By Afolabi Oyekunle.
Foremost Maritime Corespondents Association of Nigeria (Maran) says the present sorry state of the multi-billion Naira waterways anti-smuggling security patrol boats procured by former President Goodluck Jonathan Administration for the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), abandoned since 2015 at the Marina Lagos waterfront is disheartening.
Maran said 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 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 eaten away daily by termites, 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.
Inside sources say that the boats are more than overdue for dry-docking and 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, 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 sophisticated fast moving equipment, fully armed.
The contract to build the boats was 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 was not 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 it is idling away at great cost of maintenance to the NCS.
While commissioning the two sea going boats in September 2019, the CG of Customs, Hameed Ali, admitted that the Service have been weak on the waterways compared to the land and that this necessitated the purchase of the two boats.
This situation, he agreed led to the death of nine Customs marine officers while confronting deadly petrol smugglers on the sea in 2012.
It was in honour of this group of nine gallant officers who died in the service of 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.
Maran therefore 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 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 predecessor that led us to this sorry state.