The maritime industry in Nigeria contributes about 90% by volume of the goods that come into the country and by value, it is the third largest contributor to our nation’s coffers after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Nigeria Customs Service. Since the early 70s, government has invested heavily in marine infrastructure in the sector to bring about port efficiency and high productivity.
At a point in our nation’s history, there was need to build a brand new port and government set about building the Tin Can Island Port in 1977 to take care of the cement armada of the late 70s. The agencies in the sector which are funded by government include the NPA, the Nigerian Shippers Council, the Nigerian Maritime Administration & Safety Agency and the National Inland Waterways Authority. Together, they play their distinct roles while also complementing one another.
It is also a huge employer of labour such as public servants, dockworkers, stevedores, clearing and forwarding agents, crane handlers and forklift drivers. Thousands of other Nigerians make their living from working at the port or as contractors. Therefore, the maritime industry is an important one that clearly should be headed by seasoned technocrats with a relentless vision to succeed, people who would know what to do with their position. Across the entire spectrum of the agencies, there were men who knew their onions when it came to delivering dividends in the sector to stakeholders.
For instance, at the NPA, the likes of Bamanga Tukur held sway for several years and built a formidable institution out of it. Then, another technocrat in the person of Engr. Wali Ahmed, easily one of the best NPA has produced as a managing director. He left his footprints on the sands of time. Others who have made meaningful impact include Aare Adebayo Sarumi who midwifed the concessioning of the nation’s seaports. His tenure was characterized by retrenchment of workers to make way for the privatisation programme of the Olusegun Obasanjo regime.
Today, in several key maritime institutions, the leadership that motivates the people is grossly lacking and this is unfortunate. We can mention a few names in the industry that wrote their names in gold during their tenure as NIMASA DGs. They are Barrister Mrs. Mfon Usoro, Arc. Ferdinand Agu and Temisan Omatseye, all of whom displayed uncommon vigour and put the name of NIMASA on the global stage.
When in 2010 or thereabout, one Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi was appointed by former President Jonathan to replace the erudite Barrister Temisan Omatseye as the DG of NIMASA, the maritime industry went into an overdrive. We were dumbstruck. The maritime media went into a ‘siddon look’ mode to try to capture the very essence and merit of his appointment to such a sensitive position. The only thing he had going for him was that he was a lackey of the militant warlord, Tompolo. As soon as he got into office, he became inebriated with power and the spoils of office, shutting out the maritime media and turned the Burma road office of NIMASA into a military garrison. At the end of his tenure, he had ended up stealing this country blind with his accomplices in crime. Today, he is a guest of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
With the recent poor outing of Nigeria at the IMO Category C elections, we are constrained to ask why the maritime industry is always afflicted with incompetent managers of our common matrimony when there are thousands of well-rounded individuals who can do the work and bring glory to our country.
Right now, the leading lights of the industry are the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Shippers Council, Barrister Hassan Bello and the NPA MD, Hadiza Bala Usman. Both are cut from a different tree and are making waves on the nation’s waterfront. For Usman, her appointment by President Buhari as managing director in July 2016 shattered the glass ceiling and brought to the fore the need to put round pegs in round holes. So far, in the last one year and six months, Usman has carried herself well, learnt the ropes and is on the way to leaving sustainable legacy in NPA. The only challenge as far as the eyes can see are the emergence of duplicitous aides who try to disconnect the existing channels of communication between her office and the maritime media. For crying out loud, when the chips are down, it is the maritime media that will spoil for a fight to protect her from undue harassment from Abuja politicians.
The emergence of Col. Hameed Ali (rtd) as the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service came at a time the dedicated and hardworking officers and men expected the president to appoint a deserving and competent career officer to lead the Customs. However, in the last 18 months, Col has demonstrated uncommon, strategic leadership at Customs House. At a Press Conference at Tin Can Customs Command recently, where imported arms and ammunition were seized, Ali came up close for scrutiny and one could see a genuine and humble leader with a huge sense of humour ready to take on economic saboteurs and tackle the systemic rot. That is not to say that in future non-career persons should be appointed to head the tax body. Far from it.
For the others like Dr. Dakuku Peterside of NIMASA, its all show and no substance and that is clear for all to see going by the country’s dismal failure in London. President Buhari would to well to shop for a replacement by January before the country crashes further in its rating as an important member of the comity of maritime nations.