By Ubon Akpan
At the Advent of this administration which was sold to Nigerians as a one with a reformist agenda, Dr. Dakuku Peterside was among the very set of political appointees announced by President Mohammadu Buhari.
Which invariably means Mr. President had very little doubts and more trust on the capability of the man who flew the All Progressive Congress (APC) flag at the Rivers State gubernatorial elections as a capable hand strong enough to interpret the party’s reformist agenda at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA), a strategic economic arm of the federal government.
However, two years down the line, operators and watchers of Nigeria’s maritime industry have been left wondering what has happened to the giant maritime parastatal, which when set up in 1987 as the National Maritime Authority (NMA) had raised expectations that Nigeria was finally getting its acts right in at least one sector-maritime.
In 1987, with the establishment of the NMA by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration, Nigerians and indeed the maritime world had thought that the country, which controls an estimated 70 per cent of the sea-borne trade in the West and Central African sub-region, was then positioned to galvanize the economy of the sub-region through robust maritime policies and administration.
The NMA and later NIMASA was expected to take charge as the apex maritime regulatory and administration agency. It was expected to, while taking strong hold of its maritime administration functions, work to ginger up all other aspects of maritime operation through robust policy formulation and implementation in various areas.
These areas include stimulating greater indigenous participation in international trade through capacity development in manpower and infrastructure, protecting the local industry and stimulating growth therein such that indigenous players could seek to effectively compete on equal keel with their international counterparts.
These were expected to be done through platforms like the Ship Building and Ship Acquisition Fund (SASBF) expected to ensure indigenous fleet expansion; the Cabotage Law, expected to provide jobs for indigenous operators; the Nigerian Seafarers Development Program(NSDP) expected to ensure production of competent maritime manpower alongside the five per cent levy to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron.
While various leaderships of the organization, over the years, have made efforts to implement this agenda with graduated levels of commitment and attendant successes over the years, it appears NIMASA with Dr. Dakuku Peterside as Director General has completely lost focus.
While the fleet development and expansion agenda moved from one level of controversy with attendant promises to implement by past administrations, in the last two years under Dakuku, nothing has been heard of it. So, indigenous fleet which had declined to a level of near extinction has now completely gone off the radar. What has happened to the funds accumulated over the years is better left to imagination in a nation once described by a foreign Prime Minister as fantastically corrupt.
Within the past two years, the Cabotage Vessel Fund (CVFF) designed to propel indigenous fleet development and which has grown into a large war chest, for instance has remained inaccessible to operators wishing to tap from it.
What of the NSDP? In the last two years under Dr. Peterside, this project, which held out so much hope for the aspiring mariner, has been in the doldrums. Cadets already sent overseas for training are daily crying out over neglect as their allowances and fees are often not paid and whenever paid, such payments come more often after their studies have been disrupted in foreign lands.
If fees and sponsorship commitments are difficult to meet, one can therefore wonder over the futility of any hope for the nation to be able to acquire a training ship that is a sine qua non for the completion of training for any seamen hoping to attain international recognition and acceptance.
Instead of working towards grappling with these statutory agenda of the institution, NIMASA under Dr. Peterside Dakuku appears to have completely lost its focus.
In the last two years, for instance, hundreds of millions of Naira have been spent by the agency in organizing all sort of seminars, workshops and conferences in Nigeria, various other countries in Europe and America.
The NIMASA Director General and other top ranking executives of the organization are now hardly found in their offices as they spend their time junketing from one country to the other spending direly needed foreign exchange.
And they are doing this at a time when staff welfare is being neglected plummeting workers morale to an all- time low, when project implementations are being stalled and infrastructural developments in various areas put on hold for reasons of unavailability of funds.
Maritime industry stakeholders insist NIMASA is clearly drifting having lost its focus and want the federal government to stem the drift by pulling out Dr. Dakuku Peterside before it is too late.