By Steve Agbota
Eighteen years after promising to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to qualified local ship owners, the Federal Government may have withdrawn approval for its disbursement thereby dashing the hope of many who had waited for almost two decades.
This means that the fund, which is estimated at over N136.5 billion may eventually not be disbursed soon. The development may have dashed the hope of local ship owners to secure cheap and low interest funds to enable them acquire ships to compete with their foreign counterparts.
Speaking at the official flag off of the National Wreck Removal exercise in Lagos, the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, said President Muhammadu Buhari had initially given approval for the disbursement of the fund but later withdrew over issues of distrust among ship owners.
“Ship owners went behind to gang- up against him after I fought for more than two years to secure approval for the disbursement of the fund. The ship owners went around with negative campaigning and that approval was withdrawn. Then they said I should come and fight again. Should I fight? The answer is no.
“I fought for over two years and they gave us approval, and when it was time to disburse, they started to look for trouble. One day, I woke up and saw a directive from the President withdrawing the approval. Should I fight again? No, I am not fighting again.”
According to him, there is no unity among the local ship owners, adding that it was only in the Nigerian maritime sector that has ship owners that don’t have ships.
However, he blamed the indigenous ship operators for the withdrawal of the Singaporean firm, Pacific International Limited (PIL) from the Joint Venture it entered with the Nigerian government to establish a national shipping line after they failed to present their own 60 per cent equity for the national carrier.
“How many of you in the maritime sector are united? So, when you meet men who are fighting among themselves, you move on to something more serious. It is only in the Nigerian maritime sector that you have ship owners that don’t own ships. So, if I am dealing with ship owners that don’t own ships, what will I do? I will go to the railway,” he said.
“When I came into government, the first place I focused my attention on was on maritime. We went to Singapore to get a foreign investor who will bring 40 per cent for the acquisition of a national shipping line and Nigeria to bring 60 per cent.