Past management teams at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) have woefully failed the maritime industry – and by extension the Nigerian economy, due to their predilection for the mundane at the expense of real development of the vital economic sector.
Sadly, some former heads of NIMASA saw their position as opportunity to be in the media daily to boost their personal resume and possibly raise their political profile. They failed to put their minds to the job they were appointed to do and missed the unique opportunity given to them to redefine the industry in such a way that would enable it contribute substantially to Nigeria’s economic aspirations. The result of this twisted understanding of their mandate and indeed poor disposition to work is that today, we can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of Nigerian shipping companies that are still in operation. The consequence of this attitude is also very glaring in the hard times confronting our seafarers, as most of them are either unemployed or underemployed. Nigeria also has a backlog of more than 5,000 cadets awaiting sea-time experience. The young lads have finished the first phase of their training to become seafarers but are stuck in the middle, unable to secure jobs or return to school to conclude their studies because there are no Nigerian ships that can take them onboard for the mandatory one year sea-time experience.
Some past heads of NIMASA are particularly guilty of sub-optimal performance despite the huge financial resources at their disposal. Rather than embark on the meaningful pursuit of their mandates, the Directors-General of the nation’s apex maritime regulatory agency in the past 10 years were content with chasing the mundane, playing to the gallery and seeking cheap media attention.
One of the most mundane of NIMASA pursuits is the wasteful and relentless chase for election into Category C of the Council of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Every DG of NIMASA wanted to show off as the one that got Nigeria elected into the IMO Council, though other than boosting personal ego, the benefit of such election remains to be seen.
IMO is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping, and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. Its 40-member Council is the executive organ that is responsible, under the IMO Assembly, for supervising the work of the organization. Between sessions of the Assembly, the Council performs all the functions of the Assembly, except that of making recommendations to governments on maritime safety and pollution prevention. The IMO Council is categorised into A, B and C countries. Category A comprises of 10 countries with the largest interest in providing international shipping services. The IMO Member States elected in the category include China, Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Panama, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, and the United States. Category B is made up of another 10 countries with the largest interest in international seaborne trade. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates are all category B members of the IMO Council. Category C comprises 20 nations not elected under (a) or (b) above, but have special interests in maritime transport or navigation and whose election to the Council will ensure the representation of all major geographic areas of the world. The countries elected into that category in 2019 for two years include Bahamas, Belgium, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey. Elections are held into all three categories every two years. By the definitions of the categories, Nigeria is eligible to contest elections into category C only.
NIMASA spent millions of dollars every two years chasing this zero-value pipe dream. In the past 30 years, Nigeria has ben elected into the IMO Council only three times – in 2000, 2007 and 2009. Every other attempt to return to the Council since the country’s last election in 2009 has been rebuffed by other IMO Member States.
The immediate past Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, lost the IMO Council election twice! Dakuku wanted to be in charge of Africa’s maritime administration rather than concentrate on building local tonnage at home. In spite the huge amount of money he expended on the so-called Africa Maritime Administration Association (AMAA), which he almost singularly funded with NIMASA’s revenue, Dakuku failed twice – in 2017 and 2019 – to secure Nigeria’s election into the IMO Council.
We are at it again. Huge sums of money will be spent on travels and lobbies – all jamboree in the name of IMO Council election. Perhaps Nigeria should draw back a bit to reflect on why other IMO Member States reject its constant bid for election into the Council. Truth is Nigeria will continue to find it difficult to get elected into the IMO Council as long as it fails to develop its indigenous shipping and to implement the report of the IMO Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS).
The message the international maritime community has tried to pass to Nigeria is that its charity must begin at home. There are more pressing issues facing our maritime industry that require the urgent attention of NIMASA and its parent ministry. Of a truth, the money NIMASA wastes to pursue elusive election into the IMO Council could have been dedicated to solving the myriads of problems facing the industry. For one, Nigeria is the only country among the top 20 producers of crude oil in the world that does not have a national shipping line, thus relying on foreign carriers to ship its crude oil to the international market. The value Nigeria derives from its crude oil is at the mercy of buyers to whom the country has ceded the powers of nominating crude carriers to ship its black gold to the international market. Indigenous ship owners also lack capacity to participate in the avoidable importation of petroleum products and in the provision of the numerous ancillary marine services required by international oil companies operating within the shores of the country. The buck of these glaring failures rest on the desk of the CEO of NIMASA.
NIMASA has lost so much focus that it has been unable to implement the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act 2003 (other wise known as the Cabotage Act), which was enacted with the sole aim of developing the indigenous shipping sector and creating jobs for Nigerian seafarers. The proper implementation of the Cabotage Act would have ensured the growth of ship building, repairs and maintenance industry of our maritime sector and ultimately create jobs for our army of unemployed youths.
The IMO Council seat will continue to elude Nigeria so long as NIMASA also fails to address gaps identified in the report of the IMO Member States Audit Scheme (IMSAS). The latest IMSAS report emphasized the need for Nigeria to fulfill certain obligations regarding the implementation of some IMO conventions and instruments. The audit covered the implementation of IMO instruments, Nigeria’s national legislations concerning these instruments and enforcement of NIMASA’s responsibilities with regards to its flag state and port state functions. The audit harped on the need for the agency to develop working systems rather than overreliance on the discretion of its personnel. It is worth noting that none of the findings and observations raised in the audit report has been addressed to date. Charity, they say, begins at home. Let us put our house in order so that we can truly earn global recognition and acceptance.