The Change Agenda: Misdirection and Compounding Anomalies in NIMASA Appointments

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 By Ipinnuoluwa Ajiginni

Last week, a certain Kabiru Issah, described as a merchant mariner, did one of the most bigoted and vitriolic write-ups on leadership – or management – in recent memory. In a piece published in the Saturday, September 17, 2016 edition of THISDAY, Issah made a blanket condemnation of all appointments in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency based simply on his own weird grasp of unreality. He stopped short of endorsing himself as the best man for all the jobs in NIMASA.

Issah did not mention any act of incompetence or misdemeanour noticed in the management style of the director-general of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, the main target of the venomous attack, or any of the new managers. But relying on his own opinion and feeling – rather than fact – about their qualifications, he dismissed the entire management team as ineffective and unqualified to hold their positions. Then he sweepingly concluded, “Since NIMASA was created, the agency has been led by incompetent directors-general.”

Subjective idealisms like this one espoused by Issah have been the bane of Nigeria’s development. They should have no place in the new Nigeria that President Muhammadu Buhari and his team of patriotic Nigerians are working hard to build. We cannot assume that nothing is working or can work just because we do not like the faces of those put in charge of the things, or things are not done exactly the way we would have wished.

The criteria for appointments to the board of NIMASA are clearly set out in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Act, 2007. But Issah conveniently adjusted the provisions to suit his warped conclusions, especially as it relates to the appointment of Peterside.

To be sure, section 6 (1) of the NIMASA Act states, “The President on recommendation of the Minister shall appoint to the Board only persons with relevant experience and capacity applicable to maritime administration, recognised expert knowledge, qualification and experience in one or more of the following fields:

“(a)    Maritime Safety;

“(b)    Maritime Security;

“(c)    Maritime Pollution;

“(d)    Nautical Sciences and Hydrography;

“(e)    Marine Engineering;

“(f)     Finance;

“(g)    Marine Laws;

“(h)    Transport Logistics;

“(i)     Administration; and

“(j)     Marine Labour.”

Which were the criteria followed in the appointment of Peterside and the others.

But in Issah’s own version of the NIMASA “law”, “Maritime Administration” was conveniently substituted for “Administration,” which the Act unambiguously provides in section 6 (1) (i) as one of the areas of “knowledge, qualification and experience” that qualifies a person for appointment to the NIMASA board. Pandering to his own whim, he paraphrased the NIMASA Act to read, “The President on recommendation of the Minister shall appoint to the Board only persons with relevant experience and capacity applicable to maritime administration, recognised expert knowledge, qualification and experience in one or more of the following fields: Maritime Safety; Maritime Security; Maritime Pollution; Nautical Sciences and Hydrography; Marine Engineering; Finance; Marine Laws; Transport Logistics; Maritime Administration; and Marine Labour.”

Inescapably, however, Issah also shut himself in the foot by reeling off the rich administrative and management credential of Peterside, which include being a former member of the House of Representatives, former Commissioner for works in Rivers State, and former Senior Special Assistant to a state governor. But struggling with his own visceral prejudices, he found it difficult to admit that someone who had served successfully in such enviable legislative and executive positions, and holds a post graduate degree in Management, is eminently qualified to lead NIMASA. His basis was some whimsical technicality that serious-minded leaders in business and politics, including the revered heads of the judiciary, have since done away with in their various fields of endeavour.

Issah made reference to misdemeanours, allegedly, exhibited by some past directors-general of NIMASA, which is correct. But he went off the mark when he tried, quite ridiculously, to tie such misbehaviours to the academic or experiential knowledge of the officers. While it is appropriate for people to possess requisite qualifications in learning and experience before occupying certain offices, Nigerians are living witnesses to the fact that such qualifications do not in themselves form a rigid straightjacket for performance. Performance is mainly a question of character and passion.

Peterside possesses the character, knowledge, and capacity to function properly in the office of director-general of NIMASA. And his performance in the last few months, since he assumed office, proves this. Under him, NIMASA has seen innovations in terms of technology and attitude to work.

Passion is another key quality that distinguishes Peterside. The renowned American business mogul, Warren Edward Buffett, once said, “Passion is the number one thing that I look for in a manager. IQ is not really that important. They need to be able to work well with others and the ability to get people to do what you want them to do.” Buffett added, “These are qualities that are elective.”

To Buffett, who is considered to be one of the most successful investors in the world, “When you have able managers of high character running businesses about which they are passionate, you can have a dozen or more reporting to you and still have time for an afternoon nap. Conversely, if you have even one person reporting to you who is deceitful, inept or uninterested, you will find yourself with more than you can handle.”

Besides being highly competent in terms of learning, Peterside’s edge on the NIMASA job are his character, passion, and resolve to take the agency to the next.

On assumption of duty in March, Peterside declared a mission to reform, restructure and reposition NIMASA for global competiveness. In line with this mission, about four months later, in July, he submitted a report by a committee, which he headed, for the overhaul of the agency. He has his eyes ultimately on the objectives of the agency, which are “to promote the development of indigenous commercial shipping in international and coastal shipping trade; and regulate and promote maritime safety, security, marine pollution and maritime labour.”

Peterside realised that the above goals of NIMASA could not be achieved under the climate of negative opinion that pervaded the agency when he came on board. So a key part of his transformation agenda has been a drive to polish the image of NIMASA.

What Issah and others like him need to do is to contribute objective ideas on how to optimise the current innovations at NIMASA, and not to run down individual officers of the agency who have done nothing except committing themselves to the cause of lifting the agency from inertia. This is the way Nigeria can gain from them. Except they have other hidden motives.

The Issahs of this world would, certainly, be doing Nigeria no good by attempting to lend an air of gloom to an already brightening situation.

 – Ajiginni lives in Lagos