The billions of naira that accrued into the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) will soon be a subject of a probe in the National Assembly, THISDAY has learnt.
The setting up of CVFF nearly ten years ago was to help fulfil the provisions of the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act 2003, popularly called Cabotage Act.
Among other reasons, the Act was meant to check the dominance of foreign ship owners in the Nigerian shipping sector by restricting coastal and inland trade to indigenous ship owners only. It was also meant to empower indigenous ship owners to be in a position to withstand the competition from foreign ship owners in Nigeria's coastal and inland trade.
The provisions of the Act made it clear that only indigenous ship owners have the mandate to carry out coastal trade and inland shipping in the country.
The Act is pillared on its core thematic provisions which set out the limitations on foreign operations of cabotage shipping, and the tight conditions under which exceptions can be allowed.
These provisions are set out in sections 3 to 6 of the Act, which prohibit coastal carriage of cargoes and passengers except by wholly Nigerian owned, manned, built, and registered vessels.
It also restricts towage by tugs or vessels to those wholly owned by Nigerian citizens just as it limits carriage of petroleum products and related oil and gas shipping services to vessels of Nigerian ownership. Furthermore, the Acts prohibits domestic trading in the inland waters of Nigeria except by vessels wholly owned by Nigerians.
It was in a bid to drive the implementation of the Act that the Federal Government initiated CVFF. The management of NIMASA is saddled with the responsibility of managing the fund. It is in line with its mandate as enshrined in the NIMASA Act 2007.
This was the basis on which the agency selected four commercial banks as primary lending institutions (PLIs). These include Sky Bank Plc, Sterling Bank Plc, Diamond Bank Plc, and Fidelity Bank Plc.
To ensure the effective disbursement of the fund, the Federal Government in 2010 at Dipcharima House, the Corporate Headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Abuja signed an agreement with the four commercial banks to act as primary lending institutions (PLIs). About two other banks have since succeeded in their lobby to become PLIs.
An impeccable source close to the National Assembly, who gave a hint of the legislative arm imminent probe, said THISDAY exclusive report on CVFF last Friday opened the eyes of the lawmakers to the need to probe the billions that has accrued into the fund.
"It is not that we are not aware of some of these things but your report last Friday was like a wake-up call. We shall soon move a motion in the National Assembly for the probing of CVFF. Like you said 'It is public money and the public, especially stakeholders need to know exactly what is happening to it'.
"We shall summon the Minister of Transport, other relevant government officials, and stakeholders in the maritime industry to find out exactly what is happening to CVFF. The National Assembly wants to get to the root of the delay in the disbursement of the fund so that we can move the sector forward for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians.
"Remember, we are the ones that drew up the guidelines for the disbursement of the funds. That is why we want to know how far the Federal Ministry of Transport has gone in this regard", the source added.
THISDAY checks revealed that the resolve of the National Assembly to probe the fund was because the exact amount that has accrued into it with the accompanying interest has been shrouded in secrecy as no government official was ready to make it public over the years.
Many stakeholders have wondered why the federal government is yet to commence the actual disbursement of the funds more than five years after it promised to do so.
The undue delay in the release of the funds was one of the main reasons why the umbrella body of Nigerian shipowners, Indigenous Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) described 2012 as a disastrous one for local shipping operators.
ISAN, which has the Managing Director and chief executive officer of MORLAP Group, Chief Isaac Morakinyo Jolapamo, as its Chairman, also said that its members are not expecting anything good to come out of President Goodluck Jonathan's administration this year in terms of developing the shipping sector.
The General Secretary of ISAN, Captain Niyi Labinjo, had in a report last month accused the federal government of deliberately taking actions that continue to stifle the growth of the maritime industry, resulting in diminished investments and collapse of over eighty per cent of indigenous shipping companies.