Alarmed by the seeming soaring popularity of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, President Muhammadu Buhari may have begun moves to curtail his influence and cash flows.
The federal government has directed the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to terminate the boats pilotage monitoring and supervision agreement that the agency has with Intels Nigeria Limited, a company co-owned by Atiku.
In the maritime industry, pilotage is compulsory for all ships of 35 metres overall length or greater unless a valid Pilotage Exemption Certificate is held by the ship’s master.
In return for the service, ship owners/companies are required to pay a pilotage fee, which Intels collects on NPA’s behalf and retains 28 per cent of the revenue as commission for the services rendered.
Intels, also co-owned by Gabriel Volpi, an Italian national who also has Nigerian citizenship, will lose several millions of dollars in the cancelled deal.
The order may be another move by power brokers in the Buhari kitchen cabinet to break the financial muscle of Atiku in the run up to the 2019 presidential election.
The government had through the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami (SAN) in a letter dated September 27, 2017 to the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman, said that the agreement, which has allowed Intels to receive revenue on behalf of NPA for 17 years, violates the Nigerian Constitution, especially in view of the implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy of government.
He noted in the letter that the contract with Intels was void ab initio.
Malami stated that the agreement violates Sections 80(1) and 162(1) and (10) of the constitution, and wondered that the parties – NPA and Intels – did not avert their minds to the relevant provisions when they were negotiating the agreement in 2010.
He ordered that all monies due to the NPA currently being collected by Intels and any other agents/third parties on behalf of NPA must henceforth be paid into the TSA or any of the sub-accounts linked thereto in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The move is , however, being seen as a political move to break Atiku’s backbone.
In 2015, Atiku described Intels as his most successful business.
This is the second time this year, the government has taken decisions that may have significant impact on the finances of Atiku.
In April, Buhari approved the recommendations of Malami, breaking the near-monopoly of Intels in the handling of oil and gas cargoes in the country.