At a recent press conference in Lagos, the Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, took time to explain the circumstances that have kept the modular floating dock the agency acquired at a whopping cost of N50billion idle since June 11, 2018 it arrived in Nigeria.
According to Peterside, the major reason why the floating dock has not commenced operation is because the agency has not secured an operational berthing space for the dock. He said where the floating dock is currently situated only serves as a storage berthing space where operation of a floating dock cannot be undertaken. He further explained that as at the time the floating dock was acquired, NIMASA had intended to deploy it to Okerenkoko in Delta State but could not do so because of reports by experts coupled with security challenges in the region. Based on these factors, the agency decided to situate it in Lagos.
“Originally, it was designed to berth in Delta State but even at that time, there were lots of reports advising to the contrary. Those reports are still there till date. When we got here, we were forced to review all these reports and make a decision that we think will serve the best interest of the country and the shipping community,” said Dakuku.
The NIMASA DG went further to say, “So based on the series of reports, the company that built it and another company that we engaged believed that there are grey issues that needed to be sorted out. We all agreed that based on the advice of all the experts, what makes sense is to locate it in Lagos until such a time a final decision will be reached on it. In Lagos, we are following due process on the operating berthing place. What we have now is a storage berthing place. We believe that we will conclude very soon before the end of the year and we will commence operation at the operating location.”
These statements and explanations by Dakuku Peterside and the patronizing attitude with which they were rendered leave a sour taste in the mouth, as it affords another example of how public officers in Nigeria treat public funds and assets. From the way the NIMASA DG explained the reasons why the floating dock has been rotting away at Naval Dockyard, gulping millions of Naira daily, it appeared he had expected to draw some sympathy from his audience or even applause for the agency’s efforts, especially as its decision, after reviewing the reports available to them, was meant to “serve the best interest of the country and the shipping community.”
Nothing can be more condescending than that. In other climes, where accountability counts, what NIMASA management should be doing is apologizing to Nigerians for such a wrong management decision, and for the colossal waste of public funds, both in acquiring the floating dock it did not prepare for or know how to operate, and for the huge sums of money that are being frittered away since it arrived in Nigeria.
As at the time the floating dock arrived, NIMASA was spending approximately $10,000 every day to keep it in a private jetty until it was moved to the Naval Dockyard where it is now gulping a whopping $30,000 (N9,210,000) daily as wharfage, not to talk of the running cost and payment of array of consultants and experts. In spite of these high incidental costs, Dakuku said “we believe that we will conclude very soon before the end of the year and we will commence operation at the operating location.” In other words, the deployment of the floating dock to a permanent location and its commencement of operation is still a far cry.
It is really difficult to absolve the NIMASA DG and his management from blame for this big headache they brought to themselves and to the nation. In the first place, the acquisition of a floating dock was a wrong decision taken by his predecessor, Patrick Akpobolekemi. He was warned by maritime operators and experts against the venture, but in the spirit of impunity with which he operated, he adamantly went ahead to contract the building of the floating dock. This was few months before he was swept off from office in 2015. His successor, Dakuku Peterside, was in a position to cancel the contract; rather he pursued it with vigour, extolling the numerous benefits the nation will derive from acquiring it. That notwithstanding, he also had enough time –three years –to plan in order to avoid all these problems and explanations he is now making.
If appropriate planning and the important measure had been taken, the reports including the security situation now being referred to, which have kept the floating dock idle in Lagos, would have been noted and the issues resolved before taking delivery of the floating dock. The reports would have even determined whether the floating dock should be acquired or not. For instance, the floating dock is said to require at least 12m draught to operate, and the location that has been identified requires dredging to achieve that. This is additional cost that would have been avoided had appropriate planning or study been done.
That the floating dock was meant for the Maritime University, Okerenkoko is another issue on its own. Even if things had worked out as planned, it still would have amounted to putting the cart before the horse. The university and the floating dock, which should come first, or is the floating dock part of the materials needed for the building of the university?
Indeed, all the explanations by NIMASA management as to why a facility acquired at a cost of N50 billion, and gulping over N100 million monthly since June 2018, still has to wait for a longer time before becoming operational do not really add up. What maritime operators expected to hear is that arrangements have been concluded to put the floating dock to use within a definite time frame. Excuses of government bureaucracy or the agency being only a regulator are untenable, and can hardly absolve anyone from blame as the floating dock did not take them unawares.