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ISSUES: AS THE BATTLEFIELD SHIFTS TO NIGERIA MARITIME INDUSTRY

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By Innocent Orok

Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation

Today ,as NIGERIA marks the ” World Maritime day” celebrations, the Nigeria maritime industry is riddled with crises.
Untill now, although the Nigeria maritime sub- sector has always been in crises of confidence due to largely political incursion into the sector, through various Government policies and programmes. But in recent months, the crises is heating up the polity.

Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), CG, Customs

For few months past now, the Nigerian maritime industry, regarded as the next to oil in revenue generation, or better put, second revenue earner to government has been in the news for the wrong reasons. From trade disputes between Customs and Importers/ freight Forwarders/ clearing Agents to Council of Freight Forwarders elections infighting and corruption allegations against Customs officers among others.

The latest in the series is the announcement by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi few days ago that the expected disbursement of the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund ( CVFF) to shortlisted beneficiaries have been cancelled by the President. And that he will not beg the president again on that matter. Amaechi has described Nigerian Shipowners as the only Shipowners in the world without ships.

Dr. Boniface Aniebonam during the interview

Few days after the Minister threw the disappointing bombshell, a Forum of Freight Forwarders and other stakeholders in the maritime industry had gathered in Apapa to form a formidable force to battle the same ministry of Transportation, who has denied Shipowners the CVFF, the elections into the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) board.

The Forum also takes a swipe at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) which according to them has been the albatross in trade facilitation and corrupt tendencies without recourse to the rule of law. They accused the Service of abitrary jack -up of Customs duties, incessant alerts and indescriminate arrests and detention of duly examined and exited containers by their officers and other security agencies in the ports, all in moves to extort money from them. They have promised a showdown the ports, if Government don’t address their plights.

Just as the Ministry of Transportation, through it’s Permanent Secretary, was holding meetings with the Forum of Freight Forwarders to harmonised the CRFFN elections, which comes up in two weeks time, some independent candidates in the election have thrown spinners into the works, alleging gang up to disfranchised them in variance with the CRFFN Act.

The protest of the independent candidates in the proposed 6:6:1:1:1 sharing formular as arranged by the five accredited freight Forwarding Associations by the CRFFN is that, the Council in it’s Act allows ,three categories of membership, Corporate, Associations and Individuals and the trio according to the election guidelines as published by the FMOT few weeks ago allows for all eligible freight Forwarders to contest for the election. Recalled at the last count, 30 contestants cutting across, Corporate, Associations and Individuals have purchased forms to slugged it out in the 15 available positions for the freight Forwarders in the Council board.

However, the Permanent Secretary of FMOT have given the Freight forwarders two weeks to put their acts together for the elections. It is worthy to note that the other 16 appointees of government as board members of the council have been reappointed since over a year now, when their first tenure expired last year.

Just as the Ministry and Freight Forwarders were meeting to iron out their matters, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) through it’s Public Relations department at the Service headquarters in Abuja, released a statement, countering the various allegations levelled against the Service by the freight Forwarders forum. The Customs have vowed not to be cowed or intimidated in any form and said they are waiting for the freight Forwarders actions.

From the snippet scenarios captured above in the maritime industry, it seems the sector , may be heading for crises, but I doubt, because all the parties in the pictures are what I will called “Regular Customers in the game of Complains and Cowardice betrayal”. Or what you may referred to as “Toothless bulldog” crying for help.

First, let’s start with Freight Forwarders and Customs. This two Siamese twins are both partners in the game the play. Like they say it takes two to tankle .
The throwing of tantrum by both parties is not new. They are like husband and wife who quarrel in the day time and bond together at night fall. Moreso, there are so much business and personal interest interwoven among them. Were some Customs officers are licensed owners and some of the licences are managed for them by the so called aggrieved freight Forwarders. Above all the fright forwarders are only united in shouting and not in action, they are used to their alleged maltreatment from Customs, but like they say, he who goes to equity must go with clean hands.

On the CRFFN elections, again, the same Freight Forwarders are the inventors and inhibitors of the problems at the CRFFN.
Since the establishment of the Council by an Act of the National Assembly in 2007, the Freight Forwarders who were the initiators of the agency, have due to their selfish interest, bickering, infighting and mistrust among themselves have allowed the government to hijacked the Council.

When the present government with the present Minister of Transportation took over power in 2015, the council was already in limbo, with several court cases. Like the common saying ” See finish” the government of the day knowing that the Freight Forwarders are divided, self centered, money concious and disunited, has tactically takes over the council, after all the government is funding it. The Freight Forwarders are now “Town Criers”in their own village.
I doubt if, they could not put their houses in order for several years, if they will do so in two weeks. Again, as they say, can a house divided against itself stands?

Another frustrating, but non sympathetic scenario in the maritime industry is the non disbursement of the CVFF fund. Since the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act in 2007.
The various government administrations have in several occasions raised the hope of Shipowners of getting the funds, but at the end , all story, stories.

The fund which is 2% collection from ships operating in Nigerian waters is supposed to serve as a saving contributions pool for Nigerian ship owners of which they, the contributors can borrow from to finance their trade. But ,that has never been , as various Government has always taken over the funds completely, leaving the contributors to cry foul year in year out.

Again due to bickering, infighting, division and disunity in the Nigerian Shipowners family, the government is catching on their division to frustrate them of getting the funds despite the several promises assured them by government. The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi few days ago has finally dash the hope of the last selected batch promised to benefit from the fund. Amaechi was quoted as saying that the president has cancelled his approval on the disbursement of the CVFF and that he will not go to the president again on the matter. Chapters closed.

With what the Yoruba people called
” roforofo” hanging in the maritime industry which could truncate the revenue and fragile harmonious atmosphere in the industry, is high time the government and it’s agencies address the issues at the appropriate time before it’s snowballed into full scale disruptions of activities in the port Industry. Or rather the government can as well dare the protagonists, after all the government has know them , “See them finish”, that means nothing will happen. But, it’s better to jaw jaw , than to war war. A stich in time,they say saves nine. Bon Voyage.

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