By Charles Nwaoguji
Key stakeholders in the Maritime industry have called on the federal government to recover the N16.1 billion underpayment made by the Lagos Free Zone Operator.
The call made by a group, ‘Concerned Maritime Stakeholders (CMS),’ is coming on the heels of earlier revocation of land lease agreement by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) with the Lagos Free Zone Operator.
Apart from shortchanging the Federal Government, the Operstor was also accused by the NPA of violating the terms of the land lease at Tarkwa Bay, near Light House Beach in Lagos.
The NPA revoked the lease via a letter dated November 14, 2019.
According to NPA, the Operator also shortchanged the Federal Government by subleasing 11.2426 hectares of land out of the total 121 hectares leased to it at outrageous amount of money without recourse to NPA.
NPA revealed that the firm collected outrageous $45 million (N16.2billion) from a third party for the 11.2426 hectares of land for which it paid only $524,105 (N37.73 million) to NPA.
Reacting to the mind-boggling revelation by the NPA, the Group urged Buhari to direct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe NPA’s allegation, recover the underpayment and prosecute all those involved in shortchanging the Government.
Secretary of the group, Mr. Idris Sanusi, in a statement issued in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, urged the new Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari to draw the attention of the president to NPA’s sensitive allegation.
Sanusi alleged that before Prof Gambari came on board “they had misled Mr. President to believe that the Operator’s only infraction was that it subleased 11.2426 hectares of the land to a third party. They concealed the real fact from Mr. President. Before the revered Prof. Gambari was appointed, they took advantage of the absence of a Chief of Staff to give Mr. President wrong advice.
“We have it on good authority that Mr. President does not have the facts of the issue at the Lagos Free Zone. They misled Mr. President to believe that NPA’s only grouse against the Operator was that it subleased part of the land to a third party without approval from NPA. That is not the whole story. They failed to tell Mr. President that the Operator collected outrageous $45 million (N16.2billion) from the third party for the 11.2426 hectares of land for which it paid only $524,105 (N37.73 million) to NPA.
“This side of the story was concealed from Mr. President. It is very curious that they hid this fact.
“We call on Mr. President to ask EFCC to recover the money. We hope that Mr. President doesn’t act based on wrong advice. We are not against any associate of the Operator contesting for presidency in 2023 but the funding for the election should not come from our common purse.
“Prof. Gambari and EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu have a track record of integrity and we are hopeful they won’t allow the President to be misled,” Sanusi explained.
“Since NPA made the allegation publicly, the Operator has not come out to deny the allegation.
“So, EFCC should recover the balance of N16.16billion.
“We will pursue this matter to its logical conclusion. President Buhari’s no-nonsense posture on the issue of corruption is unprecedented and Magu has demonstrated that he is a good ally to Mr. President in the fight against corruption.
“We are counting on Prof. Gambari’s unblemished record both nationally and internationally, to draw Mr. President’s attention to this alleged monumental fraud which is an act of economic sabotage to the Federal Government .”