Mallam Habib Abdullahi
A closer look at the various workshops, conferences and stakeholders’ meetings organized by the various government agencies operating in the maritime industry in recent times would reveal a decline at the enthusiasm with which stakeholders attend events.
Gone are the days when at the shortest possible notice, the stakeholders would come running at those activities to know what those meetings and workshops were all about with a view to contributing their quota towards moving the sector forward.
This time around, it seems that even with wide publicity and notices going out early as far as even in the print and electronic media to the various stakeholders, they seemed not to be interested in attending any of those events which hitherto they would have embraced with all willingness.
Another angle to it is that most leaders of the different associations and groups in the industry are increasingly becoming reluctant in granting interviews or speak with journalists on issues relating to the sector.
Some of them will even go to the extent of issuing an express order to their secretaries never to allow journalists access to their offices for whatever reasons except on a personal matter or for matters outside the realm of the maritime sector as against what obtained in the past where they would gladly throw their doors open to journalists.
The most surprising of it all is that it appeared there was a meeting somewhere where they arrived at a decision never to speak to journalists on matters relating to the industry any longer as most of them appeared to be saying the same thing at different occasions and venues.
Speaking to Primetime Reporters on the matter, the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Customs Service, Apapa Area Command, Deacon Emmanuel Ekpa bemoaned the low turnout of the stakeholders during the recent visit of the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Mr. Kunio Mikuriya to the command.
Ekpa who appeared worried at the trend disclosed that he sent out invitations to all the concerned stakeholders on time informing them of the visit and the need for them to grace the occasion so as to interact with the visiting Secretary General but regretted that the event witnessed low turnout of stakeholders despite the huge fund invested in awareness.
According to him,” we sent out invitations to them on time informing them of the visit. The only people I will say I did not formally sent out invitations to was the journalists”, Ekpa said.
It might at this juncture interest you to know that the Nigeria Customs Service was not alone in this saddening experience recently.
Earlier before the visit of the Secretary General of WCO, the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar recently under the auspices of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency(NIMASA) held a stakeholders meeting with the members of the Nigerian Ship owners Association (NISA) and other concerned stakeholders in the shipping sector at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos which also recorded low turnout of stakeholders.
For instance the Maritime Workers’ Union of Nigeria (MWUN), the Association of the Master Mariners, the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) and the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF) to mention a few were conspicuously absent from the meeting.
Also, the Cargo Defense Fund, an arm of the Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC) recently organized a workshop at the Rock view Hotels, Apapa, although a glance through the hall, one would be forced to think that the event was well attended but the truth is that the most of the people occupying seats at the event were journalists who came around to cover the event.
The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was not insulated from the ugly trend as the same was the case at the programme it organized at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos where it introduced the E-payment solution for all payment at the ports recently. A look at the venue one would see empty seats scattered across the hall with no one occupying them. The list is endless!
And the most worrisome part of it all is that these agencies seemed not to have noticed this new trend or that they are pretending not to have noticed it, thus they appeared not to be concerned about this development. It seemed they are more interested in having and organizing these programmes than in getting results so as to have it on record that within the budget year, they were able to organize so, so and so programmes.
The question that one will need to ask is what could be responsible for this laiz-affair attitude or what could be best described as cold feet among the various stakeholders in the maritime industry?
Primetime Reporters investigations revealed that the stakeholders were not just reluctant to speak to journalists because they don’t like their faces or because they did commit any atrocity but as most of them had rightly put it, they were tired of talking without getting results for their talks.
According to the National President, Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, much had been said on the way forward for the maritime industry but it appeared that the government and her agencies at the port had already had a mindset on what they wanted to do, therefore no matter whatever anybody may say, it hardly move them.
“I have no expectation because all we do is talk, talk and talk and nobody is listening to us. I see us remaining stagnant the same way we were last year. You know, Nigeria is a place where you are perpetually under hopefulness. So we continue to hope that the ones we said in 2010, the ones we said in 2011 and the ones we said in 2012 and 2013 respectively were enough to bring the change we sought for if the government is serious”.
“I don’t expect anything at all from the government because they have a set mind on what to do and it is because of the fact that those in high places also benefit from the rot that we see in the industry”, Shittu said.
Also speaking, the National Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Importers and Exporters Coalition, Chief Sir Patrick Osita Chukwu stated that most times, the agencies before they invite stakeholders to a meeting, they would fine tuned what they were going to do leaving little or no room for stakeholders to make input.
Chukwu maintained that in some cases, even when the stakeholders were given room to make input, their input mean little or nothing to the agencies at the implementation stage as the agencies would rather go ahead with what seemed right to them.
He also said that in most occasions, they would have hired and paid their stoogies and protégés and briefed them on what they were expected to say or do at the said meetings an those bought over would have taken their seats at strategic positions at the venue, raising their hands, getting audience from their paymasters who must have noted their sitting positions thereby making censored speeches in support of the anti-people policies thereby leaving no room for those who were not on their list to speak and later the agencies would go out to claim to have consulted widely before introducing a policy.
“I believe in change and if that change that I am looking for that made me to be going for meetings upon meetings which nobody pays me at the end of the day does not come, I don’t see the need to continue to attend such meetings”.
“Many times we meet here, how can we meet once or more every month and no single resolution that we have made at the end of those meetings had been taken into consideration, how then do you want us to continue attending such meetings?”
“Before now, we were all enthusiastic about coming to meetings believing that the platform will afford us the opportunity to make changes in the industry but by the time we finish and the Minister or the head of the agency that summoned the meeting leaves the venue, the whole thing ends there and we go back to the root”, Chukwu said.
From the foregoing, one can see that all is not well with the industry and the earlier the agencies concerned and the government embark on a serious damage control measures the better for everybody because if the ugly trend continues unabated, it will get to a time where critical stakeholders’ meeting will be summoned to address a burning issue in the sector and it will be treated with kids gloves.
Also the commencement of most of the programmes in the ports also is contributing factor. A situation where an event is scheduled to commence at a given time end up starting four hours or five hours behind schedule in the name of waiting for one Minister or one big wig is not healthy for the sector. Let us not forget that these stakeholders are mostly businessmen who have their jobs lying at the various ports attracting demurrages for the number of days and hours they are delayed, in business, time is money.
The various government agencies should look inwards and carry out self audit in order to ascertain where they are not doing it right and work towards improving them. Also the Public Relations Departments of these agencies should be repositioned with a view to bringing on board those with vast experience on human relations and management so as to effectively contend with the apathy within the stakeholders.
Government on its own should take proactive steps towards rebuilding the stakeholders’ confidence by taking into consideration all the concerns raised by theses stakeholders each time government engaged them on any issue since they are the one that will be mostly affected directly or indirectly by any policy made in the sector.
When this is done, the nation’s dream of becoming a trade hub for the West African sub-region will become a reality.