Nigeria’s Maritime Industry on the Brink of a New Dawn

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Guest Columnist

By Ahmed Yerima

When a nation, or one of its institutions, bursts into a new era, questions arise. Are the people going to expect more of the same? Are the leaders overwhelmed by the deluge of expectations? Is there a redemptive suite of programmes afoot? Is the nation or its institutions on the cusp of new way of doing things? Or are we about to be conned again with grandiose ideas in a daze of musical chairs?

That is the case in the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Prior to the announcement of a new director general and a new governing board, NIMASA has served as a metaphor of what might go wrong with Nigeria, and that is why many an eye, whether optimistic or critical, are set on the agency. Over the past few years, scandals have erupted, court cases have simmered, accusations have answered accusations, big names and small names have added a sour grist to the drama. But at the bottom and at stake, is not only a question of integrity, but also two critical elements: competence and prosperity.
These three qualities have, arguably, been victims in what has been the rugged and barefaced politicisation of an important agency in Nigeria. Few Nigerians have heard of the word cabotage. Fewer even know about the role of NIMASA in an economy that has a buzz of activities on water and high seas. Few more know that the nexus of safety on sea, security and prosperity lies at the heart of the NIMASA dynamics.
The Dakuku Perside-led NIMASA understood this imperative and organised a retreat early. The result was a roadmap intended to reflect not only a change of attitude but a focus on results based not only on the higher matters of integrity, but also competence aimed at giving prosperity to Nigeria in a challenged economy. The team went to work and together with the technical experts in the agency set out the roadmap for the agency on the premise that once the agency is on the right track, the maritime industry as a whole will not derail. A navigational change is a profound transformation and that seems to be what Peterside and his team set out for. It can begin gradually and gather momentum.
A series of brainstorming sessions gave birth to the agency’s Medium Term Strategic Plan with five key pillars that include:
• Survey, Inspection and Certification Transformation programme which seeks to expand the agency’s port state and flag administration duties towards eradicating substandard vessels in Nigerian waters and improving safety standards.
• Environment, Security and Search and Rescue Transformation programme is aimed at preventing environmental pollution, improving security on the water ways through inter agency collaboration as well as enhance the agency’s search and rescue capacity.
• Capacity Building and Promotional Initiatives will see to the development of local capacity in terms of vessel tonnage, human capacity as well as create opportunities for indigenous participation in the sector.
• Digital Transformation Strategy talks to the automation of all payment and collection processes in order to block leakages and improve efficiency.
• Structural and Cultural reforms will address the change in the work ethics of staff of the agency towards efficiency, professionalism and increased productivity
A Nigerian waterways that lacks the world standard of safety, or environmental sanity, or lags in ethical expectations or is Neanderthal in technology, cannot be in the 21st century. NIMASA has not only the challenge to be efficient, its managers must also be honed for contemporary challenges. With this document, the executive management team has its work cut out for it and has embarked on a three ‘R’ mission; Restructuring, Reorganising and Repositioning NIMASA for greater efficiency.
It is in this context that its team must be seen. The problem in NIMASA has never really been a lack of technical capacity to run the agency. What has been lacking, albeit in large measure, is the managerial capacity to lead the technocrats towards achieving the goals of the agency as defined in its enabling instrument, the NIMASA Act, 2007. And this is where I think the federal government has got it right with the appointment of members of the executive management team of the agency.  My few months of over sighting the maritime industry from the Senate has been most enlightening and rewarding. From that vantage position, I have reasons for my optimism about the new team in NIMASA.
The immediate past executive management derailed the agency considerably. The scorecard of that team is in the public domain and in various law courts. The core function of safety, environmental stewardship and security was jettisoned for parochial interests. There was also grave discontent and low morale amongst staff of the agency owing to some kind of arbitrariness in personnel recruitment, placement and promotion. It is perhaps as a direct consequence of some of these reasons that the federal government appointed what I will term a corrective team to lead the agency, which has had more than its fair share of reputational damage. I took time to scrutinise these appointees and their pedigree to arrive at my conclusion.
This team is led by Dr. Dakuku Peterside, a Management Expert, who has studiously earned a Ph.D in Management with a specialisation for Organisational Behaviour. His resume shows the following: a Masters degree in Management Science and another Masters in Business Administration (MBA), Management courses at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, Kellog School of Management Chicago, the J. Mark Robinson College of Business Atlanta-Georgia and the Stanford Business School all in the United States amongst others. In addition to a solid academic background, he has varied experience as Commissioner for Works in Rivers State where he superintended over the multi billion naira infrastructural renewal of the state.
As Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), he had oversight responsibility over multinational companies and Nigeria’s lucrative oil industry. Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mr. Bashir Yusuf Jamoh, will bring 15 years at management level in the agency to bear. Currently studying for the award of a Ph.D at the University of Port Harcourt with specialisation in Logistics and Transport Management, Jamoh also holds a Masters degree in Management from the Korea Maritime and Ocean University in South Korea amongst other academic qualifications. Working with his colleagues, stakeholders expect that he will be instrumental to engineering a new structure for the agency.
With his experience in the banking sector and qualification, some people think that the appointment of Mr. Ahmed Gambo as the Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, is a wrong move. What they do not know however is that this vast knowledge for detail honed by his Actuarial Science degree, will be better suited for the Cabotage operations that have suffered epileptic implementation over the 13 years since the law was passed. We expect Gambo to therefore bring his wealth of investment experience to bear on growing local capacity by investing and properly applying the idle funds of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF) yet to be disbursed since the enactment of the Cabotage law. Nigeria loses a lot of revenue to foreign operators because of the lack of capacity of local operators and this has got to stop.
Besides, the banking knowledge of Gambo will be very useful in ascertaining the fees payable to the government and will assist in blocking all revenue leakages in Cabotage operations. For the records, Gambo has excelled in his banking career rising to the enviable position of an executive director in the defunct NAL Bank Plc before retiring in 2006 following the banking consolidation which saw the merger of NAL Bank with four other banks to form Sterling Bank Plc. He was later appointed by AMCON to the board of Mainstreet Bank and later its chairman, a position he held until December 2014 after the successful sale of the bank to Skye Bank Plc.
Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, who was appointed the Executive Director, Maritime Safety and Shipping Development, is a brilliant engineer with a proven track record in project management and implementation, having varied experiences in Nigeria and abroad. Fashakin from my interactions with him has so far clearly identified areas of intervention to bring about an immediate improvement in the agency’s maritime safety protocol and enhancement of the Port State Control and Flag Administration responsibilities. It is one thing to have a great team, it is quite another for it to achieve great things. The ball, as they say, is in their court to make NIMASA a 21st century success.
• Senator Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara State, is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Marine Transport