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Respite for Atiku as Reps reverse INTELS’ contract revocation

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Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar

• Lawmakers to begin investigation
• 15,000 jobs at risk as dispute lingers
• Maritime workers seek early resolution

The House of Representatives yesterday ordered an immediate reversal of the termination of the contract between Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) Nigeria Limited and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

Adopting a motion sponsored by Diri Duoye under matters of public importance during the plenary session presided over by Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the House resolved to raise an ad-hoc committee to ascertain if due process was followed before the termination of the contract.

The House thereby directed the authorities to maintain the status quo ante pending when the committee would turn in its report in two weeks. While leading the debate on the issue, Douye (PDP: Yenagoa: Bayelsa), remarked that there was the need to ascertain whether the termination of the contract was not in breach of the law.

Claiming that INTELS had already invested $900 million in facilities in the Apapa, Warri, and Port Harcourt terminals, he stated that no fewer than 7,000 Nigerians and their dependents could be affected if the termination of the contract was allowed to stand.

INTELS, believed to be mainly owned by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is responsible for the provision of logistics and facilities in the maritime sector of the country based on the boats pilotage monitoring and supervision agreement whereby the company collects revenue on behalf of the NPA.

Other lawmakers spoke on the issue. Hassan Saleh (Benue, PDP) said it was saddening that an indigenous firm was being treated in such a disdainful manner. He wondered why the authorities refused to renegotiate the contract with the company before terminating it.

Samuel Arabo (PDP, Kaduna) said it beat his imagination for the authorities to revoke a contract of over 17 years, alleging that there was more to the decision than met the eye.

However, Olurotimi Agunsoye (APC, Lagos) and Ali Madaki (APC, Kano) spoke in support of the decision by NPA to terminate the contract.

Madaki, who cited constitutional provisions, argued that the government had the power to terminate any contractual relationship between any of its agencies and any firm over issues relating to the payment of money into the consolidated revenue fund.

Before Dogara called for a voice vote which favoured the motion, he urged the lower chamber to ensure that the law was not breached by either the government or INTELS on the issue at stake.

And worried about the jobs that would be lost, the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN) appealed to the Federal Government and INTELS to amicably resolve the misunderstanding that led to the cancellation of the contract.

The President-General of MWUN, Adewale Adeyanju, in a statement yesterday said the cancellation of the contract would send wrong signals to the international community and scare away investors.

“The Federal Government should avoid anything that will send wrong signals to investors that Nigeria’s environment is not safe and conducive for business.

“Most of these employees are Nigerians with families and responsibilities. We are therefore, worried that if this issue is not resolved amicably, their jobs could be on the line. The socio-economic implications of most of them losing their jobs in a volatile area like Rivers State can be better imagined than experienced,” he said.

“As organised labour, our utmost concern is the job security and welfare of our members in INTELS Nigeria Limited,” he said.

About 15,000 workers that are directly in the service of the INTELS have expressed the fear of losing their jobs to the disagreement. There are about 35,000 others who are indirectly engaged by contractors, agents and vendors that provide support services for the company.

Some of the employees who spoke to The Guardian, expressed disappointment that the government was cancelling a contract it willingly signed years back when the contract duration had not elapsed.

Another employee, who identified herself simply as Chichi, said the assurance given by the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, was not enough guarantee for the security of jobs.

“Who knows the new contractor and what policies he or she would bring to bear? We have had similar experiences in the past. It does not work that way. You will begin to hear different stories by the time we get to that point and that is why the labour union has always resisted this transition thing. It doesn’t work here in Nigeria. It’s a deceit, “ she said.

NPA had relied on legal advice from the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, to terminate the contract.

To ensure the safety of ships’ passage within Nigeria’s seaports, the NPA, through INTELS as its agent, provides pilotage services to guide ships into and out of the ports.

Bala-Usman had alleged that INTELS refused to comply with the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of the Federal Government, insisting on deducting its money from source.

She also said that the workers who were likely to lose their jobs as a result of the termination of the contract would be absorbed by the new company that would emerge.

But INTELS’ Spokesperson, Bolaji Akinola, alleged that the management of NPA deliberately frustrated attempts to address the issues raised by the introduction of the TSA in the execution of its pilotage agency agreement.

Akinola said: “The issues arose because the pilotage agency agreement, signed in 2010, did not envisage the TSA, and as such did not factor it into its implementation.”

The company said it borrowed $1.4 billion (N428.4 billion) from banks to execute the agreement with the understanding that the debt would be offset from money realised from the pilotage services paid directly to the banks.

Akinola said meetings, letters and proposals on how to resolve the TSA imbroglio were rebuffed by the NPA managing director. “Deliberate stumbling blocks were placed on the path of resolving the issues and this is indicative of a sinister motive,” he said.



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