The contract for the dredging of the Calabar Channel was first awarded for N3 billion in 1996. In 2006, the contract was reviewed by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, in conjunction with the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, and the Calabar Channel Management, CCM. Another contract was awarded in November 2014 at N20 billion to complete the project.
However, recently, allegations of abuse of due process in the award of the contract surfaced, culminating in the new Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Usman, ordering work to stop on the project, to allow for a probe.
The Managing Director, CCM Company Limited, Bart Van Eenoo, in an interview in Abuja, denied the allegations against the company, particularly the alleged involvement of former President Goodluck Jonathan in facilitating the company’s selection process. He accused the NPA of mischief, by playing politics with the execution of the contract.
PT: Recently, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Hadiza Usman, said the dredging of the Calabar Channel awarded to your company did not follow due process. Apart from the contract not being advertised, she said some NPA officials colluded to manipulate the process to award the contract to you, against the expert advice by Mobotek, a consultant on the project, against a management channel for the Calabar Navigational Channel. How do you react to this?
BART: These are mere insinuations. They have no basis. The NPA MD is economical with the truth about the contract. The truth is that the NPA openly advertised for the establishment of a Channel Management Company for the Calabar navigation channel. Our company, Niger-Global Engineering & Technical Company Limited, duly bided and won the contract, leading to the establishment of Calabar Channel Management Limited, CCML, as a joint venture (JV) with the NPA on a 60:40 per cent equity.
The NPA’s advert on the contract published in several newspapers on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 was titled “Public Notice No.3551: Invitation for Pre-qualification for the management of the Access Channels to all Nigerian Ports.” The publication invited interested bidders to submit their bids. Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, led a consortium of companies to submit a bid, which was later selected winner.
So, it is not true the contract award did not follow due process. The entire contract award was fully advertised in the media and due bidding processes were followed. Before execution, all necessary approvals and vetting of the agreement were done by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF. Our consortium emerged winner of the bid after going through a rigorous screening process. That’s the first point.
The second point is on the alleged advice of the consultant against the project.
What I have to say here is that it is the same consultant, Mobotek, that handled the selection process for the Lagos Channel Management Company and the Bonny Channel Management Company that conducted the bidding process our company participated in.
Our financial and technical bids were considered successful and our company was duly handed a ‘No Objection’ Certificate by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).
It is therefore curious to wake up overnight to claim the contract did not follow due process and was not advertised. My view is that the present management at NPA has sinister motives against the project.
As a majority shareholder, the current management of the NPA has blatantly refused to hold any meeting with our company since it came aboard. But, it has been hobnobbing with, and speaking favorably about managers of other channels.
PT: The EFCC carried out a probe on the contract recently. Why would that happen if everything followed due process as you claimed?
BART: With all these, I am not afraid to say that the recent petition against our company to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, alleging that we had not done any work, which necessitated an EFCC investigative panel to look into the contract, was instigated by the NPA.
Despite that the EFCC certified that we actually worked, the NPA MD has been saying a different thing. How can anyone accuse our partners – Boskalis and Westminster Dredging, internationally acclaimed companies– of not doing a job they had satisfactorily executed, if not for mischief and ulterior motives?
PT: What do you mean by “mischief and ulterior motives”? Are you saying the NPA’s complaints against the contract were unfounded?
BART: Absolutely! It is on record that all stakeholders at the Calabar Port, including the NPA’s Station Manager in Calabar then, accepted the CCM carried out appreciable work on the dredging contract until the disruption by the NPA.
Even some of the stakeholders were always aboard the dredgers in the course of the dredging to have a feel of the work done until the NPA suddenly came and disrupted work. There was no formal communication to us whatsoever. Who is fooling who? If no work was done as the NPA MD now wants the world to believe, why was the initial payment made to our company? It is on record the NPA participated in all stages of the works done by our company. The NPA’s Project Resident Hydrographic Surveyor and Technical Auditors on the project, CARES Limited, were always on board the dredgers working on the project and certifying for payments, only after verification presented by the Consortium tallies with the work done and in accordance with the Joint Venture (JV) agreement.
PT: Why would you infer mischief and ulterior motives to NPA’s decision on the project?
BART: There is no way I can see the port management’s action than those. Most critical stakeholders of the Calabar Port are of the view the NPA is politicising the project.
From the day the Calabar Port dredging was flagged off and certified by NPA’s Consultants, CARES, over $500 million has been paid to the Bonny and Lagos Management Channels.
If the integrity of CARES was questioned by NPA for a less amount for CCM, why is its integrity not questioned for the payment of over $1billion for the Bonny and Lagos Management Channels?
From day one, the management of these three channels were advertised on the same day, short-listed and evaluated by the same consultants-Mobotek.
The contractual agreements for all the three channels were on the same template. The mode of operation was also the same.
The Calabar Channel is 96 kilometres, while Bonny Channel is 84 Kilometres and Lagos Channel, which is a deep sea port, is less than 12 kilometres from the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal.
The siltation rate in Calabar is higher than the other two channels. Yet, attention is being given to where little or no work is needed.
I am aware all the technical information and data needed for the right thing to be done are at the disposal of the NPA. But, somehow, it is becoming obvious that somebody is playing politics with the Calabar Channel contract, unfortunately to the detriment of the Nigerian economy.
I advise the NPA management to consult sincerely with its technical team, which I know is made up of professionals well trained in the industry, and stop politicizing the issue.
PT: The other allegation against your company is that it is a briefcase company, with no known address and qualified staff to handle the contract?
BART: This is absolutely false. Our office is at #101, Ndidem Usang Iso Road, Calabar, Cross River State, not Lagos. The current NPA MD and her team visited our office in Calabar on assumption of office. We have a capable manpower of about 160 staff, some of who have been in the industry for not less than 20 years.
PT: What is the current status of the Calabar Port dredging contract by your company?
BART: Recall that on November 17, 2014, the Federal Government through the then Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, flagged off the operations of the Calabar Channel Management, CCM, a joint venture company between the NPA and Messrs. Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, for the dredging of the Calabar Port.
We immediately commenced work by carrying out capital and maintenance dredging of the water channel well known for its shallow draught that had hampered bigger vessels from coming into the port in the last decades.
We deployed dredgers, survey vessels, buoyage tenders, wreck removal cranes and other ancillary marine crafts to the water channel for the operation.
We achieved several milestones, concentrating on spots in the channel critical to navigation. So far, 16.3 kilometres out of the envisaged 20 kilometres high spots have been dredged, with the deepening of the channel to 6.5 metres datum.
However, work was suddenly disrupted by the NPA without any formal communication to our company. That is the situation today.
PT: What you are saying is that further execution of the contract has been brought to a halt?
BART: Yes. We learnt the NPA MD is saying she has ordered an investigation into the award of the contract, to ascertain why so much was spent on the project without its completion.
PT: What would you say is the way forward on this project?
BART: The ball is in NPA’s court. The NPA MD knows what she needs to do for the dredging to continue. The NPA has to pay our invoices to enable us return to site. All the equipment and personnel deployed for the project under the JV Agreement are currently on ground, accruing demurrage. We attach much importance to the project, because of its strategic position to the economy of Nigeria, particularly the North-East, North-Central and South-South.
For instance, if the Calabar Port were functional, it would have been much easier to get relief materials for the internally displaced persons, IDPs camps in the North-East as a result of the insurgency.
At the moment, these items come through the Lagos Port at very high costs.
Besides, if the Port was functional; it would have guaranteed trade facilitation and stimulate economic activities within the South-South, North-Central and North-East zones of the country.