“Oil theft is between the oil companies and the people in government”
“EFCC never told NIMASA that the vessels were seized”
It is a known fact that the once-celebrated contract between NIMASA and Messrs Global West Vessels Specialists has since broken down. But, in this interview with Oluyinka Onigbinde, the Managing Director of the company; Captain Winfred Itima for the first time, opened up on some of the salient issues leading to the present, even as he laments the plight of his company and its employees.
What is the update regarding Global West Vessels and the face-off with NIMASA?
We have not paid our workers for the past six years, so we are trying to beg NIMASA to see if they can pay us whatever belongs to us, so that we can pay our workers. We had a contract for 10 years, but three years into the contract, we had EFCC problem because of NIMASA and the case ended about three years ago in favour of Global West. We tried talking to them through letters but nobody responded. The vessels have been in the waters and just tied up since 2015. We have some crew onboard that are still working. We tried to maintain them for about a year but it got to a point where we do not have money to maintain them. We tried everything we could to maintain them but all to no avail. I am owing more than N3bn. We worked for nine months without NIMASA paying us. There are about 14 or 16 vessels, and you know how much it costs to operate those vessels 24 hours a day. We pay crew, we feed them, we buy diesel and maintained vessels for nine months and didn’t get paid. That is why we tired up the vessels since then.
But NIMASA couldn’t have continued with the Contract since the vessels were seized.
EFCC never told NIMASA that the vessels were seized and are now under their custody. We were working since December 2015, we went to EFCC in August or July and we were working till December 2015 before we stopped because we don’t have money to run the company. That was why we stopped, EFCC never told us to stop. EFCC never arrested these vessels. If they said it is the EFCC, then they should have a letter from EFCC telling them not to operate with the vessels. When I went to the EFCC, they told me we can use the vessels stating that they didn’t arrest them. It is NIMASA that has a problem with these vessels and the contract for those vessels is for 10 years. After 10 years, all those vessels belong to NIMASA, that is the contract. To be honest, nobody signed that kind of Public Private Partnership (PPP). The PPP agreement is ‘no-work no-pay’. This means, that if you don’t work past any benchmark, NIMASA has like seven or nine revenues they collect. Most of them are on safety issues. So if you fail on your safety issues, NIMASA will fine you, or like Cabotage or other things that they will collect money from. Those are the things NIMASA collects money from. There’s a benchmark for all these things and any month we don’t pass that benchmark, NIMASA will not pay anybody. That is how the contract is.
Were you meeting up with the benchmark?
Yes, we made up with many of the benchmarks, but for some, we couldn’t because of logistics, location of where we are and where to go. The operation is controlled by NIMASA, ours is to supply the platforms which are the vessels. We maintain crew and operate them 24 hours a day. With surveillance equipment on board both our office and the vessels. We give NIMASA information on which new vessels have come into Nigeria what it is doing and where it is. Those are the information we give to NIMASA. Then NIMASA will send his people out, to go and inspect the vessels. We are not security experts, we are just platform and information providers. We don’t provide security personnel. Every time you read in the papers that security companies are taken over by militants, but we are not security people. The security people on board are the Nigerian Navy, Air Force and Police. Those are the people NIMASA put on board as security people.
So Global West is not a security service provider?
No, we are not a security company. We are just to provide the platform and give them information which NIMASA cannot get on their own. If you go onboard today, there are Soldiers, Navy and security people on board, not we. We do not have any security personnel of our own. We do not have military people. The military is from the Nigerian government. Most times the media just portray us as security people but we are not a security company. We are platform and information providers. We provide platforms for NIMASA to operate and do their job.
Have you been engaging NIMASA and the public through the media to clear the misinformation about Global West?
Before the contract started, I was not in the country. I was in the United States. It was my younger brother and his friend that brought this contract. They came to bring me back to Nigeria saying they need me to help them for the operational side. That was why I came to Nigeria. That was my reason. At that time, even if we go to press conferences and tell journalists that on this job, we are not security people we are platform providers but unfortunately you’ll still see them write that Tompolo is the one taking the contract. Did you see Tompolo’s name at the Corporate Affairs Commission registration. Even when we went to court, they said it is part of Tompolo’s company but we argued it out that it is not for Tompolo.
Is Global West owned by Tompolo?
The company is not owned by Tompolo. This company is owned by shareholders and directors, it’s a limited liability; it is not owned by one person. So why are they saying it belongs to Tompolo. Tompolo’s name is different from that of Global West. This misinformation is always a problem in Nigeria. We are not a security company we are platform providers. We provide platforms and information for people to operate. Today if we are asked to give information on how much crude oil they load in Nigeria, we are ready to give you, including vessels coming into Nigeria. That is our job.
Do you have an idea why NIMASA stopped?
NIMASA didn’t stop us initially. The problem is that we worked for nine months without pay so we had to stop. According to the contract, they had to pay us every month but we worked for nine months without getting paid. We owe banks and private people and we cannot continue again. We wrote them saying we cannot continue for now until when they pay us; then we would start again. So by December 2015, we stopped. Now the company owes more than N3bn for supplies and other things. That is why I hardly answer the phone calls of people I don’t know. We owe some N100m, some N70m, some N50m just like that. Sometimes when they call me the headache is just too much for me. That is why I don’t answer calls from strangers’ numbers.
Have you been engaging NIMASA on how to offset some of these bills?
We have tried our best and nobody is answering us. Nobody is talking to Global West. No single person is talking to us. Our lawyers wrote a lot of letters to them(NIMASA) stating that we won the court case and sought a way forward, but nobody replied to the letters.
And now, some of the boats are sinking?
One sank last month. It came to a time I had to bring in my personal money and borrowed Credit cards from the United States to take care of these vessels. It seems as I am going to die with these vessels because I don’t have money again. We have been writing NIMASA that two of the vessels are about to sink and they should do something about it. We wrote NIMASA and the Ministry of Transportation. Nobody replied to us until that vessel sank and there are more coming. There is one in Lagos here which is ready to go and another one at Yenagoa ready to sink.
Can you tell us the current worth of these vessels?
I have to consult the books to determine the individual price of those vessels. But as the contract stated, we spent nothing less than $103m to $120m to buy the vessels. Buying the vessels is part of it and maintaining the vessels is another problem. When we look at the contract it says we should use $103m for equipment. Maintenance was not included. So I think we bought 14 vessels, then another company that joined us bought two vessels. So we have 16 vessels. That is the standard of the contract. The rest vessels are support vessels. If you go to NIMASA yard, every vessel there belongs to Global West. We have vessels in Rivers, Bonny and Yenagoa. We spent over $100m on these vessels apart from maintenance. These vessels can be used for another 20 years if there is maintenance.
Vessels cannot sit in one place for 10 or 5 years without maintenance. There will be problems, especially on this salt water. Vessels are not supposed to be kept in a particular place, it has to move. By the time it is moving all the particles will be removed so it doesn’t have problems but as soon as you tie it to a place, you will have a major problem. They know we have invested a lot into it. They are just being wicked because there is no reason why this should be done to us.
Now people are complaining about oil theft and creek piracy. How much oil is in the creek? They shouldn’t have taken it away from there. That is why the last government wanted to stop oil theft between the oil companies and government people. Oil theft is between the oil companies and the people in government. They know. They are going to the creeks and the Armies are running around the Creek. They talk about 100m barrels of oil loss. We don’t know where the oil is going to. That is what NIMASA was trying to do then. We went to Bonny, Calabar and Brass. You know Brass was the worst place in oil theft. We were trying to go to Brass when this government took over. Since then nobody did anything. So anybody can go to those places, load oil and go. Nobody will ask you. I can give you information of companies that have told government how the oil are being stolen but nobody is doing anything, they are just shouting. We brought in a company that tracks every vessel that carries oil from Nigeria to wherever they are going. We made all those strategies in Jonathan’s government. We met the target and gave it to him but because of politics, they didn’t do anything until this government came in. When this government came in, the EFCC also stepped in saying they took money from government asking for the money and threatened to seize the facilities. We gave all the reports to the Government but they didn’t act on them. At the last minute, they came back to us and collected all the papers, saying they want to go and investigate. That was when we heard from them last. If you want to find Nigeria’s problems, we at the waterside know what exactly is happening. So let them not blame those guys in the Creek. I don’t know how much oil we have in the creek. The oil companies and government people connive to take these oil somewhere and sell it. About three years ago, one of my friends contacted me for a job. There was a vessel in Lagos that was stolen out of Nigeria. The vessel belongs to someone who borrowed money from Skye Bank at that time and the collateral was the vessel. Skye Bank was looking for the vessel. They contacted us to trace out where the vessel is. We traced the vessel and found it in Ghana. We went to Ghana and found out that that vessel was a storage facility for Nigerian oil. If we tell you what is happening in Nigeria, you will be surprised. Nigeria is my country. Sometimes you see people on TV talking as if they do know what is happening that is where we are.
You said earlier that some of the crew members are sick and dying
We lost 25 of our workers. They were hungry with no one to take care of them by taking them to hospitals. We were initially running a free Medical Healthcare and employed and trained over 300 people who were supposed to be militants on the rivers We trained them to become Mariners before all these happened.
Kindly like us on Facebook