The House of Representatives has directed the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to immediately stop the planned disbursement of $700 million to indigenous shipping line operators.
This development followed a Motion of Urgent Public Importance brought by Rep. Henry Nwawuba (Imo, APGA), titled ‘Urgent Need To Stop The Plan Disbursment Of $700m Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, And Investigate The Total Accrual Of The Fund.’
The lawmakers also requested an audited statement of account showing all monies that have accrued to the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund not later than seven (7) days from the date of this resolution.
Minister of Transport, Gwarzo Muazu, and the Director-General of the agency, Bashir Yusuf Jimoh, were also invited by the lawmakers to report to its Committee on Local Content on the State of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund and how the funds have been applied over the past 20 years.
In his debate, Nwawuba noted that the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003 to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity by providing financial assistance to Nigerian operators in domestic coastal shipping.
Also aware that in addition to monies allocated to the fund by an Act of the National Assembly, the fund draws from two per cent (2%) of all contract sum performed by any vessel engaged in the coastal trade, and all monies generated pursuant to the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act 2003.
The members further expressed concern that since the establishment of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, there have been no reliable data as to the total amount that has so far accrued to the Fund, and thus, there is no certainty as to the actual worth of the fund at the moment.
“Since the establishment of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund in the year 2003, there is no record of any Nigerian citizen or company who have officially benefited from the fund as stated in the Act.
Recalls that in 2018, the then Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Dr Dakuku Peterside said the agency had concluded necessary documentation needed for the disbursement of the CVFF. He gave the accruals from the fund at that time to be in excess of US$100 million; however, there is no records of such disbursement.
Also recalls that Mr Rotimi Amaechi (the then Minister of Transportation) said in December 2019 that Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund disbursement would commence in January 2020; however, the funds were not disposed of as promised.
Further recalls that Dr Bashir Jamoh, Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, on April 4, 2023, during the Institute of Maritime Studies’ first Annual Lecture at the University of Lagos in Akoka, said that the government would disburse the sum of $700m to ship owners before the end of the current administration.
Worried that the matrix, procedure and condition of the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund is obscure and not transparent and not wholly in accordance with the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003.”
Meanwhile, the lawmakers worried that 20 years after the Cabotage Act 2003 was enacted, the Ministry of Transportation, in collaboration with the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), have misappropriated funds designated to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity and that the Act has not achieved its objectives.
“If this House does not leave up to its oversight responsibility, there will be a continued violation of the provision of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2023 relating to the purpose of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund.”
Presiding Officer, Femi Gbajabiamila, in his final ruling, directed the House Committee on Local Content to immediately commence investigations into the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund to determine all monies that have accrued to the Fund since its establishment in the year 2003 and report to the House within 14 days.
It also mandated the House Committee on Local Content to engage an external auditor to audit all contracts that have been entered into in the cabotage regime and report the same to the house within 14 days.