By Ayo Lawson
Nigerians and the international business community were shocked in late 2019 when the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) reportedly sanctioned the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics (LADOL), operator of LADOL Free Zone in Lagos for shortchanging the federal government to the tune of N16 billion.
NPA had late last year accused LADOL of economic sabotage and revoked its land lease agreement for violating the terms of the land lease at Tarkwa Bay, near Light House Beach in Lagos.
NPA revoked the lease via a letter dated November 14, 2019 and addressed to the Managing Director of Messrs Global Resources Management Limited (GRML), the parent company of LADOL.
The letter, signed by NPA’s General Manager in charge of Land and Asset Administration, Mr. Yusuf Ahmed accused LADOL of subleasing 11.2426 hectares of land out of the total 121 hectares leased to it at outrageous amount of money without recourse to NPA.
NPA accused LADOL of collecting $45 million (N16.2billion) from a new tenant for the 11.2426 hectares of land for which it paid only $524,105 (N37.73 million) to NPA.
Following these infractions, NPA terminated the lease agreement.
However, NPA also granted a fresh lease under new terms to LADOL for 5.7574 hectares of developed land and 69, 2874 hectares of undeveloped land.
LADOL ignored the weighty allegation for several months and did not explain why it collected rent from a tenant for a small portion of land for which it (a caretaker) paid only N37.7million to the landlord (NPA).
However, the company appears to have found its voice in the press in June 2019, when it claimed that it had bypassed NPA (its landlord) and successfully got presidential approval nullifying NPA’s sanctions.
Following this display of what maritime stakeholders described as arrogance, the stakeholders have reportedly called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate NPA’s allegation.
Rather than voluntarily submit to the EFCC to clear its name of the weighty allegations by the NPA, LADOL told barefaced lies against reputable investors.
First, LADOL falsely claimed that it is the landlord in the LADOL Free zone, when it is actually the caretaker while the NPA, which represents the federal government, is the landlord.
Second, LADOL claimed that before 2013, the LADOL Free Zone was fully operational, with established and functional facilities to attract investors.
This claim was also found to be a blatant lie as the zone was a swamp with no facilities to attract investors, except its strategic location in Lagos.
Can LADOL name the investment that had existed in the zone before 2013?
Indeed, it can be verifiable that up till today, the only serious investment in the zone is the fabrication and integration yard, which LADOL acknowledged was built by a foreign investor as a “contractor”.
Third, LADOL claims to be a champion of local content, when it is has never done any serious business in the zone, except to provide water, electricity and boat services for any investor that comes into the zone to promote local content.
With workforce of less than 30, LADOL is not known to have executed any fabrication or construction projects for either the oil industry or the maritime sector so as to give Nigerians the opportunity to develop their capacity and be gainfully employed.
The free zone operators merely just acts as a caretaker of an undeveloped swamp that is waiting for investors to develop.
So, where are the jobs it has created or the projects it has executed to promote local content that it prides itself local content champion?
In fact, instead of encouraging reputable foreign construction giants to invest in the zone and provide employment to Nigerians, it has been reported in the media that it frustrated American Africoat out of Nigeria and attempted to frustrate global shipbuilding giant, Samsung Heavy Industries of Nigeria (SHIN) out of Nigeria with its highhandedness and multiple litigations.
This writer gathered that the reason SHIN refused to leave Nigeria is its faith in the Nigerian government.
The fifth lie is that LADOL claimed that a foreign investor suddenly seized its land when it was NPA that legally allocated just a mere 11.24 hectares to the investor, and reallocated over 70,000 hectares back to LADOL.
But if LADOL (a caretaker), can bypass NPA (its landlord) and obtain purported presidential approval, what is wrong with a tenant bypassing the caretaker (LADOL) to sign a legally binding agreement with the landlord (NPA), which represents the Nigerian government?
Indeed, if shortchanging the government as alleged by the NPA and muzzling foreign investors qualify a company to be local content champion, then LADOL is indeed, a global-local content champion.
….Lawson, a maritime investment advisor, writes from Warri