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The thriving business of corruption at Nigerian ports

Uchechi Dibiaezue 

As evidenced by the Nigerian port systems, corruption often arises from inefficient systems.

Inter-agency coordination and process modernization can curb corruption to a significant extent.

There are key indications that poor policy directives and procedures impede the ease of doing business at ports, thereby making it difficult to combat corruption.

As a Nigeria-based compliance professional, I know this firsthand – and the example of Nigerian ports can inform others monitoring global supply chains.
 Corruption often occurs alongside a failure to bring transparency to the system.
This failure has become a notorious gateway that facilitates the giving and taking of bribes by public officials and other individuals working within the Nigerian ports.
Corruption is a self-serving cash cow for those raking in millions of naira from port operations.

But new strategies and methods to prevent corruption, including introducing technology into the mix, are expected to make a huge difference in reducing corruption and increasing efficiency at Nigeria‘s busiest ports.

A Robust Corruption Strategy

Many inefficiencies exist in service delivery within the ports that offer opportunities for public officers to engage in illegitimate transactions for monetary gain.
 For example, public officials of government agencies working and operating within the ports prefer to physically examine cargo instead of using scanners.
To circumvent this inefficient approach, bribes are offered to public officers enforcing these tedious processes.

Another conduit for corruption is the mode of cargo inspection.

 Public officials are mandated to routinely board vessels that berth at the ports. However, for years, multiple agencies have carried out inspections in an unplanned manner.
 Each agency determines when to carry out an inspection process rather than collaborate with other agencies to undertake one inspection process.
 So, a ship undergoes several inspection checks by different agencies inspecting cargo at their own time and pace. This inefficient procedure causes inordinate delays.
Many ship captains prefer to offer bribes or other forms of gifts to public officials to circumvent this cumbersome and inefficient process.

These examples illustrate how poor policy directives create lucrative avenues for the giving and taking of bribes.

 One may, therefore, suggest that a new policy directive will bolster better service delivery, as well as improve efforts to tackle corruption in the ports.
A 2014 corruption risk assessment at the Nigerian ports of Onne, Warri, Port Harcourt, Calabar, Apapa and Tin Can, it was discovered that a lack of awareness of operating procedures by users (agents, exporters, importers) was a driving force in corruption.

Visitors to the ports do not always know the official timelines for services offered by port operators, so it is often impossible to know the actual waiting time before receiving the service, or even the relevant documents to be submitted to obtain a service.

Most port users rely heavily on public officials, oftentimes unscrupulous ones, to transact business within the ports. The result is that various countries, companies and state authorities become active participants in acts of bribery.

A Purposeful Rein on Corruption

In a bid to bridge the knowledge gap, a single process card, the Nigerian Port Process Manual (NPPM), was funded and developed by the Nigerian Ports Authority.
This manual was launched for use on December 9, 2020, with the Nigerian Shippers Council as the lead implementation agency.
The manual describes the services offered by port operators so that anyone visiting the ports can follow effortlessly.

It outlines and guides users by highlighting all required documentation, procedural steps, payments, timelines and the responsible agencies for each process in the port.

This manual boosts public awareness and understanding of port procedures, thereby encouraging efficiency and accountability.
 It should also reduce incidents of bribery, as port users know the various agencies charge of specific services, eliminating the middlemen in the system.

Key benefits of the NPPM include:

1. It facilitates a mechanized approach in conducting business at the ports in line with global best practices rather than the inefficient analog procedures in use.
Key stakeholders in the ports, including the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC), reached an agreement to implement measures that will minimize direct human contact onboard vessels calling at the Nigerian ports in line with the provisions of the NPPM.

2. It ensures coordination and cooperation between government agencies at the ports.

 Before the launch of the NPPM, foreign ships and the international community calling at the ports complained of delays and huge costs incurred because of separate boarding and inspection by ports authorities.
To address the complaints and utilize the NPPM effectively, the NSC, NPA, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Port Health and the Department of State Security Service (DSS) all agreed to collaborate and jointly inspect vessels calling on Nigeria.

3. The manual supports the introduction of new technology at the ports to curb illegal activities and rid the ports of corruption, including an electronic call-up system to reduce traffic congestion at the ports.

Especially in ports and off-dock terminals with heavy vehicular and human traffic, Apapa and Tin Can, the two busiest ports in Nigeria, will be a big improvement.

For years, a manual truck scheduling arrangement has been in use. However, in February 2021, the NPA came up with an electronic truck call-up system to deal with the recurrent traffic gridlock responsible for delays along the access roads leading to these ports.

The truck call-up system, also known as Eto, which means “to schedule” in the Yoruba language, is now used for access to the port for cargo trucks and by shipping companies to transfer empty containers.

It is important to note that the Nigerian Port Process Manual will help reduce corruption as it pushes for greater cooperation and collaboration among the various government agencies working in the country’s ports.

These collaborative efforts can drive down the rates of giving and taking bribes significantly with the integration of technology alongside other policy directives to improve service delivery. It will attract more business to the ports as compliance boosts efficiency, transparency and accountability.

Uchechi Dibiaezue is a member of the A&E Law Partnership Compliance, Ethics and Integrity Support practice as well as the Regulatory and Institutional reform team. She is an attorney with over 18 years of legal practice experience.

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I was never in charge of maritime industry —Saraki

Senator Gbemisola Saraki, Minister of State for Transportation in a hearty discussion with Amaechi when the going was good


Eyewitness reporter

For three years after she was named the Minister of State for Transportation in 2019, Senator Gbemisola Saraki said she was never in charge of the maritime sector.
Her assertion contradicted the gentleman’s agreement between her and Rotimi Amaechi, who until his resignation from Mohammed Buhari’s cabinet to pursue his failed presidential ambition, was the Minister of transportation.
Amaechi,  as the then supervising Minister, in 2019, had delineated the duties of the two heads of the ministry to avoid any possible clash of interests.
At one of the public functions held in Lagos in 2019 at the beginning of his second term in office as the Minister of Transportation, Amaechi publicly declared that while he would focus his attention on railways due to the enormity of the project and its importance to the national economy, Saraki will be in charge of the maritime industry with his occasional supervision, especially as it concerns maritime security.
Ameachi had then acknowledged that he had abandoned the maritime industry for the rail sector when he first served as transportation minister from 2015 to 2019 but said his minister of state, Senator Gbemisola Saraki,  will fill the gap during his second term in office.
“In my first term as minister, I completely abandoned the maritime sector to the heads of agencies.
“This time around, that won’t be happening again as I have instructed that the Hon. Minister of Transportation for State should personally supervise the maritime agencies, while I just oversee what is happening” Ameachi had declared.
However, Senator Saraki subtly debunked the claim three years after when she said that she was never in charge of the sector.
The minister was reacting to an inquiry from the curious journalists last week Friday why it took her one year to the end of her four-year tenure to come on a familiarisation tour of the sector she was supposed to be superintending.
“I was never in charge of the maritime sector. I was asked to supervise road transport”  the Kwara State-born politician declared.
Her revelation confirmed the widely held belief among the stakeholders that there was a repressed and smouldering animosity between the two Ministers.
Though Saraki tried to downplay the cat and mouse relationship with her former boss, stakeholders however believed that the two Ministers never got along well with each other.
Sources pointed to instances when the two Ministers were tactically avoiding joint attendance at maritime events.
Impeccable sources whispered to our reporter that the festering feud became noticeable when Saraki began to boycott events in the industry with her former boss.
It was further learnt that the boycott of events in the industry by the Minister of state may be a subtle protest against the apparent arrogation by Amaechi of official duties of the junior Minister which has led to the redundancy of Saraki.
It was gathered that throughout 2019 and the better part of 2021, Amaechi allowed Saraki to take charge of events in the maritime industry.
Sources claimed that towards the end of last year and since the beginning of 2022 up till his resignation as the Minister, Amaechi may have reneged on the gentleman’s agreement between him and his minister of state.
“During this period, the Minister took over the functions hitherto reserved for the Minister of state.
”This development seems to have irked Saraki who felt the Minister was trying to make her reductant.
“That was when she started to boycott functions at the maritime industry where she and her principal were likely to meet” a source who was in the know confided in our reporter.The absence of the minister of State at major maritime events became noticeable during landmark events such as  NIMASA’s unveiling of wreck removal in 2021,  the World Maritime Day, 2021,  and the inspection of the Lekki deep seaport by President Muhammadu Buhari.

It could also be recalled that Amaechi had made a couple of visits to the Lekki deep seaport, even on a Sunday, before the presidential visit, none of which Saraki attended.

Concerned maritime stakeholders claimed that the recent action of Ameachi, who is widely regarded as the ”Lion of the Niger Delta” may appear bossy to Gbemisola Saraki, who is also a strong-willed woman.
“The two Ministers are of strong-willed personalities who don’t brood nonsense.
“We all know the political antecedents of Amaechi who has a domineering posture.

” Gbemi is also made of sterner stuff given her role in the “Otoge” political tsunami in Kwara which eventually swept off  Bukola Saraki, her blood brother, from the political dominance in Kwara politics, a role which earned her the present position in the present dispensation.
“So, I don’t see how Amaechi, who has domineering posture could lord it over Gbemi, who is equally a woman of strong character, without skirmishes” a knowledgeable analyst declared.
However, stakeholders were skeptical if Senator Saraki could achieve much of the promises she made during her week-long tours of Lagos ports last week given barely one year she has as a member of the Buhari Administration before it is wound up.
The Minister came on the tour in the company of some Directors in the ministry.

“Today is my fifth week of assuming the leadership of the Ministry of Transportation”, she declared last week Friday in Lagos.

“We came to take stock of the sector. We had taken the stock of the Road sector,” she said.

Giving her summation of her findings at the end of the tour, she declared” Apapa and Tin Can ports are in terrible need of repairs.

“We will go and come back for repairs.

“We have the short, medium, and long-term plans for this. We need to start with rehabilitation here. Another problem here is power”

The  Minister met various groups who are stakeholders in the industry.

Among them are women groups in maritime, terminal operators, stevedores, maritime workers union groups, haulage, and transport operators, maritime lawyers, freight forwarders, and maritime press.

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We have political will to ensure CVFF is disbursed—-Saraki

Senator Gbemosola Saraki, Minister of State for Transportation
—- expresses sadness over unending delay
Eyewitness reporter

The Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Rukayyat Gbemisola Saraki has expressed willingness to muster the necessary political will to ensure the controversial Cabotage Vessels Financing Funds (CVFF) are disbursed before she leaves office.

She expressed sadness over the delay in the disbursement of the interventionist funds, 19 years after it was set up which she said was critical to the empowerment of the struggling indigenous ship owners.
The Minister made this commitment Friday during the interactive media parley she held in Lagos to round up her week-long tours of Lagos ports.
The Minister, who was fielding questions from journalists, declared that her ministry would work with the National Assembly to expedite action of the disbursement process.
She disclosed that she was part of the senators who passed the Cabotage Act in 2003 which gave birth to the CVFF and it was disheartening that 19 years later the funds are yet to be disbursed.
 “It is really very disheartening that the fund has not been disbursed but we will work with the National Assembly to ensure its disbursement.
“Just watch, it has to be disbursed, especially with the coming on stream of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

“In the course of this visit, I have also interacted with so many stakeholders, including the indigenous ship owners.

“I know the number of vessels that Nigerians had 10 years ago and I know how many they have now.
“The funds is very critical for the empowerment of indigenous ship owners and we know many of them have gone under”

“It is really a shame that this fund has not been disbursed, I learnt the value is $350 million now and I am not sure any part of it is missing.

” We will work with the National Assembly to pass the guidelines. It is not really about the Federal Ministry of Finance but I think it is more of the political will to disburse it and I think we have the political will to do so.”
The Minister disclosed that the guidelines for the disbursement of the fund have been formulated and awaiting the approval of the  National Assembly.

She added that the disbursement would follow the approval by the National Assembly after beneficiaries must have been shortlisted.

According to her, the approval would soon be secured and the fund disbursed in no distant time.
She regarded the non-disbursement of the CVFF as a national shame and embarrassment.
CVFF is a two percent contribution by indigenous ship owners on every Cabotage contract executed and is meant for fleet expansion and empowerment of the shipping capacity of indigenous ship owners.
Since 2003 when the Cabotage Act was enacted and 2006 when the CVFF guidelines were enacted, no disbursement was made as the funds have become a subject of controversy and subject to serial abuse.
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P&ID fraud : Court convicts, winds up Marqott Nigeria Limited.

Owolola Adebola

Justice D.U Okorowo of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has convicted and wound up Marqott Nigeria Limited,  one of the 30 companies associated with the  Process and Industrial Development Limited, P & ID,  for money laundering.

The company was convicted on Thursday,  June 16, 2022, after being found guilty of four-count charges bordering on money laundering preferred against it by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Count one of the charges read: “That you, Marqott Nigeria Limited, being a designated Non-financial Institution; and Giovanni Beccarelli, Valentina Fantoli, and Dimitri Duca, being directors of and signatories to the bank account of Marqott Nigeria Limited, sometime in September 2014, in Abuja, within the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, failed to comply with the requirements of submitting to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, a declaration of activities of Marqott Nigeria Limited contrary to Section 16(1) (f) read together with Section 5(1)(a)(ii) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011(as amended and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.”

Count two read:  “That you, Marqott Nigeria Limited, being a designated Non-financial Institution; and Giovanni Beccarelli, Valentina Fantoli, and Dimitri Duca, being directors of and signatories to the bank account of Marqott Nigeria Limited, sometime in September 2014, in Abuja, within the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, failed to develop programs to combat money laundering and other illegal acts, to wit: failure to designate at management level a compliance officer within any strata of Marqott Nigeria Limited, contrary to Section 16(1)(f) read together with Section 9(1)(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 16 (2)(b) of the same Act”.

At the point of the first arraignment on February 7, 2022,  the defendant pleaded “not guilty” to the charges, setting the stage for a full trial.

In the course of the trial, the EFCC presented many witnesses and tendered many documents as exhibits.

In his judgment,  Justice Okorowo found Marqott Nigeria Limited guilty of all the four-count charges and convicted it accordingly.   He also ordered that the company be wound up  and its entire assets forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Marqott was first arraigned on Monday,  February 7, 2022, for being an accomplice in the $9.6bn Gas Supply and Processing Agreement between the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and  P&ID.

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