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Elusive CVFF:  Time for Ship Owners To Take The Plunge

Nigerian maritime editorial cartoon on CVFF

For the beleaguered indigenous ship owners, accessing the controversial Cabotage Vessels Financing Funds (CVFF) is like a proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle.

In actual fact, none has ever gotten close to accessing it since 2004 when it was established.

The closest any of them could get within a sniffing distance of the funds was in 2014 when about 100 indigenous operators showed interest in the loans.

After rigorous screening, six of these companies were pencilled down as having met the conditions set by the four PLIs to benefit from the funds. They included Starzs Investment Company, Aquashield Oil and Marine Services Limited and UTM Dredging Limited all based in Port Harcourt.

Others were Zomay Marine and Logistics Limited and Seabulk Offshore Operating Nigeria Limited based in Lagos. The Calabar-based Nkrah Investment Ltd was also listed as a beneficiary.

So far, none of these prospective beneficiary-companies has obtained the loan.

Interestingly, the fund, an off-shoot of Cabotage regime, was specifically set up to empower indigenous ship owners, increase their tonnage, enhance their capacity to compete in coastal trade and generate employment.

More interesting is the fact that the fund is the two per cent contributions of ship owners deducted from the value of their contracts under the Cabotage regime.

Curiously,  18 years after, no single dollar has been disbursed from the fund.

It would be stating the obvious to say that nigeriamaritime360.com is saddened by the apparent delay in the disbursement of the funds.

No doubt, the indigenous ship owners for whom the fund is meant have grown weary of long wait, disappointed, pissed off and probably lost hope of accessing the funds due to the sickening politics its disbursement have been subjected to over the years.

The funds, over the years, have been subjected to mind-boggling serial abuses by previous administrations in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), the agency which superintendents over the funds.

The funds, which actual accrual, has been subject of wild speculations and conjectures due to official secrecy and insincerity, have variously been diverted to purposes other than what it was meant for.

We are distressed by the fact that while this circus show was going on, most of the shipping companies which could have benefitted became distressed and went under, thus depressing Nigeria’s tonnage capacity and creating more unemployment.

Little wonder then that the ship owners, who had been scammed over the CVFF disbursement under previous administrations in NIMASA, looked at the present administration led by Dr Bashir Jamoh, to give them succour and hope for early disbursement.

We also share in their optimism given the fact that the APC, which was in opposition prior to 2015, criticised the administration of Goodluck Jonathan for its profligacy and insincerity over the vexed issue of CVFF.

During Dakuku management at NIMASA , he promised to expedite action on the disbursement of the funds.

But throughout the tenure of Dakuku  as the DG of NIMASA, the funds were not disbursed despite his promises.

In October 2017, Dakuku had raised what has now become a forlorn hope of the distraught ship owners when he declared that he was vigorous pursuing the disbursement of the funds to grow tonnage and boost employment.

But in December of that year, Rotimi Amaechi, the then supervising minister of Transportation vowed in a stakeholders gathering that he would not disburse the funds as long as he remains the minister, citing various abuses the funds had been subjected to in the past as well as lack of repayment plan.

He had then threatened to use part of the funds to fund the nebulous national carrier project while the house committee on maritime safety, education and Administration said N55bn would be taken out of the funds to start the infantile maritime bank.

But in December 12th,2019, the then  Minister again recanted his earlier hardline position  and once again raised the  hope of indigenous ship owners when said he has secured the blessing of President Buhari to disburse the funds in January, 2020.

Two years after, the promise was kept in the breach.
In 2021, Amaechi told the bewildered ship owners that all his efforts to disburse the funds were thwarted by the Minister of Finance and National Planning Mrs Zainab Ahmed, whom he accused of sabotaging the disbursement process .
Ameachi had said that Mrs Zainab has said that the CVFF, which is domiciled in the Treasury Single Account (TSA )at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) actually belongs to the Federal Government and not the indigenous ship owners.
At this point, Ameachi advised the ship owners to petition President Mohammed Buhari if they wanted to get access to the funds.
It was in this state of uncertainty and dilemma Amaechi resigned as the Minister of Transportation to pursue his failed presidential ambition.
Presently, the situation is unclear over the disbursement despite the series of promises made by Dr Bashir Jamoh, the Director General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)who said that plans are afoot to disburse the abused CVFF.
When Jamoh took over as the Director General  of NIMASA in May 2020,  he seemed to rekindle the forlorn hope of the intending beneficiaries when he regaled them with details of the new guidelines for the disbursement of the funds.
Ever since then, nothing was heard about the matter again.
We are not happy; to say the least, with the circus show being made of a serious and life-impacting project as CVFF.
No wonder most of the indigenous shipowners have turned to a more credible source of funding provided by the Nigerian Content Development Board.

It is more distressing to note that the board, through its intervention fund called the Nigerian Content Development Fund, established in 2010 and domiciled with the Bank of industry, has disbursed loans to at least six ship owners.

The NCDF derived from one percent contributions of ship owners, is perceived to be more transparent while its up to date accrual said to be over $700 was never a subject of controversy largely due to the sincerity of its managers.

We urge NIMASA to emulate the structure and guidelines of disbursement employed by its sister agency, Nigerian Content Development Board as well as the transparent manner the scheme is being handled.

We would not be surprised if many operators, especially the ship owners, scoffed at the series of promises of NIMASA DG to commence the disbursement of the controversial funds as soon as possible.

Their scepticism could be forgiven given the serial failed promises they have been subjected to over the years.

We however urged the distraught ship owners, who have obviously become weary of long and unending wait, to take their destiny in their own hands by approaching the court to break this 18 years deadlock on the disbursement of the funds.

It would be ridiculous for the ship owners, whose money is still being deducted under the Cabotage regime to fund the CVFF that was never disbursed, to put much hope on another round of promises.
We advise that they should approach and ask the court to determine who the real owners of the funds are: the indigenous ship owners or the federal government.
Also, the court will be able to determine if the federal government is justified in holding onto the funds for 18 years without disbursement, irrespective of who the owners are.
The court would be able to determine if the federal government has not breached the purpose for the establishment of the funds which is mainly to develop the capacity of the indigenous ship owners .
Until the supposedly beneficiaries of the funds take this bold and courageous steps, they would continue to be used as pawns in the political  chess game to which the disbursement of the funds has been reduced.
That is why we are saddened by the aparrent disunity among the indigenous ship owners whose rank has been polarized by the former Minister of Transportation,  Rotimi Amaechi.
We however urge the ship owners to close ranks and forge harmonious relationship that will enable them fight this common course.
A polarized ship owners will not be able to fight this battle.
We believe that it is through this legal option, taken as the last resort, that will  end the misery of indigenous ship owners and terminate their wild chase of the evasive and elusive CVFF since the inception of the intervention funds.

© 2022, maritimemag. All rights reserved.

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