During the build up to the 2015 presidential election, for apparent reasons, campaigns fireworks shifted to one of the nation’s cash spinning agency, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NISMASA).
The All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organisation (APCPCO), headed by Mallam Shehu Garba in April 2015 made a damning accusation against the then President Goodluck Jonathan who was seeking re-election that his campaign was being funded by NIMASA.
Succinctly APCPCO said ‘NIMASA is Jonathan’s Campaign ATM’. The more the then ruling party tried to deny it, the more strident APC latched to its accusation, prompting the then NIMASA Director General, Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi call for a world press conference where he issued the historic 72hour ultimatum to APCPCO to withdraw the statement and in addition, apologize in at least two national newspapers; failure which NIMASA will drag the party to court.
The APCPCO not only remain vehement but proudly boasted it would meet NIMASA in court, stamping its allegation with the seal of uncommon certainty. That development altered public perception about the political financial administration of NIMASA over the years. Of course neither Akpobolokemi in his private or official capacity as DG NIMASA went to court. All the Executive Directors, Directors and Principal Managers who followed Akpobolokemi to the venue of the world press conference, did not as much as coughed after APCPCO called the agency’s bluff.
It’s been over two years since that fateful political brickbat, under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the audacious, tall masquerade that made such rude and far reaching accusation. Far more importantly, the Buhari government, apart from its self-allusion to political and financial integrity, has laboured to also wear the toga of CHANGE BEGIN WITH ME.
Sadly, the NIMASA ATM as a tool of political realization under prior administrations, have all the appearances of concomitant interplay in the government that made the most noise whilst it struggled to get on board. There are indications that under Buhari government, NIMASA is not just a political ATM, the agency may have taken on additional special duties in the area of short and medium term medical vehicle for close friends of the government, from the presidency down to MDAs, retired CEOs, retired military personnel, friends and cronies of the transportation minister and DG NIMASA, party loyalists, party chieftains etc.
The DG NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, a political protégé of the honourable Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, has a way of bamboozling his audiences with his slick oratory, and before the attendant standing ovation ended, directly and magically set in motion a secret financial vault to which a fixed amount serve as the access code at every turn.
And the process is ever always smooth without as much as the slightest default. Thus his various programmes since assumption of office, is believed to have ended up a gaping financial drain pipe, which is no less realistic than its former function of political ATM.
There are those who believe that under Buhari two year stint, the NIMASA ATM has dispensed far more than it did under the alleged Jonathan free fund regime. One of the latest financial pipelines is the so-called NIMASA Rebrand oratory, through which billions of naira has gone down the drain. Whilst Amaechi and Peterside with the tacit acquiescence of President Buhari, as it were, successfully pull the smokescreen on the public eye with the NIMASA rebranding mantra, the maritime domain operational co-efficiencies remain largely defective if not totally derelict, and the slush on best practices growing denser and fast eroding the little amount of gains that was accessible under the prior administration.
As such, ship registry, ship development, labour and cabotage, coastal trade, anti-piracy and other primary function quite unavoidably have continuously suffered downwards galloping curve, as Peterside and his boss continually lament slow business with consistent discouraging revenue chart. The transportation minister and the DG NIMASA has over time become master story tellers of dwindling revenue, yet adroit in developing a rebrand blueprint that not only favours their cronies, but annoyingly one that is a clear case of fraudulent incline.
The NIMASA rebranding programme is a potpourri of frauds, which President Buhari will discover with the smallest amount of effort. All the president need do is set aside the colourful Nigerian main stream media reportage and embark on the on-the-spot assessment of the so-called rebranding business one by one. Peterside and his boss believed that once the popular national media is able to sell their half truth and barefaced concoctions, Aso Rock and the establishment would have been firmly captured, believing in the efficacy of the western press, which the political juggernauts deployed for every presidential election. Thus the facts of this on-the-spot evaluation in comparison with the budget will tell the true story, different from the media story.
Four months after the rebranding song, NIMASA vehicles, offices and facilities are still wearing its old logo. In fact, the NIMASA head office roof mast, two of them at Burma Road Apapa Lagos, are still wearing the faded weather beaten signpost.
The agency’s lift remains an apology since Peterside’s coming, as two of the four lifts rarely function all day, while two are perpetually off stand. In what Peterside wish to pass for remodeling of the head office, his contractors has added a brass covering to the staircase, peeled off the old paint and replaced with a new coating.
Peterside signs out a princely cheque of over Seven Hundred Thousand Naira for diesel supply to a less critical area of operation as the NIMASA Clinic, on a monthly basis; while supplies to some of its out stations are made from Lagos.
Rebranding and remodeling are two sides of a coin that must remain above design default, if the final construction, the output is intended to meet the advertised quality. Obviously, Peterside’s NIMASA rebranding gambit is far less apart in quality and transparency than the media hype paneling. Personnel are still largely unmotivated, with the resort to official sharp practices that has become adept at hiding contractors’ files and demanding gratifications before they are ‘found’. Peterside warning in an official memo that such practices will be visited with sanctions has gone unnoticed.
Every convincing official trip is an avenue to appease and pacify certain categories of disgruntled staff, cultivate friendship and support, even as the official luggage is extended to cover a retinue of discredited and bankrupt stakeholders, noisy group leaders, political tribesmen, discredited VIPs, unionists, and an arcade of superficial personages without any direct bearing on the conference or training, or on the overall activities of the agency.
The most preposterous being the selection of two staffers from every department of the agency for every foreign trip, regardless of the fact that such events has no bearing, absolutely no bearing on the job details of some of the recipients.
It is hard to reconcile that this level of financial rape and unmitigated squander mania is possible under the government of President Buhari. This is a political blight on the person of the president, and another twelve months under this regime can hardly exonerate President Muhammadu Buhari from the rot in NIMASA; especially on the backdrop of the upcoming presidential election.
When Buhari announced Peterside’s appointment on 9th March 2016, the expectations was high, given Peterside’s perceived public service experience, in addition to his seemingly high heel political links.
Naturally, stakeholders were quick to light up the agenda tree with the essential fundamental branches, which some reckon will be achieved in record time, especially, since he is the transportation minister’s buddy, his tenure would be friction free, which will allow him space to leverage on important industry targets to grow the economy, and take our maritime domain a notch higher in the global maritime map.
In the anticipatory list of achievements under Peterside is an envisaged significantly improved ship registration and shipping development, exponential inland Cabotage trade, increased maritime security, recovery of the national carrier, increased seafaring and capacity building, maritime development and better coastal transportation services, amongst others.
After two years in the saddle however, the initial optimism has considerably waned, given way to pessimism and loss of confidence and hope. Under two years of Peterside, the agency’s ship register has recorded much fewer vessels calling our ports, with its concomitant reduction in accruable revenues. Both state and foreign flag ships, and others engaged in coastal services in the oil and gas industry have sought maintenance and repairs outside the shores of Nigeria, in the absence of dry dock facilities and or ship repairs yard.
Peterside had in his usual boisterous and fantastic agenda layout, talked about a dry dock through a PPP arrangement, but as usual, the matter ended there, after a standing ovation that attended his smooth speech.
Perhaps, at this juncture, it should be recalled that the DG NIMASA not only abandoned the Shipyard under construction it inherited from the prior administration, he has so far shown lack of leadership interest in genuinely encouraging the establishment of shipyards, which sadly, constitute an essential component of its primary functions.
Available statistics also show a progressive decline in the register of ships calling our ports in the past two years, with indication of some of the foreign fleet preferring neighbouring ports in the sub region, nevertheless that Nigeria is the final destination for their cargo. Experts posit that this ugly trend in not unconnected with the unimpressive fight against piracy, contrary to official posturing by NIMASA that piracy within the Gulf of Guinea and indeed the West Coast has abated significantly. As the man on the saddle, Peterside’s failure to turn the tide merely adds up to his regime of incompetence.
Even though the inland and coastal transportation didn’t enjoy significant fillip during the prior administration in regards to deliberate policy efforts to drive inland coastal trade through the controversial Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund, it is nonetheless, barefaced lies and undignified grandstanding for the current NIMASA leadership to continue to lay claim to success in this direction, by any margin. To put the lie to his lip, a number of foreign ships were hijacked, just February ending.
It is also patently fallacious, for Peterside and his boss, Amaechi to lament the absence of a risk management control system, under which the CVFF can be disbursed. There are hints that the present APC led government has squandered what is left in the coffers of the Fund, and that attempts to brow beat stakeholders and local ship owners resulted the official posturing to cover up the truth that the CVFF account is heavily depleted.
Amaechi and Peterside are therefore not only guilty of perjury, but have demonstrated openly that they are unfit for public office, for having the arrogance to declare the CVFF will not be disbursed. For the record, the Fund does not belong exclusively to the FG but is a tripartite contributory scheme, in which Nigerian ship owners control certain percentage.
Recall that after Amaechi, who evidently was in a moment of political inner turmoilmade that damning declaration in December last year, during a meeting with ship owners; the latter advised Peterside to resign, failing which he should be sacked. It is safe to conclude from above that shipping development under Peterside has been anything but growing, by whatever scale of measurement we choose to look at it.
The DG NIMASA scorecard in maritime security has been all time low, with sea borne criminalities hitting an unprecedented rise in the past two years. His predecessor, Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi was able to bring it under appreciable control, in collaboration with Specialist West Vessels, owned by Chief Government Ekpomopobre, alias Tompolo, who provided strong, functional and efficient platforms under which NIMASA recorded great stride in reducing the menace of piracy, illegal bunkering, sea robbery and other economic crimes at sea. If Peterside inherited these robust maritime security platforms and was unable to maximize its use for whatever reasons, again shows that he truly lacks the competence to lead an important state agency like NIMASA.
To be fair, one cannot write Dakuku Peterside off as a complete failure in NIMASA. He has successfully under unclear circumstances, waged war against the agency’s huge debt profile, and is believed to have recovered a significant chunk of the debt, albeit secretly. The irony of the recovery is that the Nigerian people for whom these monies are held in trust have no idea how much has been recovered, who paid what, who is owing what, and where the money recovered is being kept.
Again talking about Peterside’s ability, it is believed that he has successfully empowered principal party allies, through juicy contracts, in preparation for 2019 elections. It is therefore wrong to say Peterside is incompetent or disobedient to direct orders according to his boss and buddy, the truth is, what he lack in terms of the primary functions of the industry, he makes up in smart, quick official market sales, knowing full well, dusk is just a matter of hours away, with its unforeseen possibilities.
Doubtless, his latest Blue Economy mantra cannot detract from his market wares, which with good sales, also guarantees him some princely cut in the usual financial drain pipe enterprise, in which he remains the chief contractor. Already, Peterside has done much sensitization and advertising in this regard, and our lawmakers are too willing to speedy the process of its budget allocation, while the presidency remain united with NASS in the matter, whether or not, at the end of the day, Nigeria continue to drift in the old grey economy. In any case, by the time the blue economy talk gets real serious, Peterside may already be the senate, since Amaechi has withdrawn his support for the DG NIMASA’s future aspiration for Rivers State governorship ticket.