Akpobolokemi: Three years after

Mr. Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi was appointed Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) on December 29, 2010 but he resumed effectively in January 2011.

Akpobolokemi was seen as an outsider to shipping and his appointment roundly criticised on the grounds that he lacked requisite qualifications and experience to head to the nation’s apex maritime agency.

Upon assumption of office, however, the NIMASA DG initiated series of meetings with stakeholders and various interest groups in the industry with a view to soliciting their cooperation and inputs to the huge assignment posterity had entrusted him with.

He promised stakeholders that he would study and fully implement the mandate of NIMASA. He promised to address the plights of Nigerian ship owners assuring them that the Cabotage Law, which made coastal trade in the country their exclusive preserve, would be faithfully and diligently implemented.

The NIMASA DG gained the shipping community’s acceptance by informing stakeholders that President Goodluck Jonathan had specifically saddled his management team with the responsibility of superintending the holistic but systematic implementation of the National Shipping Policy, the Nigerian Maritime Labour Policy; the Cabotage Law and the Nigerian Merchant Shipping Laws.

He said NIMASA under him would support the development of indigenous capacity in the maritime sector to help local firms take advantage of the local content policy of the Federal Government. He promised to constitute and inaugurate a Maritime Advisory Group for the industry before the end of May 2011.

The NIMASA helmsman said the Group was necessary to ensure that all stakeholders were carried along in the process of policy formulation and implementation in the maritime industry. He stated clearly that NIMASA management under his leadership was committed to a collective process of decision-making in harnessing the potentials of the country’s maritime sector.

Akpobolokemi also promised to ensure prompt disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF).

The NIMASA DG identified the overwhelming domination of maritime trade and services in most African coastal countries by non-African operators as the main source of capital flight, which constitutes a significant economic drawback for countries on the continent.

Three years after those promises were made; opinions are largely divided on the performance of the NIMASA chief. Ironically, opinions vary depending on interests, affiliations and even political leanings.

What remains incontrovertible though is that the Maritime Advisory Group is yet to be inaugurated and the CVFF has not been disbursed even as the fortunes of local shipping companies have dipped. Several Nigerian shipping companies have closed shop over the past three years. The fight against piracy, sea robbery and other criminal acts on the nation’s territorial waters has been intensified but so has the rate of these criminalities.

Just last week, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reported that a total of 234 incidents including 12 hijackings were recorded worldwide in 2013. Of those, 30 were Nigeria related and included two hijackings, while just thirteen were Somali related. This means Nigeria has overtaken Somalia in global piracy rating.

On the flip side, Akpobolokemi has instilled much needed decorum at the Maritime House where he holds court. He has also done well in the area of capacity building especially as it pertains to timely release of funds to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, provision of N2 billion intervention fund to the Academy, support to select public universities to run maritime-related courses and diligent implementation of the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).

Mr. Akpobolokemi has the unique opportunity of making significant impact on the shipping sector as he enjoys a stable tenure largely due to his famed closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan. Already, he has become the longest-serving NIMASA helmsman since the creation of the agency in 2006.

He should use his closeness to the seat of power to push for a policy shift that will bring Nigerian ship owners out of the doldrums. Nigerian shipping companies should be positioned to provide gainful employment to young Nigerian seafarers who have become tools in the hands of criminal elements on our waterways and to those that will be graduating from the various maritime trainings being sponsored by the maritime regulatory agency.

NIMASA should also run an all-inclusive administration by ensuring that stakeholders who have become alienated in the past three years are carried along using the platform of the Maritime Advisory Group which should be constituted and inaugurated without further delay.

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