The sad story of the Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX)

When the idea of the Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) was mooted in 2011, it was with scepticism. This later gave way as Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN, as it was then called) staged the first edition with fanfare. It was by all means very successful. It instantly became a brand. Engr Greg Ogbeifun was planning committee chairman of NIMAREX 2011. “The objective of the expo is to bring out where we were as a maritime nation, where we are and where we possibly can go”, he says. He also noted that: “Every year, Nigerians troop out to attend exhibitions and conferences in different parts of the world- Singapore, Malaysia, USA and other places where people travel out to attend maritime expo. In the last 50 years, this country’s maritime sector has come of age. We felt that it was time we showcased our own accomplishments in the maritime industry which is quite successful and that is why the idea of having the expo in order to bring out the indigenous achievements both individually and corporately”. Engr Ogbeifun also added that NIMAREX is needed because “government itself has achieved quite a lot during this period by establishing appropriate Acts and laws to encourage the indigenous maritime group. We felt that it was time this thing is showcased”.The above showed the enthusiasm behind NIMAREX when ISAN conceived and actualised it. Sadly, by the end of its debut in 2011, signs were obvious that it may soon die. It struggled and wobbled thereafter until about four years after, when it finally died.No doubt, NIMAREX was the gift of the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) to private sector operators in the maritime industry and of course, allied sectors of the economyIt was conceived to serve as a platform to effectively merge all local potentials and capacities, showcase them to outside investors who are, in turn, expected to establish businesses in Nigeria for the overall benefit of the citizens.The first NIMAREX organizing committee successfully brought in ex- Interim President; Chief Ernest Shonekan as the event’s opening ceremony chairman. The second edition was chaired by former head of state; General Yakubu Gowon. By the third year, the expo had grown attractive enough to draw the attention of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who presided. The fourth edition was to be chaired by for military President; Gen Ibrahim Babangida, who sent a representative in the person of Brigadier  General  Raji Rasaki (rtd), a former Governor of Lagos State.Certainly, the fortune or misfortune of NIMAREX can not be separated from the story of ISAN, which later metamorphosed to Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA).After, the first edition of the expo, personal interests crept in. There was a deliberate ploy to discredit the pioneer chairman; Engr Ogbeifun along with a chieftain and top employee of ISAN and one of the arrowheads of NIMAREX; Ms Funmi Folorunso. The duo were eventually kicked out and the beginning of the end of the once-famous expo commenced.Even though, it stayed afloat despite the obvious efforts to beat the records of the pioneer committee, by 2015, it had become difficult to pretend that all was still well with NIMAREX. Of course, all had stopped being well with her parent body; NISA. It was actually put-off twice.Not only did the 2015 edition fail to attract the usual crème de la crème, notable ship owners boycotted it. And that was the last since then.A lot of people have blamed the NISA in-fighting (which eventually killed NIMAREX) on the clash between its pioneer president; Chief Isaac Jolapamo and his successor; Capt Niyi Labinjo, who having served under Chief Jolapamo and ISAN and later NISA Secretary General merged as NISA President.It was an ambition that divided the association into factions and later culminated into the birth of another ship owner association; Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), spearheaded by Engr Ogbeifun.While it may be impossible to collapse the two factions into which NISA had broken, is it possible to dream that the faction that claim to hold the NIMAREX franchise can bring itself to resuscitating it. This is a tall dream, considering the fact that the government agencies which annually sinks funds into the NIMAREX pool may no longer be as interested as they were. It is the NISA that birthed NIMAREX that killed it. Even though not stillborn, the sincerity of purpose that was needed to nourish it was absent.That said, can anyone ask if the expo really impacted on the Nigerian maritime industry beyond being an annual jamboree.  In the five years that it held, what is the value adding content that one can point at? What is the monetary value that it added to the maritime industry and the economy in general?