By Stephen Ubanna
Eng. Muazu Jaji Sambo, the minister of Transportation, appears to have won the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari for the disbursement of the Cabotage Financing Fund, CVFFF. The approval for the disbursement of the funds is coming barely six months to his handing over to the next Nigerian President.
The Katsina born Nigerian President was said to have made the first attempt for the disbursement of the fund to the indigenous ship owners when he gave approval to Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and immediate past minister of Transportation in 2021 but that was how far he could go. Amaechi who had a running a battle with Abubakar Malami, minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation and Hajia Zainab Ahmed, minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning over the disbursement of the funds had the difficulty of disbursing the funds.
The former Rivers state governor, could not go ahead with the disbursement of the funds because Abubakar Malani, the minister of Justice an ttorney General of the Federation had said ‘‘it is private money’’ while Hajia Ahmed, the minister of Finance argument, Budget and National Planning had described ‘’it as public fund’’. The position of the duo, who are still holding their ministerial position on the disbursement of the funds may have changed as the minister of Transportation has the backing of the Nigerian President had given his words that the CVFF, will be disbursed to the ship owners with immediate effect.
Eng. Sambo, who was not happy over the non- disbursement of the funds to the indigenous ship owners had promised last September that he will do everything within his powers to secure Presidential approval to ensure that the fund is disbursed to Nigerians without further delay. True to his words he had his way.
.In making a case for the President to give his approval for the disbursement of the fund, the minister, had said that they told the President that ‘‘the money belong to the ship owners, and should be disbursed to them to procure ocean going vessels to compete with the foreigners who had dominated the nation’s maritime sector over the years.
’ Note that the monies accruing into the fund which was established by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in in 2003 is made up of two percent of any job performed by any vessel engaged in trade in Nigeria as well as tariffs, fines and fees for licenses and waivers granted vessels. The worry of the ship owners was that President Muhammadu Buhari had given approval to Amaechi, the immediate past minister of Transportation to disburse the funds to Nigerian ship owners through some select Commercial Banks and Financial Institutions but nothing came out of it.
Recall Amaechi became so frustrated over the non-disbursement of the funds that he had asked the ship owners whom he had called the owners of the fund ‘’to write a letter to the President to seek his intervention and wait for his response. It could be ascertained whether the Leadership of the NSA, wrote the letter as directed by Amaaechi before he finally resigned his ministerial position last May to contest the All Progressive Congress, APC, Presidential primary which was won by Aswaju Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos state and now the party Presidential Candidate for the February 25, 2023, general elections.
Describing Buhari as a man who respects the Rule of law and on the same page with them, the minister had said that they will be’’ liaising with Hajia Ahmed,the minister of Finance , Budget and National Planning and Godwin Wmefiele, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to work immediately for the approval’’.
He may have shown that the Buhari’s Administration, is serious this time around to disburse the CVFF, to the ship owners when he disclosed on Friday, December 9, 2022, that five banks , namely Union, Zenith, Polaris, UBA and Jaiz have been appointed as the primary lending Institutions for the disbursement of the funds.The minister who could who not hide his feelings had said that they are going ‘’to break the 17 year-old jinx that has hindered the expansion of the nation’s maritime industry’’.
Indeed, indigenous ship owners have every reason to be appreciative to the minister of Transportation for pushing to get the presidential approval to disburse the CVFF, because of the continuous award of contracts to foreign vessel owners for coastal shipping of petroleum products in clear contravention of the Cabotage and local content.
Bashir Jamoh, Director General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, who was said to have piled up pressure on past and present ministers of Transportation for the disbursement of the Funds over the last two years disclosed that the funds available for disbursement to the indigenous ship owners was slightly over N16 billion and $350 million
As a prelude to the disbursement of the funds, the minister of Transportation was sad to have pledged to the Nigerian President that they will continue ‘’to allow the funds go into the Single Treasury Account, TSA, He had declared that whenever the money hits the threshold of N500million, the CBN upon the recommendation from NIMASA and the Federal minis try of Transportation would be expected to transfer the funds to the primary lending Institutions’’.
According to Osagie Edward, an Assistant Director and the agency spokesperson had said that applicants of the fund would make an equity contribution of 15% while NIMASA would make a contribution of 35 and the remaining 50% will be provided by the banks.
Over the last two years for, the Leadership of the Boards of Trustees of the NSA, had fought for the disbursement of the fund but no luck. Many believe that if Buhari had not withdrawn the initial approval for the disbursement of the funds given to Amaechi,the former minister of Transportation, it would have been a thing of the pas.