A Garrison Called NIMASA 3
I still have the file of the audio recording of the chat some of my colleagues and I had with the now late Captain Romeo Itima, lately the Managing Director of Global West Vessel Specialist Limited (GWVS), the Federal Government concessionaire, through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), for the security of Nigeria’s maritime domain. Itima’s voice-plays back hauntingly from my laptop. A scary memory of Itima, however, is of the boat ride, during the oversight tour by the House of Representatives Committee of NIMASA facilities in Lagos. I shared the inflatable that led the modest flotilla. Just before we took off from the Nigerian Maritime Resource Centre (NMRC) Jetty at Kirikiri, I had complained to Itima that I had no lifejacket, as did the bulk of the entourage, except the lawmakers and top NIMASA officials.
With his trademarks smile, Itima had reassured me that he was on board. A lucky talisman? While never cowardly, I’m not overly reckless. But my job of properly reporting the tour needed to be done. So, off we went on the brackish and choppy Lagos waters. Even as we sometimes roared along at 15 knots, Itima stood at his post, at the bow,without a life jacket, confidently commanding the journey.
NIMASA’s claims as Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory organ could actually be vacuous. Not when it has consistently failed to meet the most basic aspects of this agenda. The life jacket is the most basic maritime safety accessory. This is a common lesson even in the kindergarten. But this is clearly lost on NIMASA, going by its laxity on enforcing life jacket usage. Attend a NIMASA function that has to do with a boat ride and you are certain to record life jackets availability and deployment of less than of 30 percent of the participants. A dismal ratio? Sure!
Death is an inevitable end, a certainty for every mortal. What is also certain, in the fashion of Nigerian officialese, is that the circumstances of Captain Romeo Itima’s death will forever remain in the realm of conjectures.
However, from the position of a keen industry watcher, it is safe to conclude that the late GWVS boss came to his tragic end, owing to a combination of factors, notably lack of buoys properly mapping out the waters, particularly the breakwaters, sunken under high tide, and which Itima’s boat purportedly rammed into in the Escravos Forcados area of Delta State. Without question, the circumstances of Itima’s death bear eloquent testimony to the dismal state of the Nigerian maritime industry.
NIMASA came about through a merger of the now defunct National Maritime Authority (NMA) and the equally the defunct Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (JOMALIC), inheriting the NMA headquarters, MARITIME HOUSE, located at Burma Road, Apapa, Lagos. Apart from this imposing structure, NIMASA initially (NAMASA – National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency) apparently inherited certain foibles passed down by the former NMA.
I recall a certain administration at the NMA, in which the then Director-General, Dr. George Eneh, was largely fixated on his personal security and safety, to the detriment of all else. Under Eneh, encountering plain-clothed, and assault rifles–wielding men was common place along the corridors and in the elevators of the MARITIME HOUSE. Not a few first-time visitors, seeing these armed men wondered if armed robbers had invaded the complex to rob the bank accommodated there. But the men were part of the awesome security detail cobbled to keep Eneh safe in the face of alleged threats to his life by assassins.
The more things change, the more things remain the same. Years after Eneh as NMA boss, the incumbent helmsman at MARITIME HOUSE , and the Director-General of NIMASA, Mr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, is replicating Eneh’s penchant for investing so much resources on personal security, and at an even more grandiose scale. For, if Eneh assaulted the sensibilities of stakeholders then with his retinue of armed Policemen and State Security Service (SSS) operatives whenever he moved or was at any particular time, and those that prowled the premises, under the Akpobolokemi regime, his security machinery include operatives of the SSS, Nigerian Navy (NN), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Nigerian Air Force (NAF), and Nigerian Army (NA). And a liberal sprinkling of ex-Niger Delta militants as security consultants, according to some wags.
Under Akpobolokemi, NIMASA has become a veritable garrison. I won’t be surprised if sandbagged gun posts appear anytime at the gates of MARITIME HOUSE. I won’t be fazed, either, if the NIMASA Director-General’s office suite also plays host to similar sandbagged gun posts.
Interestingly, Akpobolokemi’s security detail reflected multiple uniformed military and paramilitary personnel, long before the recent expansion of the Maritime Guard Command (MGC) to include the NAF, NPF and NA.
A refrain of acknowledging the place of God in man’s dealings frequently runs through Akpobolokemi’s words whenever he talks as NIMASA Director-General. This has been his trademark since he assumed the position, indicative of great belief in the Almighty. But belief in God or not, the NIMASA boss clearly attaches little faith in God by his phalanx of battle-ready military and paramilitary bodyguards.
Someone made this observation: “If only Akpobolokemi deployed security operatives across Nigerian waters in the same manner they provide him coverage, our waters won’t suffer the illegalities common there, and have spiked in his time.”
I had no response to that observation, because I have a number of mine. Wouldn’t a first-time visitor to MARITIME HOUSE, particularly the NIMASA Director-General’s office suite, be forgiven if the complex is mistaken for a military or paramilitary base, and not the headquarters of the agency saddled with promoting the nation’s maritime sector in all its ramifications? NIMASA is meant to be a facilitator of maritime interests, apart from being a revenue earner, and I wonder just how many of these interests have been scared away by GARRISON NIMASA?
Really, MARITIME HOUSE needs to breathe a less-stifling air. Not much is ever achieved in a Police state, like the prevailing environment.
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