The House of Representatives has asked the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency to stop its plan to disburse the sum of $700m from the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund.
During the plenary on Tuesday, May 2, members of the resolved to direct the Committee on Local Content to “immediately commence investigations of 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.”
The House also directed the committee 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.
The lawmakers then resolved to “direct NIMASA to immediately stop the planned disbursement of $700m to Nigerian citizens and companies,” asking the agency to lay before the House, an audited statement of account “showing all monies that have accrued to the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund not later than seven days from the date of this resolution.”
Furthermore, the House resolved to invite the Minister of Transport, Muazu Sambo; and the Director-General of NIMASA, Bashir Jamo, “to report to the House 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.”
These resolutions were sequel to the unanimous adoption of a motion of urgent public importance moved by a member of the House, Henry Nwawuba, titled ‘Urgent Need to Stop the Planned Disbursement of $700m Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund, and Investigate the Total Accrual of the Fund.’
Moving the motion, Henry Nwawuba representing Mbaitoli/Ikeduru Federal Constituency of Imo State 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 the domestic coastal shipping.
The lawmaker noted that in addition to monies allocated to the fund by an Act of the National Assembly, the fund draws from two per cent of all contract sums performed by any vessel engaged in the coastal trade, and all monies generated pursuant to the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003.
He said, “The House is concerned 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.
“The House is also concerned that since the establishment of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund in 2003, there is no record of any Nigerian citizen or company who have officially benefited from the Fund as stated in the Act.”
Nwawuba recalled that in 2018, the then Director-General of NIMASA, Dakuku Peterside, said the agency had concluded necessary documentation needed for the disbursement of the CVFF. The lawmaker added that Peterside gave the accruals from the fund at that time to be in excess of $100m.
“However, there are no records of such disbursement,” The lawmaker added.
Nwawuba also recalled that the then Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said in December 2019 that Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund disbursement would commence in January 2020, He, however, said “the funds were not disposed as promised.”
The lawmaker further recalled that Jamoh, on April 4, 2023, during the Institute of Maritime Studies’ first annual lecture at the University of Lagos in Akoka, said the government would disburse the sum of $700m to ship owners before the end of the current administration.
Nwawuba said, “The House is 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.
“The House is also worried that more than 20 years after the enactment of the Coastal and Inland Shipping (Cabotage) Act, 2003, the Ministry of Transportation, in collaboration with NIMASA, has misappropriated the funds designated to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, and that the Act has not achieved its objectives.
“The House is further worried that 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.”