Maritime administration in Nigeria is in crises. The raging controversy over the appointment of a chief executive for the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has kicked up a storm that is threatening to sink the apex maritime regulatory agency. Andrew Airahuobhor analyses the impact of the current situation at the agency on the Nigerian maritime industry.
The newly-appointed director general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, raised alarm last week that some powerful forces were pressurising him to disregard due process in signing contract papers. He added that his refusal to be stampeded has brought him a lot of grief and antagonism from the interested parties.
Akpobolokemi, whose appointment was greeted with severe criticism from diverse groups of maritime stakeholders over what they described as lack of requisite qualification for the job, addressed his maiden press conference last week since his resumption at NIMASA in January. There, he revealed: "The contract situation in NIMASA is untidy." He added that there are lots of pressure on him to sign various papers (payment vouchers), including papers brought by former DGs, "I have insisted that due process must be followed. That is why I have come under attack," the visibly harassed university teacher confessed.
But he boasted that no amount of pressure and blackmail could make him do what is against his conscience as he has decided to be frugal with government resources. Akpobolokemi is the number four director general of the agency in three years and the agency, as it is now known, was established in 2007 following the merger of National Maritime Authority (NMA) and the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC), via Act 17 of 2007.
But many see this posture as typical of a new helmsman. It is believed that in the coming months, the pressure on the NIMASA boss will be so intense that he would be forced to compromise or get undermined to be booted out.
The Immediate past boss Temisan Omatseye, is still battling with a contract-splitting scandal which cost him his job after being arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He had acknowledged the existence of strong forces hindering the growth of the maritime industry, saying that throughout the first year of his administration, he had to be battling with various crises which took most of his time. However, later on, he got involved in a contract-splitting deal which turned a scandal that cost him his job.
It was gathered that he embarked on massive splitting of contracts in 2010, some of which were approved by the former board of the agency. Now a new chairman for the board has been appointed, who is the former Bauchi State governor Ahmadu Adamu Mu'azu.
Meanwhile, two human rights activists and lawyers in Festus Keyamo Chambers, Oghenovo Otemu and Alexander Oketa have dragged the Federal government to court over the appointment of Mu'azu as the Chairman of NIMASA. The two activists are seeking the reversal of Mu'azu's appointment on the grounds that a government White Paper had banned him from holding public office for 10 years after he was indicted by a judicial commission of inquiry which investigated the management of some ministries and parastatals in Bauchi State while he was governor.
Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) has claimed that Nigeria may be losing about N3 trillion annually due to frequent changes of leadership at the nation's apex maritime regulatory body.
Chairman of the association Isaac Jolapamo, said that instability in the management of the agency has resulted in a huge capital flight from the nation. "The country is losing over N3 trillion as capital flight because we have not allowed the maritime industry to develop. This is what the Nigerian Shipping Act 2007, The Cabotage Act 2003 and the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010 are out to arrest. You need a focused and purposeful leadership of NIMASA to ensure compliance with these laws," Jolapamo said.
He noted that in the 22 years of the establishment of NIMASA, formerly known as NMA, the agency has had 11 directors-generals, the last three of whom were removed through the intervention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The challenges facing the administration of the Nigerian Maritime industry are formidable, multifaceted and several of them long-standing. With an awful politics, NIMASA has experienced greater instability at the leadership level than any other government organisation.
Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, for instance, it has had six directors-general. Each person was removed on trumped-up charges allegedly initiated and orchestrated by immediate subordinates too eager to assume leadership. This situation, it was gathered, has kept the maritime industry in its current doldrums in spite of concrete developmental programmes and policies variously articulated by successive administrations.
Intrigues, power play, treachery are the hallmark of the short tenures of the headship of NIMASA. In other words, there is a treacherous interplay of forces from within and from outside of NIMASA. No one has stayed long enough to achieve anything largely due to the axiomatic "banana peel" in NIMASA funded by "powerful forces" that have allegedly turned NIMASA into a conduit pipe.
Successive helmsmen have consequently turned into contract-awarding chief executives who neglected the core responsibilities of the agency, which are shipping and shipping development in Nigeria. For over 20 years of NMA cum NIMASA's existence, it could not realise the objectives of the formulators of the Merchant Shipping Act, which could be attributed to a longstanding culture of corruption, intrigues and orchestrated political manipulations, which have been the lot of the agency.
The core of NIMASA Act 2007 is about developing indigenous shipping operations in the country, in terms of local content, shipping infrastructure and capacity building.
The Senate Committee on Marine Transport Chairman Gbemi Saraki, had described the agency's problem as complete lack of understanding of what the industry requires and the involvement of the agency in activities that have no direct bearing on the core responsibilities of the agency and, indeed, to Nigerian ship-owners and other stakeholders.
This is because shipping and, indeed, maritime activities affect the lives of every Nigerian, sometimes directly, but mostly indirectly, which makes the industry a critical component of the nation's economy.
The Minister of Transport Yusuf Suleiman, pointed out this problem of abandoning its core functions for contract awards in an interview with Daily Independent. He acknowledged the instability in the tenures of chief executives in NIMASA and attributed it to their tendency to derail into becoming contract awarding chief executives rather than concentrating on policy.
"I was a director, Finance and Administration of the Nigerian Maritime Authority. I worked with chief executives and I know what happened. So when people come out to say there has been instability of tenure in terms of leadership of the agency, I believe that it is an individual problem, because this is not the only agency under my ministry," he said.
It is believed that the focus of maritime administration should be growing indigenous capacity through the full implementation of Cabotage Act, facilitating tonnage volume and positioning the maritime industry as a major contributor to Federal revenue and national development.
The Registrar of the Institute of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (IFFN) Ademola Irinyemi, noted that the on-going crisis at NIMASA will undoubtedly impede the industry's development as people with genuine intention are internally and externally opposed and frustrated in their place of assignment. The apparent confusion, according to him, would have negative drawbacks on the development of NIMASA and the entire maritime industry if not corrected.
Moreover, he said it was crucial to allow the new director general of the agency to perform his assignment and let Nigerians, particularly the industry stakeholders, give him the opportunity to carry out his set objectives for the advancement of the apex body and the entire maritime sector.
Meanwhile, the failure of Nigeria, a highly import-dependent economy, to take advantage of global sea trade and its failure to develop national carriers were among the circumstances which led to the establishment of NMA through the Nigerian Merchant Shipping Act of 1987.
The rationale to establish the maritime authority came about in the days of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which had the regime of 40: 40: 20 in the sharing of international cargo.
That means, 40 percent of the cargo will be carried by the originating nation, another 40 percent goes to the cargo nation and 20 percent to surrounding interests.
Cargo nations were at the mercy of liner services, which were themselves at the mercy of liner conferences or shipping cartels. By this time, the Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL), which had long been in the throes of death, was replaced in the early 1990s by National Unity Line (NUL), which itself fared no better. They were run like most state-owned enterprises in Nigeria.
NMA also had the misfortune of unstable leadership, which is apparently responsible for its inability to achieve the purpose for its creation, to the extent that in its more than 20 years' existence, indigenous participation in the shipping sector remained at its lowest ebb.
The new director-general appears determined to focus on doing the right thing for the industry to grow. He said no amount of pressure will make him budge. "The good thing is that I have developed high capacity to absorb pressure. Even if you put a gun to my head, I will not do what I think is against my conscience," he declared.
The university teacher revealed that he even subjected his spending in the agency to rigorous process of accountability and probity in a bid to underscore his passion for frugality and austere life. "When they presented to me the imprest which the office of the DG is entitled to, I was alarmed by the amount and I ordered that it be cut. I similarly ordered the imprest of the offices of Executive directors and other directors to be slashed and naturally, this drew an uproar. Even I subjected my personal needs such as the renovation of my office and the procurement of my official car to due process," the NIMASA helmsman said.
He vowed that nothing could make him compromise his stand as he has told his staff that NIMASA is a public institution whose money should not be wasted. He declared that NIMASA is not a contract-awarding agency, but one charged with facilitating maritime trade and providing safe, secure shipping activities.
"Nigeria should be ashamed that it does not have a single national ocean-going carrier. It is also worrisome that our Cabotage trade has been taken over by foreigners. I cry everyday since I assumed office when I discovered that the industry is characterised by acrimony. I have, however, entered into a covenant with God that I will ensure that Nigerians take over the Cabotage trade from the foreigners," Akpobolokemi promised.
Curiously, all the three executive directors in the agency were absent from the media parley. Also, no director or other senior staff were present, fuelling speculations that a rift exists between the director general and his executive directors. But the management of NIMASA has denied the existence of any rift.