adplus-dvertising
Nigeria Newspapers

INVESTIGATION: How shipping firms failed to remit over N119b levies to FG

bshippingfirms

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE

At least three shipping companies, acting as collection agents for the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), have allegedly colluded with some management staff of the agency to evade the payment of over $79.9 million in revenue, equivalent to over N119 billion (at exchange rate of N1,505) to the federal government, an investigation and analysis of credible documents by the Daily Trust Saturday have revealed.

Our correspondent gathered that the shipping companies are Daddo Maritime Services Limited, Blueseas Maritime Services Nigeria Limited and Divine Marine Shipping Services Limited, which have failed to remit the statutory 3% levies, 2% cabotage surcharge, as well as offshore waste and sea protection levies to the federal government from 2004 to date.

Checks by our correspondent revealed that Daddo Maritime Services was founded in 1981, as the pioneer indigenous ship and tanker agency services provider in Nigeria.

It is owned by a former Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who is chairman. The outfit is a member of his Daddo Group of companies.

Blueseas Maritime Services Nigeria Ltd was incorporated on the 22nd of August 2003. Its present CEO/MD is Hon Chris Nkwonta, the member representing Ukwa East/Ukwa West Federal Constituency in Abia State.

Divine Marine Shipping Services Ltd commenced full operations in June 1998, initially operating as an oil shipping agency and then evolving to offer full shipping services.

Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) search for all the three companies came back negative.

However, in 2023, the CAC announced that it has commenced the sticking off the names of companies from the Register of the Companies for failure to comply with the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 to file up to date.

There are allegations that the companies have been diverting these levies for other uses. Sources within the maritime sector told Daily Trust that the debts owed the three companies were mostly from crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) exports and imports that have accrued for 20 years.

It was gathered that past efforts to get the entities involved to pay the amount owed had been rebuffed, despite the involvement of some security agencies.

Documents available to this newspaper showed that while Daddo Maritime Services Ltd owes the federal government about $34.5 million, Divine Marine Shipping Services Ltd owes about $11.8 million, while Blueseas Maritime Services Nigeria Ltd is indebted to the tune of about $33 million.

Further findings reveal that the three accused entities got mandate for the lifting of wet cargo from terminals such as Bonga Port, Bonny Port, Apapa Port

Abo Terminal, Agbami Terminal, Akpo Terminal, Ebok Terminal and many more to other areas, which sources from the shipping sector said are within cabotage trade.

Section 22(1) of the NIMASA Act 2007 has made it clear that the agency is charged with “Maritime Administration”, hence it has the responsibility to promote, regulate and administer public policies in the sector.

Though, inside sources at NIMASA said there have been concerted efforts by the agency to investigate and get the accused companies to pay the “colossal amounts”, such efforts had met brick walls, as none of those firms had been made to face the full wrath of the law.

A maritime expert, who asked not to be named, described the extent of violation of the NIMASA Act as “alarming”. He said the accused firms have accumulated substantial debts to NIMASA, “While also flagrantly violating provisions of the NIMASA Act since 2004”.

Sources said despite being referred to some security agencies, the companies have managed to evade accountability, often with the alleged protection of previous NIMASA management over the years, “and unpatriotic law enforcement officials”.

Another source in the maritime sector said that the failure to hold the companies accountable for their non-compliance with the provisions of the NIMASA Act represents a fundamental failure of leadership on the part of the agency’s management.

“It is unacceptable that the owners of these companies continue to enjoy lavish lifestyles while owing substantial sums to the government,”he said.

He stressed that any investigation must include a thorough reconciliation exercise focusing on the accumulated outstanding debt, under-declaration, and non-reconciliation of disputed bills, “All of which constitute clear violations of the NIMASA Act.”

However, another source from NIMASA said some of the accused firms have started paying up what they owed while some of those who have allegedly divested the funds have gone into hiding. Daily Trust Saturday could not independently verify this.

But a group of maritime experts, in

a letter dated April 15, 2024, addressed to the director general of NIMASA,

titled ‘Unsettled debts by shipping companies to NIMASA’, asked the current leadership of the agency to investigate the activities of the shipping companies and the entities charged with the responsibility of collecting revenue, on behalf of NIMASA from 2004 till date.

The letter, which was signed by Kayode Olatubosun, a maritime stakeholder, with office in Apapa, Lagos said: “The apparent impunity with which the companies operate suggests a systemic failure in oversight and enforcement by previous management regimes at NIMASA.”

He said: “We implore you to undertake a

comprehensive review of the debt profile of these delinquent companies to fully comprehend the extent of their financial delinquency. It is imperative that a thorough reconciliation exercise be conducted to accurately assess the debt, under declaration, and non declaration practices that constitute flagrant violations of the NIMASA Act,” the letter stated.

The experts urged security operatives to prioritise the matter with the urgency it demands and take decisive action to hold accountable those responsible for “defrauding the government.”

NIMASA, shipping companies react.

Daily Trust Saturday contacted the Head of Public Relations at NIMASA, Osagie Edward, who told our correspondent that the agency was currently investigating the allegations.

He said the current management team, led by Dr. Dayo Mobereola had put measures to overhaul the entire system to run effectively. According to him,

some of the measures put in place include blocking all areas of revenue leakages by reducing human interface in the operations of the agency.

“Investigations are ongoing, the outcome of which will be made public. Be assured that anyone indicted will be made to face the law, no matter how powerful he or she may be. This current management will not. encourage corruption, no matter whatever form it may assume,” he added.

Daily Trust Saturday contacted Blueseas, one of the accused shipping companies and its Managing Director, Franklin Nze who told our correspondent

that reconciliation is ongoing and that the outcome of the exercise will determine what the company owed.

Nze explained that the reconciliation had been ongoing since 2020, and that payment is being made to clear the backlog.

“Our company is a reputable organisation and will not short-change the government in whatever form.

There was a mix up and some people wrote to (the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) EFCC.

We were invited and we opened our books to them for scrutiny. While we were at the verge of reconciling the account, the same people wrote another petition to (the Department of State Services) DSS and we were again invited.

“We started the entire process again and it was at this juncture that a committee was set up with a view of.resolving the whole issue. An agreement was reached

on payment plans. As we speak, my management is working round the clock to liquidate the debt,” he said.

He explained that what might be delaying the whole process may not be unconnected to the recent.change of leadership at NIMASA, and that since the current management is new, it may be going through some of the agency’s records.

When contacted on phone, Mr. Kola Olapoju of Divine Marine and Shipping Services Ltd, later first admitted that their company was owing the government an unspecified amount, and was also frank about some of the allegations relating to alleged compromise by some NIMASA top officials.

Alapoju alleged those from NIMASA who initiated the deal have now retired and accused them of spreading the news. He said the affected shipping companies and agents who, on behalf of NIMASA collect revenue from vessels doing businesses in Nigeria remit a certain percentage into government accounts, according to the terms of the contract. He however alleged that any entity that refuses to do “business as usual” was removed as an agent.

“This fraud had been entrenched in the system for a very long time. Those who started it have retired and now it is we that they are holding,” he said.

Olapoju, however, later phoned our correspondent.and threatened to go to court if his client’s name or his was mentioned in our report. “I will advise that you should attribute the allegations and my responses to anonymous sources and not my client or me,” he said.

Daily Trust Saturday made several efforts to reach Daddy Maritime Services but was unsuccessful as the number of one Mrs. Dorcas, who is said to be the

spokesperson for the company failed to connect up to press time.

 

Join Daily Trust WhatsApp Community For Quick Access To News and Happenings Around You.

WATCH FULL VIDEO

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE