In its history, NIMASA (that is from 1987 when it was created and first christened National Maritime Authourity) and now, that it is called NIMASA, has had at least 12 chief executive officers. When it was NMA, it had: Dr Bassey Ekong (now deceased), Alhaji Munir Ja’far, Engr Buba Galadima, Mr Patrick Egesi, Dr George Eneh, Architect Ferdinand Agu and Engr Festus Ugwu (now deceased).
And since it became NIMASA, following the merger with the Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC), it has also had Mrs Mfon Ekong Usoro, Dr Ade Dosunmu, Mr Temisan Omatseye Mr Ziakede Akpobolokemi and Dr Dakuku Peterside.
To say that the office of chief executive of NIMASA (and even, the then-NMA) has always been highly politicized is to state the obvious. Each minister wants his own protégé to be the director general.
It started towards the tail end of the tenure of Alhaji Munir Jafar’ as the director general of the then- NMA, when he was removed on the instruction of the then-Head of State General Sani Abacha (now late), who directed his minister of transport; Major General Ibrahim Dahiru Gumel (now deceased too) to kick the crown prince of Zauzau Emirate in Kaduna state out. He was replaced with Alhaji Buba Galadima who was allegedly to have also used NMA to fund the transmutation campaign of late General Abacha.
About 29 years of NMA and about 13 years of NIMASA and with seven and five chief executive officers respectively at the saddle, it will not be wrong to infer that NIMASA is the most politicised agency of government in Nigeria.
The mandate of NMA at inception was very clear. When it was founded, the intention of government was to have an agency that would engineer a rapid development of the nation’s shipping and maritime sector by creating a better platform and engender more opportunities for indigenous shipping practitioners in sea-borne trade. In a nutshell, apart from its general responsibilities for maritime safety administration, what is generally called commercial responsibilities, port and flag state control and of course, Cabotage, Nigeria’s maritime administration agency (in this case, NMA) was also created to improve the lot Nigerian ship owners and other categories of operators in the sector. For those who still remember the early days of NMA; up until mid-1990s, the agency became an avenue for award of contracts, without consideration for execution of its mandate. The agency also became known for uncoordinated and ridiculous cargo allocation system as cargoes that would have been carried by genuine indigenous ship owners were offered to briefcase shipping companies. Much later, a good opportunity to retrace itself was offered in the name of the Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF). But, rather than judiciously manage the funds which accrued from statutory payments into the agency’s coffers, the NMA only succeeded in creating millionaires out of non-ship owning individuals. The merger of NMA and JOMALIC was meant to refocus and harness the mandate of the two agencies into one. Did government make a mistake?
First, would the Nigerian maritime industry have been better-off without the merger of both NMA and JOMALIC. In other words, did the merger overwhelm subsequent chief executives of NIMASA? Is NIMASA suffering from the carry-over of its ineptitude while it was called NMA? Is it true that from NMA to NIMASA, the problem has been with the appointment of non-professionals to manage the nation’s apex maritime regulatory agency? Are all these posers collectively responsible for the high turn-over of chief executives of the agency?
The appointment of Dr Dakuku Peterside was not a departure from the usual, in which case successive Ministers (or even President) try to bring in their protégé. We make bold to state that his appointment was a clear violation of the NIMASA Act. But that is not an excuse for failure. We recall that, prior to transmutation to NIMASA, the then-NMA once had a Ferdinand Agu (an Architect) who still ranks as one of the best CEOs that the agency has ever had. It was Agu who saw the advantage in protecting indigenous ship owners; he fought for and got the National Assembly to pass the Cabotage Act. Sadly he didn’t stay long enough afterwards to ensure proper implementation.
Dr Peterside came in at a time when the image of NIMASA had been badly damaged by his predecessor; Mr Ziakede Akpobolokemi, who notably didn’t also meet the criteria for appointment as DG.
Apart from the plethora of allegations of fraud hovering on his head, Akpobolokemi also spent his more than four years building an Ijaw enclave in NIMASA.
So the question is: Did Dakuku Peterside fail?
This newspaper advised in 2016 shortly after he was appointed that he should prioritise his mandate into three: Shipping Development (which will take care of Cabotage, increased bottoms, training, certification and employment), Maritime Safety and Security, and lastly Flag and Port State responsibilities.
Taking these one after the other, it’s obvious that in four years, there has been somethings here and a little there to show. If one considers the lamentation of ship owners and the trending challenges being faced by cadets and seafarers, then one may be correct to say that Cabotage, training and certification has suffered in the last four years.
But, there is an improvement in the number of wholly-owned Nigerian vessels doing Cabotage business. In its half year report in 2018, 125 vessels were registered, an increase of 33 per cent over the 94 ships that were registered in 2017. In the last count, NIMASA says there are more than 200 vessels registered for Cabotage operations.
In 2019, Dakuku introduced what he called a five-year strategic plan towards cessation of Cabotage waivers in 2021.
In the area of safety and security, incidences of pirate attacks still persist, there is hardly any week that at least one ship is not attacked, either offshore Nigeria or within the nation’s coastal waters. While the DG had once argued that NIMASA’s responsibility does not include securing Nigerian waterways, the responsibility for safe passage of ships is that of NIMASA. The military Joint Task Force and the Navy are currently ensuring safe passage.
What became of his famed five-point agenda which included: strengthening of maritime safety and security; maintenance of a clean maritime environment; enhanced port state control; building human and infrastructural capacity and sanitising the maritime environment.
All said, in the history of NIMASA, appointment and reappointment are never based on how qualified or how well you have carried out your assignment.
If it was based purely on qualification or relevance of academic qualifications, many of those who became DG would not have.
If the removal of Dr Dakuku Peterside stands, he would not be on account of how well he did between March 2016 and March 2020. His time was up and as is traditional, the powers that be have found a replacement for him.
It happened to Mr Ferdinand Agu, it happened Mrs Mfon Usoro, it happened to r Ade Dosunmu and others.
Dakuku’s successor should prepare his exit from his first day in office, because the Banana Peel at NIMASA never dries up; its perpetually wet, fresh and slippery.