By Eromosele Abiodun
Contrary to its earlier blanket support for the choice of the headship of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), over the weekend, decried NIMASAâ€™s lack luster performance in the just concluded International Maritime Organisation (IMO) council election held in London.
Nigeria had last Friday contested for an IMO Category â€˜Câ€™ Seat and failed woefully, coming second from the rear.
At Nigeriaâ€™s expense, Egypt, Liberia, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, and even Kenya coasted home to victory; confirming industry watchers prediction that Nigeria was going to lose, over shoddy preparation, fast depleting tonnage and woeful failure to combat the rising waves of piracy and crimes in the nationâ€™s waters.
Speaking at SOAN end of year dinner in Lagos, the SOAN President, Greg Ogbeifun told the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi to replace the NIMASA management over what he described as gross incompetence.
Â â€œThe event at the recent IMO elections into Category C of the Council where Nigeria lost and actually came second to the last position underscores the importance and urgency of the theme of this end of the Workshop and Dinner: Giving a Critical Lifeline to the Nigerian Maritime Industry, â€œOgbeifun said, stressing that while the country has sacked officials over fraud in the past, no one is presently on record for being relieved of his post, on the account of non-performance, or incompetence.â€
He added: â€œThat our flag administration is extremely weak such that the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) which owns a large trading worldwide is unable to register their ships in the Nigerian flag and boost our tonnage. Instead, they have all their ships registered in foreign Flags of Convenience. NLNG actually approached our flag administration to express their desire and preference to register all their ships in Nigeria if the flag administration can be enhanced and reorganised to meet international standards.
â€œThey went further and paid for a Consultant to carry out a study of our Flag Administration and make recommendations to achieve this objective. The report and recommendation have been awaiting implementation by the Maritime Administration since then, over three years ago.
â€œThat the Honorable Minister of Transportation on assumption of office and with promptings from stakeholders, set up a committee to study and make recommendations for the revamping and restructuring of our flag administration to make it more attractive for internationalÂ Â Â patronage. A team of sound professionals worked assiduously to produce aÂ Â comprehensive report and recommendations to achieve the objective but there has not been the political will to implement the recommendations of that report.
Â â€œThat our own Maritime Administration, instead of engaging and collaborating with stakeholders, ship-owners, ship-repairers and Maritime Security providers to grow the Industry, they only specialize in collecting levies and revenues and meting out punitive measures on these stakeholders such as ship owners whose arrests, threats to arrest, and shutdown of ship repair yards with the accompanying consequences to the Industry which the International Maritime Communities and the IMO are observing, â€œhe said.
Amaechi however rejected the idea, stressing that SOAN was making the claim because NIMASA, had refused to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), despite the severe toll the non-disbursement was taking on the shipping industry.
Â â€œGuess the question I asked Greg when he came back. I said: I hope you will have the stomach to take my reply and he said yes. The issue is that I will not release that fund even if I would be removed tomorrow as the Minister of Transportation.
â€œWhy wonâ€™t I release the fund? We gave over N300 billion to owners and business men in Aviation industry; some took N32 billion, N35 billion, and they disappeared! Some took the money to go and build a bank, in Ghana and Sao Tome; and nothing has happened! Nothing!â€ the Minister indicated, adding â€œAnd then he says, (Ogbeifun) fire the man at NIMASA; he should probably add, fire also the Minister!â€
Amaechi denied that the IMO election was lost because of NIMASAâ€™s incompetence, but because of other factors, promising that the country would do better in two yearsâ€™ time, when Nigeria would re-contest for the same IMO Seat.