While the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is trying to justify its alleged concession of the nation’s maritime security to a private firm owned by a former leader of Niger Delta militants, there have been several attacks on ships and security personnel in the region including the killing of a Commander of Military Joint Task Force and some soldiers in the area.
The recent attacks on the waterway came several months after a company belonging to a former leader of Niger Delta militants was awarded a multi-million Naira contract for marine security patrol by the Federal Government. The firm in question, Global West Vessel Specialist Agency (GWVSA), is allegedly owned by an ex-warlord Chief Government Ekpemukpolo aka Tompolo.
With the concession of the country’s maritime sector’s security to the former warlord, his company could not prevent recent pirate attacks targeted at vessels carrying petroleum products which were diverted to other ships to siphon the fuel for sale in the black market.
Meanwhile, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has so far claimed responsibility for some of the attacks including the killing of four policemen in Bayelsa state at a marine police checkpoint and the attack on an oil pipeline owned by Eni, an Italian firm. The group also claimed to be in contact with kidnappers of three foreign sailors in a pirate attack on a Dutch vessel off the Nigerian coast on March 1, 2012.
The Economic Confidential gathered that the Federal Government through NIMASA has actually awarded contracts worth billions of Naira to the former Niger Delta warlord to provide security and “enforce regulatory compliance and surveillance of the entire Nigerian Maritime domain.” The action came at a period the government was contemplating a withdrawal of a bill before the National Assembly that would have created a Maritime Security Agency (MASECA) to carry out the same functions now being outsourced to a private firm under a suspicious concessionary partnership.
An Abuja-based Media Trust Nigeria Limited (MTNL), Publishers of Daily Trust and its weekend editions, had published a detailed report on the transaction. The paper disclosed that the contract, totaling USD103.4 million (about N16bn) for strategic concessioning partnership between NIMASA and Messrs Global West Vessel Specialist Limited, was brought to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for approval in a memo dated January 5, 2012 with reference number EC (2012)24.
It was further revealed that the company is owned by one of the famous Niger Delta repentant warlords, whose records include killings, kidnappings as well as destruction of oil pipelines and installations before he was granted amnesty by late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua.
Other reports indicate that though Global West is owned by the ex-militant leader, the company is registered in some other persons’ names and the ex-militant’s name did not feature among the directors of the company.
The Economic Confidential also confirmed that the firm was registered on January 25, 2008 with a share capital of N25 million and had Romeo Itima and William Itima as the only shareholders and directors at incorporation. The ownership was soon expanded to six directors on April 17, 2009 by incorporating four additional names. They are Floatinci Charge, Emmanuel Wenekad Tupede-Ebi Diffa, Olugbenlia Leke Oyekole and Onbo Godswill Siempre Aye.
According to the report the “the Due Process office and Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) have certified the contract and the President also granted anticipatory approval for the project through a letter dated January 9, 2011 with reference number PRES/99/MT/61.”
In a document endorsing the contract, it stated that the project will last for an initial period of 10 years and renewable for two terms of five years each. It added that the National Security Adviser (NSA), in a letter dated May 19, 2011 said that the project has security implication.
Several weeks after the approval of the controversial deal, the Director General of NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi recently responded to the allegation by claiming that the signed N16 billion concession agreements with the company was aimed at reducing the worrisome act of pirate attacks, bunkering and other forms of illegalities on the waterways.
He told a stakeholders’ forum that due to the vastness of the country’s coastal areas of about 200 nautical miles, it has been difficult for the agency to adequately secure the waterways owing to limited resources and lack of platforms.
He said NIMASA failed to properly address the problem of revenue leakages and security concerns on the coastline due to lack of resources and bureaucratic bottlenecks in the civil service which hindered the agency from enforcing the appropriate statutory laws. This, he said, was the reason NIMASA concluded plans to engage the private operator to provide the necessary platforms so that the agency will, in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy, effectively police the waterways.
Meanwhile the the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) had raised an alarm over the attempt by the government to hand over the nation’s maritime security to a private firm. The party wondered if the move by the government was part of an agenda being pursued by a group that had been championing parochial nationalism in the wake of the fuel subsidy debate.
The party in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Alhaji Lai Mohammed warned that “it is totally unacceptable – even unprecedented especially in a fragile federation as ours – for any government to hand over the security of its entire maritime domain to a private firm.”
The party further warned that it was unconscionable that a decision that would have far-reaching implications on trade, security, ports and shipping would be taken so lightly, without a rigorous national debate.
Lai Mohammed added that: “It is particularly dangerous for a country like Nigeria, where 70 per cent of all her resources – including oil – are on water. The security implications are so grave that no nation seeking to remain one, indivisible entity will try it. It takes the provision of maritime security out of government’s direct control, and encroaches on the role of the military (the Navy in this case) to protect the territorial integrity of the nation.”
Some of the supporters of the deal told the Economic Confidential that since the company secured the contract for pipeline surveillance in the Niger Delta region, the activities of oil bunkerers and crude oil theft had reduced. They claimed that the owner of the company, knowing those involved in the economic sabotage had warned some of them to desist from the nefarious activities, while the stubborn ones were being dealt with.
The sources also argued that that the partnership became necessary because the government was unable to raise over $100 million needed to be invested over a 10-year period for the provision of the requisite operational platforms. They added that the concession would create about 3000 job opportunities and that the government could generate N125 billion over the concession period.
General Tompolo whose real name is Government Ekpemupolo and alleged founder of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) was declared wanted for his group’s massacre of soldiers in Gbaramatu Kingdom in Warri South-West in 2009, before he was pardoned after embracing the Federal Government amnesty programme.
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