Welcoming Mr. Thief Catcher

Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi, was a very happy man on Thursday 31st January, 2013 during the inauguration of the Board of Directors of NIMASA and the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
In the two years that he has been atop the affairs of NIMASA, I have met the NIMASA helmsman several times at public functions and even in his office. Most of the times, he appeared cold, distant and indifferent. But not on January 31 at the prestigious Transcorp Hilton, Abuja – venue of the inauguration ceremony.
The NIMASA boss was all smiles as he sat closely to his friend and new Board Chairman, retired Lt. Col. Agbu Kefas. Kefas was on top of the world too. He has been appointed to chair the Board of a Grade A federal government parastatal. He’s now in a position to dispense favours to all contract seekers including his superiors in the Army and all the big names that he could have only imagined before now.

Little wonder the new kid on the block came with a battalion of family members, friends and hangers-on to his inauguration ceremony. An extra hall had to be hired to accommodate a sizable chunk of his crowd and keep them away from distracting the main proceedings.
With the formal inauguration over, Kefas held a huge party bank-rolled by NIMASA. It was during the party that Akpobolokemi described him as a professional thief catcher.
Hear him: “The days of pirates are over; also the days of oil thieves are over. Our obligation is to keep the industry free from crime. The only option left for the pirates is to repent; our new Chairman is a guru in catching thieves.”
Noting that NIMASA had faced serious challenge in confronting the criminals in the last few months, leading to the arrest of many, Akpobolokemi posited that the coming of the retired Army officer would embolden the Agency to get rid of the criminals.

Well that is fine but I think there is more to the functions of NIMASA than apprehending thieves. Why not we prevent people from becoming thieves by getting them meaningfully engaged? How about ensuring that Nigerian ship owners get jobs to do and in turn provide employment for our teeming youths to prevent them from becoming criminals? Won’t that be a more proactive approach than catching thieves?
I believe NIMASA should provide support to the Nigerian Navy, Marine Police and Nigeria Customs Service in the fight against crimes but should not make that its paramount objective.
Government agencies like NIMASA are expected to come up with practical solutions that will grow the Nigerian economy, generate employment and substantially reduce crime including piracy and other illegal activities on our waters.

May I remind the lords at NIMASA that the primary function of the agency is the promotion of indigenous tonnage and maritime capacity development?
Over the past ten years, eighty per cent of Nigerian shipping companies have gone under. The insignificant twenty percent that are operating are doing so with excruciating pain. Their fleet have been severely depleted. A Nigerian ship owner who had six ships five years ago, told us just last week that he has lost five of them due to lack of jobs for the vessels. It is that bad.
Nigerian shipping companies that are still in business are barely trying to survive.
I have taken time to visit some of them and their offices are like ghost towns – deserted with only a handful of forlorn staff.
Their vessels are lying idle on the waters with no jobs to do. And because they vessels are not legitimately engaged, they become susceptible to illegitimate jobs. People with less than noble intentions hire them for next to nothing. There have been several instances in this regard.
More than half of our able-bodied youths are unemployed and of course, they turn to criminal activities to make ends meet. So rather than making thief-catching its ultimate objective, I think NIMASA should make the empowerment of Nigerian ship owners its priority.
If we can get about five hundred shipping companies up and running in the coastal trade, no fewer than fifty thousand seafarers and support staff will be immediately employed. That is how to achieve the transformation agenda of the federal government. That is how to help President Goodluck Jonathan reduce youth unemployment and that is how to reduce criminality on our waters.
After all, the more we fight piracy the more it blossoms. The statistics are there. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in its recent report that incidents of piracy off Nigeria’s coast rose from 10 in 2011 to 27 last year. And the attacks were attributed to Nigerian pirates.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to www.shipsandports.com.ng as the source.