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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Port operators raise red flags as NPA flouts FG policy on TSA

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By Muhammadu Muby

A questionable transaction, reeking of high level corruption, has been uncovered in the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, involving senior directors and  officials of managing agent.

Everyday.ng has obtained documents, including a copy of the circular dated 22nd April, signed by one Engr Badmus, Executive Director, Marine and Operations on behalf of the Managing director, earlier directing all agents on service boats  to make payments to the NPA dedicated accounts with the Fidelity and Zenith banks.

But, a week later, precisely on the 29th of April, 2024, the same officer issued another circular, countering the first one, and now  directing all payments to Intels Nigeria limited as the new Managing Agent of the Nigerian Ports Authority.

Meanwhile, Intels Nigeria limited had only recently, been reinstated as the NPA service boat managing agent across all pilotage districts, after it’s contract expired, but, which wasn’t renewed by the former MD, Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman.

Insider sources became suspicious of the new turn of events, as the new directive was in clear breach of the federal government’s policy which mandates all ministries and agencies to remit all revenues to the Treasury Single Accounts, TSA, which was the practice in NPA, before Intels was re- engaged by the new management.

In the course of investigation, it was discovered that the April 29th circular, directing payments to Intel, was actually influenced by the Intel’s response to the earlier circular of the 22nd of April, 2024.

The Intels Nigeria letter of April 22nd, 2024, that same day that the Ports Authority issued it’s earlier circular, solicited the assistance of the NPA management to initiate “immediate action by sending letters to clients for prompt remittance of pilotage bills through the Managing Agent (Intels Nigeria limited), which reliable sources said was wrongly reinstated with the help of “powerful forces within the Villa”.

This was like a marching order to the Ports Authority management, which eventually led to the issuance of the second circular of the 29th of April, reversing the earlier directive to clients to make payments to the TSA account.

Curiouser was the fact that Intel, which is itself a service provider like other agents, went on to list out names of clients with pilotage dues in all the pilotage districts and the outstanding amounts against it, while excluding it’s own unpaid dues from the list.

This letter, signed by Luca Nagnaneli, the Group Financial Officer of Intels, received very prompt attention, prompting suspicion of an alleged underhand deal between some NPA top directors and the company.

Insiders query the decision of the NPA management to circumvent the policy of the federal government that mandates all payments into the TSA accounts, just to pander to the whims of Intels, which itself is a service provider like the other agents operating in all the four pilotage districts.

The letter from intel, an insider said, is like a directive to the NPA management instructing it to issue letters to service operators to pay through Intels Nigeria limited into their Zenith bank Plc and Citibank New York accounts.

“It’s like the tail now wagging the dog, when a  client could have the audacity to issue directive to its employee, an important agency of the federal government, to embark on a clear illegal action of diverting federal government revenue to private acconts,” the source said.

While the debate on the propriety of the action of the NPA to circumvent the  government policy is still being debated,  recall that Intel Nigeria limited has single-handedly dominated Port business operations in Nigeria for the past twenty years before it’s monopoly was broken by the former MD of the NPA, after the authority failed to renew its contract which expired in August, 2020.

The decision not to renew Intels contract, was greeted as a welcome development as it opened opportunities for indigenous port operators to move in through the bidding process that was conducted on Monday, 20th, January, 2020.

Bids were submitted for the four lots, in Lagos pilotage district, Warri Pilotage district, Bonny/Portharcourr Pilotage district and Calabar Pilotage district.

After the bidding process was successfully completed, the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, issued a due process compliance of “No Objection” for contract award in favour of various contractors that bidded for the jobs.

In a letter BPP/S.1/Vol XV111/23/964 dated August 30th, 2023, addressed to the Hon minister of Blue Economy, signed by its Director General, Mammam Ahmadu, the BPP, advised the minister to “proceed to seek Federal Executive Council (FEC): approval for the award of the contracts.

Till date, almost one year after, that advise has not been complied with by the Minister, living the successful contractors in the dark as to their fate.

“It needs be mentioned that this company many are complaining about was among contractors that bidded for the jobs, but, was however disqualified for multiple bidding which contravened the bidding guidelines.

“But, curiously it was re-engaged through some alleged backdoor arrangement and is now appointed by the new NPA management as both a service provider and management Agent incharge of collecting revenues from other boat operators on its behalf.

“This is a big puzzle that concerned port operators and staff of the Authority are prepared to unravel,” a source who perfers not to be named said.

Already, there are speculations that the company is now owned by someone believed to be at the highest level of the Presidency, who has now used his high level connections to bring back the company through the back door.

Equally troubling is the humongous amount of payments that port operators are now being directed to make to the private company accounts as against the TSA policy of government.

“This should give serious course for worry and concern about accountability and anti-corruption stance of some public officials working in the present administration.

“We are waiting to see whether the anti corruption agency of the government, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, will wade in to get to the bottom of this matter,” an insider said, though he did not disclose if the trough of documents sighted by Everyday.ng and a petition have been sent to the agency

When Everyday.ng reached a spokesperson for the Nigerian Ports Authority, Mrs. Sarah Ballah, for a reaction, she pleaded for time to respond to the report; but nearly four hours after, her response was still being awaited.

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