By Anthony Nwachukwu
Nigeria will lose the major gains of the huge investments in the Lekki Deep Seaport if the indigenous stakeholders do not take advantage of the Federal Government’s incentives, including the recently approved disbursement of the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF), to acquire ships.
Making this disclosure over the weekend, the Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Bashir Jamoh, said the agency under his leadership would sustain all efforts to ensure a conducive operating environment for the Nigerian ship owners.
Jamoh, who was guest at the Ship Owners’ Association of Nigeria (SOAN) end-of-year dinner and gala night in Lagos, noted that shipping, being very capital-intensive, “no shipping country is thriving without being supported by the government.
“So, I try as much as possible to weigh the kind of assistance the Nigerian Government can offer the ship owners in the environment they operate.”
According to him, the first batch of fiscal incentives last year was zero duty for imported new ships, with older ones attracting higher duty, while the second was a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) monetary incentive that guarantees forex at official rate for ship acquisition, rather than at the exorbitant black market rate, but neither has produced any vessel.
With the recent approval for the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), Jamoh asked interested stakeholders to liaise with Mr. Aminu Umar of the Nigerian Shippers Association (NISA) and help build fleets for the nation rather than quarrel over the actual amount in the fund.
Worried at the different opposing views that have marred unity of purpose on the CVFF issue over the years, he asked, “what do the ship owners really want?”
According to Jamoh, foreigners are milking the country because they have the capital and can come into the country with their ships, make and take the money away. However, “it is high time we came together and ensure we benefit from what God has given us, and stop foreigners from taking even the coastal trade.”
He assured of transparency and merit in the CVFF disbursement, insisting that neither NIMASA nor the ministry would bear any liability in the whole arrangement. Therefore, “anyone getting this fund will get it on merit, mutual understanding, and based on the agreement with the bank and NIMASA.”
Jamoh further dismissed the fears that the CVFF was being diverted to other ends, or not being fully declared, stating that “in terms of the amount in the CVFF, public funds are statutorily subjected to audit every year, and the CVFF is not exempt.
“It is subject to auditor-general’s audit, FMoT audit and external auditors’ audit, so it is open. Instead of fighting to see the balance, concentrate on seeing how we can disburse what is available, increase our fleet and benefit from this trade that is very precious.”
He reminded the ship owners: “Without ship, there is nothing we can do. We have deep seaport at Lekki. If ship doesn’t go there, that port is useless. If Nigerians have ship today, they will be there.
“Most of us were here when Onne Port was built, but it did not come alive until the first ship went there, and then ship owners started knowing that this is a place to go to.
All the investments at Lekki deep seaport will be useless if ships do not go there. So, why don’t we put heads together, get the funds, acquire the ships and make our own ports lively instead of struggling to quarrel and fight?
“If you say your money is 10,000 and somebody says no, it is 5,000, collect the 5,000 and follow him to collect the balance of 5,000).”