Cronyism, nepotism as bane of Nigeria’s maritime development

Cronyism, nepotism as bane of Nigeria’s maritime development


The spoils system whereby the political party in power wilfully doles out top government jobs only to friends and relatives has not only sullied, but also significantly stunted the growth of the Nigerian maritime industry.

Politicians with consciences seared by unbridled entitlement mentality jostle to appropriate the CEO and other top positions of government agencies they perceive to be cash cows – a grab mentality propelled by shameless self-aggrandisement and mindless contract procurement purposes.

When people complain about the poor development of the maritime industry, they fail to see the nexus between the underdevelopment of the industry and underachieving CEOs who owe their appointments to familial and political links rather than merit. Without a doubt, the outputs of the CEOs of NIMASA, NPA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) have been sub-optimal. The underachieving chief executives have failed the industry. NIMASA is often quick to taunt its Deep Blue project as an achievement.

Indeed it is the only “achievement” NIMASA lays claim to under the present dispensation. It is a handy rhetoric straight out of the spin-doctors’ manual. Of a truth, credit for the reduction and eventual elimination of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea goes to the Nigerian Navy and the Danish Navy, which deployed a frigate to the region. Since 2021, the Danish Navy frigate, with about 195 personnel, a Seahawk helicopter and maritime task force unit have sustained presence in the Gulf of Guinea and made many arrests. In November last year, one of the arrested pirates – a Nigerian – was prosecuted and convicted not in Nigeria but by a Copenhagen court, which found him guilty of criminal activities in the Gulf of Guinea. If NIMASA truly understands its mandate, it should be concerned that the Danish Navy had to fly the Nigerian pirate named Lucky Frances to Denmark for prosecution because Nigeria and other West African countries refused to accept him and others.

So, it is not totally correct for NIMASA to continue to flaunt this so-called achievement. NIMASA’s major mandates are safety and shipping development. Security is the responsibility of the navy. Unfortunately, NIMASA has conveniently relegated shipping development to the background while it keeps appropriating the achievements of the Nigerian Navy. The Deep Blue project is merely a procurement of land, air and sea assets for use of the Nigerian Navy and other security agencies. We’ll applaud NIMASA only when it develops the Blue Economy.

NIMASA derives its powers and functions from three legal instruments namely the NIMASA Act 2007, the Merchant Shipping Act 2007 and the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act 2003 popularly called the Cabotage Act. These instruments shape both the functions and structure of the agency. The NIMASA Act 2007 clearly mandates the agency to “promote, regulate and administer public policies” in the sector. NIMASA’s first core mandate is to pursue the development of shipping and regulatory matters relating to seafarers and merchant shipping.

Present day NIMASA has, however, failed to pursue shipping development, and this failure – including the agency’s failure to properly implement the Cabotage Act – is at the core of the underdevelopment of the maritime industry. Over the past decade, many Nigerian shipowners became shipowners only on paper. I know of many shipowners who owned or chartered four, five, six vessels actively trading in the past but which have all gone under. Many of them lost their landed property to lenders. The simple reason for this sad development is the loss of focus by NIMASA. Also, many Nigerian seafarers are languishing in the unemployment market because there are no ships to employ them. There is a huge backlog of cadets of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria Oron waiting to get mandatory sea-time experience to further their studies. The waiting list keeps growing because Nigerian shipowners don’t have ships to take them onboard. Last year, a graduate of NIMASA’s Nigerian Seafarers Development Program (NSDP), Lois Njoku, revealed how she and some of her colleagues resorted to petty trading – selling clothes and bags – to make ends meet as a result of unemployment. Underperforming CEOs, misplaced priorities and poor understanding of the issues at stake have all combined to rob our shipowners of vessels, seafarers of jobs, cadets of sea-time experience and the industry of desired progress.

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) have not fared any better. NPA in particular has lost it. Right before the eyes of its management, critical port infrastructures are rotting away. A good portion of the quay apron at Tin Can Island Port has caved in while new port concession agreements are gathering dusts in the drawers of civil servants. The non-renewal of expired port concession agreements robs the ports of fresh capital injection by private operators. How do investors source funds for the acquisition of critical cargo handling equipment and infrastructural development of the port without contracts? The question I often ask is: Does the NPA management understand the issues at stake? Does the executive management team possess the capacity and competence to pilot the affairs of a 21st century port authority? No. Unfortunately, the spin-doctors are on duty 24/7 churning out half-truths about so-called achievements.

NIWA was established to improve and develop inland waterways for navigation as well as provide alternative mode of transportation for the evacuation of economic goods and persons. The poor use of the waterways and the preponderance of boat accidents across the country say everything that needs to be said about the agency’s performance. Between March and October 2022 alone, no fewer than 212 Nigerians lost their lives in boat accidents in various parts of the country while the agency watched helplessly.

So where do we go from here? It is apt to appeal to the President-Elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to treat maritime issues different from his predecessors’ handling of the industry. Asiwaju favoured meritocracy in the appointments he made while serving as the Governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2007. He will do well to make that the hallmark of his incoming government. None of the present heads of maritime agencies deserves to continue in office beyond May 29. The industry is in a downward spiral and new managers with progressive mindsets are urgently needed to take over.

The President-Elect may consider convening a brainstorming session with select stakeholders in the industry. Participants should be genuine private sector stakeholders and a few senior government officials none of whom should include any of the past or present political appointees. The brainstorming session should conclude with a clearly defined roadmap and KPIs for agency heads to take the industry out of the doldrums over the next four years.

Appointments of CEOs and senior executives of NIMASA, NPA, NSC, NIWA, CRFFN, MAN Oron and NITT Zaria should be competitive. The positions should be advertised with clearly defined qualifications and work experience. Shortlisted candidates should be rigorously interviewed and only the best with the right mindset should be appointed into these key positions. Monitoring and evaluation systems must also be set up with the aim of improving outputs and impacts.

As Nigeria takes a new turn on May 29, a fundamental change in approach must happen to reposition and redefine the maritime industry. The Tinubu administration should understand that the greatness of our nation is inextricably tied to the sea, with its commercial use in peace time and its control in war time, for, in the words of Sir Walter Raleigh, “whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself”.