Honourable Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi is one of the cabinet members in President Buhari’s first term in office that retained their portfolios in the second term cabinet of the president.
We heartily welcome him back. As he savours his fresh appointment and retention in the transportation ministry, we will not hesitate to remind him of his unfinished business in the maritime sector, as well as the expectations of industry operators that were not given deserved attention during his first tenure.
Top on the list of his unfinished business is the insecurity of the nation’s territorial waters which has become the world’s piracy, armed robbery and kidnapping hotspot. The International Maritime Bureau in its half year report rated the seas around Nigeria as the most dangerous spot for piracy.
We remind the minister how he regretted during his first term valedictory meeting with maritime industry operators that he could not do much to secure the nation’s waters despite all his promises. He should also remember all his promises and pronouncements concerning the maritime security contract which he led the country to sign with an Israeli firm. He should also remember how he marketed, defended and pulled the contract through against all odds, and ensure that Nigeria gets value for the money being expended on that contract.
We are constrained to say this because of an ambiguous statement the now two-time Minister of Transportation made recently during a reception organized for him by some maritime operators in Lagos. At the event, the minister was reported to have said that whoever would succeed him in the ministry should be strong because whether HLSI, the contracting company, delivers on the $195 million security contract or not, it will collect its money from government.
This statement left maritime operators wondering if the contract is actually heading for failure, and why Amaechi should be worried about the firm collecting its money from government, even if it does not perform.
Another unfinished business the Hon. Amaechi should pursue this time around with more seriousness is the floating of another shipping carrier for the country. During his first coming as Minister of Transportation, he stirred the interest of Nigerian ship owners in the project. He put in all his energy at the beginning on the project only to lose steam towards the end. The minister should soberly consider why the project failed, and do all he can to actualise it.
The dearth of road infrastructure and the notorious Apapa gridlock should this time engage the attention of the minister. Everything should be done to resolve the problem of Apapa gridlock. The bad access roads to the ports, the rail project to link the ports and provision of truck parks should be top priority in trying to solve the problem.
We also advise the minister to pursue the issue of a transport masterplan for the country. Evolving a national transport masterplan has been on for decades without its realization in sight. The minister should see a transport masterplan as critically important to the transport development of the country, as it will enhance the quest for multi-modal transportation. With a master plan, Nigeria will realize the importance of inland waterway transportation on which the entire transport system should revolve.
A major area the minister failed industry operators, especially the ship owners, is the disbursement of the Cabotage Vessels Financing Fund (CVFF). Several promises were made to the effect that the fund would be disbursed. But all these promises turned out to be mere political promises and campaign gimmicks. Sometimes, the minister would say the fund will be disbursed, another time, he would say it will not. Even when it became clear that Nigerian ship owners could not provide the 60% equity stake needed for the establishment of a national carrier, and the minister said they would be aided with the CVFF, he still went back on his words, and left the ship owners who had been screened in the lurch.
This time around, we advise Hon. Amaechi to soften his tough stance on the disbursement of the CVFF. He and the government he represents should not continue to see the CVFF as government money that will be shared to Nigerian ship owners. The money actually belongs to them, and should be used to empower them to take control of the nation’s cabotage trade, as well as participate in international shipping. If the disbursement is handled by reputable deposit money banks and financial institutions, the fear of the fund going the way of its predecessor, the Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund (SASBF), will not arise. One recalls that the SASBF was handled by former NMA now NIMASA which shared it in a manner that made many of the beneficiaries to see it as government largesse.
Similarly, we expect that this time, as the minister gets down to business, that the controversy surrounding how much has actually accrued to the fund would be laid to rest. He should, as some stakeholders have requested, commission a forensic audit to determine how much has accrued to the Fund since its inception more than 10 years ago. He should sincerely do his best to end the speculation and the various figures that have been flying about concerning the Fund.
Above all, we expect Amaechi to match his words with action this time. He should be seen as doing more and talking less. He has been given a second chance to deal with every unfinished business. This being his last time in the ministry, the nation will not take excuses for non-performance.