By Godfrey Bivbere
The disagreement over lifting of oil and gas cargoes between the management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Concessionaires in Eastern ports has caught the attention of the National Assembly as it has directed the NPA to maintain the ‘status quo’ in its dealings with the operators.
The disagreement stems from the restriction placed by the NPA on the kind of cargoes that can be received at the ports in the east by the terminal operators.
While the ports located in Lagos seemed to be operating without any hindrance, this is not the case with those in the east as one of the operators, Integrated Logistics Services Nigeria Limited (INTELS) claimed its terminals are the only ones given statutory approval to receive what it called “oil and gas cargoes” to the consternation of other operators, particularly Ports and Terminal Operators Nigeria Limited (PTOL).
Apparently aggrieved by the definition of “oil and gas cargo” INTELS, PTOL, which is the concessionaire of Terminal A, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the oldest port in the country, took its case to the National Assembly.
PTOL which remains one of the only wholly indigenous companies in port operations in the eastern zone said its complaint to the National Assembly was hinged on a directive by NPA streamlining its operations in terms of what kind of cargo that can be discharged in its terminal.
It argued that going by NPA’s directives as contained in circular number EP/AGM/OPTS/034/ dated March 18, 2013 and a letter reference T. 0160/8.103/C2/T4/431 dated July 25, 2012 from the Federal Ministry of Transport, it will no longer be in a position to meet its statutory roles and regulations, especially its obligations to the banks that provided the funds for its operations.
At a public hearing organised by the House Committee on Marine Transport, PTOL Managing Director, Mrs. Elizabeth O. Ovbude, wondered why the implementation of the directive was limited to the ports located in the eastern zone.
PTOL also wondered why its competitors, particularly Integrated Logistics Services Nigeria Limited (INTELS), will allegedly arm twist the Federal Ministry of Transport and NPA to have an edge in the kind of cargo it can handle in its terminal. It contended that the move has given INTELS an “undue advantage” in the handling of cargo in the eastern zone.
In their separate presentations, representatives of INTELS defined what it called “oil and gas cargoes” as opposed to general cargoes. They also gave reasons for their stand on the matter just as they took a step further to enumerate their strides over the years. As if taking a cue from INTELS, NPA also toed the same line.
Its Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Mr. David Omonibeke, who represented the Managing Director, Alhaji Habib Abdullahi, gave reasons why the directive was given to PTOL. It also laboured to convince members of the committee on why it had to take the position it took.
In his contribution, Lagos based maritime lawyer, Mr. Michael Igbokwe, SAN, also flawed the position of INTELS on the matter, even as he adduced reasons why the House leadership must do everything possible to protect the interest of the indigenous terminal operators in the eastern zone.
He argued that the removal of certain types of cargo from coming to Port Harcourt port will negate the massive investment the firm has already put on ground and make it unable to meet its financial obligations to the federal government and financial institutions from which funds were raised to provide what he called “world class infrastructure.”