STAKEHOLDERS TO JONATHAN: Save maritime industry

STAKEHOLDERS TO JONATHAN:
Save maritime industry, sack NIMASA boss for incompetence, ethnocentrism
… As NASS investigates Akpobolokemi over alleged maladministration
• NIMASA,PLIs to appear before Reps over Cabotage regime’s ‘failure’

Aghast that the amateurish actions and in-actions of a relative neophyte in the industry may inexorably be leading to the imminent death of the Nigerian maritime sector, certain major stakeholders, who have invested a lifetime in it, have cried out to President Goodluck Jonathan for his prompt intercession.
The concerned top industry practitioners, under the auspices of the Maritime Stakeholders’ Group (MSG), want Jonathan to save the nation’s maritime industry from being transformed into an ethnic battlefield by the alleged overwhelming incompetence and ethnocentrism of the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi.
The MSG Coordinator, Mr. Ibrahim Ofonimeh, in a petition to the Presidency, copies of which were sent to the National Assembly and the Federal Character Commission (FCC) and sighted by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY, stated that the unfortunate state of the Nigerian maritime industry has fuelled speculations making the rounds that Akpobolokemi was specifically appointed to the coveted position despite his questionable qualification, with a mandate to “capture the industry for a particular favoured tribe”.
The Delta State-born Akpobolokemi is of Ijaw stock.

Similar angst was expressed by the Secretary-General of the Indigenous Ship Owners’ Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Capt. Dada Labinjo, who described the current happenings at NIMASA as a veritable hurricane that is capable of destroying the Nigerian maritime industry.
Labinjo warned that the nation’s maritime industry was headed for destruction, if the Federal Government retains Akpobolokemi as the NIMASA Director-General.
“Both Akpobolokemi and Lt. Col. Agbu Kefas, the NIMASA Board Chairman, lack the qualification, discipline and vision to drive the industry forward and the earlier they are removed the better for the maritime sector,” the ISAN scribe declared.
He noted that Akpobolokemi, as the NIMASA Director-General, is displaying “militancy rather than professionalism” in his approach to issues in the industry.
The 28-month-old administration of Akpobolokemi, according to SHIPS & PORTS DAILYchecks, has been in the grips of allegations of ethnic cleansing and nepotism.
Akpobolokemi has been pilloried over alleged lack of focus in executing NIMASA’s core brief of enhancing indigenous capacity – human and tonnage, particularly the Cabotage regime, in spite of his persistently preaching the gospel of his determination to run it most effectively.
The alleged ineptitude of the NIMASA boss, according to keen industry watchers, has led to the collapse of over 80 per cent of the nation’s indigenous shipping companies, amongst others, issues that routinely draw the ire of the National Assembly, earning him regular summons and bouts of questioning by the legislators.

Only recently, Akpobolokemi had reportedly employed 135 senior staffers into the agency, out of which 122 were from Bayelsa State alone, while over 536 seafarers currently on training in some maritime institutions across the world are all from the South-South geo-political zone, where he hails from.
Similarly, according to the ISAN Secretary-General, Akpobolokemi, whose appointment he decried as a blatant desecration of the NIMASA Act, allegedly promoted 28 staff of the Agency, out of whom “26 are from his tribe.”
On his part, the MSG Coordinator wants the National Assembly to probe an “embarrassing purchase of return flight tickets for some of the seafarers currently being trained in Malaysia at a whopping cost of N1.5 million per ticket, leading to the expenditure of over N800 million on flights alone.”
Checks by SHIPS & PORTS DAILY revealed that return ticket to Malaysia usually costs between N300,000.00 and N500,000.00, implying that the NIMASA Director-General inflated the cost by as much as three to four times the normal price.

SHIPS & PORTS DAILY had earlier reported the startling revelation made by Akpobolokemi when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Federal Character penultimate week, and admitted that NIMASA is not up to 80 per cent compliant to the Federal Character principle.
Ofonimeh posited that, following the recent retirements and wholesale redeployment of senior officers of the agency in favour of newly-recruited staffers, who, according to the MSG Coordinator, are mainly from his particular section of the country, Akpobolokemi has thus entrenched the culture of nepotism at NIMASA, as confirmed by him before the lawmakers.
The MSG petition further alleged that a close scrutiny had revealed that Akpobolokemi may not have possessed the requisite qualification for the position of NIMASA Director-General, as specified in the Agency’s Act.
The petitioner pointed out that by sections 6 & 7 of the NIMASA Act, “the President, with the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, is empowered to appoint members of the Board of NIMASA, for which the Director-General is a member.”

The MSG further noted that the Act, however, made it clear that such members should possess “relevant experience and capacity applicable to maritime administration, recognised expert knowledge, qualification and experience in one or more of the following fields.
“These fields, as spelt out by the Act, are maritime safety, maritime security, maritime pollution, nautical sciences and hydrographic and maritime engineering. Others include finance, marine law, transport logistics, administration and marine labour.”
Pointing out that the incumbent NIMASA Director-General had apparently becomes an embarrassment to Jonathan both in his actions and pedigree, the MSG noted that, “for the first time in history, a helmsman appointed for NIMASA has no traceable mention in any record, as to his bio-data and background, except that he ‘was a university lecturer’ .”
According to Ofonimeh, who recalled that his group had warned of the dangers inherent in such “abnormal appointment, such imposition of parastatal head has only succeeded in the gradual erosion of the principle of Federal Character in the maritime industry from where government derives its second largest revenue earnings.”

The MSG Coordinator further recalled that, under Akpobolokemi, the nation has continued to witness an unprecedented failure in the ranking of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), “yet the almighty DG told the whole world that such revered world ranking was not his priority, after leading Nigeria to lose the Council Seat at the global apex maritime regulatory body.”
Ofonimeh added: “We say, enough of all this blatant display of ineptitude, disregard for national unity and gradual drift to chaos in the maritime industry, which the NIMASADG Patrick Akpobolokemi, appears bent on plunging the country into.”
Meanwhile, yet again, another arm of the National Assembly has beamed its searchlight on NIMASA over matters of alleged maladministration.
It was gathered that the NIMASA Director-General may have been issued summons to appear before an Ad-hoc Committee of the House of Representatives to respond to queries of alleged maladministration at the nation’s apex maritime regulatory agency and some banks are to be investigated by the House of Representatives for their involvement in withholding funds meant to improve indigenous participation in the maritime sector.
The funds, over N40 billion, was set aside under the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), which was established under the Coastal and Shipping Act of 2003, to assist indigenous shipping firms to acquire vessels.
But 10 years after the enactment of the Cabotage Act, the intended beneficiaries are yet to benefit from the funds, hence the investigation called for by the lawmakers.
The probe is to be carried out by an Ad-hoc Committee to determine the total amount generated under the CVFF from inception to date, the level of utilisation of the funds and beneficiaries; determine the banks that were keeping the funds as well as their participation in the scheme and recommend how the CVFF could be applied more judiciously and transparently.
The four banks approved as prmary lending institutions for the long-awaited disbursement of the CVFF are: Skye Bank, Diamond Bank, Fidelity Bank and Sterling Bank.

Leading the debate on the motion last Wednesday, Honourable Hassan Saleh noted that the fund was dedicated to “assist indigenous shipping firms to acquire the requisite capacity to build and develop their participation in the maritime sector so as to enable them compete and possibly overcome foreign shipping firms that have dominated the nation’s coastal and inland trade.”
Saleh said: “While over N40 billion, approximately 525 million dollars of the funds for some inexplicable reasons are alleged to be trapped in some designated banks, instead of it being utilised for the purpose for which the fund was established, and the participating banks are also alleged to have fulfilled their part of the agreement with the funds still in their possession while the intending beneficiaries are not able to access them.”
He added the purpose for which the scheme was established had been defeated, with the intended beneficiaries being unable to access them.
He pointed out that the fund, which was raised from two per cent deducted by NIMASA on every contract awarded under the Cabotage scheme, was deposited in some designated banks which were supposed to have contributed to the scheme, but had not taken any action.
The Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal subsequently named a seven-man committee to investigate the CVFF and determine the banks that are keeping the funds and their level of participation in the scheme.

SHIPS & PORTS DAILY recalls that last month, the umbrella body of maritime journalists in the country, the Maritime Reporters’ Association of Nigeria (MARAN), accused some unnamed persons of attempting to foist an unqualified entity on NIMASA as Consultant to the Cabotage Fund.
MARAN noted that a politician, who served as Minister of State for Transport under the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo; a formerNIMASA Director-General; and a Federal lawmaker, are, allegedly, part of those jostling for a slice of the CVFF, which has accumulated to over US$255 million (about N40 billion).
Also, MARAN alleged that about four banks have been appointed as Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) for the CVFF and that NIMASA has a full-fledged department – the Cabotage Department – devoted to overseeing the implementation of Cabotage, so it sees no need for appointing any consultant to the fund, especially when the so-called potential consultant is being deliberately positioned to do the bidding of politicians and other entrenched interests. 

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