There are strong indications that the National Assembly may have shot itself in the foot following sharp the disagreement which is trailing the recent joint meeting between its two committees on marine transport and the minister of transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio who also led the chief executives of both Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) and Nigerian Shippers’ Council.
The meeting which held at the National Assembly penultimate week was the first between the legislators and the new minister since his appointment in December last year.
Although the meeting was specifically called by the law makers to assess the almost three-year old port concessioning deal, it turned out to be a theatre of intrigues as members of the marine committee of the Senate headed by Senator Gbemi Saraki took an obviously divergent position on port concession.
The position of the Senators became obvious when Senator Saraki came hard on the process leading to the 2006 port concession programme which was midwifed by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).
First to address the meeting was Senator Gbemi Saraki, who questioned the process that led to the port concession agreement and alleging that there were irregularities in the amount that was paid by the terminal operators.
She equally expressed dissatisfaction that the terminal operators have reneged on the part of the agreement which implies that they would bring in their investments.
She pointedly called for a review of the deal, alleging further that there has been insincerity on all fronts and that port concession is not favourable to Nigeria.
She further noted that the major interest of any government is to create opportunities for its citizenry to remain in business but regretted that “unfriendly charged by the concessionaires will drive Nigerians out of business.”
Also towing the line of Senator Saraki, a member of the committee, Senator Ayogu Eze questioned the rationale behind the clause allowing the concessionaires to increase charges, noting that action has contributed to the sky-rocketing prices of goods in the market.
Senator Eze consequently submitted that such an action most not be allowed to go unchecked. According to him, “any agreement that skewed in favour of foreigners against Nigerian is null and void.”
However sources close to the National Assembly committees confirmed to Shipping Position Weekly that the Senator Saraki committee was acting out a script and that there exists a sharp division between the Senate committee and the House committee headed by Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
It was equally confirmed that the House of Representatives does not share the position of the Senate on the concession deal and that what transpired at the meeting was not a consensus.
Our correspondent was told that apart from acting out a script, the stand of the Senate committee was informed by the fact that it had neither visited the ports nor met with stakeholders including the terminal operators and the agencies in the sector since the committee was constituted about two years ago.
“I want to assure you that they (the Senators) are acting from an uninformed position. There is nothing illegal in the port concession agreement or the process that led to it; it is a lease agreement which is allowed under the Port Act of 1954. The agreement with the terminal operators says “lease”, it will be absolutely impossible to revalidate the agreement or the Port Act backwards”, a source at the National Assembly told our correspondent in Abuja last week.
“The questions that we should be asking are these : Was the process leading to concession legal, was it transparent, did it achieve its objectives and have the terminal operators been doing what they are supposed to be doing?, another source at the Bureau of Public Enterprises told Shipping Position Weekly.