On September 4, 2008, a top-level meeting was held between the leadership of the House of Representatives including Speaker, Dimeji Bankole and Service Chiefs as well as the minister of state for air transportation, Mr Felix Hyat.
The meeting which was called at the instance of the Speaker had only one agenda, that is the alleged abuses to which private jetties are being subjected to and the security reports that have been pouring in on account of their activities.
In attendance at the meeting were the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Paul Dike; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Abdurrahman Danbazzau; Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oluseyi Petirin and Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ishah Iko Ibrahim.
Also present at the meeting which held behind closed doors were: the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro; the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hamman Bello; Director-General, State Security Services (SSS), Joe Gazama, and Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo.
While many maritime sector stakeholders are wont to believe that it is the embarrassment that members of the House of Representatives committee on privatisation and commercialisation were subjected to that fuelled what is presently befalling the private jetties, there are facts which point to the contrary.
The committee had gone on a visit to the highbrow and expansive premises of Nigerdock at Snake Island in Lagos as part of its oversight functions and based on petitions that it received from concerned Nigerians. Sadly, members of the committee were not allowed into the facilities; a development which further gave vent to speculations that a lot of activities that could threaten the security of the nation are going on within.
There and then, the committee concluded that Nigerdock was being used to ship in arms that are being used to unleash terror in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Surprisingly, the Service chiefs and the Minster, probably playing to the gallery also alleged that Nigerdock was being used to ship- in arms ammunitions and from there the weapons are moved to the volatile Niger Delta.
But, before the present development and as far back as mid-2005, the Nigerian Ports Authority had raised alarm over the activities of some of these private jetties, alleging that oil and gas cargo are being discharged from main ports to these jetties.
The management of the agency had raised alarm that owners of some of the jetties are claiming “spuriously” that their jetties have been declared free zone areas to handle oil and gas cargo and equipment.
Private jetties have been a part of the nation’s maritime activities for as long as we can remember and in spite of the security implications of their operations, government still find them indispensable.
We are surprised that Nigerdock is still in business, months after security chiefs declared that the facility was a security risk to the nation. We are also surprised that more than three years after NPA alerted that some of the jetties were laying claim to what they were not, no action has been taken against them. Equally worrisome is the disclosure that majority of the jetties are operating illegally.
We are of the opinion that rather than pay the usual lip service to the issue of private jetties, government needs to take inventory of the facilities so as to ascertain their strength and what they are being used for.
As much as we believe in the powers of the National Assembly to legislate and perform oversight functions, we very much doubt the efficacy of the on-going investigations by the lower legislature.
Since it was the transportation ministry that issued the licenses in the first place, we think that the National Assembly should leave that responsibility for the executive.
Since it has become obvious that the nation’s economy can not do without these jetties it has become imperative that Government will need to take more than a cursory interest in the goings on at these facilities.
If however, at the end of ongoing investigations, any jetty is found to have fallen short of requirements or is been used for things other that what it was licensed to do, then it should be shut down and its proprietors prosecuted. Those that are found to be operating illegally should be closed down and their operators prosecuted.