By Stephen Ubanna
Compt.Babaunde Olomu, appears to have won a major battle for Edo/Delta Command and the entre Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, by ensuring that officers partake in the inspection and measurement of crude oil loaded into vessels leaving the country on a daily basis at the Warri port, Forcados and Excravos oil terminals on a daily bais.
Until his deployment to the Edo/ Delta Command, the International Oil Companies comprising of Shell Petroleum Development Company ,SPDC, Nigerian Oil Company, NAOC and the Local Oil Companies, LOC, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Development ,NNPC, now baptized Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NNPCL, with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, in August, 2020, never abided by’’ the rules and regulations binding oil lifting in the country’’.
This is because the IOCs and LocS, bluntly denied the NCS, officers from participating in the Fiscalisatlisation and defiscaliation, Process. It was not surprising why the officers who were deployed to oil terminals did not the volume and quantities of Crude oil being lifted and export through the terminals. There are indications that past Area Conttrollers of the Command may have adopted a lukewarm attitude towards the terminal operators because no revenue was generated from the source.
On assumption of office in 2021, Compt. Olomu, could not under understand why the Command officers could not participate in the Fiscalization and defiscalization process of oil lifting at the three oil platforms in Delta state and would not want to continue.
As a prelude to stopping the mess, he was said to have ‘’scrutinised the operations of the Command Export Seat , Forcados and Excravos oil export terminals, in order to know what is going on , and take the al the necessary action to change the aulty policy.
Given the information availed to him at the Command Export Seat and the oil terminals hat officers were not allowed ‘’to participate in the Fiscalisation and defiscalization of the country’s crude oil, at the terminals and the discoveries of discrepancies in oil lifting, which may have been going on for years may have encouraged him to move into action no sooner he settled down..
The Customs Comptroller, may have known that it would be tough battle to force the IOCs and LOCs, as well as the NNPC, to allow the Command officers to partake in the Inspection and Measurement of oil lifting and exportation at the terminals because of the powers behind them.
He has no option but to seek the support of Hameed Ali, a retired Army Colonel and Comptroller General, NCS. He got it. On November 29, 2022, he was said to have initiated stakeholders meeting involving the IOCs, LOCs and the Pre-shipment Inspection Agencies, PIAs, to resolve the vexed issues.
The Edo/Delta Customs boss, who could not hide his feelings was said to have threatened to withdraw the officers attached to the oil terminals if they fail to comply with the rules and regulations binding oil lifing and exportation at the terminals.
He did not stop there. He was said to have made the terminal operators to understand that their action was contrary ‘’to the extant guidelines on quantity and value inspection of Crude oil for export, Customs and Excise Notice,No.5,Secton 6, export guidelines for oil ad gas , including non-oil exports ,section 19, which would no longer be tolerated.
He was said to have also drawn the attention of the terminal operators and the PIAs, to article 12 of the Export Guidelines on Crude oil export by the Federal ministry of Finance, which was said to have made it ‘’mandatory for the IOCs and LOCs, to provide the necessary logistics which involve the airlifting of representatives of the service to the oil terminals to partake in the fiscalisation defiscalisation process which was never done’’.
Aware that the IOCs and LOCs, including the country’s oil octopus, NNPC, are not ready to change their old way of doing business at the oil terminals but to continue to do the wrong thing may have informed why he has read the riot act to them.
Stakeholders may read the handwriting on the wall that if they continue to deny the t NCS, officers, from partaking in the fiscalisation and deficalisation process at the oil terminals, the Edo/Delta Command Area Controller who has the ears of the Customs Comptroller General and who in turn has the ears of the Katsina state born Nigerian President would not hesitate to apply the full weight of the Law on them.
It was therefore, not surprising why the IOCs and LOCs, quickly gave their promise to the Customs Area Controller that they would ‘’abide by the rules and regulations binding oil lifting in the country’’. Between late 2022 and now, that Edo/Delta Area Controller had piled up pressure on the IOC s and LOCs, including NNPC, to carry Customs officers, along in in the fiscalisation and defiscalisation process, they have no option but to caved in.The Edo/ Delta Area Controller, has onfirmed that the IOCs and LOCs, and NNPC, has bowed to pressure to allow officers partake in the ‘’Fiscalisation and defiscalisation process, noting that ‘’it is now being fully adhered to for the first time since the inception of the Command’’ decades ago’’.
The fallout was that the officers attached to the oil platforms in the state now have at their finger- tips the record of the volume and quantities of crude oil loaded in vessels and duly measured leaving the country on a daily basis for documentation.
Take for instance, between January and March, 2023, the Free On Board, FOB, value of the Crude oil cargoes that was said to have passed through the oil terminals in the oil rich Delta state, to the international oil market was valued at about $24,576,039929.26.
The Value News online could easily obtain the figure because Customs personnel now partake in the fiscalisation and defiscalisation process of oil lifting and exportation at the three platforms in the state. There are indications that the amount has increased substantially between April and much of May 2023, as the shady deals at the terminals perpetuated at the terminals in the past years are long possible as Compt. Olomu had successfully blocked all areas of revenue Leakage that were exploited by the terminal operators.
The questions on the lips of most people was : why would Comptroller Olomu, would Compt. Olomu, devote his energy and a large number of the 65 officers deployed to the Command to monitor the IOCs, LOCs and NNPC, officials at the oil terminals to know whether Customs partake I the fiscaliscalisation or defiscaliscalisation process when no revenue is coming from the source.
Many believe that he has made a bold statement by exposing the rot that had been going on at the country’s oil terminals over the years which was only beneficial to the terminal operators to the disadvantage of the government.
Notwithstanding that the oil platforms and the underutilized, Delta port, Warrri, which industry stakeholders had said was twice the size of the Lagos port of Apapa, are really making any appreciable impact on the Edo/Command , monthly revenue generation, Comptroller Olomu, described as a workaholic in Customs circles, may not have been worried as he knows what to do at every point in time to improve on the Command revenue.
The Command, according to the Customs Comptroller, may have concentrated much of its efforts at the Sapele port where bulk cargoes are regularly discharged to generate much on its revenue. An official of Julius Berger, a major terminal operator at the Warri port, had said that the last time the terminal received a General cargo vessel was sometime in this month of May.
But that has not stopped Compt. Olomu, who was said to have blocked all areas of revenue leakage at the port from generating substantial revenue for the government between January and much of May 2023..The Edo/ Delta Area Controller has confirmed that the Command generated a little ove N14.323 billion which may hit the N16 billion mark on or before the end of May 2023, described as unprecended in the history of the Command.
Sunday Iwuyi, an Executive member of the Edo/Delta shipping Group, had said that the lack of patronage of the Delta port by foreign ocean going vessels may not be due to lack of modern equipment facilities to discharge Containers from vessels arriving at the port but largely due to shallow draft, breakwater, draft to high freight cost
Chidi Njoku, a member of the NPA, vessels Berthing Committee, had said that the shallow draft problem at the port, had remained a major problem, stressing that the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, a United Nations, UN, maritime agency, had put the draft of the port of at 6.4 metres that could attract ocean-going vessels .
He had said that at one of their berthing meetings at the port, the Harbour Master had shocked the Committee members when he disclosed that the draft of the port had dropped to 5.9 metres, due to blockage of the channels by debris and sand, meaning that big ocean vessels cannot berth at the port.
Moreso, he had said that one of the major problem faced by the shippers in taking their cargoes to Delta port was because they don’t have the option of choosing the Liner to use but were left at the mercy of the Liner owner who decides which port to take their vessels to in Nigeria.
Iwuyi, whose vessel , MT.Musolga, was said to have ran underground at Exravos , thus blocking the water channels , that no vessel can come in or out of the terminal for now, had said that the major problem discouraging most of the foreign shipping Companies from taking their vessels to head to the Delta port was because it has the longest breakwater compared to the Lagos ports.
According to him many Onitsha and Abia, in the south east statates of Anambra and Abia, would prefer to use the Lagos ports of Apapa, Tincan Island, Port Terminal Multiservices Limited , PTML or Kirikiri Lighter Terminal, KLT, phases I and II, because of the low freight cost. Giving an insider information, he noted that it would cost a trader about $1,5000, to freight his cargo to the south east port of Delta, particular, compared to the $1,000 that would be used to freight the same cargo to the Lagos ports. He averred that despite long distance rom Lagos to Onitsha or From Lagos to Aba, the Onitsha, Anambra state and Aba, in Abia state, would still prefer to use the Lagos ports to take delivery of their cargoes, instead of Delta, Rivers or Onne ports, as they could want to use the extra -$500, freight cost to clear the Consignment at the Lagos port and still take the south eastern markets.
Iwuyi, would want Mohammed Bello-led NPA, Management, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, and the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, to tackle the freight differentials to ensure uniform clearing at the Nigerian ports.
But Industry Operators believe that the south east ports of Onne, Delta, Rivers and Calabar, particular, have been a victim of propaganda of insecurity from people who do not want the south east ports to compete with the Lagos ports.
Being an officer on ground at the Delta port, Compt. Olomu, was said to have made it clear to those that cares to listen that the ports is one of the safest in the country, noting that there is nothing security challenge , describing it as the handiwork of mischief makers.
Appealing to the Delta government to step up the marketing of the port, he averred that the state government would benefit revenue wise if the port bounds back to life. The agents are not left as they are also talking to their importers on the need to patronize Delta ports and decongest the Llagos port.
Perhaps, one area, Compt. Olumu, may not have done well since his assumption of duties at the Edo/Delta Command was anti-smuggling Operations. He may have left the job to the officers of the Fedeal Operations Unit, FOU, Zone C, Comptroller General of Customs, CGC, Strike-Force ,Team C and Border Drills Team, C , to handle but supports them with intelligence gathering and credible information to do their work. Only recently, he has Commissioned a modern warehouse built by the Customs Comptroller at Benin, Capital of Edo state, used by the Interventionist units to keep their intercepted and seized Contraband.