On October 22, 2009 the current management of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) clocked 100 days in office, and to mark the symbolic event, an elaborate press conference was held at the agency’s expansive Resource Centre Apapa, Lagos.
The incumbent director general, Mr Temisan Omatseye is the 10th chief executive since 1987 when the agency was created as the National Maritime Authourity (NMA).
When the then- NMA 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 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 lately, Cabotage, Nigeria’s maritime administration agency (in this case, NMA) was created to improve the lot Nigerian ship owners and other categories of operators in the sector.
And to do this, the lot have at different times fallen on at least nine Nigerians; all of whom have fallen short in one way or the other. The 10th is in the saddle.
For those who still remember the early days of NMA; up until mid- 1990s, the agency only 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 brief case shipping company executives.
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 managing 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 office of chief executive of NIMASA (and even NMA) has been over politicized. 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 NMA when he was reportedly removed on the instruction of the then-Head of State (now late) General Sani Abacha who directed his minister of transport (now deceased too) Major General Ibrahim Dahiru Gumel to kick the crown prince of Zauzau Emirate in Katsina state out. He was replaced with Alhaji Buba Galadima who was later to use NMA to fund the allegedly transmutation campaign of late General Abacha.
From Buba, the agency has had John Egesi, Dr George Eneh ( a World Bank transport expert), Ferdinand Agu (an Architect), Festus Ugwu (an engineer), and Mrs Mfon Ekong Usoro (a maritime lawyer) and Dosunmu (a PhD holder in public administration and now, Barrister Omatseye).
The new director general is a maritime lawyer who has many years of maritime sector –related experience. This is good, but it is our hope that this will translate into concrete achievements and that, his experiences will be made to bear on NIMASA.
Omatseye is now confronted with the immediate challenge of ensuring that retains her category ‘C’ seat in International Maritime Organisation (IMO). The election is coming up in November.
The new director general and his team will have to work hard to ensure that the National Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP); an initiative of the immediate past director general and which some states have bought- into and committed their funds do no die.
But more importantly, he will be judged on the basis of how much smiles that he is able to bring to the faces of hapless indigenous shipowners.
The incumbent NIMASS boss cuts the picture of someone who has the education and sufficient empathy for Nigerian ship owners, at least, he has demonstrated that much.
The fact is that he has to proof to everyone that government was wrong all along to have been appointing non-professionals as the chief executive of both the NMA and now NIMASA. The same burden is to be carried by the executive directors who are also professionals in one way or the other.
The new leadership of NIMASA should always remember that the enactment and subsequent passage of the Cabotage Act in 2003 should be the beginning of a new lease of life for Nigerian shipowners and Nigerian shipping and related practices. Added to this is the fact that Nigeria only has a Merchant Shipping Act on paper.
From all indications, the new management team is aware of the problems, but that is one step, the next is how to confront the issues.
The challenge is not just how to tackle the issues. The real challenge as far as we are concerned, is proofing to maritime sector stakeholders that NIMASA is now on he right track following the appointment of a maritime lawyer and a known industry operator as the chief executive of the apex maritime regulatory agency. After all, isn’t that what we all have been clamouring for?