Maritime: Amaechi Inaugurates NIMASA And NPA Board Members With A Mandate To Start Work Immediately

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.

Rotimi Amaechi: Minister of Transportation

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.

Jamoh: DG, 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.

Hajia Hadiza Usman: MD, NPA

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.            

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