In January 2021, an odious smell of scandal oozed out from the security contraption called Secure Anchorage Area (SAA).
This controversial improvised security arrangement was set up by the Oceans Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) believed to be owned and operated by Captain Hosa Okunbo.
It was a specially carved out area at the approaches to the Lagos ports where vessels can stay in safety against the attacks of amphibian criminals pending the time they could access the ports to drop their anchors.
This was at a cost.
While a vessel wishing to use the SAA pays $2, 500 the first day, each subsequent day attracts the sum of $1, 500.
The operators of SAA were said to have made for themselves a princely sum in excess of $133.28m(N47.98b) since its inception in 2014
It was a juicy contract.
But the lid was blown off the security scam when Tunde Ayeni, the erstwhile Chairman of the defunct Skye Bank(now Polaris Bank), blew the whistle over the alleged monumental sleaze that signposts the operations of Oceans Marine Solutions Limited, the operators of the controvesial SAA.
Through the damning petition of Ayeni against his estranged business partner, Captain Okunbo, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the stakeholders were regalled with eye-popping chronicles of financial impropriety.
The petition leaks how the National Assembly and some Presidency officials were allegedly compromised to give backing to the illegality of SAA.
We could recall vividly the battle of wit between the OMSL and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) on one hand and the Ministry of Transportation on the other.
In December 2019, the NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, at the prompting of her supervising Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, declared the SAA illegal and ordered for its immediate disbandment.
However, the promoters of the controvesial SAA, led by Captain Okunbo, defied the order, an action which eventually escalated to a spat between the NPA and OMSL.
The National Assembly had to intervene and asked the NPA to stay off the back of OMSL.
This was despite the superior arguments canvassed by the NPA and the Ministry of Transportation that the SAA was not only illegal but added to the costs of shipping in Nigeria.
OMSL, emboldened by the support of the National Assembly and as we later learnt, some presidency officials, sneered at the order of the NPA.
The effrontery of the OMSL got the better of Amaechi who later lamented his helplessness and incapacity to dislodge “an individual who has arrogated so much powers and influence to himself that the stakeholders should help in the fight to dislodge him “
But it wasn’t until January, 2021 that the industry’s stakeholders found out what gave OMSL so much powers and influence to treat the directive of the Minister with scorn and ignominy.
The Counsel to Chief Ayeni, Femi Falana, in the petition to the EFCC claimed thus “Sometimes in July 2020, one of our client’s partners told him of a discrepancy which had been noticed in the accounting records leading to an unauthorised withdrawal of $10 million and $8 million, respectively.
“Capt. Hosa Okunbo had claimed to them that he had spent the sum to settle a Senate hearing on one of the subsidiary companies, the Secured Anchorage Area (SAA), and that $8 million was spent in the Presidency on the same issue because of the dispute between him and the Ministry of Transport/Nigerian Ports Authority, which our client considers to be unreasonable because the total annual profit achieved on the SAA was about $5 million”
We are no less flabbergasted by this revelation as other industry stakeholders.
It has clearly shown that the SAA contraption was sustained by corruption .
We are shocked to learn of the alleged ignoble role played by some NASS members and presidency officials in the whole sordid saga.
To us, the whole unfortunate incident of the controversial SAA has made a mockery of our security architecture which could easily be breached by whoever has the political influence.
We are saddened by the way such political influence allowed OMSL to wilfully breach the security architecture of the ports.
As declared by Amaechi and other shipping experts, SAA as operated by OMSL was an aberration to the whole port security architecture.
This is because no where in the world would such anomaly be condoned where an individual will arrogate the safety and security of vessels to himself, a task that should be performed by relevant government agencies to forestall possible abuse by such individuals.
We shall not also fail to mention those who may have collaborated with OMSL within the maritime domain to foist this illegality on the industry.
The Nigeria Navy cannot absolve itself of its culpability since it was this government security organ that outsourced its functions to an individual company.
Even, against the advice of the NPA and the Minister of Transportation that the contraption should be pulled down, the Naval Authority emboldened the recalcitrance of the OMSL to spat on the directive.
We commend President Mohammadu Buhari who has since the scandal broke out, directed that the SAA contract be scrapped and the functions handed over to Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the position which the NPA has been canvasing since the controversy started.
We are however saddened that it took the break -out of the scandal between the two promoters of the illegality called SAA before the President could halt the rot.
In as much as the EFCC has been notified of the sleazy operations at OMSL, we urge thorough and unfettered investigations into the roles played by all the parties mentioned in the saga.
The allegation of influence peddling at the National Assembly to the tune of $10m and at the Presidency to the tune of $8million should be thoroughly investigated and whoever found guilty should be brought to book.
The allegations raised in Ayeni’s petition are weighty and we hope the matter would not be swept under the carpet, considering the political status of those who might be involved.
The whole scandal has eventually vindicated the position of NPA boss, Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, who has consistently and stubbornly maintained that the SAA was illegal and remained dismantled despite real and imaginary threats to her life.
We also hope that the relevant govenment agencies charged with securing our waters and ports will not leave gaps in the discharge of their statutory duties for individual corporate organisations such as OMSL to cash in on and exploit to their selfish economic advantage
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