Amaechi’s one year in office: A Minister’s many errors for the soul of maritime

Buhar-Amaechi-and-Hadi-Sirika

Despite not having a single successfully executed project or programme in the last one year since assuming office, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has somehow managed to sustain the confidence of maritime stakeholders and investors, who have expressed hope for a better maritime subsector under the minister.

While some investors are able to find comfort in the Minister’s passion and focus on developing Nigeria’s maritime and shipping industries, stakeholders agree that the minister has maintained unprecedented commitment to forming a better maritime and shipping policy direction.

After about seven months of uncomfortable suspense occasioned by delay in ministerial appointment, President Muhammadu Buhari on November 11, 2016 named Amaechi as one of Nigeria’s two super ministers having the largest ministerial portfolios since the beginning of the fourth republic.

Amaechi was appointed Minister of Transportation to oversee what were hitherto two ministries—Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Aviation, with Senator Hadi Sirika as Minister of State.

By virtue of the merger of the erstwhile ministries transport and aviation, the new Transportation Ministry has 13 agencies and parastatal to be supervised by Amaechi and his minister of state, Sirika. The agencies in the maritime subsector include the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), the Nigerian Shippers Council, the Maritime Academy of Nigeria and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding of Nigeria (CFRRN) in addition to bodies and associations of industry operators.

In the aviation subsector, the ministry of Transport parades such agencies as the Federal Airporst Authority (FAAN), commercial aviation regulator, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the ACCIDENT Investigation Bureau (AIB) and the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, which are however being overseen by the minister of state for Transportation, Senator Hadi Sirika. Other agencies in the Ministry of Transportation are the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT).

As usual, Amaechi’s tenure opened with a fume of enthusiasm across the sector, including aviation. In a bid to garner understanding of the various subsectors in the transport fold, the Minister began with series of meetings with stakeholders and investors, especially in the maritime and oil and gas logistics making a fair attempt to understand their operations and areas a new leadership of the transport ministry could intervene in order to the move the sector forward. Most stakeholders and investors interpreted this as a gesture that tells of immense passion for a positive change for the sector.

At one of such meetings the Minister handed down a revenue generation target of N500 billion to its agencies in the maritime subsector. This has now become one of the minister’s wrong punches, as events playing out now in the sector, have shown that there is much more to developing the maritime subsector than revenue generation. Since coming into office, the Minister has greatly reduced emphasis on revenue generation, having been belaboured with developmental and policy issues in the maritime sector.

Another wrong move by the Minister is seen in the stoppage of the Nigerian Maritime University in Delta State, which has been heavily criticized by Niger Delta leaders and forming a basis for militancy and now a project that needs resuscitation for peace in the region.

Some of the developmental issues are the need to develop Cabotage trade and the establishment of a national carrier that can take share of the country’s international bound cargoes, as well as take part in lifting Nigeria-bound cargoes from overseas trading partners of Nigeria. The national carrier is also expected to create hundreds of jobs for the country’s many jobless seafarers, while also providing opportunity for sea time training of maritime professionals.

Other issues, which have caught the minister’s priority, are inter-modal transportation—the need for building of rail systems in major ports and connecting them to major cities for cargo evacuation from ports by railway.

The ministry also reported carrying out reforms at the various agencies and trying to position them to suit the needs of the various industries and of course, the government of the day.

Stakeholders cite headways in rail transport and the minister’s determination to establish a national carrier and establish a better structure in the agencies as some areas the minister has fared well.

A logistics and shipping consultant, Sir Amobi Osuizugbe said the minster has displayed an uncommon zeal and has shown to be very passionate about growing the shipping and transport industry, urging investors in the industry to take advantage of the minister’s readiness to turn the sector around for the better.

He said, “The growth or otherwise of any industry is a factor of who is in the driver’s seat. Sometimes, we get career ministers, sometimes we get people who are politically appointed and sometimes we get people who come in there and they leave the place as they met it or even worse. But we are talking of somebody who has come in there to leave the place much better than he met it.

“For the one year, he has actually touched the sectors, trying to kick-start several programmes. We know what is happening in the rail system today; they are opening up—Abuja to Kaduna. The minister is trying to pilot most of the cargo movement by rail; he’s very much interested in the intermodal system for the country, hooking up the ports to the rail system. Now, of course he is also working in the aviation, pushing the players and telling them look, for us to get our aviation working.”

Osuizugbe, who is the Director of Fidepat International Nigeria Limited, observed the minister’s crave for getting jobs for Nigerian vessels, namely wet and dry cargoes from within and abroad.

“In the seminars we have had, we also heard him looking for a way to ginger up those in the shipping industry to actually have a huge chunk of participation in the lifting of Nigerian cargo. So, these are all interesting and it is about being zealous to deliver and he was even saying there will be a big movement of cargo from China and he would prefer Nigerians who have vessels to handle all these things. These are all very good to stimulating the economy,” he said.

Amaechi’s readiness to engage with stakeholders and investors seems to have also earned him a place in the hearts of operators, who are convinced that carrying everyone along is a sine qua non for achieving growth and development of the industry. Some results got from this effort include the minister’s success in bringing together all indigenous ship owners under one umbrella for the purpose of finding an enduring strategy for growing the local shipping industry and empowering them to compete better in cabotage trading. It was the first time a minister of transportation would go this far with investors in the indigenous shipping industry.

In line with this, the President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Engr Greg Ogbeifun, said Amaechi “has performed excellently in all areas.”

Ogbeifun who is the CEO of Starz Group, a leading investor in indigenous shipping and marine services said the minister has shown the most understanding of the importance of engaging and working with stakeholders.

“He has proven to be a visionary leader and is determined to bring about the much desired growth and development in the maritime sector. Our prayer is that Agencies under his ministry will similarly toe the line of stakeholder engagements so that his lofty ideas and objectives can be attained,” said Ogbeifun, who is a member of the implementation committee for the planned national carrier.

However, the Minister may have taken another wrong step against the laws of the land when he approved the concession of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri and Lagos-Kano rail lines to General Electric (GE). The Senate observed a proverbial case of “jumping the gun,” as the nation’s railway laws have not been amended to accommodate private sector participation at the level of the concession. The Senate has directed a probe of the concession.

The resolution was as a result of a motion during plenary session by Senator Akpan Bassey (PDP-Akwa Ibom) which he entitled “urgent need to investigate the granting of concession of Western Lagos-Kano) and Eastern (Port Harcourt-Maiduguri) Rail Lines to General Electric

The lawmaker noted that the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act did not envisage a concessioning of the Corporation.

Senator Bassey, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Gas, said that upon approval of the project by the National Privatization Council in April 2015, in the last days of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure, the Bureau of Public Enterprises and the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility had developed a road map for the concessioning of these rail lines.

He said the BPE had engaged the Global Infrastructure Facility and the World Bank in discussions on how to access funds to manage the project before Amaechi came in and allegedly unilaterally carried out the concession with GE.

Bassey further accused Amaechi of violating the Public Enterprises (Privatization and Commercialization) Act, 1999 by this singular action.

He told the Chamber that Amaechi had in an interview with CNBC in June announced Nigeria’s engagement with GE regarding the concession of Western and Eastern rail lines – Lagos to Kano and Port Harcourt to Maiduguri respectively, worth around $2 billion. Amaechi had said in the interview, “GE is already in; we are trying to get the government agencies to allow us negotiate with GE. The company is going to bring in over $2 billion in the Nigerian railway sector in which they are going to revive the Lagos-Kano narrow gauge and revive the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri narrow gauge by private investment.”

Moreover, Amaechi would have to take credit for some exceptional programmes or projects in the transport sector to put a mark in the sands of time. The next three years of this dispensation, if he still remain Transport Minister for the period, is enough time to get through with most of the projects, programmes and policies being laid by the minister at the moment.

 

Copyright 2016 Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.

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