Eromosele Abiodun writes that despite efforts by the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi to reposition critical agencies in the ministry, his performance fell short of the expectations of stakeholders
At a stakeholders meeting held in Lagos last week, the immediate past Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, did the unusual when he publicly acknowledged his failures in critical areas in the maritime industry.
Amaechi, who was responding to a question posed to him by THISDAY on his achievements in the last four years, asked for forgiveness and understanding of stakeholders and stressed that while he achieved result in the rail sector, he could have done better in the maritime sector.
He regretted the rising insecurity on Nigerian waters and the aborted national carrier project.
Despite efforts by the committee he set up on the national carrier to clarify certain bottlenecks and steps taken to address them, a visibly depressed Amaechi pointed to reporters standing close to the podium he was standing and declared, “don’t mind them, they have been on that matter for close to three years and they are still telling us stories. As far as I am concerned, we have failed.”
Ameachi, however, assured stakeholders of the federal government’s determination to tackle all forms of criminality on the nation’s waterways with the recent acquisition of two helicopters and other security equipment.
He stated that the security equipment which would be provided by an Israeli firm contracted by the federal government will be deployed between June and first quarter of 2020.
He said the deployment of the security equipment was delayed because the equipment are not acquired off the shelf.
Specifically, he said: “I am here to tell you how far we have gone with the $195 million maritime security contract that the President and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved for the nation’s maritime security.
“You are aware that the situation is very bad now in the maritime sector in terms of security and the President is aware of it, but what we showed to the stakeholders is that the equipment we need to combat this threat in the maritime sector is not off-the-shelf equipment.
“We are buying two helicopters, two planes, three vessels that you can almost call like a war vessel but it is not, 19 interceptors, which is fast speed boats that has the capacity to go to the Delta. Part of the problem we have is that most of the vessels we have can’t go through the creeks because of how shallow the water is. What we are buying can go through the creeks. We have shown the stakeholders that deployment will start in June this year, the impact of that deployment we cannot explain because not all the equipment are in place but we will start in June to see how we can stop these criminals from converting our waters into a theatre of war.”
He added: “I think that between June and first quarter of 2020, we would have completed deployment, then you can hold us responsible for any crime that takes place in the water. At that point we would have finished training of our personnel led by the Nigerian Navy because the equipment would be manned by the navy. The Army, police, Air force, State Security Service (SSS) and NIMASA are also involved in the effort to rid our waters of criminals.
“One more thing I have to say is to apologise to the stakeholders and assure them of better maritime security. Our plan to float a national carrier is also a total failure on my side because it can’t be all success all the way,”
Speaking on his achievements as the Minister of Transportation, Ameachi said while it was difficult to enumerate, he was proud of the extent he has taken the National Single Window (NSW) project.
“The first target I wanted to achieve was the national single window because it is believed that with single window you can clear your goods in 24 or 48 hours. Although there were challenges, today, we can proudly say that it has been approved by the FEC. We have been able to aggregate all the interest including Customs, NPA, Immigration and the next thing now is implementation,” he said.
Ameachi, also highlighted his achievements in the rail way sector, reform of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron.
Stakeholders Slam Amaechi
While the former Governor may have done relatively well with rail way, many stakeholders in the maritime sector are of the view that he would have done better if he had concentrated more on the job than Rivers politics. Top players in the maritime sector argued that though the sector is an arm of his portfolio, Amaechi should have focused more on maritime as an important plank on which his tenure could be assessed.
Many stakeholders were divided over the suitability of the Rivers State former two-term governor as minister of transportation, especially as the one who had to superintend over a critical sector as maritime.
Critical stakeholders are of the opinion that Amaechi’s sojourn in the maritime sector left more of sour taste in the mouth of industry players than sweet memories.
If Amaechi’s performance was to be measured using major parameters, one can safely conclude that the erstwhile minister left the sector in bad shape than he met it, they said.
A major player in the industry, who did not want his name in print, described the four years of Amaechi as the worst in a long while, stressing that the former minister wasted four years in Rivers politics.
According to him, “Under his watch, the industry recorded a stunted growth which undermines its huge potential. The performance of the sector is a screaming testimony to the failure of Amaechi in the maritime industry. Shipping development suffered immeasurable damage as indigenous capacity was almost wiped out. There was high mortality rate among indigenous ship-owners who recorded over 90 per cent loss of capacity.
“For four years, the former minister refused to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), an interventionist fund meant to grow indigenous capacity in shipping. Hiding under spurious excuses, Amaechi held on to the funds, which stakeholders said has so far accrued to over $200 million, thus further compounding our woes. Ironically, the last administration of Goodluck Jonathan was accused by the present government of diverting the funds to other use other than the one it was meant for.”
Ameachi, he added, pointedly told himself and agitated indigenous ship owners that he would not release the funds as long as he remained a minister.”
Shipping line that never was
Also, a ship owner who pleaded anonymity, said President Muhammadu Buhari should have appointed a technocrat and not Amaechi who politicised everything.
While decrying the former Governor’s failure to deliver the National Shipping Line as promised on assumption of duty, he said: “The much-touted National Shipping Line which the minister promised to revive did not materialise until he left office, despite the elaborate plan put up by his ministry. The failure further blighted Nigeria’s chances to take control of the freight of its huge cargo it generates and earn more foreign exchange for the country.”
He added that apart from the loss of capacity by indigenous shipowners, the industry also lost human capacity as most of its young cadets were unemployable due to lack of requisite sea-time experience.
“Unfortunately, some of them took to menial jobs and crimes. The seafarers’ pool, largely populated by old and tired seafarers, was almost depleted as there was not enough experienced manpower to replace them. Also, insecurity on our waters took a dangerous dimension during Amaechi’s tenure as Nigerian waters earned an unenviable sobriquet of the most dangerous in the region due to the activities of pirates and sea robbers who even attacked ships on anchorage.
“This insecurity raised shipping charges as foreign ship owners dreaded coming to Nigerian waters while those who mustered enough courage to come slammed series of surcharges on Nigerian shippers while insurance premium also shot up. This unfortunate development culminated to the loss of the prestigious membership by Nigeria of Category C of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), an incident which signposts the under- performance of Nigerian Maritime industry in the global arena,” he said.
No Contribution to GDP
Another downside of the Amaechi years as Transport Minister was the maritime’s contribution to the nation’s gross domestic products (GDP) despite the much-trumpeted claims of the capacity of the industry to lift the GDP of Nigeria. Put simply, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) did not capture the sector in its periodic report of sectoral contributions to the nation’s GDP in the four years of Amaechi.
“Under Amaechi, Nigerian ports lost initiatives to the neighbouring countries when the country lost the much coveted position of preferred cargo hub centre to less fancied Togo, Ghana and Cote D’ivoire. This however, was the culmination of a number of factors, which include infrastructural decay, high cost of doing business at the ports and government policy inconsistencies. Due to loss of foresight and passion to grow indigenous capacity, foreign ship owners took control of the industry, made huge profits which they repatriated to their countries,” an operator said.
Amaechi, he added, devoted much of his time, energy and attention to railway rehabilitation where he made remarkable accomplishment.
He added: “I am saddened by the parlous state he left an industry, which has the capacity to rake in over N7trillion annual revenue for government. I am sure Amaechi realised his numerous failings in the industry that he had to apologise to the stakeholders.”
Some stakeholders, however, applauded the former minister for his work in the rail way sector and his push for the national single window project.
Speaking to THISDAY on the sideline of thestakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, a ship owner who also pleaded anonymity said given the condition under which Amaechi operated he can be forgiven for his failures in certain areas.
“You can’t just dismiss the modest achievements Amaechi recorded in some areas in the sector. The take-off of the process of the much sought after National Single Window project which the presidency has raised a committee for is a welcome development. I believe that if the project is pursued with determination and sincerity of purpose, it would have a great positive impact on maritime industry.
“The National single window, if implemented, will create a single platform for all the relevant agencies in the industry such as NPA, NIMASA, Shippers Council, Customs and will enhance ease of doing business and boost efficiency and effectiveness.
“He gave quality leadership and direction for the sweeping reforms in the NPA, NIMASA and MAN Oron, the former minister pursued any cause he believed in, no matter how unpopular it may be. He successfully inaugurated the third governing council for the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) despite the controversy that trailed that body, “he said.