Stakeholders in the nation’s maritime sector have called on the federal government to abolish the tax on full duty paid equipment, stressing that the policy was undermining local operators and favours foreign shipping companies.
The stakeholders made the call at a meeting with the theme: “Shipping Policy: A Catalyst for Maritime Growth,” put together by the Nigerian Chambers of Shipping (NCS), held in Lagos recently.
Speaking on the challenges faced by local operators on behalf of other players, the Chief Executive Officer of Marine Platforms Limited, Mr. Taofik Adegbite, said the law was made to stop colonial entities from taking their equipment out of Nigeria arguing that the law is no longer relevant to modern trend.
Adegbite said: “Section 8 schedule 6 of the Customs and Excise Act states that full duty paid equipment cannot be re-exported unless it is meant to go and do repairs. Not sounding to be too ethical, some of us have worked in Ghana, Equatorial Guinea, Togo and the Congo. You have vessels that are of course are multinational in nature, we did the right thing, the equipment are man properly so they can work anywhere, those are foreign exchange earners but you have the customs asking for tariff, which means we have to now go and do service to avoid been taxed.
“And I reckon the drafters of the law at the time wanted to stop the colonial masters from taking their equipment out of Nigeria. However, we can see now that it is no longer relevant with modern trend. So you can see that operators and challenged, constrained and locked down by the law unless you lie or have maintenance to do to avoid been taxed. AS it is today, if anyone called us from outside Nigeria for work we cannot go because we are constrained by the law.
“How do you make it easy for the operators here, you do a win-win with them, there are instances where they have low utilization, wherein the tonnage you have for them is so big for what they want to do at the time. What you do is tell them your low periods or go seek assignment elsewhere mindful that an international oil company (IOC) like Eni has a very great opportunity in Ghana. It means Eni Milan will be looking at it is cheaper to move equipment from Nigeria than bring it from Europe.”
He stressed the need for more private sector investment in the shipping industry, adding that what was happening now in most maritime countries was that national interest encapsulates the private sector essence, which is profitability.
“If we do not have that nationalist mind-set there will be absolute opportunism and in the Nigerian situation, the country will be raped blind, the rich will be so rich and the poor will be so poor. So we need to start looking at what the private sector can do. We need to start going into the various policies and looking at execution. There are enough of the strategies and policies and emphasis are not laid on execution,” he added.
He stated that the talk around a national shipping line will not work because we are not sufficiently nuanced in some of the things we talk about as a country.
“There was an issue around sufficient cargo for the national shipping line if the Cabotage Fund were used to develop the shipping line. If you understand the way the container cargo of the Maersk of this world works, you cannot have enough cargo to put on a ship to go out of Nigeria and break even as a business. As long that it cannot happen, the shipping line will die a natural death from start, “he said.
On his part, human rights activist and maritime lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, insisted that the Nigerian maritime industry could generate N7 trillion annually because of its huge potential.
“From the discussion here you can see that the potential is so huge. Ghana is now taking over from Nigeria as the shipping hub, even in the aviation sector, because I work in both sectors, Togo is now the hub for airlines like Emirates.”