Arguably, one of the most shocking pronouncements that emanated from the on going probe of the transportation ministry between 1999 and 2007 is the damaging comment which emanated from the committee.
The Senator Heineken Lokobiri had, while taking inputs form from the minister of state for water transportation, Prince Okechukwu Emeka remarked that the ports were concesssioned to ghost companies which are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Since then, the integrity of an exercise which was largely adjudged as having met world standards has been called to question by stakeholders and a cross section of Nigerians.
The port concession is a very strong test case for those who handled it. The exercise was supervised by the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) with a strong involvement of both the Nigerian Ports Authourity (NPA) and the two house unions in NPA.
Of course, a presidential committee which was headed by the then- finance minister, Dr Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala acted as the clearing house for all deliberations and decisions regarding port concession.
This committee has as its members: minister of transport, heads of many relevant parastatals, including the NPA, the BPE, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria and the Senior Staff Association of NPA, among others
The BPE itself reports directly to the National Council on Privatisation (NCP), which in turn, reports to the Federal Executive Council. This means that there at least two lines of command vis : from the BPE through NCP to the FEC, and form the Presidential Committee to the FEC.
With these well structured administrative checks, it is doubtful if it would be possible for a company that is not registered with the CAC to win concession of any of the nation’s seaports as was recently alleged by the Senate committee.
It is doubtful if the trio of BPE, NCP and the ministerial committee will unite to overlook such an illegality. It is more doubtful that the FEC would also be misguided into giving final approval to such multi million dollar deals.
Lagos ports were concessioned to eight private terminal operators, including: ENL Consortium, Port and Cargo Handling Services, APM Terminals, Greenview Development Nigeria Limited, Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited, Josephdam, Tin Can Island Container Terminal, and Five Star Logistics. Similarly, Port and Terminal Multiservices Limited was given a green field to develop.
For the purpose of educating those who do not know and to remind those who may have forgotten, many of the indigenous terminal operators had dealings with the ports and speciafically, with NPA before the port concession era. Some were involved it bonded terminal operations, while some were simply doing other businesses with NPA and the ports.
But, we recall that one of the rules during the bidding was that a new vehicle company (different from their previously known companies) should be created by bidders so as to avoid identity crises. That was what led Sifax Group to float Port and Cargo Handling Services, while Dangote Group registered Greenview Development. Similarly, Flour Mills created Apapa Bulk Terminal Limited while the Comet group created Five Star Logistics.
For instance, a copy of Port and Cargo Handling Services’ certificate of incorporation which was sighted by this paper revealed that its registration number which is dated December 20, 2008 is RC 642247. The company’s share Capital is N10Million.
While details of other companies could not be accessed as at the time of this report, it is doubtful if Port and Cargo Handling Services could possess a certificate of registration from the CAC if it is indeed a ghost company.
Rather than jump to hasty conclusion and embark on sensationalism that may eventual make outcome of its probe to be suspect, the Senator Lokpobiri-led ad hoc committee should seek education from relevant agencies before making such damaging pronouncements.