Transport Minister, Senator Idris Umar
The ongoing multi-billion dollar Ibaka deep seaport project in Akwa Ibom State is being threatened by claims from Rear Admiral Andrew Okoja (rtd), who claims that the original concept that gave birth to the project was his intellectual property.
Okoja, Chairman of Mercury Maritime Concession Company Limited, has threatened court action against the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the host government, Akwa Ibom State for violation of copyright of his intellectual property right for the project.
The retired admiral was said to have developed the concept while undergoing Senior Executive Course in NIPSS in 1993 for the development of a deep seaport in the eastern seaboard of Nigeria.
It was gathered that an indigenous strategic institution, its alumni association and Okoja are accusing the promoters of the Ibaka deep seaport project of appropriating the blue print of the seaport concept which they developed for the eastern seaboard without acknowledgment.
The project, it was gathered, was specifically designed to transform the eastern region into a maritime, energy, industrial, logistics and commercial hub of international repute.
But Okoja is alleging that project was surreptitiously diverted after a full-blown presentation was made to NPA, adding that the original institution where the research work was done, its author and developers were later sidelined from the entire project.
He alleged that the theft of the concept by a local/foreign firm was effected through the connivance of some unscrupulous staff of the Federal Ministry of Transport and NPA whose action he said misled the Minister of Transport into entering a tripartite agreement for the development of the deep seaport.
In a letter to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), dated August 10, 2012, his lawyers, Falana & Falana’s Chambers, demanded for the statutory intervention of the bureau on the matter.
Mr. Adedotun Isola-Osobu who signed the letter cited Section 5(n) and (o) of the Procurement Act 2007, which empowers the bureau to “prevent fraudulent and unfair procurement and where necessary, apply administrative sanctions; review the procurement and award of contract procedure of every entity to which this Act applies”.
The letter urged the Director-General of the BPP to use his good office to look into the issues raised with a view to preventing the unfair procurement of Okoja’s concept/project.
Okoja’s company, Mercury had also written to the Minister of Transport and the Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, to intervene in the issue, failing which his company will go to court.
It was gathered that unless the issue is amicably resolved, Okoja plans to go to court with other aggrieved persons, institutions and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC) against NPA and Akwa Ibom State.
In a letter to the Transport Minister dated February 6, 2012, Mr. Austin Udebu of Mercury Maritime Concession gave graphic details of the matter.
Udebu wrote: “While in Nigeria Institute of Police and Strategy Studies (NIPSS) Kuru-Jos undergoing a Senior Executive Staff Course in 1992-1993, the title of his thesis was ‘Developing Maritime Strategy for Nigeria’, a thesis that focused on ports development in Nigeria.
“The later perfection of this thesis whose seed was sown in the four walls of NIPSS culminated in a paper written by R/Admiral AOS Okoja (rtd) (our chairman) in 2007 to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua captioned ‘Port Development in Nigeria and the Proposed Lagos Mega City Nexus - A case for the Development of Bonny/Ifoko Port Complex’.
“This paper was referred to the Minister, Federal Minister of Transport by the presidency and the Senate President for necessary action.
“Consequently, he was invited by the ministry and the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) for further discussion.
“The first round of discussion with the FMT consisted of three separate meetings in which he was accompanied by members of our group; one was presided by an acting permanent secretary and the two others by top functionaries of the ministry.
“At these meetings, he made use of hydrographic charts and maps to defend the said paper. At the conclusion of these meetings, he was advised to formalise the registration of a company on whose platform our company was subsequently invited to make a formal presentation, first to NPA on the Tuesday, September 8, 2009 and thereafter to other Federal Government functionaries; a successful presentation adjudged as masterpiece.
“Our group, Mercury Maritime Concession Company further had a successful presentation made to the minister on October 22, 2009. Following this success, FMT referred our company to the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) wherein we were invited again to make a further presentation including one other appearance.
“Since July, 2010 to date, the forward movement of this project has been frustrated by series of rigmarole on the part of the FMT and its functionaries, NPA.
“This development prompted our letter to the FMT requesting the ministry to allow Bonny deep seaport project move forward.
“Our later investigations in the first quarter of 2011 revealed that our deep seaport concept/project had metamorphosed into a formal Federal Government policy to develop two deep seaports in Nigeria, one to be located in the Lagos axis while the other was to be located in the eastern seaboard of the country.
“In fact, it was through our effort (a maritime sub-committee member of Vision 20:2020) that the Bonny deep seaport and indeed a deep seaport concept for the eastern seaboard was admitted into vision’s programme of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Udebu in his letter said it was surprising to learn that the Ministry of Transport had entered into a tripartite agreement with Akwa Ibom for the Ibaka deep seaport, which is a contiguous state to Rivers State where Bonny deep seaport was proposed to be located.
Insisting that this was a clear case of theft of a subject developed through the seed of a research/study programme, he appealed to the minister to resolve the matter to avoid it becoming a subject of litigation.
Okoja has also personally written to the Secretary to the Federal Government, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim in a letter dated April 28, 2012, stating his case and seeking the intervention of the government on the matter.
When contacted, the Deputy Director, Press, Ministry of Transport, Yetunde Sonaike, appeared evasive on the matter. Although, our correspondent got her on the phone on more than two occasions, she claimed that there was poor network and could not talk. She also did not reply a text message sent to her on the same issue.
But another official of the ministry, who did not want to be quoted, said the ministry may not have received the letter of protest from Rear Admiral Okoja.
The official suggested that the rear admiral should forward the letter again to the maritime desk of the ministry for possible intervention of the ministry.
The official said that the proposal for the Ibaka deep seaport came from Akwa Ibom State, maintaining that Rear Admiral Okoja cannot be the only one who had such an idea.
Our correspondent, who also went to the NPA, which is engineering the deep seaport project met the General Manager, Public Affairs, Chief Michael Ajayi, who said the authority was not aware of the claim by the rear admiral.
The Ibaka deep seaport is a modern seaport that will be able to take bigger ocean liners, which cannot berth at some ports in Nigeria because of their shallow draught.
However, the business model for the port is not clear as NPA is still in discussions with foreign investors on the business model. The project, however, has suffered slow implementation in what may not be unconnected with the recent changes in NPA.