The Honourable Minister of State for Transportation, Senator Gbemisola Saraki, was on a weeklong visit to Lagos from Sunday June 19 to Saturday June 25 during which she inspected various government projects under the Federal Ministry of Transportation (FMOT) and held a series of town hall meetings with maritime industry stakeholders.
Saraki became the de facto Minister in charge of FMOT upon the resignation of Rotimi Amaechi on May 16, 2022 to contest the presidential primary election of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which he lost to former Lagos State Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Saraki’s maiden tour saw her inspect the Mobolaji Johnson Train Station, Ebute Metta, the Apapa Port, Tin Can Island Port, Naval Dockyard to participate in the World Hydrography Day and inspect some assets belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). She also inspected the Deep Blue project and NIMASA facilities at Kirikiri.
The Honourable Minister went a step further to hold a series of town hall meetings with all major stakeholders including terminal operators, freight forwarders, shipping lines, indigenous ship owners, barge operators, maritime lawyers, stevedoring companies, women groups, journalists and others for three days.
Saraki’s engagement was a breath of fresh air for the maritime industry, especially considering the autocratic and unprogressive leadership style of her predecessor. Indeed, Gbemi Saraki’s predecessor never held engagement meetings with maritime industry operators. The few times he met with them, he talked down on them and freely hurled insults at them. He never sat with operators to discuss their challenges and how to address the challenges.
The visit by Minister Saraki was certainly refreshing. Many were visibly happy because for the first time in seven years, the government came to them.
The government listened to them and engaged them. This is a clear departure from the retrogressive leadership style of the former Minister who neither engaged nor sought industry opinion on any issue. Little wonder he could not point to any concrete achievement in the maritime industry. Indeed, the former Minister admitted that he neglected the maritime industry, yet he did not allow the Minister of State to oversee the industry as initially promised.
Now that she is in charge of the Ministry, we strongly believe that Senator Saraki will address the myriads of problems facing the sector. The sustainability of the Deep Blue project is crucial to the fight against piracy. Also, government must now rise up to the task of empowering indigenous ship owners so that the unflattering dominance and preponderance of foreign ships trading illegally on our waters will end. More than 5,000 cargo ships, excluding crude oil tankers, call at Nigerian ports every year, yet not one of these ships is owned by Nigerians. It is a sad commentary indeed. Senator Saraki has promised to address this major lacuna and we are certain that she has the capacity, competence and political will to do so. The advantages of developing local shipping tonnage are numerous. First, it will lead to the retention of value and much needed foreign exchange in our economy. It will also create jobs for our seafarers and provide sea-time opportunities for our cadets. This will, by extension, reduce unemployment and criminal activities on our waters.
On the port side, the Minister has assured that she would end the notorious Apapa gridlock. She also expressed commitment to the commencement of operation at the Lekki deep-sea port before the end of the year, in addition to identifying the need to attract fresh investment to rebuild rapidly decaying infrastructure in other seaports. The Minister has also shown strong capacity and unwavering commitment to the completion of outstanding railway projects across the country.
Senator Gbemi Saraki is different. She has demonstrated true leadership qualities and we have no doubt that she will be successful as the Minister of Transportation. We therefore appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to make her the substantive Minister of Transportation and allow her supervise the affairs of the Federal Ministry of Transportation for the remaining eleven months of his administration. It will be retrogressive and unfair to bring in a new Minister at this time. Gbemi Saraki has already laid the necessary foundation and has started the task of rebuilding the sector. A new Minister will need time to learn and understand the issues at stake, but the country certainly does not have that luxury of time.
Senator Gbemi Saraki should be allowed to continue the good job she has started so that President Muhammadu Buhari’s legacies can be deeply entrenched in the maritime industry and other segments of the transportation sector.
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