The Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA) raised a fresh alarm over an alleged missing $300 million from the Cabotage Vessels Finance Fund (CVFF) between 2008 and 2015.
The group, however, call on the federal government and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the agency in charge, to be ready to account for the missing fund.
The CVFF, which is derived from two per cent of the contracts awarded under the cabotage regime, was designed to enable indigenous shipping companies acquire adequate tonnage to be able to participate in coastal currently dominated by foreign ships.
Meanwhile, director-general of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside has said the agency would commence the disbursement in 2019. He who stated this in a chat with journalists recently said the fund, which has increased to $124 million (N44.64 billion) and domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), would be disbursed as soon as the Ministry of Transportation concludes the review of the guidelines for disbursement.
But, president of NISA, Aminu Umar, who spoke with journalists shortly after the association’s annual general meeting held in Lagos on Wednesday, said a five-man committee has been set up to commence investigation into the fund, which had remained unaccounted for over the years, to unravel the facts and ensure those who mismanaged the fund are punished.
“Cabotage Act has been on for over 10 years. The figure that is been given today that is in the bank is the money that has been contributed from 2015 till date. So we need to find out what they have done with the $300 million that have been contributed so far into the CVFF. Yes, we know that there is presently about $150 million in the fund. But we need to find out what happened to the ones before 2015.
“We don’t know if what was contributed in the past is more than $300 million; we are just estimating that it will be more than $300 million. If within three years, the CVFF has come up to over $160 million, then we expect 2015 backward, which is nothing less than six or seven years to be more than $300 million.
“We have set up a committee to look into this because this is something we will make a presentation to the NIMASA management. We will write to the Minister of Transportation for him to also look at it and brief us because the fund belongs to members.
“If the fund was not spent according to the act, then there are government agencies that are responsible to investigate it and prosecute those responsible. What we want to know is accountability, to know what the money has been spent on. If we know what the money was spent on, the next question will be: is it in line with the guidelines?
“If all that has been followed, there is nothing we will do about it. But if it has not been followed, then we will seek the government agency that is in charge to check why they spent it against the law.
“The fund is contribution by all ship owners, not government fund. So, all members have the right to ask what has happened to the money,” he said. Umar called for the immediate disbursement of the $150 million in the CVFF coffers as an immediate solution to aid the operations of indigenous ship owners.
“In as much as I am also part of the team of the (proposed) maritime bank, the short term solution is to commence the disbursement of the fund through the Primary Lending Institutions (PLI). Nobody can go against the law except we go to the National Assembly to change the Act,” he said.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Shipowners’ Forum, Margaret Orakwusi said NIMASA should be ready to account for the missing fund under its custody. “They can’t tell us they don’t have account for what was contributed so far. We need the statement of account to know how the money was spent. She stated further, “The committee should revisit the fund and ask questions and if proper answers are not given we should approach the court,” she said.