A major scandal has hit the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), following allegation of bribery in the US$429 million maritime security contract.

Already, three officials of Israeli Shipyards, a firm that won the NIMASA security contract, have been arrested in Israel for allegedly bribing Nigerian government officials to get the contract.

Sources revealed that the arrest of the Israeli company’s officials came on the heels of raids on its offices by security agencies, following investigation of its activities.

It was gathered that the controversial contract was to be split into two with one part, worth $429 million, awarded to Israeli Shipyards and another for $195 million contract given to HSU Security and Technology.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the arrest of the Israelis had sent shockwaves through the Federal Ministry of Transport and NIMASA, whose officials are allegedly involved in the contract.

Sources revealed that the anxiety at the two agencies, in addition to the shipyard contracts, stems from controversies over ship purchases valued at $615 million.

Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, had revealed that a three-year contract was to be awarded for the patrol of Nigeria’s waterways as well as the training of military personnel. 

On October 30, last year, the Federal Government had awarded  a security contract valued at $195 million to an Israeli firm to procure security equipment and assist in training Nigerian security personnel to tackle crime along the nation’s waterways.

Disclosing this at an event to mark this year’s World Maritime Day in Lagos recently, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, failed to reveal the name of the firm, but said the contract which  commenced  in December last year  will last for a period of three years after which the company will hand over to Nigerian security personnel.

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Nigerian maritime domain is still facing security challenges, as more case of attacks and kidnappings are being recorded this year. Amaechi said the agreement became imperative given the high charges shipping firms’ pay for security escort on Nigerian waterways.

“The Israelis have assured us that after the training of our security operatives, such harassment and attacks on our waterways will not happen again. They even said we should hold them accountable if such harassment persists on our waterways after the training. That is one achievement that has happened under our leadership in the maritime sector”, he said.

According to him, an operator spends about $18 million on a yearly basis due to insecurity on the nation’s waterways, in addition to high way risk insurance payable by shippers to do business Nigerian waters.

“One of the burning issues in the maritime sector is security. The Federal Government has contacted an Israeli firm which is going to train our security men. They will buy equipment and dominate Nigeria’s waterways for the next three years.

Commandant, Nigerian Defense College, Real Admiral Adeniyi Adejimi Oshinowo, said improving maritime safety in Nigerian waterways requires concerted efforts through inter-agency and cross-border collaboration on maritime security.

However, the contract drew the anger of stakeholders who argued that  it was a ploy to siphon some crude oil products out of Nigeria for private use.  If it was not so, why did contract  not go through the National Assembly or Head of Service for approval?

The co-ordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders,  Chief Osita Patrick Chukwu, condemned the contract, saying that it is an avenue to divert crude  oil for selfish interest.

The Director General of Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Mr Joel Nwosu, regretted that a government that is  supposed to be fighting corruption is enmeshed in a mesh of contract scam.

Efforts to reach NIMASA’s Deputy Director, Corporate Communications, Isichei Osamgbi, for comments proved abortive.