By Stephen Ubanna
For much of last year and now, there had been rumours making the rounds that the Dakuku Peterside led Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency , NIMASA, is stinking but nobody took it serious. The situation was so bad that the House of Representatives was flooded with petitions from 10 Human Rights Organisations to probe the agency over alleged fictitious award of contracts and diversion of $492 million.
The petitioners had alleged that officials and the ministry of Transport had collected bribes from the Isreali owned HLS International to prepare the ground for the company to get the contract for the security surveillance of Nigeria’s territorial waters and renovation of its Lagos head office. The contract for the surveillance of the country’s coastal waters was i warded to Government Ekpemupolo, popular, Tompolo, at the instance of former President Goodluck Jonathan before it was terminated by President Muhammadu Buhari on the recommendation of Rotimi ChibuikeAmechi, the minister of Transport. The termination of the contract may have provided opportunity for Amaechi and Peterside to shop for another firm to handle the multi-million contract.
The magazine learnt that there were several companies, both indigenous and foreign which had bided for the contract but the ministry and the agency officials were said to have settled the Isreali owned firm, HLS International, because of alleged promises of going to take care of their interests which had been built into the contract sum. The worth of the contract was said to be $196 million but inflated by $286 million bringing the total cost to $492 million. This is in addition to the $10 million head office renovation contract awarde to the company also.
The petitioners have every reason to worry about the reckless ward of contracts and diversion of funds in NIMASA because of the 2019 general election which fast is approaching as theNIMASA Director General has a governorship ambition on the ticket of All Progressive Congress, APC, in Rivers state and tneeded funds to prosecute the project.
Yakubu Dogara, the House Speaker, may have seen interested in getting the House Maritme Safety Committee which was already handling a similar probe in the agency to go ahead with impending probe as well because of their similarities. This is because of the huge amount involved: $492 million, believed to have been diverted in the agency. The 10 Human Rights Organisations who petitioned the insists that the House must get to the root of the matter because of the rot in the agency.
Already, Dogara, has mandated the Committee to probe the allegation and report back to the House. Umar Bargo, Chairman of the Committee , has promised to get to the root of the matter to unravel the leakage of over 286 million deep water security surveillance contracts worth $196 million to the Isreali firm.
He confirmed that there had been petitions over fictitious and questionable contract that were said to have been awarded by NIMASA for non operational boats, security surveillance, revenue leakages, suspicious forex transactions and cronyism. But the NIMASA boss has told those that cares to listen that he was not bothered by the probe as he has nothing to hide as the award of the contracts followed ” due process”.
In spite of the invitations sent to Amaechi, the and Peterside, the principal actors in the award of the multi-million contracts to the Ireali security firm by the House Committee, they were said to have refused to show up. Instead , the duo sent representatives , arming them with the necessary information about the alleged contract and other issues raised by the petitioners.
Gambo Ahmed, the agency Executive Director, Maritime Governance was said to have confirmed at the meeting with the House Committee on Maritime Safety that it actually awarded contracts for the country territorial waters and renovation of the head office but said ” due process was followed”.
Shehu Aliyu, Director of the ministry Department of Procurement who represented Amaechi, the minister of Transport corroborated his views. Aliyu had told the lawmakers that all contracts awarded by the agency ”followed due process and were in the interests of Nigeria”. Tai Prector, the Head of the Isreali firm in Nigeria who could not understand why the company was being dragged to the House Committee said the contract awarded to the company were open and transparent.
An aggrieved Prector said Nigeria should be grateful because they were working according to the mandate given to them as they have been protecting the Nigeria waterways along the Gulf of Guinea, using high powered satellites, helicopters and speed boats against the menace of piracy, human trafficking and illegal fishing.
Prior to the ongoing probe of the agency by the House Committee on Maritime Safety over alleged diversion of funds, the Committee was already probing the agency of fictitious awards of contracts and gross mismanagement of funds . The lawmakers had continously expressed concern over the questionable awards of contracts , fraudulent forex transactions and other unwholesome and corrupt practices in the agency. They confirmed that there had been several allegations of questionable , inflated and fictitious contracts awarded by the agency, particlar, for non operational speed boats , security surveillance known as Deep Blue Contract, ‘revenue leakages and the award of contracts to cronies of the Director General and other top management of the agency and suspicious forex transactions.
There had been reports of under remittances of debts owed the country by shipping firms with the support and alleged connivance of NIMASA officials. The agency past management was said to have also entered into a dubious contract with the company ” EXPO Marine limited , for the lease of six speed boats , each at the rate of $173,930 monthly without a need of assessment for such facility being carried out by relevant Departments of the agency.
This is a company that was said to have been blacklisted for defrauding the agency to the tune of $80,000 in revenue. The security surveillance contract called Deep Blue Wter Contract is regarded in maritime cycles as a conduit pipe by past and present management of the agency to divert funds .It was not surprising why people are looking at HLS, Isreali firm security surveillance contract with suspicision.
It would be recalled that one Uche Emenalo , a businessman who was awarded a contract for the provision of security related devises, by the then management of the agency headed by Patrick Akpobolokemi but claimed that he never submitted any applications to the agency tender’s board for the job.
The Imo state born businessman was said to have got N600,000.00 from the racket. There are many of such ficticious contracts in the agency . The agency collects three percent freight charges from ships that call at the nation’s ports , which run into millions of dollars monthly unknown to the Central of Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Akpobbolokemi, the former NIMASA boss may have been dragged to Court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC, for allegedly diverting of N2.6 billion and defrauding the government of N795.2 million. This is a lesson for other top management of NIMASA.