Ship owners demand NIMASA DG’s sack, as Amaechi vows to withhold CVFF

Against the backdrop of earlier disbursements that were not accounted for, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Ameachi, has vowed never to disburse the swelling Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) unless the necessary “structures” were in place to recoup the funds. Amaechi told maritime stakeholders, including the would-be beneficiaries and indigenous ship owners at a dinner in Lagos, organised by the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), that as long as he remained the minister, the fund would not be disbursed. He further dispelled the rumour that the fund, created to empower local ship owners to compete favourable with foreign counterparts and domiciled with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety (NIMASA), was presently over $100 billion but less than $100 billion instead. According to him, the prescribed way of disbursing the fund has no proper structure, and to guard against releasing the funds into wrong hands like in the past, it will not be disbursed yet. He said: “I will not release that fund until I am removed tomorrow as minister of transportation. “Why? We gave over N300 billion to owners and businessmen in the aviation industry; some took N35 billion, N3.2 billion and disappeared, and they used the money to build banks in Ghana and Sao Tome and nothing has happened to them. “If you teach me how to spend that money, we will spend it, but to give you that kind of money that we gave to aviation and the money disappeared, no, I will not, no matter what you do.” Using the Bank of Industry as model of a structured platform, Amaechi noted that defaulters are simply grabbed, but that in the CVFF, “once I pay you, you go. The law says recommendation from NIMASA to the minister, and once the minister approves, you take your money. But how do I hold you back? “They said it is over $100 billion in the CVFF fund but when I asked the NIMASA man (Dakuku Peterside), he said it was not up to that because by the time we came into office, the former NIMASA man (Patrick Akpobolokemi) had given out all the money, and who he gave it to nobody knows. They have used it to build faculty of maritime studies all over but what did ship owners do?” However, SOAN President, Mr. Greg Ogbeifun, has said that the minister lacks the power to withhold the funds, even as he called for the sack of NIMASA Director-General, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, over incompetence. According to him, “the law requires that the minister sets up guidelines for disbursement. The law does not allow you to sit on the money doing nothing, which is the situation we are in now, and the ship owners are still contributing money to that fund. “Our tonnage is going down, seafarers are going out of job, businesses are collapsing and you are sitting on the money and in the midst of that you are still collecting money in a regime where our shipping business is dying.” Sad at the challenges facing indigenous ship owners and the turn of events in the industry in the past two years, he called for Peterside’s immediate resignation as NIMASA DG, noting that while past directors-general of the agency had been sacked over fraud-related cases, the present leadership should be sacked for lacking competence. “We will be deceiving ourselves if we pretend not to know that the IMO and the rest of the world are aware that our maritime domain has remained a high security risk and the most unsafe for seaborne trade due to activities such as piracy, hostage taking and kidnapping,” he said. “Twenty-two years after the demise of the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), we have not been able to midwife the emergence of a Nigerian fleet, be it public, private or fleet resulting from Public Private Partnership.” Describing Nigeria’s flop at the IMO Council election as “vote of no confidence on our maritime administration,” Ogbeifun insisted that the leadership of the maritime administration should be asked to resign or be sacked else “the international community that has not accepted us into the council will believe we are not ready to change.” More so, he urged government to stop giving excuses for failing but rather look at issues in the industry because in the past two and half years of this administration, “things have gone worse. “They have not even visited our maritime institution in Oron, instead we are spending money abroad. The international community is laughing at us because they know we do not know what we are doing, and we are saying enough is enough.”

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