Where are the Cowardly Lions?

The Cowardly Lion is a character in the fictional Land of Oz created by American author L. Frank Baum. He is a Lion, but he talks and interacts with humans.
Since lions are supposed to be “The Kings of Beasts,” the Cowardly Lion believes that his fear makes him inadequate. He does not understand that courage means acting in the face of fear, which he does frequently. Only during the aftereffects of the Wizard’s gift, when he is under the influence of an unknown liquid substance that the Wizard orders him to drink (perhaps gin) is he not filled with fear. He argues that the courage from the Wizard is only temporary, although he continues to do brave deeds while openly and embarrassedly fearful.
It is natural to be fearful but, according to Professor Wole Soyinka, the man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.
Nigeria’s shipping sector is suffering from the tyranny of neglect and incompetence of its managers and very few stakeholders are brave enough to voice it. They hide in their various corners and ventilate their anger against a system that has killed their businesses but quickly add: “it is off record o, please don’t quote me”.
It was ten years exactly, penultimate week, since former President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, otherwise known as the Cabotage Act while implementation of the Act – which commenced May 1, 2004 – was nine years old.

We all know that implementation of the Cabotage regime has been a major disappointment to all. My interest then was to find reasons why implementation failed despite the noble idles of the law especially with the euphoria that greeted its passage and subsequent assent granted by Obasanjo.
Naturally then, I got in touch with some private sector operators who played key roles in the making of the Act in 2003 and all the chief executives of the implementing agencies for their comments on the one decade failure of Cabotage.
I have my own ideas why Cabotage has failed and the first key reason is the faulty foundation laid for the regime.
I remember clearly that the first Cabotage Director, one Chief Stephen Ezekwem, had no idea what the law was all about. Chief Ezekwem was brought to the then National Maritime Authority (NMA) by then Minister of Transport – Dr. Abiye Sekibo. The only relevant qualification and experience brought by him was his association and relationship with Sekibo.
As if that was not enough and to the chagrin of stakeholders, Sekibo ordered the relocation of the Cabotage Unit from NMA Headquarters at 4, Burma Road, Apapa to Port Harcourt. Sekibo did not stop at that as he made Ezekwem report directly to him; bypassing the NMA chief executive.
That was the faulty foundation laid for Cabotage. Little wonder Dr. Taiwo Afolabi said the law was “dead on arrival”.
Well apart from these clearly warped decisions imposed on NMA by Sekibo, there certainly must have been other constraints encumbering implementation of the law and that was what I sought to find out.

The private sector operators I got in touch with freely shared their thoughts on what they thought went wrong but not so for those who occupied offices that were strategic to the implementation of the Act. By this category of people I mean some former Directors of Cabotage, former chief executives of the NMA and its successor the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and even a former Minister of Transport.
Painfully though, I could not get across to Chief Ezekwem or his mentor Dr. Abiye Sekibo but I really wonder what the duo would have said anyway other than gloat over how they made sure the law was passed and how the structure they set up was not allowed to flourish and the likes.
But then, none of the former government people was willing to be quoted in the media. I remember one of them who was so excited that I considered his view relevant. After praising Ships& Ports for “doing such a wonderful job in the maritime industry”, he launched out into why several things are wrong and how some laudable initiatives are not followed through and how leaders and insincere in decision-making and so on.
After about ten minutes of his monologue, I asked him specifically about the failure of Cabotage and of course, he started talking freely until he suddenly remembered that I was a journalist.
“I hope you’re not quoting me o?”, he asked.
“Of course I am sir”, I told him.
I explained to him that we were working on a report on Cabotage after ten years and that his opinion was important in ensuring that current managers of NIMASA understand the real issues that can help implementation.
“I am sorry Bolaji but I don’t want to be quoted”, he said.
“But all the things you have said are correct. And it is not personal. It will help the system”, I tried to convince him but he wouldn’t budge.

After I managed to convince him that I wasn’t recording our conversation and that it would be unethical to do so without his knowledge and permission, the former NMA big man finally admitted that he was afraid of “my successors thinking that I’m teaching them their job”.
“They will misunderstand me and try to dig out the past and look for something to hold against me”, he said.
I was stunned. So fear was at the root of it all. What a shame.
And the same fear ran through all the others. While they all spoke glowingly about their tenures and about what could be done to make Cabotage work, none was willing to be quoted for fear of the current managers of the regime.
How then can we avoid mistakes of the past if past leaders are not willing to share their experiences and offer advice?
In the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, where The Cowardly Lion makes his first appearance, despite outward evidence that he is unreasonably fearful; The Cowardly Lion displays great bravery along the way.
The Wizard gives him a dish of unknown liquid, telling him it is “courage” to drink.
Who will give these former government people courage to drink?

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