Ship Owners Threaten to Sue FG over Missing N105bn Cabotage Fund

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Eromosele Abiodun

Ship owners in the country have called on the federal government to urgently put measures in place to unravel the mystery behind the $300 million (N108 billion) Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF) said to have disappeared from the coffers of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) between 2008 and 2015.

The umbrella body of ship owners, the National Ship Owners Association (NISA) at their annual general meeting (AGM) in Lagos wednesday unanimously agreed to engage the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi on the matter after which they will seek legal redress.

Also, they called on the federal government to immediately commence the disbursement of the $124 million (N44.64 billion) contributed by ship owners from 2015 to date.

Otherwise known as the Cabotage Act, the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act Number 0.5 of 2003, was enacted in order to place Nigeria in a vantage position to derive maximum benefits from the huge potential in the maritime industry.

In order to ensure its successful implementation, the Act also established the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF).

The management of the CVFF was put in the hands of Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory authority, NIMASA.

Amaechi had while speaking at a forum in Abuja recently accused ship owners of falling to demand their right when the funds were been frittered away by past management of NIMASA.

The minister said the money was spent on unsubstantiated projects and political patronage by the past administration.

However, when speaking with THISDAY yesterday, the president of NISA, Aminu Umar said the ship owners have decided to first engage the government before taking the matter to court.

According to him, “We have deliberated on the matter and we have set up a committee to find out how the money was spent, what it was spent on. Yes we know there is another $124 million or $150 million that was contributed between 2015 and now. But we have to first find out what happened to the last one that we contributed.

“We are going to make a presentation to the NIMASA management and engage the minister of transportation for him to also look at it and brief us. The truth is this funds belongs to our members, it is our contribution and not government money. So all members have the right to know what happened to their money.”

Speaking on the minister’s comment on the matter, he said, “what we want is accountability. What was the money spent on; this is people’s money we cannot just sit back and allow it to be swept under the carpet. If we know what the money was spent on then the next question will be, “was it spent under the guidelines, did they spend the money according to the law. If these questions are not answered then we take the next step to know why it was so”

Following relentless agitation by the Nigerian ship owners that the federal government should disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund in line with set down regulations, the Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside had recently said the agency would commence the disbursement in 2019.

He said the fund, which has increased to $124 million (N44.64 billion) and domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), would be disbursed as soon as the Ministry of Transportation concludes the review of the guidelines for disbursement.