I remain eternally grateful to the former DG, NMA, Mr. Ferdinand Agu who scored a first with us, by being my first guest on the Monday Interview page on October 28, 2007; (our maiden edition). He has remained a friend since his watch as DG, NMA, and so when I needed someone to speak with on the controversial Maritime Security Agency Bill, his was the first name that came up. And just like he did for our first edition, he came down from Abuja. I had a very educating and illuminating time with him on Sunday, January 10. By the way, He is also a member of the advisory board of the Maritime Industry Advocacy Initiative (MAIN). Thank you always.
What is your perception of the Nigerian maritime sector in 2009, especially with the global economic meltdown of that year?
Obviously the state of any economy will have a direct impact on the maritime sector because, it is the gateway to our economy; the global meltdown basically has slowed down the movement and flow of investments particularly from the developed countries to the less privileged countries. All these countries try to sort out the framework of their financial positions; it will have impact on our sector even if nothing else. The fact that expected inflow of investments following our port concessions will not be there, maritime practitioners looking for funding for ships acquisition may not have, all manner of maritime infrastructures developers would not have, people that are involved in efforts to train seafarers and placing them on board foreign vessels will find that because of the slow down in shipping and so many of the vessels being laid down and off will not have that to train seafarers and what we usually equate to maritime activities here is importation and a bit of exportation have also slowed down. Generally, the meltdown thus had an impact on our sector, what really ought to concern us is that if you look at the impact one after the other holistically, do we have the capacity to turn around adverse effect? What do we need to do to turn around adverse effect? And how can we have a stronger maritime industry? That is what will concern most people.
What is your take on the quest by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council to transmute to National Transport Commission?
Honestly, my impulse here as an architect is that form follows function, it is when you determine what you want to use a structure for that you decide the kind you are going to give it, if I want to use a building for residential purposes, I shouldn’t build it to look like a warehouse and if I want to use a building as an office block, I shouldn’t let it look like a church. That is why I went back to the issue of functions and the issue of overall framework of what our maritime industry ought to look like, if you are looking at optimizing efficiency or maximizing the effectiveness of our existing resources, my own inclination is to use existing agencies and possibly transmute them, I am afraid, government is getting just a bit too large for our economy to afford, those that look closely at budgets will say that we are spending almost 75% to 80% of our income today on current expenditure, we don’t have enough money left for other critical infrastructures, investments and social services that we must have to give Nigerians a good life, so my own inclination is to use existing organizations and to transform them. And when you create new ones by the way, who are going to staff these agencies? We are still going to get people from existing agencies and not from the moon, if you have the capacity you have it and if you don’t, you don’t, most of our agencies particularly in the maritime sector under-perform due to insufficiency of our human resource capacity for the function they are expected to carry out. So, my inclination would have been to transmute an existing agency, but however in arriving at these decisions, I allow for the fact that the national assembly will normally hold public hearings and I still want to believe that in the hope for a new commission or otherwise it will be based on the opinions of the stakeholders.
Let us talk about the Maritime Resource Centre at Kirikiri which you initiated, are you….
That facility was for a multi purpose use, we envisioned a National Maritime Resource Development Centre and went ahead to build one, we didn’t complete it by the time the minister and DG left office and maybe the subsequent administrations may not have been fully convinced of the vision, the most important desire for the resource centre is that it was going to provide the locomotive force for capacity building in policy formulation, in implementation, in maritime practitioners continued education. So, our emphases was on world class classrooms, a library, a 44- bedroom guest house so that we can take people in sets, maybe in batches; every two weeks we can take people that are working in Apapa, they can take two weeks off their work, come to the centre and be upgraded in knowledge in a particular development in the maritime sector, we can bring in lecturers, teachers and practitioners from all around the world that will come and impact knowledge. We thought it to be something akin to the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs and the kind of role the NIIA played in foreign policy, we have an engine room that continuously evaluate and articulate national interest and feeds back to the ministry of foreign affairs that is involved in the act of diplomacy, we thought we would have a place where all the gamut of our national maritime policies, refinements, imperatives and requirements are analyzed and fed back again to the policy formulated to those that are implementing and those that are in practice. For instance, if you come to the ministry of transport the bulk of the ministry are civil servants, you can have people in the maritime transportation sector that are culled from other ministries before and when they come into that ministry, they need to be quickly updated and brought up to speed on what is the current thinking and antecedents of the maritime sector, that our resource centre would have been the ideal place where a new staff can run a two weeks orientation course and come back to his desk to serve the nation well. You can have a continuous interaction between those that are making policies and implementing it, as well as the practitioners in the industry, those were the roles it was meant to serve, of course there are other roles too like being a meeting place for the industry and a hub for safety administrations, port state control functions, search and rescue and the maritime rescue coordination centre are all parts of the role. Its quite possible that in the last couple of years, different directors general would have decided to emphasize different aspects of what this centre can be put to use for; from the multiple capacity of this resource centre which one do they want to emphasize, but I would have wished that all these things were coming on speed at the same time.
As an important stakeholder, I am sure you will have an opinion on the controversial Maritime Security Agency Bill
My opinion here has to be very consciously qualified because the bill is coming from the executive, what it means is that the government itself thinks that it requires yet another agency in the maritime sector and I think we have to give the government that benefit of doubt, however in doing so we could pose questions and say ‘does this prepositions meet certain thresholds’. For instance, what are our overall national maritime strategic security requirements and do the existing agencies that deal with those responsibilities – principally Navy for the military operations and NIMASA for safety administration; are they not in a position to discharge these responsibilities? My own inclination as a person is that the Nigerian Navy is an excellent position to help contain the threats and challenges we have in our maritime domain.
How effective has NIMASA been in performance of these roles as a safety agency?
Somebody said the other day that NIMASA is paying so much attention to the rescue coordination centre and we have not seen who they have rescued, it’s only one or two vessels that they have rescued in distress, and I said thank God, the success of a safety administration is the fact that emergencies that calls for it to be shown at its full flight would never arise, I would rather that our air transport administration agencies are so efficient that there is never an air accident than to tell me that 10 air crafts went down and we located them in 10 minutes. So which is better? Is it that 10 aircrafts should go down and be located within 10 minutes or that in the next 100 years by God’s grace no aircrafts go down? So when we talk of the coordination between NIMASA and the Navy and get into the details, I am sure we will see instances where that cooperation has prevented breeches or infringements within our national maritime domain and where it has not prevented it has deterred it or helped to contain it and where it has not contain it, it has helped to manage it and maybe in some instances to reverse an adverse effect. So, I am confident that the MoU is the correct way to go, I am confident that the less we hear of it, probably the more successful it is; neither of the two parties have complained at all about the MoU, what I think both parties would have preferred is that they have more resources to apply to their respective jurisdictions and responsibilities and to increase and strengthen their cooperation. Having said that and back to the need for the security agency, I think the nature of the threats and challenges we face are in the seawards areas, waterfront areas and the hinterland. By law the Navy is charged with the responsibility for the defense of our territorial waters, if for any reason it has not been fully discharged, I wouldn’t say it is for lack of patriotism, it will most likely be insufficient equipment and funding, so my first inclination will be that can we strengthen the capacity of the Navy to discharge these functions? The Navy also plays a critical role in sustaining our sea line of communication, the navy in any country occasionally can be called upon to perform internal security functions, and again it is those that supervise the navy that will know how robust it has been in its internal security functions but I know as a maritime stakeholder that it has sustained our sea lines of communication, therefore if there are weaknesses in its internal security functions it will depend on the missions assigned to it, the mandate of the missions, what are the equipments and preparedness given to the navy, so my first inclination will really be that unless the government is actually convinced that it cannot get value out of its Navy, my inclination will be that it is a proper organization to play a robust role in national maritime security architecture at the waterfronts and on the hinterland. As for NIMASA as a safety administration agency, let us not forget that as a safety administration, NIMASA is barely two and half years old. When we were a safety administration as NMA, it was because of the devolution of power from the minister to the director general, so even as NMA we have been playing that role of safety administration from 2003, we are basically looking at a six year old safety administration agency and often, we are too harsh with our things, look at the certain things NIMASA has tried to do by promoting the presence of Nigeria in international shipping, it has been effective in representing us at the relevant international fora of the IMO repeatedly every two years since this government came to office, NIMASA/NMA has piloted our election to the IMO council which means that in areas where critical decisions that affect Nigeria in the area of shipping are made, Nigeria sits right there on the front row. NIMASA has developed capacity for the implementation of MAPOL which has recently increased the marine environment and protection, NIMASA is active in promoting capacities of Nigerians in shipping, NIMASA is implementing the enforcement of Cabotage, so I think all these roles that I am talking about are roles it acquired in the last six years and the agency is settling down, it has not been very fortunate in terms of having a prolonged period of calm at the leadership levels in the last five years; between 2005 and today we have been counting five directors general, so all things said and done, I think NIMASA has done well but more important than that, there are hundreds of young men and women in that agency that are hardworking, dedicated, committed, focused and they want to serve, if we can have a period of calm and trust, they are equal to the task.
What do you think is responsible for this frequent change of leadership in NIMASA?
The NMA/NIMASA DG is normally appointed by the president and presumably on the recommendation of the minister and if you appoint and ‘disappoint’ five times in five years, it is only the person appointing and ‘disappointing’ that knows why he is doing so, I wouldn’t know but we can only hope they are doing so for a good reason.
There are insinuations that the frequency of leadership is because, NIMASA is seen as a ripe fruit to be plucked by many people
You used the word ‘insinuation’ so that means it’s not necessarily factual but the truth is this, the ultimate person that appoints or removes the director general is the president.
We are told that one of the reasons for the proposed agency is to protect oil and gas installations in the Niger Delta
Let me put it this way, with all due respect, those oil installations in the Niger Delta have been there in different numbers in the last 40 years, this heightened sense of threat is an event of the last decade and the government of Nigeria through brute force on the Niger Delta, you were here when you saw the forceful response that the government gave to the incident at Odi, you saw the response given to different incidences like that and it didn’t stop it. It took the wisdom of the incumbent President building on what he inherited to realize that the answers to the Niger Delta lies in change of strategies and not in the multiplication of arms, we will not have peace in the Niger Delta or anywhere in the world if the legitimate grievances of a people are not listened to and addressed, there will be no peace if the legitimate aspirations of somebody to participate in what God has given to him as an endowment is ignored. the Nigerian government is responding positively, one of the key features of the Petroleum Industry Bill which is now before the National Assembly and awaiting passage is that local communities where this petroleum drilling and exploration are taking place are going to be stakeholders to certain percentages, it is that change of strategy on the part of government, it is the recognition of the aspiration of the Niger Delta people that has led to the calm in the region. With that calm in the region, we now have security which was not achieved by the employment of the (military) Joint Task Force, so by application and extension, if the platform for oil exploration and exportation are strengthened, a new security agency no matter how armed will not stop that threat, it’s a change of strategies and a sense of oneness between the nation and the host communities and oil companies that will stop that threat, and I don’t think anybody will be under any serious illusion that peace will be sustained by brute force, peace has been gained through compromise, mediation and brotherly interaction and that is the only way to sustain peace, the ultimate security for these installations will be provided by the people of the Niger Delta and nobody else.