Monday, 31 August 2015

Help, no water to drink in Otuoke

Otuoke is the village of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan – the immediate past President of Nigeria. Jonathan was in power for more than five years as President, from April 2010 to May 29 2015. Before then he was Vice President from 2007 to 2010. Before emerging on the national level, he was Deputy Governor and Governor of Bayelsa State from 1999 to 2007. Simply put, Jonathan – Otuoke's most prominent son – was one of the most powerful men in this country from 1999 to 2015 – 16 whole years. More than enough time to have developed his community. You'll then understand why I was taken aback when I read last week that Otuoke lacked potable water.
If Jonathan could not provide or influence the provision of drinkable water for his community, any wonder he performed woefully as President of Nigeria?
Nigerians have generally come to accept the Jonathan administration as one of the worst attacks against their country but Elijah Ateki, Otuoke's Community Development Committee, really brought this fact home.
"Otuoke community depends on rivers and now that all the rivers are polluted by oil, it is difficult for us to get potable water here," Ateki was reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as saying while one Emmanuel Agede, a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) serving in the area expressed dissatisfaction with the situation and called for government's intervention.
"You will not believe it that here in Otuoke, we use water from an unused suck-away pit dug near our lodge for washing clothes and bathing. For cooking and drinking, we buy sachet water; life is very difficult here; we spend the bulk of our monthly allowances on water for survival."
Did I hear you say what? In Otuoke? Unimaginable and unbelievable. With the multi-million dollar mansions, hotels and hostels built in that small town and mostly owned by the Jonathans, the one thing the former President failed to do was develop his community. The roads are bad, electricity is scarce and the roads are in terrible conditions. But that was the story all over Nigeria while Jonathan held sway as the nation's first citizen. This is rather unfortunate because his government came to power on the back of popular support and one that enjoyed a lot of public goodwill in its early years.
In 2010, when Jonathan was sworn in as substantive President after the death of his former boss, Umaru Yar'Adua, power generation in Nigeria was 3,000 mega watts but by May 29 when he handed over to Buhari, power generation had dropped to less than 1000 mega watts.
"If I'm voted into power, within the next four years, the issue of power will become a thing of the past. Four years is enough for anyone in power to make a significant improvement and if I can't improve on power within this period, it then means I cannot do anything," Jonathan had promised Nigerians while campaigning for their mandate in 2011. Truly, he proved that he "cannot do anything".
Security was worse. Jonathan's administration practically dozed off while insurgents ran amok killing Nigerians in tens of thousands and displacing several million others especially in the North East.
Corruption was at its peak with Jonathan incurring the wrath of many Nigerians no thanks to his infamous declaration that "stealing is not corruption". He had no qualms shielding his top aides and Ministers accused of corrupt practices. Oil theft was also at its apogee despite huge sums voted for the fight against piracy. Nigeria reportedly lost an average of one million barrels of oil daily. Ministers and top government officials were said to be behind this criminality.
The maritime industry did not fare any better. Rather than develop the industry, Jonathan installed his cronies and unqualified associates to head very sensitive maritime agencies. The result of his unpopular decision is the looting of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and other important agencies to the detriment of the growth and development of the sector.
It is on record that more than 80% of Nigerian shipping companies went under during Jonathan's reign. He could not be bothered. He was only concerned about awarding juicy maritime appointments and contracts – including the unbelievably absurd contract of securing the waterways – to his kinsmen and ex-warlords.
When asked to assess the Jonathan administration, founding President of Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), Chief Isaac Jolapamo said, "I was pauperized so how would I have assessed it? For five years, I was doing nothing. I took my vessels out of NNPC because they are frustrating me and they started the subsidy scam and my ships cannot be used because I cannot carry 20,000 tons and discharge 5,000 tons and say the 20,000 tons has been discharged."

That was Jonathan's legacy. Hopefully, President Buhari will clean up the mess and place Nigeria back on track.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Dikko Abdullahi's tumultuous reign

From the very beginning of his tenure as the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service on 18th August 2014, Dikko Inde Abdullahi was confronted with series of crises and allegations.
First, his appointment by late President Umaru Yar'Adua was largely criticized by a section of the media. Former First Lady Turai Yar'Adua was believed to have influenced the appointment even as the late President was accused of appointing a relative to head the NCS. Dikko is married to Turai's relative and is also a distant cousin of Yar'adua from Musawa Local Government Area of Katsina State.
Before the dust over his controversial appointment could settle, Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo publicly accused the new Customs boss of certificate forgery.
Acting on behalf of one Olajide Oyewole Ibrahim, Keyamo asked the Yar'Adua government to investigate the allegation against Abdullahi but when the request was not honoured, he proceeded to file a suit at the Lagos High Court asking the court to compel the Lagos State Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to initiate criminal proceedings against Abdullahi
Keyamo had asked the DPP to investigate the alleged falsification of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and Nigeria Institute of Management (NIM) certificates by the Customs Comptroller-General.
However, in her ruling on the matter, Justice Yetunde Idowu said Keyamo's application was premature and incompetent. The matter somehow fizzled out without a definite closure.
About a year after, another trouble loomed for the Customs Comptroller-General when a businessman, Omelu Charles Chinweuba accused Abdullahi of alleged fraud.
In a petition to then President Goodluck Jonathan, dated August 30, 2010, Chinweuba said through his lawyer, again Festus Keyamo, that Dikko's proxy received approximately N7 million from him purportedly as payment for abandoned containers the Customs was about to auction.
According to the petition, a lawyer to Dikko, Barrister Amobi Nzelu, visited Chinweuba in his office in the Wuse District of Abuja in February and claimed to be acting on behalf of the Customs' boss. Nzelu, a controversial figure, who was engaged in the fraudulent court judgment by Dan Abutu that legitimized Musa Yar'adua's prolonged absence from the country, was known to be a close ally of Dikko. He represented Dikko in fighting Keyamo over the certificate forgery scandal.
Series of other serious allegations dogged Dikko's path with the most recent being a petition sent to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) by a group which called itself Nigerian Customs Transparency Initiative (NCTI).
NCTI asked the anti-graft agency to probe alleged abuse of office by Dikko.
It also asked ICPC to call on the CG and his team to account for the alleged disappearance of some containers and N3.5billion incurred on the installation of internet facility by the Nigeria Customs Service.
The ICPC confirmed the receipt of the petition from the affected group on July 29. In the petition, which was signed by one Dr. James Onoja, the group asked ICPC to probe some infractions allegedly committed by the CG.
The allegations against the CG include contravention of the Public Service Rule, manipulation of promotions, high-handedness and inflation of purchase of BMW cars for senior Customs officials.
The petitioners alleged that the Customs Board was kept in the dark as promotions were manipulated and Customs officials were selectively elevated.
They claimed that bootlickers, favourites and stooges were elevated to juicy and sumptuous positions and postings to Lagos and Port-Harcourt ports.
He was constantly in battle.
Dikko also drew the ire of the public last year when he declared that he would remain Customs CG "so long as Jonatahn remains Nigeria's President".
Notwithstanding the various darts, Dikko left an indelible mark as Customs Comptroller-General.
It was under Dikko that the NCS started talking of revenue in trillions of naira.
Enhanced staff welfare, increased revenue generation and the introduction of the pre-arrival assessment report (PAAR) scheme remain some of the highpoints of his tenure but the earlier stated allegations including the allegations of vindictiveness, high-handedness and intolerance will continue to haunt him.
I won't be totally surprised if he is the next high profile guest of the EFCC.

Monday, 17 August 2015

EFCC is no stranger to NIMASA

We are going the rounds again. Power change hands, a new Director-General is appointed, he makes promises then derails when he eventually comes to terms with the enormity of resources at his disposal, internal wrangling begin; petition and all; he is fired and then arrested by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as the case may be.
It happened to George Eneh in 1999. The intrigues were very strong and Ojo Maduekwe as Obasanjo's second Transport Minister threw Eneh out, replacing him with his fellow kinsman, Ferdinand Agu. Agu completed his first term and even managed to secure a second term ticket but was not lucky enough to survive more than three months afterwards.
In came another Enugu man, Festus Ugwu who was Ebeano Governor Chimaroke Nnamani's commissioner. Eneh, Agu and Ugwu – of blessed memory, were total strangers to the maritime business. Their appointments were totally political leading many to believe that the 'Enugu mafia' as it was then known had a stronghold on Obasanjo's government.
Agu was lucky to escape scrutiny by the security agencies but not Ugwu. Few days to the end of his turbulent tenure, NMA Board Chairman and Lagos State Governorship aspirant, Funso Williams was gruesomely butchered in his Dolphin Estate residence by some unknown assassins. Suspects were rounded up by the CID. Ugwu was one of them. Musiliu Obanikoro was also arrested among several other 'political arrests'.
I remember stopping over one day to say hello to Ugwu at Alagbon. I enjoyed a good working relationship with him and he had personally graced the maiden edition of our annual Shipping Career Summit at MUSON Centre. His spirit was high and he even managed to exchange banters. His sack was announced while he was still in detention at Alagbon. He was eventually released but never prosecuted.
August 1, 2006; Obasanjo approved the merger of NMA with JOMALIC to form NAMASA, which later changed to NIMASA. Mfon Usoro emerged the agency's first Director-General with Tijjani Ramalan as Board Chairman. The once close friends soon became sworn enemies. Usoro's two Executive Directors, Engr. Oliver Ogbuagbu (Operations) and Dr. Ade Dosunmu (Finance and Administration) publicly pitched their tents against her. Infighting broke out. Tempers flared. Petitions started to fly all around as usual. There were series of unsubstantiated allegations against the DG.  With the support of then Minister of State for Transport, Habib Aliyu, the traducers had their way. The first female head of Nigeria's maritime administration, largely described as a highly knowledgeable and selfless professional, lost her plum job ten months into it.
EFCC also got involved somehow but the Ministry of Transport would later issue a letter apologizing and clearing her of any misdeed. But she still lost the job.
In came Dr. Shamsideen Adegboyega Dosunmu – roundly described as a policy strategist and maritime administrator. With Dosunmu came some level of stability. He introduced quite a number of initiatives including the Nigeria Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), Ship Repair and Maintenance Subsidy et al. Dosunmu also completed the construction of the agency's Maritime Resource Centre – a multipurpose edifice located at Kirikiri, Lagos. The project was initiated by Agu.
Nigeria hosted the Regional Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre and won re-election into the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council consecutively under the astute administrator. He was a thoroughbred civil servant who understood the inner workings of the agency. He boosted the welfare of workers of the agency and tried to induce some level of professionalism. He was loved by many, of course not by everyone.
Two years into his tenure, the intrigues kicked in again. The enemy this time wasn't within. It was mostly from outside the agency. NIMASA had been highly politicized and many knew it as a contract awarding agency. They would go to any extent to either control the sitting chief executive or have one of their own on the seat.
Dosunmu struggled to save his seat but by July 2009, the centre could no longer hold. President Yar'Adua caved in and handed the job to Temi Omatseye who was said to have enjoyed some strong support from some powerful politicians at the time.
Perhaps it was just as well that Dosunmu did not do the politicians' biddings because he walked away without undue harassment by EFCC.
Omatseye wasn't that lucky. He lost his job to Patrick Akpobolokemi after one and a half years. EFCC moved into his case and he is still being prosecuted at a Federal High Court, Lagos by the anti-graft agency. He is the first to be so prosecuted.
Omatseye's successor, Patrick Akpobolokemi emerged on the scene towards the end of December 2010. He enjoyed the strong backings of President Goodluck Jonathan. He was arguably the most powerful chief executive of a federal agency under the Jonathan administration. He wielded enormous powers and influence. Three months to the expiration of his first four-year term, he got a second term approval. He was a regular face at Aso Rock Villa. There were tons of petition against Akpobolokemi but he was untouchable. He bestrode the landscape like a colossus.
But Jonathan's defeat in the hands of General Muhammadu Buhari changed everything. Akpobolokemi has bitten the dust and EFCC has moved in. Who is next?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Truly, God is a Nigerian

Suddenly everything seems to be working again. I don’t know what electricity supply is like in your area but where I live, the noise pollution and fumes from generators has reduced considerably. I heard Nigeria now generates over 4,500 megawatts of electricity – an unprecedented high from an unprecedented low of 750MW less than three months ago. President Buhari has not even appointed a Minister of Power yet. Neither has he sacked anyone from PHCN or the Power Ministry. It is still the same people running the show but with a new set of attitude. No one wants to be caught on the wrong side of the divide.
The fact that all three refineries are now working, barely two months into the life of the present administration high-fives good leadership.
President Buhari is a man of few words but we all hear him loud and clear. Those in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and its various subsidiaries hear him too. How else do you explain that the Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries are now working and collectively churning out over 10 million litres of petrol daily, representing a third of local consumption needs. It is the same set of Managers running these facilities.
We had all given up on the refineries which at a point became an embarrassment to this country.
A whopping $1.6billion was voted for the turnaround maintenance (TAM) of the four refineries across the country by the end of 2014.  Many Nigerians knew it was another princely sum down the drain. Money to be shared among powerful political appointees and corrupt civil servants.
The current combined installed capacity of Port Harcourt refinery is 210,000 barrels per day, while Kaduna and Warri refineries are 110,000 bpd and 125,000 bpd respectively. These refineries should collectively pump out about 70million litres of petrol daily, more than twice the daily demand.
Unfortunately despite these impressive figures, the country has never enjoyed the benefits of the refineries as it has had to import refine crude in large quantities to augment local consumption, albeit, at a drain on the nation’s resources. But if President Buhari can get these facilities to operate at only 50% of their installed capacity, Nigerians will kiss petroleum product importation and the sleazy fuel subsidy regime goodbye.
Things are really changing fast in Nigeria. If these refineries can work, then everything can work in Nigeria.
More than two months after the oil pipeline contracts awarded by the former regime were revoked by the Buhari administration, the petroleum products distribution chain has remained intact. I think they’re even a lot safer now than ever before because the military which has the statutory responsibility of protecting these critical national infrastructures have been allowed to do their jobs.
It was enthralling to read the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) report for the first half of the year with no piracy incident and zero attack recorded on Nigeria’s waters. This is a clear departure from the Jonathan/Tompolo/Akpobolokemi era. Despite a monthly N1.5billion payment from Akpobolokemi’s NIMASA to the ex-Niger Delta warlord for a highly controversial maritime security contract approved by the former President, Nigeria’s waterways became highly notorious and recorded the worst incidents of piracy, sea robbery and oil theft in history.
All of that has changed. The controversial contract has since been suspended while sanity has since been restored.
It is hard to forget Jonathan’s last Monday in office. 25th May 2015 was the day Nigeria was practically brought to its knees by the sleaze and incompetence of the Jonathan administration.
It was a black that would be permanently etched on the psyche of many Nigerians. That day was a fitting description of everything Jonathan’s five-and-a-half year regime typified – total darkness. We all remember how banks had to shut down their operations, no light, no fuel, no money.
With the kind of revelations coming into the public domain in the past few weeks – oil theft by Ministers, stashing away of over $6biliion in a foreign account by a former Minister and so on – it is safe the describe Jonathan’s administration as one of the worst in the history of this country.
Indeed, the former regime pushed Nigeria to the edge of the cliff but as it happened in 1966, during the civil war, after June 12 and the third term agenda era, He stepped in and saved His own.

Expert warns against 100% adoption of foreign policies in maritime sector

Worried by the inability of most foreign conventions and laws adopted in the nation's maritime sector, to turn the sector around for good, an industry expert has warned the federal government against total adoption of foreign commercial maritime laws without due considerations to Nigeria's economic environment.
Bolaji Akinola, a member of the Nigerian Ports Consultative Council (NPCC) Planning Committee on 'Roadmap for the Development of the Maritime Industry towards Attainment of Vision 20:20:20', gave this advice at a meeting of the committee in Lagos recently.
Citing an example, Akinola stated that the failure of the Coastal and Inland Waterways (Cabotage) Act was traceable to the wholesome adoption of the United States of America's Jones Act.
"At a time when United States lawmakers were trying to tweak the Jones Act with some lawmakers calling for its total repeal, Nigerians copied the Act in its whole form without due consideration for the peculiarities of our environment. While an Act like the Cabotage Act was desirable to enhance indigenous participation and retain as much value within our economy as possible, certain portions of the Jones Act should not have been brought into the Cabotage regime.
Continuing, he said: "The Jones Act is almost 100 years old and the dynamics of the present times should have been duly considered before enacting our Cabotage Act. For example, just as the Jones Act, our Cabotage Act stipulated that vessels that would be used for coastal operations must be owned and crew by Nigerians, built and maintained in Nigeria. This is an anomaly because Nigerians have not started building ships. This laid the foundation for the abuse of the law and its failure 10 years after," Akinola, who doubles as the chief executive officer of Ships & Ports Limited, added.
To him, government was not under obligation to domesticate and implement international conventions that are detrimental to the interests of Nigerian ship owners. He further advised that the phase out of single hull vessels as it concerns ships used for coastal operations should be gradual.
He also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to reverse policies 'that are inimical to the maritime industry' and have promoted smuggling of goods across Nigeria's borders. He listed the National Automotive Policy, rice and fish quota systems as policies that are negatively hampering port operations and through which, Nigeria is losing huge revenue.