security critics say, became necessary following serious indictment of relevant security agencies which failed to police the nation’s vast coastline. But following unabating piracy and oil theft, the impression now being created in the international community is that the country is not a serious maritime nation, a situation stakeholders say put a question mark on the Global West contract. Critics maintain that the development is not a good news to the federal government which is pursuing a structured vision of transforming Nigeria into a maritime superpower.
This is not the first time NIMASA has derailed from this mandate to represent the country well among the comity of maritime nations. The Agency under Akpolobokemi came with a lot of high hopes, as he said from the outset that it would turn around the agency for good. But no sooner after he came into office, Nigerians saw the first calamity that will later define the Akpobolokemi administration: the loss of Category C membership seat in the International Maritime Organisation, IMO by Nigeria to Liberia, a less influential maritime player. That contest is still fresh in the memories of many Nigerians. Few weeks before the crucial election Akpobolokemi relocated to the IMO headquarters with a large entourage promising he would come back with the prized seat, the delegation came back flustered despite the millions of naira expended on ‘estacode’ and other expenses.
Meanwhile the manner the NIMASA management has handled the affairs of the agency since the DG came into office has further put him on the spot, particularly the way he conducts the finances of the agency. The Global West contract may have particularly cast a slur on the management ability of the agency’s boss. The perception in the industry is that some people may be reaping from the Tompolo/ NIMASA arrangement. Indication to this came recently when stakeholders began to scrutinize the financial deals between the agency and Global West.
The initial arrangement based on memo in January from the Ministry of transport, the supervisory ministry was that Global West will provide the $103 million to be invested in the purchase of the needed platform. The company according to what the NIMASA boss later said was a ‘Fund yourself’ as it was not to cost the government any fund. In the real sense of it the company is suppose to facilitate avenues for generating revenues for government through enforcement. This may have informed the decision by President Jonathan to grant the contract anticipatory approval in a memo dated November 9 2011 with REF. NO PRE/99/MT/61.
Curiously, the contract terms appears to have changed since then. While the agency has failed to state how much it has generated so far from the Global West Contract, no explanation is forthcoming on whether the company indeed provided the initial investment of over $103 million specified in the contract agreement. Instead, the magazine was informed that NIMASA has been funding the project. According to information available to the magazine, between April and December 2012 alone the agency paid a whopping $11,388,247.44million, over N1.6 billion to Global West. The company in spite of its failings, sources in the agency said is paid monthly and the lump sum is the accumulation of the eight month owed the company.
The magazine was unable to confirm if there had been noticeable increase in the agency revenue since Global West secured the contract. The Commission payable to Global West is based on the following revenue generated by the agency; three percent levy, cabotage waiver, cabotage surcharge, sea protection levy, ship registration, stevedoring, marine environment management and MSSD. Meanwhile the revenue generated from these sources have continued to dip since the company took over. For example, the Director General recently cried out that the three percent levy which formed the bulk of NIMASA’s major source of income has witnessed steady decline for sometime.
Financial indiscipline in the agency according to highly placed sources, is becoming unprecedented. Aside from the Global West, the manner the agency has executed the National Seafarers Development Programme, NSDP has also called to question the quality of leadership in NIMASA . The amount the agency has so far expended on the capacity development project for some Nigerian youths, has now become a big scandal tearing the agency apart. The hoopla generated by the NSDP and other allegations including ongoing investigation by the Naitonal Assembly of forced retirement are still being investigated by the magazine.