• We have NPA approval to operate jetty, says MSC

Foreign shipping companies operating in Nigeria have been accused of carrying out illegal activities and sabotaging the economy while government agencies look the other way.

The shipping lines carry out activities ranging from surcharges on imports destined for Nigeria, violation of pricing rules and other illegal operations, which recently prompted the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to begin an investigation into the high cost of shipping to the country.

Indigenous operators in the country’s maritime industry have continued to agonise over the operations of foreign companies, which have paralysed many local businesses in the country.

The most recent action, which has raised concerns, is the Mediterranian Shipping Company’s (MSC) alleged operation of an unlicensed private jetty in Lagos State, in defiance of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) policy.

The jetty, which is located at Ijegun, Satellite Town, Amuwo Odofin, Lagos, is operated by Medlog Logistics Nigeria Limited, an arm of MSC Shipping.

Investigations carried out at the jetty showed that the facility, which started operations in 2019, is half-completed but already functional even while it is yet to secure NPA license.

Further investigation of the facility revealed that the jetty construction project was awarded to a construction company, Messrs JASPER Construction company, based on an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) agreement in November 2018 and was supposed to have been concluded in February 2019.

In December 2019, the terminal operator reportedly moved into the jetty and started operations even though it had not been completed.

The NPA Act (Cap N126 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004) restricts and criminalises unauthorised erection, re-election, alteration, extension, ownership or occupation of a jetty in or on an approach to a port, except under and following a license granted by the authority.

Reports have it that about 276 jetty facilities are dotting Nigeria’s waters, many of them operate without regulatory approval.

It is believed that the unlicensed facilities are partly responsible for illicit arms smuggling and other forms of economic sabotage resulting in enormous loss of revenues by the government while posing high-security risks.

Sources within NPA revealed that the authority has so far written some letters, two from Tin Can Island Port and one from its headquarters in Marina, directing MEDLOG Terminal to close operations at the jetty but the directives had met brick walls.

It was gathered that the Executive Director Marine and Operations of NPA, Onari Brown, also visited the jetty and took note of all the anomalies in the environment, with no follow-up action taken by the body.

In the same vein, the Presidential Standing Committee on Private Jetties (PSCPJ) had visited the facility but was unable to enforce compliance owing to the strong backing the company enjoys from the political arena.

Also, in January 2022, the Committee presented a report and compendium of private jetties in Nigeria to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi.

Amaechi, while receiving the document promised that the report would be summarised and presented to the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

Meanwhile, the stevedoring company nominated to the terminal by NPA, MICURA Stevedoring Company and its dock labour, were allegedly chased away by MEDLOG staff in 2021.

The terminal, according to sources, prefers to operate without the Federal Government’s presence at its jetty. Sources told The Guardian that this action possess a grave danger to the country’s national security as the lack of government presence at the jetty could lead to the importation of arms and ammunition through the facility.

A reliable industry source told The Guardian that the NPA officials are unable to implement its directive against its operation.

“These are shameful acts that make the foreigners laugh at us in our own country, they take advantage of this.
“The terminal is still struggling to get licensed, the jetty has not been completed, and the NPA wrote to the operators three times that the jetty should be shut down but the agency lacks the power to implement it.

“The jetty is collapsing and was not fixed with fenders. The jetty has been dilapidated but the terminal operators ignored NPA. The authority had equally sent MICURA Stevedoring Company to the jetty but they refused to accept the indigenous company. Rather, they chose to make use of their own private stevedoring company,” the source said.

The Chairman of MICURA Stevedoring Company, Michael Ubogu, confirmed that the terminal operator prevented the company from operating at the facility despite being appointed by NPA to work at the jetty in August 2021.

He stated that at the moment the stevedoring company is trying to seek a political solution to the impasse with MEDLOG Logistics over control of the jetty.

“We have a contract that was given to us by NPA, due process was followed, we have a contract for 10 years and the company that is working at the jetty under NPA is refusing a legally registered stevedoring company with all the whole accreditation and certification to work on a jetty it was allocated.

“It is not peculiar to us alone, it is happening to a lot of companies where NPA allocates them to a jetty and the people would refuse them to work, nobody is saying or doing anything about it.

“We keep writing letters back and forth, sometimes the letters don’t see the light of the day, sometimes, you have to look for a way of finding a political solution to it. In this country, if you are not careful, you would not know whom you are stepping on, you don’t know who knows who, and due processes are not being followed.

“After their refusal, we have reported back to NPA. At the moment, we are sitting down to have a conversation, let’s just wait and see what comes out of that conversation,” he said

When The Guardian contacted the Managing Director of MSC Shipping Nigeria, Andrew Lynch, through phone call, he debunked the allegation that the company was operating without license from the government agency.

“Basically this is an allegation and the matter is with our lawyer. I don’t want to say much about it, but you can take me on the record that the jetty has NPA approval to operate and the stevedoring company is approved by NPA to operate at the jetty,” he said.

When contacted, the NPA Port Manager, Tin Can Island Port, Buba Jubril, said all the government-approved jetties are on the authority’s shipping position, adding that he is not aware of this particular jetty.

“MEDLOG Logistics is a known brand, we see their trucks on our roads, but I am not aware that they operate a jetty,” he said

The port manager said, although he is still new at the port, he promised to do some further findings on the matter.
RECALL that in February 2022, the Nigerian Importers Integrity Association (NIIA) had called on NPA and other relevant agencies including the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) to halt the activities of unregulated private jetties and oil service centres that have converted their facilities to container terminal.

The President of the association, Godwin Onyekazi, alleged that some private jetties operating on the Kirikiri channel and oil service facilities now engage in handling containers.

He said hundreds of empty containers are loaded from unlicensed jetties on the Kirikiri channel onto big barges, which then discharge these containers in neighbouring countries.

He, however, noted that it was not clear who licensed these barge operators and the jetties and if they are registered with all relevant authorities and are paying the statutory dues to NPA and all other governmental agencies.

“This trend is dangerous, as it poses serious economic and security implications for Nigeria. Who licensed the jetties as container terminals? Who is monitoring their activities? Nigeria is so volatile now that we cannot afford this sort of lapses in our ports operation.

“Unscrupulous persons try to beat the various economic and security checks put in place at the main ports where all the security agencies are present. Can you then imagine what will be happening in jetties that do not have strong regulatory and security mechanisms? This not to talk of the safety aspect, which is neglected,” Onyekazi said.

The General Secretary, Association of Bonded Terminal Operators of Nigeria, Haruna Omolajomo, accused the Federal Government of paying lip service to the policy of local content.

He said that while the government has not taken the promotion of local content seriously, it is affecting the indigenous way of doing business in the country.

Omolajomo said this has paved the way for manipulation and illegalities that are being witnessed in the maritime industry, unlike what is operating in other countries.

“You would find most of these foreigners as clearing agents, terminal Operators, jetty terminal operators. Most of them are involved in illegal businesses and evading taxes and levies that are supposed to accrue to government purses. One must add that these foreigners have few powerful Nigerians as their aide. The worst part is that Nigeria benefits little from these chain of illegality,” he said.

He said the risks foreign shipping companies impose on the economy, as well as the nation’s maritime industry, are too numerous.

Omolajomo noted that they bring in their personnel from their home country illegally without a permit to work in Nigeria, thereby denying Nigerians gainful employment.

He said the foreign companies don’t bother about the laws or regulations in the industry as they believe they can always buy their way out.

“Another risk is that they are not bothered with developing infrastructures in Nigeria. Their aim always is to milk our economy dry and siphon our money to their countries.

“Besides, the foreigners are not bothered with the basic social responsibilities of their hosts. Ordinarily, they are supposed to help the communities they are in to develop their infrastructure as a forum of social responsibility. They always tactically dodge this responsibility,” he said.

He said government needs to wake up from its slumber and put a conscious policy to enforce laws that will protect local content.

Omolajomo suggested that no foreigner should be allowed to have more than five per cent control of any business in the country, while the remaining 95 per cent should be owned by Nigerians, just like what is done in Ghana and Benin Republic.

He said government should regularly monitor and check the excesses of these foreigners and not allow them to own any jetty terminal or control any part of the ports in the country.