Saturday, July 20Nigeria's Authoritative Maritime News Magazine

Onne Port Without INTELS : Is this an omelette without eggs?

Managing Director NPA and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar

About twenty years, a handful of colleagues and I went on a visit to a mass of virgin swamp at Onne. We were taken on that visit by Engineer Wali Ahmed who remains in history as the best MD the Nigerian Ports Authority ever had . The visit was a follow up to an MoU the NPA had entered into with NICOTES Nig Ltd on a Build , Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. It was a mass of very difficult terrain isolated by ponds. We had to park our buses several meters away to enable us access the land by foot. My colleagues and I wondered why any right-thinking businessman would take such a risk in ploughing his hard earned resources in a venture which to many of us did not look realistic. But these officials looked optimistic as they took time to explain the great potential this virgin forest had in stock for both the NPA and NICOTES. But 20 years down the line , this investment has grown in leaps and bounds and bringing in its wake great prospects and opportunities for Nigeria and her citizens.

For instance, even though the Federal Lighter Terminal (FLT) was already on ground, it constituted a tiny fraction of the vast expanse of land that had been acquired for port and logistics operations. With increased activity in the logistics services sector, a name change became necessary and NICOTES became known as Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) providing port facilities such as Pipe rack, Stacking Area, Warehouse, Industrial Bonded Area, Jetty and office facilities.

INTELS also provided dedicated equipment such as cranes, forklifts, Pipe handlers, Generators, Trucks and personnel to handle such specialised equipment. With time, INTELS built the Federal Ocean Terminal (FOT) to cater to the upsurge in Oil and Gas activities. It set up subsidiary companies for cargo handling services to the oil and gas sector in the three logistics bases of Onne, Warri and Calabar.

INTELS level of expertise and activities soon changed the Onne waterfront from a backwater frontier to an international logistics centre covering West and Central Africa. As a major player in the port industry, NPA could certainly not muster the personnel to handle major pilotage and bare-boat services in the Onne axis so there was need to enter into an understanding with INTELS to carry out the work. At mutually-agreed terms, this relationship between NPA and INTELS flourished for several years until the coming of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in 2014. The policy simply directs that all monies collected by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and third party companies should be paid into the TSA which is domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.

Upon assumption of office as Managing Director of NPA in July 2016, Hadiza Bala Usman, in her maiden meeting with her management, promised to make NPA a model government agency by blocking all revenue leakages in the system and also ensure that the TSA policy was fully complied with. As a major player in the sector, a monopoly of sort, INTELS disobeyed the directive, opting rather to keep the monies, deduct its commission and pay the balance to NPA. This arrogant attitude did not sit well with madam MD who repeatedly urged INTELS to tow the path of wisdom and comply. Apparently, after several failed attempts to get INTELS to change its mind, Usman reported the matter to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) for advice. The advice was not long in coming: terminate the contract! So ended the long-standing relationship between NPA and INTELS which lasted for more than two decades.

In response to the contract brouhaha, chairman of INTELS, the Italian-born Gariele Volpi flew into the country from his base in Europe and tendered an apology to the government, promising to abide by all extant rules and regulations governing the business. Government followed suit with the revocation of expatriate permits to INTELS staff and their subsidiary companies, giving them up till November 30, 2017 to leave the country or be deported. This rather bizarre approach to business in a democracy had been largely condemned by stake holders who see the measure as aimed at INTEL’s owner, Atiku Abubakar, who has declared his intention to run for president in 2019.
Without much ado, we can opine that Onne Port without INTELS is like making omelette without breaking eggs!