By Ebuka Oko
The League of Maritime Editors and Publishers, LMEP, weekend, condemned the attack on the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, at the National Assembly by hoodlums suspected to be protesting the recent decision of the authority to dismantle the Secure Anchorage Area, SAA, contract arrangement.
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Usman had gone to the Senate on an invitation to participate in the Investigative Hearing on the activities of Ocean Maritime Solutions Limited, OMSL, and other security agencies at the Safe Anchorage area in Lagos.
She had, in a petition to the National Assembly, said that she was ambushed at the exit door of the Senate and threatened after attending the investigative hearing.
In a press statement signed by the President, Kingsley Anaroke and Secretary-General, Francis Ugwoke, the Association said such attack inside the National Assembly was shocking and should not be swept under the carpet.
Describing the incident as a national disgrace, the association called the Senate leadership to investigate those behind the attack and bring them to book, adding that it was the duty of the lawmakers to provide security for chief executives or other highly placed Nigerians visiting the Chamber for a public hearing.
According to the association, except the Senate rises up against such an attack, in future, it will be an excuse for some Nigerians and indeed chief executives to shun invitations to the Upper Chamber during public hearings.
The statement says, “First, we wish to condemn the attack on Madam Usman. It is wicked. It tells Nigerians how bad the nation is degenerating. How can such a thing happen on the floor of the National Assembly, few steps away from where a public hearing is holding? The Senate needs to rise and investigate this matter because of the obvious implications.”
The association also argued the position of the NPA management-led by Usman on dismantling the SAA was for the sake of national interest and the economy.
The statement explained that the decision considered the huge amount being charged vessels using the anchorage area which has a lot of implications.
Besides, the association pointed out that the duty of protecting vessels calling at the nation’s waters was the statutory responsibility of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA.
NIMASA on the other hand, the association said, has also over the years engaged the Nigerian Navy with equipment and huge resources to carry out this assignment.
At a time when the federal government is preaching the need to reduce the cost of doing business at the nation’s ports, the association said this was simply a contradiction in practical terms of what government preaches.
The association further explained that this was more so since ship-owners or their multinational representative agents would in turn introduce other charges to recover what is spent on SAA for security of their vessels.
The association observed as worrisome NPA’s revelation that its vessels were among those being used to provide security for vessels on the anchorage.
The statement added, “With revelations on how much is collected on a daily basis, monthly and annually, it is alarming how much is going to one company’s account for a job which should be the statutory responsibility of NIMASA and Navy.
“Unknown to many Nigerians, whatever is being billed ship-owners using the anchorage is also collected from Nigerians through high shipping charges which in turn will have a negative effect on the prices of goods in the market. At a time Nigeria is on a campaign for ease of doing business at the ports, the SAA is a glaring contradiction.
“We all know that NIMASA is spending heavily on anti-piracy and robbery at sea, including its efforts in the fight against the menace in the Gulf of Guinea. It is relying on the Navy for this. The agency needs to assume the full responsibility for what SAA is all about for which Nigerians are being ripped off and have become victims in terms of surcharges by ship-owners who, with the SAA arrangement, can readily defend such illegal charges.
‘‘For us in the League as the fourth estate of the realm, the party should be over now and we fully support the NPA on this matter.”
SAA arrangement should give way for NIMASA and Navy to do their statutory beat.
‘‘The association is aware from reports that vessels are charged $2,500 for the first day and $1,500 for other days for using the anchorage.
‘‘The duty of the company is to provide security for the vessels for the period that they will remain in the area.
‘‘With each vessel spending as long as 28-30 days before exiting the anchorage, it is huge revenue for the private company.
‘‘For instance, reports from NPA showed that of the 1,666 vessels which visited the Lagos ports alone for the first quarter of this year, a minimum of 55 per cent used the anchorage.
‘‘The company which started operations in 2014, according to a news report is believed to be netting an average of about, $133.28 million (N47.98 billion) yearly.’’