By Stephen Ubanna
On Thursday, May 22, 2020,the Boardroom of the ministry of Transportation at Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, was filled to Capacity . The Boad members of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Nigerian Ports A uthority, NPA, and the Management Team of the two agencies including ministerial officials had taken their Seat awaiting for the arrival of Rotimi Amaechi, the minister and his entourage to perform the much awaited inauguration.
Beaming with smiles, Amaechi had sat on the ministerial Seat reserved for him. He had disclosed the purpose for the meeting before going ahead to start announcing the names of the Board members of the various agencies who came out to occupy the special Seats reserved for them of the Board members.
In inaugurating the Board members of NIMASA, particular, Amaechi had laid emphasis on his pet project, the Deep Sea Blue project, which could not be completed by Dakuku Peterside, a former Director General of the Maritime Regulatory agency, before he was removed from office by President Muhammadu Buhari, at the expiration of his first four years in office. He was replaced by Bashir Jamoh, the agency’s former Executive Director, Finance and Administration.
Appealing to the NIMASA Board members to work closely with the Management Team under the close watch of Jamoh to speed up the completion of the multi-million naira project, he disclosed that it is the only way to ensure the security of Nigeria waters to save life and secure ocean going vessels .
The Deep sea Blue project , baptised as the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure, was initiated by the former NIMASA Management led by Peterside with the support of the minister of Transportation to comprehensively solve the problem of Piracy, which had become a major threat in Nigeria waters and the entire Gulf of Guinea.‘’The Sea Blue Project was critical to West and Central African Sub-region maritime security’’, the minister had said.
An elated Amaechi, had told the NIMASA, 10-man Board members that over 60% of the $95 million cost of the project had been paid to HLSI Security Systems and Tchnologies, the Isreali Company handling the execution of the Contract it got from NIMASA.
It was not surprising why he told them , ‘’o and Complete the Deep sea Blue project’’, noting that the success of the agency is to a great extent dependent on the Completion of the project.The ministerial directive may have informed why Asita .O. Asita, Chairman of the NIMASA Board had promised that they will throw their weight on the Jamoh led Management Team to ensure the Completion of the project. Given the importance of the project, Asita, the NIMASA Board Chairman had said , ‘’if we must trade as a country, we need the waterways to be safe’’, stressing that the agency cannot afford to play with the issue of ‘’safety and security in Nigerian waters’’.
The project may have been delayed over thelast two years because the Platforms and equipment meant for use under the Contract were still being manufactured, which according to ministerial sources would take some time to be delivered by the manufacturers. As a prelude for the take off of the project, the Naval and the Nigerian Air Force personnel including other security agencies personnel that would man the Platforms were said to have been trained by the Isreali security firm.
Note that the $95 million maritime security contract was approved by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, in December 2017. Part of the Contract sum was to be used for the purchase of three helicopters, three air planes, three big battle –ready ships, 12 vessels and 20 amphibious cars to aid security of the Nigeria waters.
The Controversy surrounding the project may have informed why the Katsina state born Nigerian President intervened by ordering the Isreali firm handling the multi-million dollars Contract to supply equipment to the tune of the $50 million from the upfront payment it had received from Nigeria.
Maritime analyst, however, believe that if the equipment are what the Isreali security firm could purchase off the shelf , it could have done it long ago but had to place order with the manufacturing Company in order to fabricate it.
Until the project is completed, the indigenous and multi-national shipping lines coming into the country would continue to pay heavily to secure their vessels while at berth just as the country importers are paying billions of naira for war risk surcharges. ‘’It is the risk they are bearing on the ground that something would happen’’, a NIMASA source said.
In a related development, the minister had told the Akin Ricketts, led Board of NPA, that ‘’ this is an unusual time’’ in Nigerian history because of the Wuhan Town in Hebei Province of the Asian country of China coronavirus, popular, COVID 19, as ‘’we can’t afford to shut our seaports’. The minister had insisted that activities must continue so that trade can take place for people to feed. He was said to have further directed the Board members to ‘’fashion out ways on how ‘’to move forward with issues of trade facilitation and seaport management’’.
In apparent reaction to the ministerial directive, Ricketts, the NPA Board Chairman, had assured that they will immediately ‘’commence the discharging of their responsibilities without fear or favour’’. He noted , that the agency which had been in existence since 1955,’’’’ have a fair share of its challenges and issues that needed to be resolved or immediate attention paid to it’’.
He revealed some of the major challenges of the ports particular, the Lagos ports, such as capacity utilization and problem of evacuation corridors. He lamented that the efficiency of the ports in Lagos are being’’ hampered by inadequate evacuation corridors that lead to congestion on the road, which ultimately ’affects prompt delivery’’.
‘’This is a challenge that we will confront head-on in conjunction with other stakeholders, with a view to ameliorating the sufferings of port users and ease business in the port as envisaged by the government’’, he had said.
Perhaps, the greatest worry of the NPA Board members that could be seen in their faces was the ‘’underutilization of the south east ports of Delta, Warri, Calabar, Cross river state , port Harcourt Area I, Onne and Rivers port. The major problem of theses ports , according to NPA, sources is that the river channels leading to the ports, particular, the Calabar port are too narrow to accommodate large vessels. This may have informed why shipping companies find it more convenient to take their vessels to Lagos ports than the eastern ports.
The situation may have been worsened after the Concession of the ports started n 2006, as it led to the withdrawal of the 30 percent incentive granted vessel owners to use the south eastern ports when the government controlled the ports. This is where the Ricketts led NPA Board may have look into to facilitate the dredging of the ports, particular, the Calabar port, upgrade their facilities and approve other incentives to the shipping companies to enable them take more of the nation’s maritime businesses to the idle ports.
Ricketts was said to have given g his words that the Board members will work harmoniously with the Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman led Management and other relevant stakeholders in order ’’ to give every issue and matter that may come to their attention the consideration it deserves’’.
He may have gladdened the mind of the Staff also, when he assured the minister that the Board will ‘’create an atmosphere where employees, would be given the opportunity to air their views and express their dissent on any policy or action they feel strong about’’ . he promised that the Board would do everything within its powers to ensure that it was not abused.
There are fears in maritime circles that the activities of the Board members may whittle down the powers of Hajia Usman, who had been operating as a sole Administrator of NPA. But Ricketts had said that’’ the Board would not consider itself an alternate Management nor in Competition with the Hajia Usman led Management’’ . He may have put smiles on the faces of the Hajia Usman, led NPA Management Team when he said the Board will synergise with them to be able’’ to perform effective oversight function to ensure that the mission , vision and strategic objectives of NPA are achieved’’. This should serve as a good news to the Management Team.