Perhaps, in an effort at self-appraising his previous tenure as the Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi, told gathering of stakeholders at an event to celebrate him after the Federal Executive Council was dissolved by the President, that he was sorry that he didn’t do much in the maritime industry.
He went on to ask for forgiveness and understanding. He admitted that, he didn’t do as much in the maritime sector as he did in the railways.
In his admittance of failure, he said: “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”.
The minister has been prominent in politics since 1999, in the process; he had been Speaker of Rivers State House of Assembly. It was from there that he became the Governor of the state for eight years.
In his first term, not many expected that he would be made Minister in charge of Transportation, but when President Muhammadu Buhari made the announcement, stakeholders in the Nigerian transport sector, especially the maritime industry were apprehensive.
Yes, the Ministry that Mr Amaechi superintended is big. The Federal Ministry of Transportation as presently constituted (without the aviation component) has many agencies under it. Agencies under the new Federal Ministry of Transportation headed by RotimiAmaechi are: Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology, Nigerian Railway Corporation, National Inland Waterways Authority, Maritime Academy of Nigeria.
Others are: NIMASA, NPA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council and the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria.
No doubt, Amaechi inherited a mirage of problems in his first term, especially in the maritime sector. There are challenges at each of the agencies, there is hardly any segment of the nation’s maritime sector that does not have of one issue or another.
While we may not be able to go into specifics or agency-by-agency analysis of these challenges, the fact is that the minister focused more on the railway sector than the maritime sector. At the appreciation night which came shortly before the last Federal Executive Council was dissolved, Amaechi had said: “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”.
Under Amaechi’s watch, the Ministry of Transportation ensured the completion and flag-off for commercial operations of the Abuja – Kaduna standard gauge railway. He also saw commencement of the construction work on the Lagos – Ibadan railway standard gauge rail line with extension to the Lagos Port Complex at Apapa, Lagos. There was also the completion of the Itakpe – Ajaokuta – Warri railway standard gauge project, which was commenced over 30 years ago. There is also the laying of foundation for East-West rail line
In his first term, Amaechi will also be remembered for repositioning the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron in AkwaIbom state.
Under, Amaechi, the transportation ministry concluded and commissioned the first Inland Dry Port in Nigeria, sited in Kaduna State.
Quite frankly, Amaechi however left the Ministry of Transportation with failures in key sectors of the maritime industry. The performance of the minister was obviously abysmal.
For instance, shipping development underwent inestimable loss as indigenous capacity was almost wiped out. Over 90 per cent loss of capacity was recorded by indigenous ship owners, thereby causing high mortality rate.
There is no doubt that under Amaechi’s watch, insecurity within the Nigeria’s maritime domain worsened. All forms of insecurity, such as piracy, sea robbery, kidnapping for ransom, oil theft, illegal trafficking, among others within the nation’s maritime territory soared. The global report of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) attests to this.
The consequences of this are that, shipping charges were increased as foreign ship owners feared coming to Nigerian waters. Those, who gathered the courage to come, hiked series of surcharges on Nigerian shippers while insurance premium also soared.
For almost four years, the former minister failed to expend the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), an interventionist fund meant to develop indigenous capacity in shipping.
Also, on assumption of duty, the former governor promised to deliver the National Shipping line. He failed to keep to his promise. With this, however, Nigeria lost and had since continued to lose numerous economic and human development opportunities.
Amaechi failed in his plan to float a national carrier. According to him, the project was suspended because cabinet members were divided on the modalities for its establishment.
Nigerian ports, under Amaechi lost initiatives to neighbouring countries like Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, due largely to foresight, negligence, infrastructural decay, high cost of doing business at the ports and government policy inconsistencies.
While we join maritime industry stakeholders to welcome the Minister back, may we therefore urge him to right the wrongs that have been identified above.
His regrets over the botched national carrier will be in vain if by 2023, Nigeria is still not counted among nations that have their state-owned shipping line. The way to go is the private sector and foreign direct investment.
One of Amaechi’s unfinished businesses in the maritime sector is the level of insecurity on the nation’s territorial waters, where knapping, piracy, robbery and oil theft have become the order of the day. The enactment of the anti-piracy law and the engagement of the Israeli security firm are enough impetus for the Minister to galvanize NIMASA ensures that Nigeria’s ranking as a piracy hotspot is over. It is a fact that the Cabotage Act is not being implemented as it should. The failure of the Act is apparent in the low level of indigenous participation in shipping activities. The Minister will do well to engage his Petroleum Ministry counterpart in the quest by indigenous ship owners to participate more in the freighting of petroleum products and even crude oil. Another are that we consider important to agitate the mind of the Minister is the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF), to either aid indigenous participation or form part of the seeds funds for the national carrier. It is needless to stress that there is a decay of infrastructure in the nation’s maritime industry, especially the perennial traffic gridlock on the two approaches to Lagos. It will be unacceptable if after four years, Amaechi can not see to it that these roads are free of traffic. We wish the Minister well in his second term, even as we acknowledged that he may face paucity of funds, but this will not be an acceptable excuse for non-performance..