EFFORTS to unravel the detail of the $100million concessioning of Terminal ‘B’ Old Warri Port to Ocean and Cargoes Terminal Limited have been frustrated by the key agencies involved in the transaction.
The agencies are Bureau of Public Procurement (BPE), Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the three major government agencies involved in the concession deal.
The three agencies have on different occasions declined to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests sent by The ICIR asking for the details of the multimillion-dollar concession agreement with Ocean and Cargos – a company jointly owned by the Sifax Group, Blueche Lomado Shipping and Logistics Limited as well as the Creekline Nigeria Limited – a firm which belongs to Chief Edwin Clark, a Niger Delta leader.
While Sifax Group commenced preliminary works right after the agreement was signed by the BPE and NPA early this year, The ICRC is yet to access information on the the concession as it was excluded from its database of government’s facilities under concession.
Denial of FOI Requests
FOIA requests sent by The ICIR to the agencies have not produced useful information. Rather, both NPA and ICRC kept shifting responsibility. On its part, the BPE, has completely ignored the requests for information on the concessioning.
The NPA and ICRC both claimed not to be in custody of the contractual agreement despite the fact that they were statutorily part of all the processes leading to the agreement.
In the letter sent to NPA on the 5th April, Hadiza Usman, The ICIR specifically requested for
a copy of:
- Announcement and invitation of bidders documents
- A list of all bidders
- All bids submitted by bidders
- The concession agreement documents.
But NPA instead referred The ICIR to the BPE, claiming that the facilitation of the concession of the terminal was undertaken by the Bureau.
“In the light of the foregoing, we advise that your request for access of the above documents should be directed to the BPE,” the letter reads.
Meanwhile, a similar FOIA request had been sent to the ICRC on 8th February. After a while, Mrs. Manji Yarling, the Acting Head of Media and Publicity told The ICIR that the agency was still expecting same agreement from the NPA – months after the agreement was signed and the preferred bidder selected.
“As regulators, we were following up with the NPA and they said they were giving it needed attention,” says Yarling.
Two months after, precisely on 24th April, a fresh FOIA request was submitted to the ICRC reminding the regulatory commission of its constitutional mandate based on the ICRC Act (2005) which states that the commission shall: “Take custody of every concession agreement made under this Act and monitor compliance with the terms and conditions of such agreement…”
On the 9th May, more than two weeks after, ICRC acknowledged the FOIA request in a letter with reference number ICRC/HQ/P/S.04/ 114/ 181, noting that “…the process was facilitated by the BPE and the information requested is domiciled with it (BPE).”
The agency directed The ICIR to send the request to the BPE in a letter signed by Alex Okoh, DG BPE.
Apparently, Izuwa had forwarded to the BPE the FOIA request which The ICIR earlier sent separately to the agency on the 8th of February.
Again, on the 9th of May, new FOIA request titled “Request for Details of Bidding Documents on Concession on ‘Terminal B’ Old Warri Port” was sent to the BPE. The agency received the letter and gave an acknowledged copy to The ICIR.
However, until the time of filing this report, the BPE neither made the documents available nor responded.
The BPE is notorious for denying FOIA requests. In an independent study conducted by the Public Private Development Centre (PPDC), the BPE has repeatedly failed to measure up in the annual survey.
The ICIR has earlier reported how the MDAs flouted the FOI Act despite annual budgetary provision, citing an instance of a situation where only 73 out of 900 government institutions complied with the Act in 2017.
Commercialisation of government properties – the next big deal
For decades, the Warri Port Terminal B of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has functioned far below expectation due to inefficiency and operational challenges.
Aside from increasing overheads, the port infrastructures on a daily basis have been deteriorating. And the situation is not peculiar to the Delta Port Complex which accommodates the Warri Port but also, other five ports in the country – Lagos, Tin Can Island, Rivers, Onne and Calabar.
“The job was overwhelming and the NPA was not getting the result, except that the water is there. That was the only savings. There were lots of overheads and it was becoming a situation where the return on investments was not there,” says a top source in the NPA Delta Port office.
“You know the things about the government when it comes to buying equipment or materials; they will always buy obsolete ones that are not needed.”
In 2006, the Federal Government switched to the landlord model which allows private investors take-over ‘cargo operational obligations’ under a concession arrangement. Usually, it lasts for a period of between 10 to 25 years while the government retains ownership of the port infrastructures.
However, the new arrangement has led to the concession of 25 port terminals nationwide with over $2 billion investments. This has reportedly saved the country an annual sum of N30 billion yearly from port congestion and yielded more productivity.
This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)