Acting Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has been undertaking a tour of media houses lately. At one of the media houses visited recently, he was taken up on a series of issues affecting the agency.
On controversy surrounding emergence as the Ag. DG of NIMASA
The directive of Mr. President was clear that the former DG had been relieved of his post and that he should hand over to the most senior officer. That was the instruction; whatever happened after that I do not know, but the information came that Mr. Calistus Obi, the ED Maritime Labour, was to be handed over the office.
So, if the instruction was to hand over to the most senior, then we had to clarify who was the most senior because I am the most senior and investigation went on. From our date of resumption and our file numbers, it was clear that I reported first; so I happen to be the most senior and, because of that, that directive was reversed.
I am senior by a day. Even if it was five minutes, if your file number is ahead and you came the same day, you are the most senior. So a day is a long period.
On allegations that NIMASA sponsored hate campaign against Buhari
Political developments that happened before the elections, yes, there were rumours that NIMASA sponsored some adverts but it is not so because we do not have approval for such as an agency. We cannot, as a government agency that should be non-political, be involved in political campaigns.
NIMASA did not sponsor any campaign against anyone because we are not a political entity.
On allegations that NIMASA has been run aground
On the agency being run aground, that also is not true. The agency has been carrying out its duties; there has never been a situation where it failed to perform any of its functions.
On alleged collaboration with militants
On the issue of collaboration with militants, you know that even the mention of militant is not a good thing. So, as a responsible agency, there is no way we can collaborate with militants for anything.
On maritime security contract with an ex-militant leader’s company
The story about Global West Specialist Vessels Limited (GWSVL) is that we have a public private partnership arrangement. There was due process on the engagement of Global West as a private partner to boost revenue generation of NIMASA. What brought about that was because NIMASA needs platforms, vessels, to be able to go on the waters to visit ships (calling at the nation’s ports), board them and perform our functions, and we didn’t have such platforms.
Number two; such work cannot be done in the office. The manpower to do that, the capacity was not there and we are working in an environment where, unless you use force, people do not pay the levies they are supposed to pay; that is why the issue of the PPP came up. But there was due process, the documentation was done properly, it was taken to the Federal Executive Council, it was approved before the contract was given to them and they have been keeping to their side of the bargain. If you look into records, you will find that we have had increases in revenue. Chief Tompolo is just an individual; Global West is an entity and, when government was coming into the agreement, all documents relating to the company were verified.
Impact of PPP arrangement
We are presently doing our calculation to show the difference between where we were and where we are now because of the PPP. I do not want to talk about figures but they could have been out by now but because we had a function that took us out of office. As soon as we are through, we will get it across to the media. It will show how we have grown from where we were to where we are.
Non-payment of staff allowances
I think what happened was that we had months that we were supposed to pay some allowances to our staff and the month came, and we could not and it was as a result of having to convert the funds, not that the funds were not there. And the gap was just about three weeks; the issue of six months is incorrect. Another reason for the outcry was that some staff had arranged with banks, they had taken loans so that when the allowances come, the loans will be paid but if the money did not come at the time it was supposed to come, the interest on the loans will increase; that is why the staff were agitated.
On safety and security on the waterways and the fight against crude oil theft
On security on our waterways, our waterways are now more secure than they were years back. Throughout last year, we had no case of piracy in the Lagos area. Even the Escravos area, we are entering there to make sure that everything is all right. The real problem we have now is around Brass and Qua Iboe and we are collaborating with the Nigerian Navy to make sure that the waterways are safe.
On crude theft, there are two aspects to it. You have the loss and the real theft. Even then, the theft has reduced drastically. The navy, Civil Defense, we have been working with them to end the theft. We are trying also to procure surveillance equipment to monitor the airspace and under the water.
On the downgrading of some staff
On the downgrading of staff, no worker has been downgraded so far. An effective, well-motivated and trained workforce is a requirement for every outfit that wants to be effective. The NIMASA staff have been seriously demoralized simply because some of them have been in the same position for 10 years and above.
Meanwhile, some workers just came in and were given higher positions; so the staff already there are saying ‘those of us here before can also do it’ and that is why the staff started agitating.
So when we came in, what we did was to go to our supervising ministry to say our staff morale needs to be boosted and that the best way to do it is to place the staff properly, that is, those that have not been promoted in the last 10 years. So we have a committee that is addressing that issue. But we have nothing like downgrading the staff. What we are doing is to ensure that our staff are placed in their areas of competence so that their morale can be boosted and they will be happy working.
If your years of experience in service is not up to where you are, maybe the committee will recommend and we take the issue from there.
Allegations of contract racketeering, nepotism and mismanagement
When we came in, we put in place committees to look at various aspects of our operations for the purpose of transparency and accountability. On projects, we have an in-house committee that went round to see what was on ground. We have another committee to look at the files of the projects. We also told our supervising ministry to bring experts to look at the projects.
The experts are already on the field. We do not believe there was racketeering. We did not report that. I will not like to talk much on the contracts that were awarded since there is a committee in place, let the committee do its work and come out with a position, then we will look at it and form an opinion. For now, we do not want to say there was racketeering.
Still business as usual at NIMASA?
I do not want to believe that in NIMASA it is business as usual because, if you say that, it means we are not changing with others; and that is not true. Change is what is constant and, unless one is changing, then there is no progress. We have a core mandate to regulate the maritime industry and promote indigenous capacity. We see ourselves achieving change where it affects the economy. So far, we have been involved in training seafarers; we have been involved in building institutions that will, in turn, build manpower; we are involved in bringing a shipyard or dockyard so that we can have ships built and repaired here. We are trying to see how we can implement the Cabotage Act. We are trying to see how we can create the wealth that the nation needs, create employment; we are really in need of seafarers because I am told the average age of a seafarer is 58 and, by the time they reach 60 to 65, they are out of business. So we are trying to see how to bring it down to between 30 and 35. We are going to be part of the change the country needs so that our economy can grow.
On Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)
The CVFF is a fund under which applications are processed and sent to the Federal Ministry of Transport. Due diligence is done on the applications before funds are disbursed.
NIMASA has done its part; we have processed some applications and passed them to the ministry. We used to have Ship Acquisition and Ship Building Fund that was disbanded because it was not properly utilized. Government is wary of a repeat of the past and, therefore, trying to guard against such misuse. They were on it and could not finish before the change era came. A minister is not in place yet but by the time a new minister comes in, the ministry is going to revisit those applications. They will be processed and those to benefit will know themselves.
I do not have the record of disbursement but I know the money in the fund is in the region of N50 billion and we have lending institutions keeping part of the fund; we also have some collecting banks involved. When you add all of them I think it is in the region of N50 billion.
Probe of agency by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
In fact, I was the first person to be interviewed by the EFCC as the Executive Director in charge of Finance and Administration.
When the EFCC came, I told them all they wanted to know, and they left. What they wanted was for me to tell them what I knew and what was on ground and I told them some of the things I am just telling you.
Another thing I want to say is that at a time, the mandate for the control of our resources was watered down. I travelled and when I came back, all the other EDs were made signatories to the account of NIMASA, which should not be in normal circumstances.
When I raised the issue, I was told that there was need for us to trust one another and work together. I said but I could not go and sign releasing of ships, I could not go and sign anything on cabotage, now they were signing money. I said I hoped they will do it well and that is why some payments that were made I did not see them, other signatories effected them. The budgets were prepared, heads of unit would sign and they do not come to me, they only come to me when it is for signing for payment, which other people could do. I told the EFCC all these things.
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