Endless War Against Illegal Jetty Operations

Over the years, illegal use of jetties had become one of the numerous avenues through which the nation’s economy is bled dry. Apart from the estimated N45trillion being lost annually in freight or shipping costs, the nation is believed to be losing trillions of naira annually to illegal jetty operations.

Jetties, which are mini-seaports, are licenced for specific operations ranging from industrial fishing activities to trans-shipment of consignments belonging to multinational firms, the government or even private individuals for ease of operation. The over 75 licenced jetties in Nigeria, owned by government agencies, fully have the presence of various security agencies that regulate the seaports.

The security agencies include the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Directorate of Naval Intelligence (DNI), State Security Service (SSS), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Illegal jetties, however, do not have the presence of security operatives to regulate their activities. Hence, their illegal actions have been contributing substantially to the insecurity in the country as they provide the platform for the discharge of arms and ammunition imported unlawfully into the country.

A few weeks ago, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) discovered another illegal jetty in Kirikiri area of Lagos where illegal discharge of petroleum products has been going on. The discovery shocked operatives of the DPR because it was made at the Union Dicon Salt jetty. Four barges filled with Automotive Gas Oil (AGO), popularly known as diesel, were discovered and impounded by the DPR’s monitoring team.

The DPR’s manager in charge of downstream operation, Wasiu Sayebo, who led the team, said his men, following a tipoff at the Kirikiri and Ibafon jetties, discovered two abandoned ships, pumping machines, gallons and places where illegal products were stored. “We suspect AGO as the content of the gallons because we have seen the barges and the tools they (the criminals) used in working.” Mr. Sayebo also noted that the team discovered a fishing company that had a barge with which it carried out oil bunkering.

A week before the Kirikiri discovery, the agency had shutdown two barges in Marina axis of Lagos laden with AGO of about 2million litres and three abandoned ships used for illegal operations.

Curiously, government response to these unlawful operations has not gone beyond the establishment of committees. No decisive action has been taken to checkmate the illegal operators; hence, the perpetrators have continued to operate without hindrances and with more people joining the illicit business.

Even with the reports and recommendations of many of the committees against illegal jetties, the problem has remained intractable largely because of lack of political will by government to implement recommendations or confront the ‘powerful’ owners of the jetties.

The Committees (1999–to-date)
Since 1999, illegal jetty operations have been identified as a major threat to the economy and security of the nation. On assumption of office as a democratically-elected president in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo promptly instigated the inauguration of an inter-ministerial committee to take a thorough inventory of all jetties in the country for proper monitoring.

The Presidency’s letter to the Ministry of Transport said this had become necessary in view of the “overflow of arms and ammunition into the country through the porous borders and private jetties which abound especially in the Niger Delta area of the country.”

Following the directive, a committee was constituted. At the end of the committee’s audit/inventory which lasted several months, a lot of sordid details were unearthed concerning private jetty operation in Nigeria. Significantly, the committee observed that many of the private jetties were operating without licenses and this result into loss of revenue for the government since the jetties were being used as landing pads for the smuggling of prohibited high duty goods, illegal arms and ammunition as well as massive theft of crude and petroleum products.

Speaking specifically on loss of revenue at the jetties, the report noted that most of the jetty operators were not paying statutory revenue to the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the National Maritime Authority now Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

Based on these observations, the committee recommended the immediate revocation of the operating licenses of private jetties. Few months later, precisely March 2001, the federal government (FG) responded as the then Minister of Transport, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, announced the revocation of the 276 identified private jetties across the country.

Meanwhile, despite the action of the FG, activities continued at the jetties unhindered with operators becoming more defiant and ruthless in their nefarious activities. Meanwhile, as jetty operators continued their defiance of the ban order, in 2004, the Federal Ministry of Transport again issued a public notice on illegal jetty operations. The notice which was signed by the Permanent Secretary tersely reiterated that the ban on private jetties operations was still in force and called on all relevant security agencies to ensure compliance.

However, some operators alleged that government’s pronouncement would not allow vessels carrying petroleum products to berth at legal jetties, thus a looming fuel scarcity was foreseen. Strangely, the government responded by constituting a standing committee and mandated it to look at issues concerning reopening of all jetties deemed to be vital to the economy.

More Committees
The setting up of committees to engage in unproductive battle with private jetty operators did not end with the Obasanjo administration. In 2008, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua set up a 12-man task force on private jetties and midstream discharge headed by one Commodore D.J. Ezeoba.

Those who thought that Commodore Ezeoba’s task force would finally terminate the economic and security-related crimes at the jetties were again disappointed. This was evidenced by the inauguration of another committee on private jetties and midstream discharges in September 2010 by the then Minister of Transport, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman.

In October the same year, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), worried by the huge revenue losses to private jetty operators and the danger inherent in their operations, issued a public notice evoking the provisions of Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA). According to the notice, the provision of Section 12 (1) and (4) of the Act Cap. C 45 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 stipulates the places of arrival or departure of ships to and from Nigeria for customs purposes. The places so designated are called customs ports.

The notice went further to enumerate “not approved customs ports” in the country in line with the provisions of the law. These include: Ladol Jetty, Apapa; Lister Flour Jetty, Apapa; Whispering Palms Jetty, Badagry; Hamadah Fisheries Jetty, Lagoon; Port and Marine Services Jetty, Apapa; Nigerdock, Tin Can Island; Julius Berger Jetty situated at Ajah, Ibafon and Ijora and so many others located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar.

The Service noted that unlawful berthing of ships from foreign countries at unauthorised locations pose security threats to the nation since it could lead to trafficking in arms and ammunition as well as huge losses of collectible revenue.

It therefore warned that it would arrest any ship or vessel from any foreign country that berths at any location other than the approved customs ports. “Both the master of the vessel together with any goods carried therein shall be treated according to law,” it warned.

The latest warning on illegal operations of jetties in the country came from the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan mid last year. While commissioning newly-constructed berths at Onne Port, President Jonathan reaffirmed the federal government order banning private jetties from receiving ocean-going vessels as well as midstream discharge of cargoes.

He said government would no longer condone security threat and huge loss of revenue to the practice of midstream and private jetties discharge of imports and loading of export cargo.

Revenue From Maritime
The maritime industry is regarded as the nation’s second revenue earner after oil and gas. Analysts, however, believe that the industry has the potentials to surpass the oil and gas sector if illegal operations in the system are properly stopped.

According to latest revenue performance released by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) last year, the NPA in 2010 generated  N79billion ($592.20milion), representing 15% increase over its 2009 figures of N69billion ($457.80million). NPA’s Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Adetola Atekoja while disclosing this, said the revenue profile of the agency has been on the rise since the ports concession exercise. Mr. Atekoja, however, said the revenue fell below the projection in 2010 due to federal government’s directive to NPA to give 50% revenue rebate to petroleum laden vessels.

The Nigeria Customs Service last year generated over N700billion. According to the Comptroller-General, Dikko Inde Abdullahi, the Service collected the sum of N602billion at the end of October as against the total revenue target of N596billion set for it by government. “As at the end of October 2011, the NCS has generated a total of N602billion into the Federation Account,” he said, adding that the Service would generate bonus revenue of over N100billion into government coffers by end 2011.

Prompted by this performance, the federal government in 2012 set a target of N1trillion for the NCS which the Service increased on its own to N1.2trillion.

The revenue performance of NIMASA and NIWA are never made public but maritime observers believe firmly that NIMASA should be able to generate up to N1trillion annually into government coffers if all the loopholes in the sector are plugged.

However, with glaring failure of the government in combating illegal operation of jetties, it is difficult to estimate how much the nation is losing through these criminal activities.

In a related development, Mike Igbokwe, a maritime lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said despite the opportunities in the maritime sector, Nigeria is yet to fully exploit it for the benefit of its citizens. Mr. Igbokwe blamed the situation on lack of capacity and the inability of the authorities to implement pieces of legislation that have been put in place to empower local operators. This failure, he lamented, has made it difficult to build the needed capacity to allow local operators control the sector or compete favourably with foreigners that have been dominating the sector for a long time.

He said because of the preferences given to foreign ship owners over the indigenous operators, Nigeria loses as much as N3.7trillion monthly, about N45trillion annually in freight or shipping costs that the country should be earning.

FACT BOX

  • 1999 –President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated an inter-ministerial committee to take a thorough inventory of all jetties in the country following the overflow of arms and ammunition into the country.
  • 2001 –The federal government announced the revocation of the 276 identified private jetties across the country.
  • 2004 –The Federal Ministry of Transport reiterated that the ban on private jetties. However, in the same year, the FG constituted a standing committee to look at reopening of jetties deemed to be vital to the economy.
  • 2008 –The late President Umaru Yar’Adua also set up a 12-man task force on private jetties and midstream discharge.
  • 2010 –Another committee was set up on private jetties and midstream discharges by the FG.
  • 2011 –President Goodluck Jonathan reaffirmed the FG’s order banning private jetties from receiving ocean-going vessels as well as midstream discharge of cargoes.

Unapproved Customs Ports:

  • Ladol Jetty, Apapa; Lister Flour Jetty, Apapa; Whispering Palms Jetty, Badagry; Hamadah Fisheries Jetty, Lagoon; Port and Marine Services Jetty, Apapa; Nigerdock, Tin Can Island; Julius Berger Jetty situated at Ajah, Ibafon and Ijora and so many others located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar.
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