By Godwin Oritse
PRIVATE jetty operators have continued to flout the directive stopping Mid-stream discharge of oil and gas cargoes thereby short-changing the authorities of accurable revenue.
Although, there are currently 107 private jetties across the country, only nine designated Customs ports are allowed to handle container operations.
In statement signed by a maritime stakeholder, Emmanuel Ugorji, said that apart from the nine designated Customs ports across the country, there are 47 private jetties in Lagos, 32 private jetties in Port Harcourt in River State, 23 private jetties in Warri in Delta State and another five private jetties in Calabar in Cross River State.
Ugorji explained that with the number of these of port and private jetties, the country has no reason not to reap maximum benefits from the sector.
According to Ugorji, “the maritime sector in a country like Nigeria, with large population and vast water bodies is seen as a cash cow that is only second to the oil sector judging by the volume of trade and the accruing financial benefits to the government of such nations.”
He suggested that all the Federal Government needed to do over the years to sustain collectable revenue inflow from transportation, berthing and cargo discharge of vessels was to enforce the policies that have been in existence for many years, boost economic activities in the sector as well as ensure that regulatory agencies enforced rules and regulations without compromise.
The maritime expert noted that Nigeria has a set of good polices guiding the conduct of players in the sector but that the challenge has been the impunity with which operators, especially owners of private jetties collaborate with shipping companies and importers to flout these regulations.
The situation, according to him, is further compounded by the low political will of successive regimes to ensure compliance.
A circular signed by the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and addressed to the Minister of Transport he stated “I have been briefed on the illegal use to which private jetties are being put nationwide.
“The illegal activities being carried out at these jetties present major risks to the nation and therefore cannot be allowed to continue.“You are to take immediate steps to close all private jetties by revoking the registration licenses of their operations’’.
Also commenting on the development, a former Minister of Transport Mr. Emeka Okechukwu said that there had been several memos on the “Stoppage of Mid –Stream Discharge of Cargo’’ in which he said `that the government was duely informed that it was currently losing huge revenue as a result of the unwholesome practice of some shipping companies in collaboration with unscrupulous public officials in the maritime Sector’’.
Obasanjo further stated that “In order to put a stop to them, I hereby direct that mid-stream discharge of cargo should cease forthwith, ‘’
In a follow-up letter, Abdullahi Nyako, the Principal Secretary to the then Vice President forwarded a circular dated June 23rd, 2002 to the Minister of Transport and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, reminding them of the Presidential letter on the stoppage of mid-stream discharge of cargo and the need to enforce compliance.
Also in move to further stop the issue of Mid-stream discharge, the then Minister of Finance, Nenadi E. Usman in February of 2007 sent a circular directing the NCS boss to stop the illegal activity.
The adamant private jetty operators who have been desperate to play in the big league by directly receive vessels from foreign waters and discharging their cargoes while the Federal Government continue to lose revenue.
Ugorji, however called on the new Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amechi to take up the challenge posed by terminal operators in the smooth running of transactions in the maritime sector with a view to ensuring that sanity is restored.