By Chinwendu Obienyi

Mr. Bart Van Eenoo is the Managing Director of Calabar Channel Management (CCM) Company Limited. In this interview with reporters recently, he spoke on how his company won the contract for the dredging of Calabar Channel with no assistance from the political class but purely on merit. He also highlighted the challenges his company is facing with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to  dredge the Calabar Port.


Due process

These insinuations that due process was not followed in the award of the contract for the dredging of the Calabar Channel to our company have no basis. As far as we concerned the management of the NPA is being economical with the truth on this issue because NPA openly advertised for the establishment of a Channel Management Company for the Calabar navigation channel, which Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited duly bid and won leading to the establishment of CCM with a Joint Venture (JV) Agreement with the NPA with 60 per cent and 40 per cent equity respectively.

NPA in an advert entitled, “Public Notice No.3551: Invitation for Pre-qualification for the Management of the Access Channels to all Nigerian Ports” and published  in several newspapers on Wednesday, April 21, 2004, invited bidders which Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, leading a consortium of companies, bid and won.

The entire contract followed full advertisement in the media and due bidding processes with all the necessary approvals and vetting of the agreement by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) before its execution. It was after a rigorous exercise that our consortium won the bid. It is the same consultants – Mobotek – that handled the selection process for the Lagos Channel Management Company and the Bonny Channel Management Company that conducted the bidding process, which our company passed the financial and technical bids and was duly handed a “No Objection” Certificate by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).

It is therefore curious that someone will wake up over night and say that the contract did not follow due process and was not advertised. I think the present management of the NPA appears not favourably disposed to the project, and may be behind all the negative publicity. As a majority shareholder, the current management of the NPA refused to hold any meeting with our company since it came on board, but has been hobnobbing with and speaking favourably about managers of other channels.

At a point, an insider at the NPA instigated a petition against our company to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that we had not done any work, which necessitated an investigative panel with the EFCC that looked into the matter and certified that we actually worked, yet the NPA MD has been saying a different thing. How can anyone accuse our partners – Boskalis and Westminster Dredging, internationally acclaimed companies – of not doing a job they had satisfactorily executed if not for mischief and ulterior motives?

It is on record that all the stakeholders at the Calabar Port including the NPA’s Station Manager in Calabar then, had alluded to the fact that CCM carried out appreciable work on the dredging until the disruption of work by the NPA.

Even some of the stakeholders were always aboard the dredgers during the cause of the dredging to have a feel of the work done until the NPA suddenly disrupted work without formal communication to us. If no work was done as NPA management is now claiming and wants the world to believe, why was initial payment made to our company  when it is on record that NPA participated in all the works done by our company as NPA’s Project Resident Hydrographic Surveyor and Technical Auditors on the project, CARES Limited, were always on board the dredgers working on the project and certifying for payments only after verification that what is presented by the consortium tallies with the work done and in accordance with the JV agreement?

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Company without known address?

This is absolutely false. Our office is visible on 101, Ndidem Usang Iso Street, Calabar, Cross River State, and not Lagos as was alleged by our detractors. In fact, the current MD and her team visited our office in Calabar on assumption of office. We have a capable manpower of about 160 staff some of who have been in the industry for not less than 20 years.

Current situation on the dredging of Calabar Port

Recall that on November 17, 2014, the Federal Government, through the then Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, flagged off the operations of CCM, a JV company between NPA and Messrs Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, for the dredging of the Calabar Port.

Our company immediately commenced work by carrying out capital and maintenance dredging of the water channel well known for its shallow draught that had hampered bigger vessels from coming into the port in the last decades. We deployed dredgers, survey vessels, buoyage tender, wreck removal cranes and other ancillary marine crafts to the water channel for the operation. We had achieved several milestones, concentrating on spots in the channel critical to navigation, which so far, 16.3 kilometres out of the envisaged 20 kilometres high spots have been dredged with the deepening of the channel to 6.5 metres datum. However, work was suddenly disrupted by the NPA without any formal communication to our company and that is the situation as at today.

NPA’s attempt to stall project and non-payment for work done

Like the opinion of most critical stakeholders of the Calabar Port, I think the NPA is politicising this project. Otherwise, from the day the Calabar Port dredging was flagged off and certified by NPA’s Consultants, CARES, over $500 million has been paid to the Bonny and Lagos Management Channels. If the integrity of CARES is being questioned by NPA for a less amount for CCM, why is its (CARES) integrity not questioned for the payment of over $1 billion for the Bonny and Lagos Management Channels? From day one, management of these three channels were advertised on the same day, shortlisted and evaluated by the same Consultants – Mobotek. The contractual agreement for all the three channels is on the same template.

The mode of operation is also the same. The Calabar Channel is 96 kilometres, Bonny Channel, 84 Kilometres, and Lagos Channel, which is a deep seaport, is less than 12 kilometres from the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal. The siltation rate in Calabar is higher than the two channels, yet, attention is being given to where little or no work is needed.

I am aware all the technical information and data needed for the right thing to be done is at the disposal of the NPA but somehow, it is becoming obvious that somebody is playing politics with the Calabar channel, unfortunately to the detriment of the Nigerian economy. I advise the NPA top management to consult sincerely with its technical team, which I know is made up of professionals well trained in the industry; and stop politicising the issue.

Way forward

It is left for the NPA to do the needful for the dredging to continue. That is, pay our invoices to enable us resume operations. All the equipment and personnel deployed for the project under the JV Agreement are currently on ground, accruing demurrage. We attach much importance to the project because of its strategic position to the economy of Nigeria, particularly the North-East, North-Central and South-South. For instance, if the Calabar Port were functional, it would have been much easier to get relief materials for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in the North-East as a result of the insurgency. At present, these items come from the Lagos Port at very high costs. Besides, if the port is functional, it will guarantee trade facilitation and stimulate economic activities within the South-South, North-Central and North-East zones of the country.