Apart from the failed attempt made by Gen. Sani Abacha to take over the company when he was the military head of state, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo also tried to close the company when he was the President and this coincided with the time he had a frosty relationship with his deputy, Atiku Abubakar. Obasanjo felt that the best way to cripple Atiku was to close down Intels and he pushed so hard but had to stop when relevant agencies drew his attention to the security implications of his order if it is implemented. That security implication of crippling the company still has not changed.
After Obasanjo’s effort, it was believed that issues concerning Intels should be more carefully handled because of what the company has grown to become for Nigeria so that the security of the nation, the livelihood of thousands of Nigerians earning decent wages, the economy of the nation which includes the huge revenue in foreign exchange being derived from the activities of the company, the youth restiveness being averted due to the constructive engagement of the youths at Onne community in Rivers State, the welfare of women and traditional institutions being serviced through the CSR of the company are not compromised.
The latest effort to pull the company down has been traced to the appointment of Hadiza Bala-Usman as the Managing Director of NPA in July 2016. Few months after she was made the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala-Usman, who is a benefactor of Malam Nasir El-Rufai, the Governor of Kaduna State and hater of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, started manifesting the characteristics of an angel of death, a woman on a fatal mission whose assignment is to deal with a perceived enemy.
To secure her appointment, the Federal Government capitalised on a weak NPA Act which gave the President the authority to appoint just anybody to head the organization that requires a person with lot of experience both technically and otherwise to achieve efficiency and impact in a maritime sector bedeviled with poor performance and illegalities. There are no known criteria for the appointment of the Managing Director of NPA in the Act.
A look at her resume shows that she studied Business Administration in ABU and has an M.SC in Development Studies from University of Leeds. She worked at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) Enterprise Officer when El-Rufai was the Chief Executive. After that she was hired by the UNDP to serve as a Special Assistant to El-Rufai when he was the Minister of FCT. She was also a Director of Strategy in an NGO known as a Good Governance before being appointed as Chief of Staff to Gov. Ahmed El-Rufa’i of Kaduna State, a position she held until the present appointment. There is no indication that she has any experience in the maritime industry.
Judging from what is currently happening, it appears that only Intels among all the organisations working in Nigeria’s maritime sector has been found wanting. All the other actors, players, stakeholders and companies are without blemish. The interpretation is that if Intels is taken out, all the challenges being experienced in the maritime sector would have been resolved. Nobody has seen a programme of sanitization of the sector, the mid-stream discharge of vessels that has been responsible for huge revenue loss is not being addressed, the illegal berthing of large ocean going vessels at ports not designated to handle such vessels is not being talked about.
Furthermore, there is no reaction to Nigeria Customs Service advice against the risk being taken by allowing large ocean vessels to berth at undesignated ports, diversion of vessels to the ports of neighbouring countries is an issue that deserves attention just as the constant threat of strike action by maritime workers who complain about unfavourable policies that are negatively affecting business in the maritime sector also deserve attention. There are a whole lot of challenges but it has been Intels, Intels and only Intels.
Even in the cancellation of boat pilotage, there is no indication that Intels has short changed the Federal Government. The only complaint is that the company is not up-to-date in its remittances and this has to do with the enforcement of TSA which was not part of the agreement signed with the Federal Government in respect of the boat pilotage service agreement.
As it is now, nobody is telling Nigerians that NPA had to go into the agreement because of the huge revenue that the Federal Government lost over the years due to poor handling of boat pilotage service and that Intels came to the rescue and invested so much money in the development of facilities and manpower to be able to provide an efficient service.
At the time the government pronounced the cancellation, there was no immediate alternative to services offered by Intels. The NPA only said that Intels has been given three months to end its pilotage service. There is no indication of who will replace the company and what will happen to the thousands of Intels staff who will lose their jobs. The authority only assumes that a new company will be engaged and that it will retain the services of those who will be disengaged by Intels. What a huge joke.
Claiming that the Federal Government gave Intels one year to make its remittances through the TSA does not sound convincing enough to terminate the contract. Indications point to the fact that NPA did not bother to find out the challenges the company faced in the process trying to adapt with the new mode of remittances. Intels even said that NPA deliberately frustrated efforts made by the company for the two organisations to meet and discuss the challenges and reach an agreement on how to turn things around.
The pilotage agreement imbroglio is not the first shot that NPA had on Intels in the life of the present administration. It will be recalled that the 2005 concession agreement concerning Onne Port operations was cancelled by the Federal Government in May 2017 simply because other competitors in the industry complained that Intels was enjoying an undeserved monopoly. The agreement which has a 25 year life span is expected to end in 2030.
It was a court ruling in June 2017 that insisted that status quo ante be maintained that saved Intels from the embarrassment. If NPA had its way, may be by now there would not be Intels in Nigeria and that means that a $7 billion investment in Onne would have gone down the drain. It also means that 15,000 workers and at least 75,000 dependants would have either lost their jobs or means of financial support. It would also have been an uphill task for the same company which is investing over $5 billion in the development of the Badagry Deep Seaport project to continue with that project after Onne port operations have been taken out.
A government that is looking for foreign and local investors, talking about the ease of doing business in Nigeria, trying to concession operations at the airports, trying to create jobs and looking for $5.5 billion loan is expected to be more strategic in handling an investor who has spent over three decades operating in Nigeria’s hostile business environment
When Hadiza Bala-Usman paid her maiden visit to Intels office at Onne in October 2016 she paid glowing tributes to the company after a two hour tour of the facility.
“The port management and operations are tidy. We have seen the deployment of infrastructure efficiently and effectively. I have inspected Onne 4B and we are thinking of what we need to do within the shortest possible time to ensure that whatever government has invested in the project will be put to commercial use’’, she said.
It is surprising that few months down the line, after making the reassuring comments, that the tide changed in such a way that Intels became the hunted. From the look of things, the pilotage imbroglio will not be the last attempt to exterminate Intels as there are insinuations that efforts are being made to cancel the company’s operating license.
In as much as previous governments have a record of killing and frustrating worthy investments and good ideas with poor policies and actions, it will not be wise for the present administration which preaches good governance, anti-corruption, ease of doing business, economic growth and job creation to sing a discordant tune with the way it is desperately seeking for opportunities to destroy Intels.
Foreign creditors, investors, donors and indeed, Nigerians are watching. How the whole drama plays out will determine the level of investors’ and international donor agencies confidence Nigeria will enjoy in the eyes of the world and in the years ahead.