— Capt Adamu Biu, Executive Secretary, Shippers’ Council
Recently, the Nigerian Shippers Council and its management were in the news, following the visit of the anti graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Subsequent reportage of the visit by a section of the media and the connotation which informed the stories annoyed the Council’s boss, Capt Adamu Biu. He hurriedly granted audience to a select team of maritime journalists to explain what actually transpired. He also spoke on other sundry industry issues. I was there for Shipping Position Weekly and this week we serve you details of our interaction with him. This is our first offering on the second year of this elite and celebrated back page. Enjoy it.
What is the exact truth about the story of EFCC and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council?
I have been away on official assignment in Greece and United Kingdom for 11 days, and in my absence the EFCC came to our offices to look for officers and started naturally with me and my colleagues in the management. They interviewed a few of them and invited almost all the directors and a few deputy directors to their office. I arrived yesterday and was surprised to see in Daily Trust (newspaper) particularly that I was quizzed. I couldn’t have been quizzed because if I was, it could have been before the publication, so something is wrong somewhere because that story is a bit misleading. But the truth of the matter is that as soon as I came back, I went personally to the EFCC yesterday.
So what transpired at the EFCC?
I was with them for a few hours and the questions that they asked were based essentially on promotions that were carried out in this establishment and approved by the board and those promotions were based on the federal government reforms of parastatals what they called the rightsizing exercise that was carried out. Rightsizing does not mean sacking, but looking for the right people to do the right job and creating the appropriate department. As you know, we have three departments in this organization. When we got to the implementation stage, again the board sat down and made out a list of officers within the council that should be promoted to the ranks of directors to fill in the two extra departments that were created and so the officers were elevated to directors and off course in the wisdom of the council of the board they felt that some senior officers that were excellent, good in their work and they could not be retrenched they were given some kind of incentive, some kind of upgrading. From one level to the other, just to encourage them now that the only thing the EFCC asked us about, because they were not aware they thought maybe it was just management that sat down and started promoting people to directors and giving portfolios like that.
So, how did the EFCC get wind of what you were doing?
Apparently there was a petition from within, the petition was written from somebody, there was no name and nobody knows who it is, whether it is from within or outside nobody knows, there was only one phone number and that number, people called it and no response. That was the basis of the EFCC coming here; they didn’t come here to interrogate us on fraud as it was reported. There was no element of mismanagement of funds. I showed copies of the document that buttressed what the reform implementation committee did and copies of the minutes of board meetings. They took it and allowed me go and that is the true position of what happened.
My appeal is not only for the Nigerian Shippers’ Council but for all of us, because the country belongs to all of us, the institution of public interest are for all Nigerians and there is nobody that is going to come and correct evil in this country, we must do it ourselves.
What was the impact of the story on you, family, relations and friends?
The reaction of my family and friends were bad, especially my children. That is what hurts me most. My children are in school and they read newspapers and their friends will tell them oh your father has been quizzed for misappropriation of for embezzlement, it’s terrible. Imagine that happening to you. Can you imagine the trauma that is been placed on little children who have no experience, who do not know what it means. Every one knows the EFCC to be an eagle that will really hit hard. I have received phone calls because, the impression given was that I was arrested, but the newspaper said I was quizzed for mismanagement of funds, which is quite unfair. It is unprofessional; those are the kind of things we say are not correct. The reaction of my family and friends was bad especially my friends. Unfortunately mistake can be made and when they are made, it is appropriate you correct them for credibility sake.
Back to what led to the petition, it gives the impression that the promotion and right sizing exercise might not have been transparent enough
It was transparent; I can put my life on the line for this. Whoever was due for promotion, or those who proved to be hard working in their fields were all given a chance. I leave it to God.
Away from the EFCC and the petition, how can the Nigerian Shippers’ Council help to the cost of business in the nation’s ports?
The senate committee on transport sector have given us the recognition, telling us the council is supposed to be funded by one per cent of cost of freight into and out of Nigeria, NIMASA gets three per cent, Shippers Council is supposed to get one per cent, not one per cent of three per cent that they collect, because they are two different things and we have not been funded in accordance to that in terms of the service the NSC has been rendering to the nation’s economy. The council has been involved in different shipping interest groups such as , linear shippers, clearing and forwarding agents, all those that are involved in the transportation chain have had one interaction or the other with the Shippers Council in relation to charges on cargo and in particular reference will be linear shipping lines. We agree that the benchmark that NIMASA is using today originated from the Nigeria Shippers’ Council, freight rates are agreed and the Shippers Council have tried to make sure that the shipping lines do not charge more than the agreed freight rate. Of course, the only handicap we had and which still persist is that we do not have statutory powers to enforce any agreed tariff and that is why we want to transform into the National Transport Commission or in deed, any regulator in the transport chain. We will sit together with the service providers and agree on freight rates covering every facet of shipment into this country.
There is the issue of Europe West Africa Trade Agreement (EWATA) which is a conglomerate of European shippers’ council and we had the privilege of leading a delegate of African Shippers Council to a meeting with them and the ports congestion surcharge was removed from the Nigerian cargo on the insistence of the Nigerian Shippers Council. We are still talking with the different port concessionaries in our ports. Our capacity to enforce is what is detrimental to achieving the set goals we have. That is why we are asking the Nigerian public, especially, the representatives of the people in the National Assembly to enact some laws to strengthen the enforcement in our Act and instead of doing that separately we could transform into the National Transport Commission, because, the Commission will do what we are doing.
What is the update on the ICDs?
The job of Shippers Council’s job is to facilitate and to ensure that whatsoever the concessionaries are putting in place should meet international standard. Though it is capital intensive, the level of problems is not that easy, but in some 15 months to come things will definitely be in shape.