Monday, 21 March 2016

NIMASA: 10 DGs in 16 years

The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is at the heart of the growth and development of the nation’s maritime industry. NIMASA is responsible for not only regulating shipping activities and docklabour but also for developing Nigerian tonnage. Unfortunately, the agency has consistently failed to deliver on its mandate since inception. The failure of NIMASA is the failure of the maritime industry and a disservice to the Nigerian economy.
Two factors stand out strongly for the failure of NIMASA over the years. One is leadership instability while the other is the undue politicization of appointments into the board and top management positions of the agency. The offices of the Director-General and those of the Executive Directors have been most hit by politics. Before the appointment of Patrick Akpobolokemi as head of the agency in December 2010, there had been too frequent changes in the leadership of NIMASA, with an average tenure of 1.57 years for each Director-General. From May 1999, when the nation returned to democratic governance to date, NIMASA has had 10 Directors-General with an average tenure of one year seven months each.
In the history of the nation’s apex maritime regulatory body – former known as the National Maritime Authority (NMA) but now known as NIMASA consequent upon the fusion of the NMA with the defunct Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC) on 1st August 2006 – only two people have been appointed from within the organisation as substantive CEOs. The first was John Egesi. Unfortunately, Egesi spent barely three months in office before he was thrown out in 1999 as a result of series of political intrigues. The second was Dr. Ade Dosunmu who served as DG/CEO from May 2007 to July 2009. In between Egesi and Dosunmu’s, Enugu-born politicians had a field day as they contended with each other for headship of the agency with George Eneh taking over from Egesi. He was in office for less than a year before his replacement by Ferdinand Agu. Agu had the fortune of heading the agency for over four years. The Cabotage Act was passed during his tenure but after he allegedly fell out with then Governor of his state, ChimarokeNnamani, he was replaced by Festus Ugwu of blessed memory. After Ugwu came the creation of NIMASA and the appointment of MfonUsoro – the first female DG – on 1st August 2016. Usoro’s tenure lasted for barely nine months before the appointment of Dr. Dosumu in May 2007. By July 2009, another political power group had emerged paving the way for Dosumu’s replacement by TemiOmatseye. 18 months into Omatseye’s four-year tenure and with the demise of President UmaruYar’Adua in 2010, yet another power block emerged. Omatseye was kicked out, paving the way for Patrick Akpobolokemi who had the fortunate of completing his first four-year term and of a reappointment by his fellow Ijaw kinsman, President Goodluck Jonathan. With Jonathan losing the presidential election in 2015 to MuhammaduBuhari, it was clear that Akpobolokemi’s days in office were numbered. By August 2015, his second four-year term came to an inglorious end, eight months after.
The leadership instability at NIMASA – a function of the brazen pursuit of powerful individuals to seize control of the agency in order to control its enormous resources – has led to underdevelopment of the maritime industry.
NIMASA is struggling because there has been undue over-politicization of appointments into its Board and Executive Management at the expense of professionals and to the detriment of proper policy formulation, growth and development of the shipping sector.
The politicians have no respect for the law setting up the agency. Appointments of the agency heads were done in clear contravention of the NIMASA Act of 2007. The intrigues and power play that characterized appointments and removals of NIMASA chief executives in the past followed the same pattern and until this trend is halted, meaningful progress may yet be far from the maritime sector.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Friendship turbulence and selective mutism

Those who live amidst the excitements of the capital have no idea of the many experiences familiar to the inhabitants of the villages and small towns.
Transport Minister Rotimi Ameachi is eager to make a mark in the maritime industry but I think he is going about it the wrong way.
Amaechi has become a frequent visitor to maritime events in Lagos where he lashes out at the staff of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) every time he grabs the microphone.
I understand Amaechi’s disdain for the agency but I think his disagreement with former President Jonathan and everything the former administration stood for should not becloud his sense of judgment and capacity to make sound decisions.
We all know that NIMASA, at the twilight of the general election that produced President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, overstepped its bound. The former head of the agency dabbled into the murky waters of politics. Akpobolokemi was alleged to have also financed some of the political campaigns of his erstwhile principal. But Akpobolokemi has since been thrown out of NIMASA and is currently facing trials for the series of allegations against him. The point I’m trying to make here is that Amaechi needs to separate the leadership of NIMASA under the past regime from the core of hardworking and loyal public officers and professionals in that agency.
By constantly lambasting NIMASA, Amaechi demoralises these diligent public officers who were in fact the whistle blowers that brought the atrocities of the past leadership of the agency to the attention of Nigerians. They wrote petitions, they pushed out documents and campaigned vigorously for change. They campaigned for APC. NIMASA staff turned against the former regime and they worked very hard to bring about change. It was jubilation galore at the Maritime House when Buhari was declared winner of the presidential election, with shouts of Sai Baba and Sai Buhari renting the air.
Perhaps the Minister is not aware that NIMASA staff loathe the contract awarded to Tompolo’s company for the provision of maritime security under the past regime. While Amaechi and other broom carriers busied themselves trying to sweep umbrellas away from the seat of power, NIMASA staff vigorously fought against the maritime security contract and the establishment of a NIMASA school, NIMASA shipyard and Maritime University all in one local government area of Delta State.
NIMASA staff and Amaechi are on the same page as far as repositioning the agency is concerned. They have a common adversary which has been successfully swept out of power and the least Amaechi can do is work with these patriotic Nigerians to reposition the agency. They feel hurt that the government they helped enthrone is turning against them.
Amaechi has also spoken frequently about his “group of friends”. He alluded to this group as if it were a magic wand descending from outer space with some mystical formula to solve the maritime industry’s problems. I think that is a completely wrong approach by Minister Amaechi. No one knows the challenges – and I daresay solutions – of the industry better than the practitioners. He who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. Amaechi should forget about his hangers on. They have nothing to offer this industry. There are tons of resources he can rely on at NIMASA and within the industry to achieve desired outcomes. He doesn’t even need any committee to reinvent the wheel. There are abundant recommendations on how to enhance port efficiency, reforms, boost indigenous participation in the carriage of Nigeria’s inbound and outbound cargoes, increase use of the inland waterways for public transportation, effectively implement the Cabotage Law and generally boost the development of the maritime industry. All the recommendations are there.
Among such recommendations is the one by a Presidential Committee set up by Jonathan after a two-day long presidential retreat at the Presidential Villa, Abuja in July 2012.
The retreat with the theme “Harnessing the Potentials of Nigeria’s Maritime Sector for Sustainable Economic Development” was well attended by industry stakeholders and economic experts. It extensively discussed ways the maritime industry could be repositioned to play greater role in the economic well being of the country. After the retreat, the former President set up a committee to create a road map for the development of the maritime industry. The committee concluded its assignment within six months and made robust recommendations to government. But that was the last we heard of it.
The maritime industry is where it is today not for lack of developmental ideas but because government has not deemed it fit to implement far-reaching recommendations painstakingly put together by experts and stakeholders.
Amaechi can hit the ground running by calling for the report and implementing the recommendations. And he should look inwards in repositioning the maritime industry. That was my recommendation to the APC Transition Committee last year. We don’t need the minister’s “friends” to come compound our problems. We have highly respected experts at the various agencies including NIMASA and within the wider maritime sector with capacity to do the needful.
On Dakuku Peterside? No comment.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Amaechi's quest for a new national carrier

The promise by the present government to float a new national carrier is nothing new. The past regime promised same but failed to deliver. Former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi announced mid-2014 at a public forum in Lagos that he had been given matching orders by then President Goodluck Jonathan to float a national career within six months. We all expected a new national shipping line by end of 2014 but alas, none came until that government was thrown out and Akpobolokemi booted out of office six months ago.
The plan to float a new national carrier is good but it is important to remind the powers that be of pitfalls to avoid for the survival of the new venture.
Excessive interference by top government officials played an important role in the eventual demise of defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). Because it was seen as a cash cow, Federal Ministry of Transport officials found every excuse to meddle in its affairs and thus circumvent important decisions.
The management of NNSL was changed as often as Transport Ministry officials liked. Every NNSL Managing Director who was seen as uncooperative by the Ministry officials soon found himself in the labour market. Frequent changes in the management were not for the right reasons and management programmes for turning round the shipping line were not given due consideration. The company and government could not react without delay to situations dictated by market and technological changes or development in the trade.
For instance, it took the Federal Government almost five years to approve the tonnage expansion programme and modernization of NNSL ships in the seventies. Perhaps the post civil war demands contributed to this. By the time the vessels were eventually built and introduced into the market, a measure of obsolesce had set into the original concept. It took another five years to convince the government about the need to phase out the 19 combo vessels with a view to introducing appropriate vessels that were technologically up to date as well as meeting market demands. Other decisions such as rationalization of staff were dictated by government policies rather than sound business judgment.
Another major factor which compounded NNSL’s woes especially in the 1980s and 1990s was that services performed for other arms of the Nigerian government by the company were not paid in time. Such services rendered by NNSL vessels to government were paid for in local currency while the company racked up operational expenses incurred in foreign currency.
NNSL ships played vital role in moving troops and materials into Liberia during the operation of the Nigeria-led Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) which was established in 1990 to restore peace to Liberia during its civil war. Not a dime was paid for this service.
Accumulated debts of NNSL to trade creditors originated from government’s failure to pay NNSL for the shipment of government project materials such as Aluminium Smelter Company, Ajaokuta and Alaja Steel projects. Efforts made by the management of the company to diversify into ancillary activities such as terminal operations, clearing and forwarding, oil tanker operation etc were not approved.
Regular changes in the headship of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the company brought inconsistency in its focus and vision.
Former leaders of NNSL that I spoke with agreed that government interference was a major stumbling block for the operation of the company.
Gerald Chidi told me sometimes ago that during his tenure as Managing Director of the NNSL from 1990 to 1993, he worked under four different Ministers of Transport while his successor who served for only two years from 1993 to 1995 also served under four Ministers of Transport.
Certainly, every Minister of Transport came with his own agenda and ideas on how to run the ministry with its parastatals which included NNSL.
“In some cases, changes in the headship of the company were engineered by officials of the Ministry (not necessarily by the Minister) for selfish reasons. It is this type of situation that a one-time Chief Executive of one of the parastatals who happened to be a retired General of the Army had in mind when he once said that the relationship between the supervisory Ministry and its parastatals could be likened to that of a military commander who sent a platoon of soldiers to capture a location and also deliberately sent another platoon of his soldiers to ambush the other platoon to ensure a failure of that assignment. This analogy is very apt,” Chidi said.
As at the time it was drafted into the ECOMOG Liberia mission in 1990, NNSL was already in deep financial mess. Several of the company’s vessels have been seized in different parts of the world for alleged breach of contracts and unpaid bills.
In 1994, late Head of State, General Sanni Abacha approved the direct injection of cash into NNSL to enable it pay its creditors and secure release of some of its ships. The late dictator approved $45 million and another $20 million for NNSL but as a matter of fact, this act pushed the last nail into the company’s coffin. This was so because of avarice of some officials who colluded with outsiders to defraud the company as much as they could.
By early 1995, all of the vessels owned by NNSL had either been sold as scraps or downright shipwrecked without any hope of redemption.
In September 1995, the Minister of Transport, Major General Ibrahim Gumel shut down the operation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line, NNSL after 36 years. He appointed Captain Cosmos Niagwan as Liquidator of the company.
The NNSL story is a reminder to the decision makers of today that government has no business being in business.
While one applauds the renewed attempt to float a new shipping line, it should purely be a private sector driven venture with government’s role being that of providing an enabling environment.
I strongly recommend the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) model for structure of the new national carrier. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) owns 49% of NLNG while Shell, Total and ENI own 25.6%, 15% and 10.4% of the entity respectively. A structure like this has ensured the buy-in and ownership of the NLNG project by critical industry stakeholders.
My suggestion therefore will be that the NNPC, which is the cargo owner that the new national carrier is targeting, should own 25% share, indigenous ship owners should own 49% through their recognised groups while three oil majors – it could be the three mentioned above – should own the remaining 26% share.
The Federal Ministry of Transport or any of its agencies cannot own shares in the new venture. The Ministry’s role in the entire arrangement should be that of a facilitator in line with its mandate of promoting shipping development in the country.