The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, this week accused operator of the controversial Secured Anchorage Area (SAA), Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL) of illegally operating a merchant shipping security outfit within the Lagos pilotage and extorting foreign ocean liners of huge sums in foreign currency; and in total disregard to objection by his ministry.
The deal has an annual return of over USD130million (about N50billion) per annually, even as OMSL is believed to be collecting a princely average of $1,500 per vessel per day; with other alleged unofficial demands by field officials.
The minister lamented that despite formal communication with OMSL expressing his ministry’s displeasure with its activities, and directing it to discontinue, the firm in collusion with the Nigerian Navy has refused to grind its operation, and have continued to provide custody for ships calling at the facility, and has therefore, continued to illegally corner revenue that should be going to government coffers.
A peep into the ongoing gang like fight sadly involves critical departments and agencies of government and private business concern, with ownership structured linked to military background, may have reached an embarrassing level. Those directly involved in the gang fight include the Ministry of Transportation and its agency, the Nigerian Ports Authority; Ministry of Defence and its department, the Nigerian Navy; and prima firm, Ocean Marine Solution Limited (OMSL).
The others indirectly involved in the struggle, not so much for control as it were, but for participation in line with their statutory obligation is the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Marine Police; with third party participant such as foreign ship agents and ship masters.
It is also to be noted that like every other security situation in Nigeria, this multi-billion naira maritime security gang fight has some international connection, following the alleged involvement of the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO). The UK specialist department has been accused of providing tacit and misleading information to the international community about Nigeria; allegedly in collaboration with the Nigeria Navy.
Perhaps, it is not surprising that the civilian firm in the middle of the fight is owned by retired top naval chiefs and generals, some of who served as former Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff. It is not clear whether the retired owners of the firm are fronting for certain power bloc within the military or for themselves, what is immediately clear is the operate the most lucrative brisk business within the channels of the nation’s sea that supports the shipping industry.
There are speculations that the Nigeria Navy not only supports the said private security firm but also seem to protect the company and its officials, even as it is believed in some quarters that the Navy may have encouraged the firm to disrespect and disregard statutory federal authorities.
Opinion about the undiluted commitment of present day Nigerian military to the safety and defence of Nigerian citizens and her commonwealth, tend to vary as much the official and public perception of the efficiency and responsiveness of our national security system, management, operation and strategy.
Opinions sampled also show that society appears confused about the commitment of modern day Nigerian Military to its core values and responsibilities, with disturbing signals of how he various arm are believed to have become more engrossed in commercial concerns, businesses and trade, which is said to be reflected in the signing of one Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) after another, across various segment of society and the business community.
That this new orientation and philosophy may have adversely impeded on the military pure professional tradition of its core mandate, is only a matter of conjecture. But that is matter for another day. It is therefore instructive to begin this discourse with an informed layout, and to understand before going any farther that the Nigerian Military, the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp and the Department of State Security are said to be presently involved in maritime security, to certain levels of engagement.
Perhaps, it is also important to note that Nigeria’s entire national security network, inclusive of the Nigerian maritime sector is subsumed under the oversight of President Muhammadu Buhari, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Force.
As C-in-C, it goes without saying that Mr. President is logically everywhere, 24/7, and abreast of all security developments and reports; including the strange case of OMSL that has had the effrontery to challenge critical institutions of governance. Inseparably linked to this constitutional power, the president appoints all the security and special services chiefs, all of whom reports to him directly or indirectly, and therefore, is responsible for all of their actions; small or big, in the short and long term.
The president is therefore, logically speaking, not only at the centre of all actions and inactions, but intrinsically is the sub total expression of our national security affairs. He is the oracle that interfaces with the known and unknown, the nexus to all cause and effect. He is feared and respected as a first class driver of uncommon sound judgment, the breaker of threats, short or long range, the golden pistol general with revered resourcefulness, the war lord and unapproachable security master with unquestionable political sagacity, official diligence and circumspection. The C-in-C is a little more than mere mortal because of the diverse information at his disposal, which if properly activated, confers on him some element of invincibility.
Having, hopefully, set the background; let us return to the subject matter, the recent unrest in the maritime security domain, specifically, the rivalry and fight for the provision of security for foreign cargo ships calling the Lagos ports under the disputed secured anchorage area (SAA).
The SAA from all indication is moribund initiative of the Nigerian Ports Authority, which was revived under a private initiative today known as OMSL. SAA is designed to serve as a dedicated security zone that plays host to all international incoming merchant ships or cargo vessels. It is on record that OMSL operates SAA in partnership with the Nigerian Navy, as much as it is crystal clear that the initiative is economic in conception and content pursuant to its letter of article of trade; implied or otherwise.
By its own admission, OMSL before the dispute recognized that its operation is subject to the oversight of the Nigerian Ports Authority, which monitors standards and compliance. As the misunderstanding worsened, OMSL denounced NPA and said it has nothing particularly in common with it but with the Nigerian Navy. Nevertheless the twist in acknowledgment, NPA has made it clear that it exercises constitutional control over and within the sphere of OMSL operation; even as the authority asserted itself as the overlord in the event of any dispute, as not just been the custodian but responsible for full administrative and operational control, to the extent of logistics supply, operability, provision of structure and super structure.
Those familiar with the authority understand that its power extends further to include monitoring and compliance, access control and rent, custody and security of all assets and resources, material and human, ships and cargo, seafarers and operational bases, within the confines of its territory. These latter components are economics in nature, and be extension the exclusive right of the federal government which can only be transferred by executive power, either through the presidency or the ministry of transportation or its agency, NPA as the last arm of the presidential delegated authority in the matters of port control; under which merchant shipping and its security falls.
Having apparently failed to secure the support of government under which he serve, the transportation minister in an innocuous roundabout way of searching for solution, earlier this week during the celebration of the World Maritime Day at Eko Hotels and Suites, accused port stakeholders of complicity in stealing government money, as it were, by patronizing OMSL. He reiterated his oft position since this development that under the constitution, only the minister of transportation has the right to set up a SAA.
Lamenting, he said, “There is a crisis in the Maritime sector. The crisis is on the issue of security. Today, we have a single individual partnering with the military that is collecting $1,200 to the detriment of shipping companies. That one individual is still managing the business with support of other institutions.
“The stakeholders are doing nothing to the individual and he is become so rich as a result of exploiting the industry. We are saying this is the time to say enough is enough. No individual has right to collect money. The Nigerian Ports Authority Act does not allow any other person than the Minister of Transportation to set up Secure Anchorage Area.”
Recall that Amaechi had in February 2020 suspended the OMSL operated SAA from further operating the platform, following which the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority wrote to the firm and the Nigerian Navy, to emphasize the minister’s directive.
The NPA boss in the said letter noted that provision of security in the nation’s waters is not a general business venture, but a constitutional responsibility of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, the Nigerian Navy and the Marine Police.
Chairman of OMSL, Navy Captain Hosa Okunbo (retired) fired back, saying the platform is not under the control of NPA but that under the use of the Nigerian Navy with who OMSL is in partnership. His position however contradicted clauses in the firm’s article of faith which the firm on its accord, when the going was good, claim to be beholden to NPA for its rules and regulations, in the matter of standards and compliance. The fight degenerated, beginning with their appearance at the National Assembly in Abuja where the Senate Committee on Marine Transport sought to intervene.
Although the lawmakers advised OMSL and NPA to maintain the status quo way back June 2019 pending when areas of disagreement will be resolved, it would seem that the senate may have taken sides, and or given its usual nonchalant attitude to issues of national urgency, did not revisit the matter. For so long, neither did the executive arm of government appeared to have taken steps to douse the tension in showing the way forward. Expectedly, given the level of audacity by both immediate combatants, the dispute spanned out of control, as the foes mobilized for total war and has been at the trench. For whatever reasons that can be left to the imagination, OMSL has refused to close shop and have even publicly continued to engage the ministry and agency of the federal government in a clash of might, often accusing NPA of going outside its purview, allegedly with the support of the Navy.
Sources note that President Buhari, a retired army general seem reluctant and hamstrung about the matter, which has military esprit de corps undertone. Front line industry news medium, Ships & Port in its July 23, 2020 edition report that the president has waded into the matter. According to the news outlet, the president has asked the transportation minister who is an interested party to the matter, and his justice and attorney general of the federation, Abubakar Malami, to advise him on the protracted dispute.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of Justice/Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to advise him on the controversial cancellation of the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) contract being operated by the Nigerian Navy and a private company, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) in Lagos”, Ships & Port report.
According to the report, Buhari’s intervention is coming on the backdrop of a petition written to him by OMSL Chairman, Navy Capt Hosa Okunbo through the Chief of Staff to the President, to prevail on NPA to back down on its sack order and for OMSL to close shop.
“The OMSL petition obtained exclusively by SHIPS & PORTS, titled “RE: REQUEST FOR PRESIDENTIAL INTERVENTION TO STOP NIGERIAN PORTS AUTHORITY’S INTERFERENCE ON A SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION WITH THE NIGERIAN NAVY FOR THE PROVISION OF MARITIME SECURITY OFFSHORE LAGOS” was dated 24th June 2020 and signed by the company’s chairman, Capt. Idahosa Okunbo.
“Consequent upon the petition, Prof. Gambari, on 6th July 2020, sent a memo with reference number SH/COS/23/A/180 to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and the Minister of Justice/Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami to “opine on the legal and policy implications of the contention by Ocean Marine Solutions Limited that as the Secure Anchorage Area (‘SAA’) is located 10 nautical miles offshore Lagos Ports, Ocean Marine Solutions Limited’s arrangement with the Nigerian Navy to provide escort security services to sea-going vessels in the SAA, is not within the Jurisdiction or the Nigerian Ports Authority”.
While Amaechi was believed to have forwarded the petition to the Director-General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamoh, to study and “revert with your response/inputs on or before 21st July 2020 in order to guide the Honourable Minister’s response to the President”; it was not clear as at the time of going to press whether President Buhari has accorded the petition an official reply.
Ships and Port further reported that OMSL pleaded with President Buhari to compel NPA to hire its eight patrol boats at the sum of USD10,500 per day, amounting to USD84,000 (N32 million) daily, reportedly, “to avoid creating a security gap that would occur in the immediate withdrawal of OMSL boats following NPA’s pronouncements”.
Disregard for Marine Notice
As the faceoff festered, NPA issued a marine notice asking OMSL and all others involved in the SAA and ships and their representatives patronizing the platform to vacate the place. Despite that NPA also adequately carried along and communicated the Nigerian Navy at every stage of the development, which culminated in the issuance of marine notice, both OMSL operatives and personnel of the Nigerian Navy are believed to have ignored the notice, and have been carrying on with business as though nothing has happened.
The rumour mill has been agog swearing that the Navy has backed up OMSL to disregard NPA and its supervising ministry, and to thwart the quit order. Those who spoke on the matter in confidence suggested that the Navy body language remains unmistakably one at war with the ministry of transportation and NPA, even as the Ministry of Defence has remained aloof to the controversial shipping security racket. The Navy is statutorily obliged to protect the nation’s territorial waters from acts of aggression and criminality, from within and without; and without the demand for rent or compensation.
Industry minders said the only way the Navy can dissuade the public from concluding that OMSL is an insider deal fraudulently established to front for its top chiefs, is for the Nigerian Navy to return its loyalty whole and unquestioning to the constitution, in subjecting itself to the office of the C-in-C and its delegated agency, the NPA by ordering its personnel to vacate the controversial platform; pending when the matter is settled; since society perceive its stand in the matter at hand as an unmistaken affront to the constituted authority of the C-in-C.
The experts further opined that its continued presence at the platform is questionable and a flagrant disobedience to the laws setting up the Nigerian Navy, solely to carry out its duty as a military outfit with a structured remuneration, in which it is not supposed to engage in IGR or economic activities, which the OMSL activities represents in purpose and intent.
It will be noted that upon the issuance of the marine notice, OMSL impudently transferred its allegiance to the territorial control of the Navy, and declared that SAA operates under Navy, as a basis to punctuate and discredit the marine notice under presidential delegated authority, as having no effect and therefore, can change nothing. Both the Navy and OMSL continued stay at the platform is a reinforcement of the latter’s attitude and declaration.
In spite of this clear barefaced provocation, the presidency and the federal executive council have kept mum, quiet enough to demoralize and shame the devil himself. And if this is the same presidency that wants the NPA to carry about its duty diligently, to correct ills in the system and stamp out corruption; it leaves much to be desired.
Strategic Communication and Partnership
In its letter to the Navy dated October 9, 2019, which is a sequel to the one apparently received from the latter, NPA wrote:
“Please note the changes to administration of the SAA within Lagos. Henceforth security will be under the provision of NIMASA working together with the Nigerian Navy and Maritime police. As such the privately owned and administrated SAA under OMLS Limited has been discontinued and no cost for vessel security should be borne by any company.”
“Sequel to your letter ref: NHQ/CNS/015/54/00/Vol.X111/695 of January 2018 to the Honourable Minister of Transportation giving the background to your involvement with the creation and operation of the Secure Anchorage for vessels by OMSL, the Honourable Minister had directed that a letter be written to your service to request that you stop the operation of this facility for the following reasons listed below:
“One, by virtue of Port Act (1954), an Anchorage Area is an integral part of NPA statutory responsibility while NIMASA, Marine Police and Nigerian Navy ensure a safe and secure Nigeria territorial waters. Two, the Secure Anchorage Area (SAA) (Centre Point 06 17’30N/003 12’00E) established by OMSL is located within the port limit, which should be strictly under the management and control of the NPA.
“Three, it is established that vessels are directed and regulated to this facility by OMSL, who NPA does not have contractual agreement or other with. However, the Navy has a Memorandum of Understanding with OMSL and is providing security to the anchorage. Four, the continued operation of this facility by a private entity could pose security threat to the nation.”
Sensitive to its duty and expected partnership with the Navy, NPA took time to explain the negative implication of continuing to allow OMSL to operate, noting that its operation is pushing up cost for vessels coming to Nigeria.
“To this end, you are graciously requested to stop the operation of the SAA while a new framework – nearing conclusion – is being put in place to be managed by NPA in collaboration with your service and other government agencies that are critical to the operation of the anchorage.”
In esteemed deference, NPA informed the Navy way ahead of its plan to close the platform.
“Please note that the authority will issue a notice to Mariners for the discontinuance of the SAA operation and a consequent amendment of the British Admiralty Chart-1381.”
Apart from findings by NPA that OMSL was not remitting anything to the coffers of the federal government despite making millions daily, it lodged a number of semi formal complaints. The authority was to later discover that the Nigerian Navy in collaboration with the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) had published the SAA in its Admiralty chart No.1381 of Lagos Ports Limits and Approaches dated 10th March 2011.
It was observed that the chart contained certain misleading and false information, which indicated that the authority’s owned secured anchorage area before now was ill-equipped, and thus giving the impression that Nigerian water was not secured. NPA was obliged to think the worse of this discovery, and concluded possible sovereign sabotage.
Sources within NPA told Pinnacle Time that above information was contrary to the assessment of the same facility by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which commended NPA for the standard of facilities and security at the location.
Following these apprehensions and controversies, the NPA vide its letters dated 24th October 2017 and 25th October 2018 respectively, sought the intervention of the Minister of Transportation to dismantle the facility due to its high cost on ships; and the international negative port rate it attracted.
The action of the transportation ministry and NPA was said to be more compelling given the fact that some individuals have continued to feed fat from the services which otherwise should be an exclusive economic zone for the generation of revenue for the federal government. Information at our disposal reveals that each ship that patronizes the SAA is charged $2,500 for the first two days, and $1,500 subsequently, for as long as it remains in the SAA.
The authority had in October 2019, also petitioned the National Assembly; and informed the Senate that the responsibility for merchant ships security is that of the Nigerian Navy, Marine Police, NIMASA and NPA. The agency further alerted the lawmakers that revenue earned from the SAA operation since 2014 has gone into private pockets.
The authority explained that, “By virtue of section 7 (d) and (e) of the NPA Act, it is the responsibility of the Authority to: (d) ‘provide for the approaches to all ports and the territorial waters of Nigeria such pilotage services and lights, marks and other navigational services and aids, including cleaning, deepening and improving of all waterways.’ (e) ‘Provide facilities for berthing, towing, mooring or dry-docking of ships in entering or leaving a port or its approaches.”
A cross section of Nigerian ship owners identified with NPA and applauded its Managing Director, Ms. Hadiza Usman for having the political will not only to challenge the cartel but to terminate the questionable contract.
Factional President of Nigerian Ship owners Association (NISA), Aminu Umar, said foreign ship owners patronizing OMSL were misled with exaggerated false information about insecurity, noting that there is nowhere in the world a safe anchorage is left entirely to private security concerns to run as an economic venture, free of charge without remittance to the government.
He said, “In other West African ports like Lome and Cotonou, anchorages are owned by their ports authorities. Though, we do not want to question why government gave the private sector the right to operate the SAA but we think there is no need for such rather, all our waters should be made secured for safe shipping.”
Immediate past National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, described the transportation minister’s recent lamentation as disturbing and embarrassing.
Speaking as a guest at the Mission to Seafarers (MS) in collaboration with the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners (NAMM) to also mark the World Maritime Day celebration, Shittu said there is either conflict of interest working against the government or there is plain lack of purpose and insincerity.
He said, “We have lost it, no wonder some agencies in the maritime industry can never get anything done because of political consideration. How can the Hon. Minister tell us that private initiative super cedes the interest of the federal government?
“Something is wrong and I want to appeal to us that we should not keep quiet; we should be calling them out. Every opportunity you have even as Master Mariners, please speak to the press, let them hear your voice. Is the government behind NPA, its own agency or behind a contractor that will be sharing money to them somewhere? It is unfortunate.”
Contacted on telephone for update on compliance with the marine notice served on all parties involved at the anchorage to quit, Naval Director for Information, Commodore Suleiman Dahun said he was not in a position to speak on the matter as it is receiving attention at top official level.
“Thanks sir for the inquiry but that matter is currently been treated at the top strategic level of governance. Right now I am not in any position to say anything about it, until I get briefing and clearance. That is the position, I cannot say anything until the outcome of that strategic meeting is communicated to my office”, he said.