Friendship turbulence and selective mutism

Written By Bolaji Akinola

Those who live amidst the excitements of the capital have no idea of the many experiences familiar to the inhabitants of the villages and small towns.

Transport Minister Rotimi Ameachi is eager to make a mark in the maritime industry but I think he is going about it the wrong way.

Amaechi has become a frequent visitor to maritime events in Lagos where he lashes out at the staff of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) every time he grabs the microphone.

I understand Amaechi’s disdain for the agency but I think his disagreement with former President Jonathan and everything the former administration stood for should not becloud his sense of judgment and capacity to make sound decisions.

We all know that NIMASA, at the twilight of the general election that produced President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, overstepped its bound. The former head of the agency dabbled into the murky waters of politics. Akpobolokemi was alleged to have also financed some of the political campaigns of his erstwhile principal. But Akpobolokemi has since been thrown out of NIMASA and is currently facing trials for the series of allegations against him. The point I’m trying to make here is that Amaechi needs to separate the leadership of NIMASA under the past regime from the core of hardworking and loyal public officers and professionals in that agency.

By constantly lambasting NIMASA, Amaechi demoralises these diligent public officers who were in fact the whistle blowers that brought the atrocities of the past leadership of the agency to the attention of Nigerians. They wrote petitions, they pushed out documents and campaigned vigorously for change. They campaigned for APC. NIMASA staff turned against the former regime and they worked very hard to bring about change. It was jubilation galore at the Maritime House when Buhari was declared winner of the presidential election, with shouts of Sai Baba and Sai Buhari renting the air.

Perhaps the Minister is not aware that NIMASA staff loathe the contract awarded to Tompolo’s company for the provision of maritime security under the past regime. While Amaechi and other broom carriers busied themselves trying to sweep umbrellas away from the seat of power, NIMASA staff vigorously fought against the maritime security contract and the establishment of a NIMASA school, NIMASA shipyard and Maritime University all in one local government area of Delta State.

NIMASA staff and Amaechi are on the same page as far as repositioning the agency is concerned. They have a common adversary which has been successfully swept out of power and the least Amaechi can do is work with these patriotic Nigerians to reposition the agency. They feel hurt that the government they helped enthrone is turning against them.

Amaechi has also spoken frequently about his “group of friends”. He alluded to this group as if it were a magic wand descending from outer space with some mystical formula to solve the maritime industry’s problems. I think that is a completely wrong approach by Minister Amaechi. No one knows the challenges – and I daresay solutions – of the industry better than the practitioners. He who wears the shoes knows where it pinches. Amaechi should forget about his hangers on. They have nothing to offer this industry. There are tons of resources he can rely on at NIMASA and within the industry to achieve desired outcomes. He doesn’t even need any committee to reinvent the wheel. There are abundant recommendations on how to enhance port efficiency, reforms, boost indigenous participation in the carriage of Nigeria’s inbound and outbound cargoes, increase use of the inland waterways for public transportation, effectively implement the Cabotage Law and generally boost the development of the maritime industry. All the recommendations are there.

Among such recommendations is the one by a Presidential Committee set up by Jonathan after a two-day long presidential retreat at the Presidential Villa, Abuja in July 2012.

The retreat with the theme “Harnessing the Potentials of Nigeria’s Maritime Sector for Sustainable Economic Development” was well attended by industry stakeholders and economic experts. It extensively discussed ways the maritime industry could be repositioned to play greater role in the economic well being of the country. After the retreat, the former President set up a committee to create a road map for the development of the maritime industry. The committee concluded its assignment within six months and made robust recommendations to government. But that was the last we heard of it.

The maritime industry is where it is today not for lack of developmental ideas but because government has not deemed it fit to implement far-reaching recommendations painstakingly put together by experts and stakeholders.

Amaechi can hit the ground running by calling for the report and implementing the recommendations. And he should look inwards in repositioning the maritime industry. That was my recommendation to the APC Transition Committee last year. We don’t need the minister’s “friends” to come compound our problems. We have highly respected experts at the various agencies including NIMASA and within the wider maritime sector with capacity to do the needful.

On Dakuku Peterside? No comment.

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