Fighting Corruption: The Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency Example 

Recently, the management of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) openly warned its officials to desist from soliciting for gratification from the agency’s contractors.The warning was conveyed via an internal memo. In an unambiguous term, the memo had stated that:  "Management has received with dismay, complaints from the agency's contractors that staff of some departments and units of the agency demand for financial gratification to enable processing of contract documents".The NIMASA also acknowledged that, such practices prolong “turnaround time and overall deliverables and ultimately impact on the image of the agency contrary to the spirit of the recent rebranding".In the memo, the Director of Administration and Human Resources of NIMASA, Mr Akin Akinyosoye, noted that collection of bribe by the NIMASS staff contravenes Chapter 3 Section 4 of the Public Service Rules and Section 4.4.2 of NIMASA's condition of service and section 5 of the agency's anti-corruption policy.He, thereafter warned that any staff found culpable would be punished in accordance with extant laws.What NIMASA admitted and which it warned its staff against is what happens on daily basis at all facets of the maritime industry, nay the nation.The Nigerian maritime industry comprises of a web of suppliers and users of shipping services on one side and suppliers and users of ancillary services on the other. Spread across this winding and complex web are players such as: Nigerian Ports Authority, (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service, (NCS), and its service providers, shipping agents, Standards Organisation of Nigeria,(SON), National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, (NAFDAC), terminal operators, service providers (including scanning)  importers (big and small), licensed customs agents, dockworkers, truck owners, drivers and motor boys.It is difficult to ascertain the identity of those who perpetuate fraud in the Nigerian maritime industry, because the chain of importation is long; hence it can only be situated within the chain; that is, from the point an importer opens his ‘Form M’ to when the goods are actually procured and packaged and freighted into Nigeria as an import and up to the point at which it is cleared from the port and delivered to the consignee.In analysing the phenomenon called corruption in the port system, a lot of people tend to pin it down on stakeholders in the Nigerian port system, but that is an incorrect judgment. Our findings have revealed that corruption is (in most cases) engineered from the point at which a consignment is procured. A situation when an importer defies import guidelines and import prohibition orders of the federal government makes the consignment and its importer susceptible. By implication, the licensed customs agent inherits the liability. To ensure that the (offending) consignment is cleared out of the port, he (the clearing agent) begins to define ways and this means being at the mercy of officials of government agencies, notably Customs officers.The notoriety and high rating which the Nigeria Customs Service enjoys on the corruption scale is not to say that other players are angels; virtually all the actors whom we have identified above are involved at one level or the other in making the port system what it is.Stakeholders always rush to label customs personnel as the most corrupt, but as much as we do not want to draw a corruption perception table, we will like to look at them one after the other. The first thing that happens once a ship comes into the harbours is that officials of government agencies; notably: the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency go on board. Curiously, they board empty handed and disembark with loads of goodies including foreign currencies, drinks and other assorted items. That is the first act of corruption!  From that point, the terminal operator takes over and moves the consignments to designated storage facilities, while the importer or his licensed customs agents begins the process of taking delivery. From this moment, he is at the mercy of the container handler operator at the terminal, the Customs officer (and sometimes, the dockworker) at the terminal. If he is lucky and the container is not problematic, it may not be necessary to open his container for full examination; if this is so, he moves to the gate and still contends with a horde of agencies including, NPA Security personnel, the Police and the Customs and who must again, vet the documents before the container exits.Sadly, all agencies of the government have the so-called anti-corruption committees as well as SERVICM Unit. These are all on paper. They have not in any way reduced corruption.What the management of NIMASA noticed and kicked against obtains in other agencies. Don’t NPA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council, and Customs personnel demand gratification from contractors, customers and clients. The answer is -They Do.  So, rather than raise eyebrow or vilify NIMASA for opening up on the rot in its house, we all should commend it and also recommend its stern stand to all.Just last week, the National Bureau of Statistics dropped the bombshell that we all knew but never openly admitted. The Nigeria Customs Service featured prominently on the ignominious list of most corrupt government agency.Finally, the NIMASA should take it further by giving a bite to its threat of punishing culprits. We are sure that the threat won’t make the perpetrators to stop. The only thing that can deter them is punishment.