• NPA dismisses allegation, says company refused to remit $13m generated monthly to TSA

Eromosele Abiodun

The management of Nigeria’s oil and gas logistics giant, Intels Nigeria Limited, has accused the present management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) of deliberately frustrating attempts to address the issues raised by the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in the execution of its pilotage agency agreement.

Intels, in a statement made available to THISDAY Monday, said the issues arose because the pilotage agency agreement signed in 2010 did not envisage the TSA, and as such did not factor it in its implementation.

Intels and NPA have been at loggerheads, following the decision of the latter to terminate the pilot agency agreement that allowed the oil and gas logistics firm to provide boat monitoring and supervision pilotage services on behalf of NPA for seven years and collect revenue on its behalf.

THISDAY had exclusively reported that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), had written to the Managing Director of NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, on September 27, directing her to terminate the pilotage agency agreement with Intels, saying that the contract was illegal ab initio.

Malami in the said letter had stated that the agreement was in contravention of the Nigerian Constitution, especially in view of the implementation of the TSA policy of the government.
Based on the directive, Intels which was founded over three decades ago by Mr. Gabriele Volpi, an Italian national who also has Nigerian citizenship, and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, stands to lose several millions of dollars in commissions for the pilotage services.

But in its reaction to the termination of the agreement on October 10, Intels said the action was preposterous and the consequences highly injurious to the interests of Nigeria.
Intels gave NPA seven days from last Wednesday to reconsider the residual critical areas of their relationship and to agree, to the possible extent, on a common solution, failing which it shall head to arbitration.

In its statement Monday, Intels further revealed that it borrowed $1.4 billion (N428.4 billion) from banks to execute the agreement with the understanding that the debt would be offset from monies realised from the pilotage services paid directly to the banks.
Intels spokesman, Bolaji Akinola, said a series of meetings, letters and proposals on how to resolve the TSA imbroglio were rebuffed by Bala-Usman.

“Deliberate stumbling blocks were placed on the path of resolving the issues and this is indicative of a sinister motive,” Akinola said in Port Harcourt Monday.
Akinola said that on May 5, 2017, Intels sent a letter to NPA proposing the opening of a jointly signed account between the company and NPA on which the boat service revenues would have been directed, but the proposal, like many others, was rebuffed.

He also faulted claims by NPA that the contract was terminated based on the advice of the AGF.
“At what point are revenues eligible to be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund? NPA acting on behalf of the federal government entered into a profit sharing agreement with Intels. 72% of the revenue goes to NPA while 28% is for Intels.

“The objective interpretation of the constitution should be that the revenue due to the federation should be the 72 per cent due to NPA,” he said.
Akinola also said that NPA could not fault Intels in the execution of the contract, “which we handled most diligently”.

According to him, “Intels faithfully implemented the covenants of the agency agreement and also substantially boosted government revenue.
“We took the pilotage service from a revenue stream of a few thousand dollars per month to a multimillion dollars per month service, hence attracting the envy of many.”
The company also said the persecution it is currently facing is “rather unfortunate” and will certainly not stand the test of time.
The Intels spokesman said those who criticise the company’s operation are “either ignorant or mischievous” about the company’s monumental achievements and value addition to the Nigerian economy.

He said the present management of NPA is pandering to the antics of the company’s detractors at the expense of government revenue, huge investments and several jobs, contrary to the position of fairness and objectivity that it should have adopted.
“It is clear that there is more to all these than the TSA issue because all our attempts to resolve the TSA imbroglio hit a brick wall. There was no sincere or genuine desire to address the issue. What was evident was a clear case of giving a dog a bad name to justify hanging it,” he added.

However when contacted, a senior source in NPA said Intels was not being honest about the information made to the public.
He informed THISDAY that based on the TSA policy, Intels should have complied like all other contractors of NPA but it refused to do so.
“The first letter from NPA asking Intels to comply with the TSA policy and pay the revenue collected on our behalf with the Central Bank of Nigeria was written by the immediate past managing director of NPA. Ms. Bala-Usman was appointed a month later, so it is not true that she started this issue.
“Also, while we acknowledge that NPA is indebted to Intels, what the company was doing was to hold on to the revenue generated from pilotage agency agreement to offset our indebtedness for an entirely different contract altogether and this is not right,” he disclosed.

He explained that the other contract had to do with Intels’ construction of a $2.4 billion Onne 4B complex, an expansion programme of the company’s logistics base in Onne, Rivers State.
“But you cannot take the revenue of about $13 million monthly generated from the pilotage agency contract to repay yourself for another contract being handled on behalf of NPA. You can only do so if NPA gives the go-ahead for the debt to be offset in such a manner.

“So what we have right now is Intels refusing to remit a dime to the TSA designated account with the Central Bank of Nigeria and holding on to our 72 per cent of $13 million. This is wrong.
“Added to that, it was also wrong for Intels to suggest a special account in a commercial bank when the TSA policy expressly instructed that all government revenue should be paid to the central bank,” he said.

Continuing, he divulged that NPA had given a guarantee to Intels that it would get paid its commission of 28 per cent as stipulated in the pilotage agreement within seven days of receipt of invoices, but the company refused and held on to the money, “hence non-payment to NPA for eight months”.