By Alex Akao.
The Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN), has decried the sheer waste of two modern anti- smuggling boats valued at N180 billion now idling away since they were acquired by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), several years ago.
The Association considered as one of the critical stakeholders in the Nigerian Maritime industry, in an open letter to the Acting Controller General of Customs, Adewale Bashir Adeniyi, said the open letter was a “A Wake Up Call” to the newly appointed customs boss.
The state of the arts waterways anti-smuggling patrol boats were procured nearly ten years ago, during the administration of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
No sooner were they deployed into the sea, that they were curiously abandoned and subsequently dumped at the Lagos Marina Waterfront, rusting away.
Describing the curious abandonment as “disheartening”, the Association headed by Mr. Godfrey Bivbiere, said the development was “a sad commentary on the rationality of the former leadership of the NCS that more than eight years after procurement, and many years after the immediate past administration and the Customs Comptroller General (CG), promised that the two patrol boats would be rescued from disuse, the boats have rather become a pitiable sight as most of its gadgets have gone useless, casting Nigeria in a bad light, among the comity of maritime nations”.
“More pathetic and anger inducing is the fact that the patrol boats, which consumes more than N5 billion as annual maintenance fees have, however, not been put into use even after being commissioned by former Customs boss, Rtd Col. Hameed Ali.
“It is more unpardonable to note that while these vessels are wears out daily due to water corrosion, the officers and men of the Western and Eastern Marine Commands of the Customs go on patrol operations on the waterways with obsolete and smaller patrol boats that has made them easy prey for smugglers. “Many have lost their lives in the process”.
Investigation carried out by the Association has however revealed that the boats are more than overdue for dry-docking routine maintenance, going by the manufacturer’s specification.
It will be recalled that the procurement of the patrol boats was initiated by the Management of NCS led by late Abdullahi Dikko Inde, ostensibly to boost its marine anti-smuggling operations.
At that time, the NCS operations, according to research, was at its lowest point because of lack of functional patrol boats and other operational equipment to withstand smugglers with more sophisticated and fast moving equipment while at the same time being fully armed.
According to MARAN, “the contract to build the boats was initially awarded to a South African firm, Kobus Naval Design , KND, by the government in 2012. The then Jonathan led Federal Executive Council, FEC, approved N3 billion for the procurement of the two NCS patrol boats for the surveillance of Nigeria waters.
“Based on the order, the two vessels , named ”Customs Pride” and” Group of Nine” were slated to be delivered to the NCS within 10 months but reneged until April 2015, three years behind schedule.
“The total cost of building the two patrol boats by the firm catapulted to over N180bn from the initial approved sum, raising questions about perceived sharp practices.
“The patrol boats which were delivered to the NCS in April, 2015 have since then berthed at the Marina Water fronts ,Lagos, where they are idling away at great cost of maintenance to the NCS”.
The Association noted that while commissioning the two sea going boats in September 2019, the then CG of Customs, Hameed Ali, admitted that the Service was weak in the area of marine waterways operations, when compared with the land operations, thereby necessitating the purchase of the two boats.
The former customs boss had during the occasion disclosed that an incident that led to the death of nine Customs marine officers while confronting deadly petrol smugglers on the sea in 2012, had informed the choice of name
MARAN recalled that “it was in honour of this group of nine gallant officers who died in the service to their fatherland that one of the seagoing vessels was named ‘Group of Nine’ while the other represents the ‘Customs Pride’ on the sea”.
“One would expect that since the Service now has four marine commands, namely Western Marine, Eastern Maritime, North-Western Marine and North Eastern Marine commands, there is no better time than now to put the boats into effective use.
“Presently Nigeria is going through economic turbulence, and cannot afford the culture of waste amplified by the past administration.
“This is a call on the Acting CG of Customs, Bashir Adewale Adeniyi to take immediate steps to get the boats functional as the Customs operations more than ever before, require these vessels to confront smugglers.
“We advise that the issues surrounding the abandonment of the vessels should be sorted out immediately or the Customs management should seek help of experts to rescue them.
“Nigeria Customs management should purge itself of the indifference and ‘above board’ attitude of its immediate past predecessor that led us to this sorry state”, they added.