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The other side of NPA ‘arson’

Still trying to come to terms with the arson on the Nigerian Ports Authority Lagos Head Office building, stakeholders in the industry and beyond are calling for thorough investigation into the unfortunate incident. They also want the National Assembly to apply caution from hastily approving budgetary allocation for renovation of the building, MUYIWA LUCAS reports.

Going by its strategic importance to the nation’s economy as the second largest revenue earning agency of government after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the emotions that greeted the setting ablaze of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Marina Lagos Head office building can be well understood.

Of more concern is that the same building was recently renovated under the present administration of the NPA managing director, Hadiza Bala-Usman.

The NPA, as the landlord of the Nigerian ports and business activities around the ‘Blue economy’, remains the most financially strong government agency in the sector; hence its financial strength and impact on the national growth performance index cannot be overemphasised.

It is, therefore, understandable that the House of Representatives Committee Chairman on Ports and Habours, Garba Datti Muhammad and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Marine Transport, Tolulope Odebiyi, said the National Assembly (NASS) has advised the NPA management to adjust its 2020 budget and include cost for the repairs of the building, which they assured would be considered in the interest of the economy.

“We are here to commiserate with the Nigerian Ports Authority and as lawmakers, see the extent of damage done by persons who hijacked a peaceful protest to destroy government properties,” Muhammed said.

But reacting to the NASS position, stakeholders and social commentators have questioned the position of the lawmakers. According to them, the NPA building, like any other building of that magnitude, are comprehensively insured. Such insurance cover, they contend, should take the burden of renovation off the government.

A consultant in the maritime sector, Mayowa Sodipo, argued that while the lawmakers’ position can be understood as a patriotic move, yet, they should have exercised restraint considering that the NPA can always present a supplementary budget at a later time instead of making them rush to submit a budget that might not be sufficient or over bloated for the repairs.

Besides, Sodipo argued that the insurers to the building should be made to take responsibility for the repairs, so as to free government of funds which can be used for other needs in the economy. For Emmanuel Okafor, a freight forwarder, the government should not believe hook , line and sinker, the attribution of the arson to the miscreants claimed to have hijacked the ENDSARS protest.

His position, he explained, is based on the thinking that had the miscreants truly wanted to damage government properties, then other buildings beside the facility ought to have been set ablaze as well. He further argued that if the miscreants truly meant venting their anger on perceived government properties, the Eko Electricity Company, which gigantic building shares a common fence with NPA House, would have been torched. Okafor said that knowing the perception of the public about electricity firms in the country, the protest presented a veiled cover for the EKO Electricity Company’s building to be attacked.

Arising from this submission, the freight forwarder advised government to look critically into the possibility of a “fifth” columnist and deploy forensic experts to investigate the unfortunate attack on the NPA building.

“I will suggest that we don’t hurriedly conclude that hoodlums burnt the NPA House. The government should institute a panel, including deploying forensic experts, to look into the incident because other big buildings and corporate edifices surrounding the NPA house were not tampered with. In an ideal situation, that NPA building would not have been isolated in that cluster for burning,” Okafor opined.

The NPA said that an integrity test is being carried out on the building, while an assessment to determine the extent of damage is also on.

For now, there are several questions begging for answer. For instance, there is the theory of a “fifth” columnist in the fire incident. Others include but not limited to how far has the NPA gone with the integrity test on the building; who or which firm is / are handling the integrity test; what was the cost of initial renovation done on the building about two years ago; who are the insurers to the building; what class of insurance cover exist on the building, especially following the MD’s comment that insurance alone cannot take full responsibility for the repairs? Also, is the question on the valuation of the damage and who are the valuers.

When The Nation contacted the NPA General Manager on Corporate and Strategic Communications, Adams Jatto, explained that the necessary integrity tests on concrete and electromechanical elements of the building is still ongoing. Although he refused to disclose the identity of the firm handling the integrity test, he simply said “a reputable structural engineering firm has been commissioned to handle the integrity test.”

Jatto was also silent on the cost of the previous renovation of the building. He, however, said that the contract for the renovation of the main building and the construction of the Annex building was awarded in 2011 and completed in 2017.

Still, a code of silence on the identity of the insurers came from the GM. While declining to reveal the insurers identity, he simply said: “We have a comprehensive package insurance policy on the building which covers both fire and theft among other things. We have a consortium of insurance underwriters covering both fire and theft insurance policies on the building,” adding that the Lead underwriter has appointed a loss adjuster to evaluate the extent of loss to the building albeit the contents.

Jatto assured that the unfortunate incident “will be thoroughly investigated to bring the perpetrators to book.”

With a comprehensive insurance cover, covering fire and theft on the building, will it then be proper for budgetary allocations for repairs of the building made or approved?

As at the time of going to press, the police is yet to parade any suspect in relation to the attack on the NPA house. And considering the commendable efforts the police have   made in arrests of suspects involved in looting and arson of other facilities, Sodipo asked: “in what state was the NPA CCTV during the attack because this would provide a good lead for arrest and investigation.”

Culled from the Nation Newspaper

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