Penultimate week, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, at the behest of Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, announced the cancellation of what was roundly condemned as illegal fees being paid by ship owners at the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA).
She also came hard on the purported Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Nigerian Navy and a private company called Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) to secure the anchorage which she abolished as it was couched in total breach of national security meant to wilfully extort ships that call on the nation’s sea ports.
Apart from the ship owners who are at the receiving end of this contraption by OMSL and the Navy, not many people were aware of the level of extortion going on at the anchorage until the NPA wielded the big stick.
For five years, OMSL, in active connivance with the Navy, turned provision of security at the anchorage into a profitable merchandise that was auctioned to the hapless ship owners who called at the Nigerian Ports.
For what should have been statutory responsibilities of Nigerian Navy, NIMASA, NPA and Marine Police to provide security to ships on anchorage, OMSL has been allowed to leverage on the illegitimate Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Navy to fleece vessels calling at our ports.
We want to join other stakeholders who have applauded the decision of the NPA to end this illegality on our waters.
We equally lauded the courage of Ms Usman for squaring up with this cabal who are taking undue advantage of the security challenges we have in the country to line their pockets.
We consider it preposterous that the security of our waters and vessels which is the mandate of NPA and NIMASA in collaboration with the Nigeria Navy, has been allowed to be hijacked by a private firm which does not have a role in the security architecture of the ports.
We are also saddened that this firm has the temerity, under the nose of NPA, to charge $2,500 for the first day on vessel on the first day a vessel gets to the designated security zone and $1,500 for the consequent days it spends before it exits the zone.
From 2014 when this illegality started, OMSL with its collaborators are said to have pocketed a princely sum in excess of $133.28m (N40billion. 98bn) annually.
No doubt, the activities of OMSL have added to the costs of shipping at the nation’s ports, as the ship owners are made to pay these extra amounts which naturally are passed to their customers and final consumers.
This development reminds us of a similar scenario when in 2012, NIMASA, under a dubious maritime security contract, ceded the security of our waters to Global West Vessels Specialist Limited (GWVSL) owned by the repentant militant lord, Chief Government Ekpemukpolo, alias Tompolo.
The contraption was later revoked by the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
There is no gainsaying that the dismantling of this designated security safe zone is a good step in the right direction.
The activities of these security merchants, to our mind, have contributed to the recent escalation of attacks on vessels on anchorage, especially those vessels which do not patronise the safe zone.
It would be safe to assume that these security merchants may induce these attacks on the anchorage to create the ingenious impression that vessels outside the safe zone are prone to attacks, a development that may force many vessels to go into the zone with its attendant fees.
We could however hardly blame OMSL for this infraction because the company is in business to make money.
But the Navy should not be spared of our condemnation for its decision to sub-let its statutory duty to a private firm for a fee.
It becomes more disheartening and reprehensible that OMSL was using the security patrol boats purchased by the NPA for the Navy to carry out its commercial activities on our waters.
What this simply means is that it was NPA which was inadvertently funding the illegal activities of OMSL with tax payers money.
To this extent, we want the ministry of Transportation and the NPA to go beyond mere abolishment of this illegal practice but to institute an inquiry into the matter with a view to determining the level of culpability of the actors.
We also want the inquiry to determine the costs for the use of the NPA patrol boats by OMSL since 2014 and get refunds from the humongous amount the firm has made so far.
We support the pre-emptive stance of Ms Hadiza Bala Usman who warned against any “reprisal attacks” by the contractors and their collaborators who may want to instigate attacks on vessels at the anchorage to undermine the NPA decision.
Despite the accolades however, NPA should be “reprimanded” for allowing this illegality to fester within the sphere of its influence.
We wonder where was NPA when a private firm carved out an empire for itself where it called a safe territory on the access to the Nigerian Ports where it subjected vessels to illegal payment of “security fees”.
Does it mean that the agency does not monitor the use to which the security equipment it purchased for Navy are being put?
The whole episode smacks of gross negligence on the part of NPA which has given a leeway for a private firm to feast on ship owners, thereby inadvertently making our ports to assume the sobriquet of being the costliest in the sub-region.
We find it disturbing that it took the complaints of ship owners about the extortions at the anchorage for NPA and its supervisory ministry to wake up from their slumber.
Now they have woken up, we urged them not to relapse back to sleep but focus on how to maintain security on our waters so that another smart private firm will not exploit their loss of concentration and failure to carry out their statutory duties.
As we all know, nature abhors vacuum.
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