The unrelenting media trial of the Senate ‘s Joint Committee on Customs , Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport Over its Investigation of alleged infraction by the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) reached an unprecedented low over the weekend.
To put the issues in their right perspectives, I did a discreet investigation into the allegations by the retired Colonel and some startling revelations came to the fore.
First, Masters Energy Limited a corporate citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had imported 30 containers of rice which were seized on arrival in the country by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
The company petitioned the Senate Committee on Customs Excise and Tariff on its experience and attached various importation documents to multiple government agencies wherein the said consignment was duly declared as Rice.
On November 17, 2016, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodimma wrote to the Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service urging him to look into the petition in line with the NCS internal mechanism and advise the committee.
The Comptroller General of Customs after deliberation on the matter on November 25, 2016 replied to the Senate Committee’s request by cordially explaining that the matter cannot be reversed as “the actions of the agent is deemed as being the actions of the importer” quoting Section 155 of the CEMA Act. The CG concluded that the Importer failed to excise due diligence and is thus liable.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodimma then wrote an appreciation letter on the same day (November 25, 2016), thanking the CG for his prompt response and informing him that the same “self explanatory” letter has also been conveyed to the complainant. And the matter was brought a closure.
Going by the communication between the CG and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff, it is significantly obvious that at no point was the Nigerian Customs or the Comptroller General put under pressure to release any consignment. In any civil society, the right of appeal is guaranteed to every citizen in tandem with their presumption of innocence.
Col. Umar alleged that, “He is the leader of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff. He is the owner of both the Niger Global & Engineering Co. Technical Ltd; as well as the rice smuggling giant, Master Energy Commodities Trading Ltd”, in apparent reference to the Senate Committee Chairman on Customs, Excise &Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodimma. One had expected that a man of a high pedigree as Col. Umar, he would have made investigations into matter before going public.
His allegations are patently false and perhaps he was falsely informed. The worry however is that for someone that has held public office, and at one point possessed the right of Life and Death over citizens under his rule, he ought to have been sufficiently groomed in the need for fair hearing before pronouncing his verdict.
Col. Umar had also claimed that “Both the NPA subsidiary, called Calabar Channel Management, CCM and the private company, Niger Global Engineering & Technical Co. Ltd, were incorporated together in 2014, just for this deal“.
This is totally false as the company- Niger Global was in existence before the advent of democracy in 1999 and the Calabar Channel Contract was advertised and procured in 2004. This lack of concise information on the subject -matter makes a mockery of the position of Col. Umar, a man supposedly having a reputation for speaking the truth.
For the records, the Calabar Channel Management (CCM) Company is a joint venture with the NPA on 60-40 percent equity basis and the current MD of the NPA had on resumption on duties, setup a panel to advise her on the status of the Calabar Channel dredging contract and the report that was given to her, was quite revealing. In defending the MD of the NPA, Col. Umar would be better served to factually ask for the report from her so as to avoid the dangers of single narratives.
Similarly, people representing the views of the MD of the NPA had in the Nation Newspaper of August 3, 2017, indicated that the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise & Tariff probe on the missing 282 ships was a ploy to distract the on going investigation into the Calabar Channel dredging contract.
To support this position, which Col. Umar seemed to align to, the same publication stated more than 4 instances where vessels had come to Calabar Port and exited the Port without any proper documentation. These included that:
On November 12, 2014, a survey boat ‘MV Hurricane arrived Calabar and anchored mid-stream for a while then left without recourse to the Port Management.
‘MV Waterway’ arrived Calabar on November 19, 2014 and subsequently disappeared without any recourse to Calabar Port Control/Management and without applying or obtaining the requisite sailing clearance and till date; there is no communication on the where about of the dredger.
On August 29, 2015, the dredger ‘MV Atlantico Due arrived Calabar Fairway Buoy but was not allowed to enter the port for security reasons pending completion of necessary documentation. However, no documentation has been done in that regard till date.
On September 1, 2015, ‘MV Hurricane’ arrived Calabar without any documentation. The Port signal station directed the vessel captain to ensure necessary documentation with the Port was done but the vessel left without responding.
If these are true, then the NPA has tacitly admitted that indeed vessels enter the Nigerian waters and disappear without documentation. This tacit admission validates the position of the Senate that indeed, vessels do enter Nigeria’s territorial waters under the watch of the NPA and exit without documentation, hence the Public Hearing by Senate to look at the revenue leakages in the Ports. This tacit admission by the NPA therefore explains the aversion of the MD of the Nigerian Ports of Authority to honour the invitation of the Senate Committee and testify at the Public Hearing.
The Chairman of the Committee, Senator Hope Uzodimma had stated that “We have invited her four times. The first time she did not come, the second time she sent an ED to represent her. We delivered the documents to the ED, we delivered the documents to the Shippers’ Council, the Council has worked on the documents and came back to us with some confirmation. What is wrong in inviting the managing director of NPA to appear before a Senate committee to explain why revenues that were supposed to accrue to government did not accrue?
Sadique, a Social Commentator, wrote from Kaduna.