Revelations emerged on Sunday about how the delay by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to engage an auctioneer to dispose of petroleum products on several vessels forfeited to the federal government caused the sinking of at least two vessels with their content.
The sunken vessels are MT GOOD SUCCESS which sank at the NNS Beecroft Naval Base, Lagos, on November 5, 2016 following its forfeiture to the federal government on the orders of a court, and MV THAMES, which sank on February 27, 2017 at the NNS Pathfinder Naval Base in Port Harcourt.
The vessels sank despite several warnings by the Nigerian Navy to the anti-graft commission on the need to evacuate the products from the vessels.
THISDAY gathered that the federal government has ordered investigations into the circumstances that led to the loss of the vessels and their contents, which could have fetched it millions of US dollar revenue.
Documents obtained by THISDAY on Sunday showed that an internal wrangling between the Acting Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, and Secretary to the Commission, Mr. Emmanuel Aremo, was responsible for the delay in engaging an auctioneer to dispose of the products aboard the vessels.
The EFCC in a letter dated January 16, 2017 had engaged Pinacle Trading and Investment Nig. Ltd as auctioneer for the disposal of the petroleum products, but another letter dated February 24, 2017 terminated the appointment.
The latter letter signed by one Ma’aji Abba Aji, on behalf of Magu, said the appointment was terminated after a careful review of the process.
“After a careful review of the process, the Commission discovered some lapses in the engagement of your company and has, therefore, decided to terminate the appointment. By this letter, you are to cease and desist from carrying out any activity relating to the disposal of any petroleum products on behalf of the commission,” it read.
In a detailed memo to Magu titled “Evacuation and Auction of Petroleum Products in Re: Pinacle Nig. Ltd,” Aremo said he recommended Messrs Pinacle for the job based on its pedigree of having carried out similar assignments in the past, after due diligence was carried out.
He also admitted that he put pressure on the Deputy Director, Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Management (DD-AFRM), Aliyu Yusuf, and the Procurement Unit to fast-track the process of engagement of Pinacle in order to prevent further loss of revenue after MT GOOD SUCCESS sank.
“EC Sir, as at now, another vessel is at the verge of submerging in Lagos, while about (3) three others are in the same situation on Port Harcourt zone. I have directed the DD-AFRM to go to Port Harcourt and assess the situation, but I have to stop him in view of this unwarranted controversy. With due respect, EC sir, for how long are we going to be watching and see all these forfeited properties being wasted and thus denying the federal government the much needed revenue,” Aremo’s memo asked.
He noted that some individuals were scheming to cause disunity and disaffection between him and the chairman, bring down the Commission and expose it to ridicule.
NNS Beecroft Naval Base, Lagos in two separate letters dated January 19, 2017 and February 28, 2017 had informed the commission of the deteriorating condition of another vessel: MV PSV DERBY, harping on the urgent need to salvage the vessel and evacuate its contents to avoid sinking.
“Please note that the rate of observed ingress of water into the vessel has now increased at an alarming rate. Consequently, personnel of NNS Beecroft who regularly pump out water from the vessel on a weekly basis now do so 3 times a week due to the rate of ingress. More so, the vessel constitute considerable risk for our own personnel keeping security duty on-board,” the letter dated February 28, 2017 read.
It also requested the transfer of the product on board the vessel to avoid total contamination or loss of the product and the vessel.
Acting on the letter, the Commission’s DD-AFRM, on March 14, 2017, was directed to set up an internal committee with representatives from the offices of the Secretary to the Commission, Procurement unit, Internal Audit, and others to handle the issue and submit a report within a week.
It is unclear if the vessel is still afloat at the time of this report.
Other forfeited vessels still in the possession of the Western Naval Command, Naval Base, Apapa, Lagos are MT ANUKET EMERALD, MT ASTERIS, MT LONG ISLAND, and MT ZARA.
Reacting to the phenomenon of delay in the disposal of seized vessels on Sunday, the Nigerian Navy said it could be partly attributed to a new procedure, which had harmonised the standard of operations at the ports.
The Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, Captain Suleiman Dahun, told THISDAY: “There is a new harmonised standard operation procedure that has come into force,” explaining that the new policy would address the inadequacies associated with the disposal of vessels forfeited to the federal government.
He said: “It is designed to address all these issues in maritime law enforcement. So, the issue of arrest, detention and prosecution by this new document has been taken care of.
“Initially, when we arrest, we like to keep them for a very long time, it destroys our objectives. That is why the Minister of Justice said there should be a new chapter, to enhance maritime law enforcement.
“The result of that cooperative thinking is the harmonised standard operation procedures which would address those issues once and for all.”