UMAR AND SULEIMAN: Who copied who?

All through last week, from Monday to Friday, the Port Management Association of West and Central Africa (PMAWCA) held its 35thAnnual Council Meeting and 11th Roundtable Conference in Nigeria.
The event, which kicked off on Monday with an opening ceremony at the Civic Centre in Victoria Island, Lagos, was declared open by the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar.
The event’s opening was billed to start at 9.00am, but had taken off almost four hours behind schedule, owing to the late arrival of the Transport Minister’s representative and Director of Maritime Services in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Mr. Musa Suleiman Nagogo. The lateness in starting was a great morale dampener for the enthusiastic delegates from all the PMAWCA member-countries, and other participants.

In his welcome address, Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Engr. Omar Suleiman, had delivered a brilliant speech related to a number of issues. Top among the issues were the impact of the port concession programme of Nigerian ports and ongoing development efforts of the Federal Government to improve the system.
Paragraphs six to nine of the 15-paragraph three-page address read thus:
“The theme for this 35th Council & 11th Roundtable which is ‘Impact of Port Concession on the Socio-Economic Development of our Countries’ is quite apt and timely.
“As we examine options and solutions to the myriad of challenges that have faced ports in the sub-region, we must come to terms with the needs of the customer as a basis for any successful business venture.
“The need for reform of our business practices in general and ports in particular as a basis for our economic growth and development therefore requires little emphasis.

“In Nigeria, the realisation that the private sector remains the engine for growth and the need for Government to limit its roles to policy and the creation of an enabling environment, led to the reform of our ports and the adoption of the landlord model of port management in 2005 whichhas led to consistent improvement in cargo throughput from 46,150,518 mt in 2006 to 82 million mt in 2011. Container traffic has similarly witnessed 12-15 percent annual growth. To support and enhance these growth potentials, government has embarked on the following:
• Capital and maintenance dredging to deepen and expand the channels
• Dredging the Niger River for inland water transportation
• Wreck removal
• Rehabilitation of the moles in the Lagos area
• Improve maritime security and provide comfort for shipping
• Massive investment in rail rehabilitation across the country which is still on-going
“Government is also keen to expand port capacity in line with the growth potentials of the economy with the private sector taking the lead. To this end private sector initiative was encouraged to develop the Onne FLT and FOT which support the oil& gas sectors of our economy and serve as the hub for the oil & gas sector in the sub-region. Other additional efforts include development of deep sea ports.”

Series of other addresses and a number of goodwill messages were delivered by delegates and other maritime stakeholders, after which the Minister mounted the podium to deliver the opening address and declare the event open.
Journalists and other participants were keen on listening to the Minister for possible policy statement(s), since he was the highest representative of government at that event.
It was quite disappointing as Umar re-echoed Suleiman, word for word, in the above quoted parts of the latter’s speech.
While it is understandable that, since the NPA organised the event, the Minister’s speech, as obtains in the public service, should be written by the NPA and sent to the Minister, but, certainly, those that wrote the speech did a shoddy job.

Are the speech writers saying that there was no other thing the Minister could say than re-echo Suleiman’s speech? There is nothing bad if Umar’s speech restates what Suleiman had earlier said, but, certainly, not verbatim.
This indeed is not good for Nigeria’s image, considering the international flavour of the event.
Without question, the identical speeches by Umar and Suleiman is, to say the least, boorish, casting Nigeria in terrible light before the comity of maritime nations. There is the added indignity that the Minister (through his representative) had presented a speech that had nothing new to say, after the long wait of his audience for his arrival.

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