That the current Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi is one year old in office this November is no longer news. What is news now is whether or not he has delivered in his assigned role as the Minister of Transportation.
In the preceding weeks, the media were awashed with the assessments of the Minister’s one year in office and this medium being a responsible one will not overlook the need for people to know what has happened in the Transportation Ministry under Amaechi as the superintendent.
Recall that one year ago, precisely in November 2015, the maritime community and indeed all Nigerians were greeted with the news of Amaechi being assigned the new Minister of Transportation, an appointment met with divergent opinion from particularly members of the maritime community. Most people were of the opinion that with the appointment of Amaechi as the Minister of Transportation, the maritime sector and indeed the transport sector in general would have to wait further for the Messiah to come as according to them, going by Amaechi’s pedigree, he had no background nay knowledge of the industry he was assigned to oversee.
But to the utter amazement of the stakeholders, Amaechi during his first engagement with the stakeholders admitted his lack of requisite knowledge about the industry but quickly called on the stakeholders to support him and help him to succeed as he was willing to listen and learn from them. With this humble submission and admission by the Minister, those stakeholders who were angered by his appointment and who had already set bobby traps for him to fail quickly readjusted and expressed their readiness to support him.
In a bid to succeed, the Minister embarked on massive consultations with the stakeholders on ways to reposition the maritime industry, an effort that has earned him a remarkable progress in the administration of the industry. Also, during the stakeholders engagement, the Minister was confronted with many realities he had to deal with if he hoped to succeed and that was the fragmentation and cold war within and without many associations and agencies in the industry.
The first to attract the attention of the Minister was the Indigenous Ship-owners feud which saw the body fragmented into three different bodies, each with its leadership and mission. The Minister succeeded in getting them to come together under one forum known as the Shipowners Forum under the leadership of Barr. Mrs. Margaret Onyema-Orakwusi. Done with the indigenous ship owners, Amaechi was again confronted with the fragmentation of the journalists who report the activities of the maritime sector who as at that time had four different association. Dissatisfied with the development, he again advised them to come together under one body if they were to benefit anything from the agencies and parastatals under his Ministry, an advice which until today has partially succeeded.
Again, the Minister was confronted with the crisis rocking the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) and tried to wade in but was greeted with stiff resistance culminating in change of tactics and today, he seems to be making progress as all the controversies trailing the proposed collection of the Practitioners’ Operating Fee (POF) were being resolved and the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) which seemed to be resisting every move made by CRFFN to collect the POF now expressed its readiness to cooperate with the Council in that regard.
The Minister, in a bid to shore up revenue for the government from the maritime industry gave a N500 billion target to all the agencies under his Ministry for the 2016 fiscal year asking the heads of the agencies involved to realize the target or be ready to throw in the towel.
He quickly set up three committees namely; a Ministerial Committee on restructuring of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Ministerial Committee on Re-establishment of the National Carrier as well as the Ministerial Committee on Inland Container Depot, some of which are on the concluding part of their assignment.
While facilitating the appointment of key agency heads in the sector, Amaechi further facilitated the revitalization and resuscitation of agreements and MoUs with different countries of the world to promote partnership among other achievements.
However, one of the actions of the Minister that seemed not to go down well with the industry watchers especially those of them from the Niger-Delta was the reversal of the Maritime University of Nigeria sited by the outgone administration of President Goodluck Jonathan through the then Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi. This was evident in what played out at the venue of the town hall meeting organized for the people of South-South region by the Ministry of Information where there was a little disagreement between the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu and Amaechi who both come from the zone. To further express their displeasure over Amaechi’ intent on permanently stopping work on the Maritime University, the Niger-Delta representatives in their 16 point agenda for peace to return to the region as submitted to President Buhari demanded that work on the University commence forthwith. The Senate also recently allowed the bill seeking to establish the University pass second reading on the floor of the Senate.
One year down the line, stakeholders in assessing his performance were divided in their assessment of the Minister. While some gave the Minister a pat on the back, some others gave him a hard knock.
Speaking in an interview with Primetime Reporters in Lagos, the founder, National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Dr. Boniface Aniebonam appreciated President Muhammadu Buhari for appointing him as the Minister of Transportation and saluted Amaechi’s seeming determination to make a difference in the areas of human capacity development, appointment of Dr. Dakuku Peterside as DG NIMASA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) as well as retention of Mr. Hassan Bello as the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Shippers’ Council.
“From there we now move to his intention to realign forces, looking at the maritime journalists which up till now he is still advising them to come together and speak with one voice. And then you move from there to the freight forwarding family, the various associations, of course the role of CRFFN Act is supposed to play which again he is pushing very hard as opposed to other Ministers before him. Of course, the issue of re-establishing the national carrier where government can provide a platform and the private operators can take advantage of that, the need for Nigeria to fly a flag”, he said.
Aniebonam recalled that the teething problem inherent in the administration of CRFFN, the issue of who a declarant was were issues preventing the Minister from achieving his aims for the freight forwarding profession even as he disclosed that information at their disposal showed that the Minister was tackling the issues head on.
According to him,”We have actually done a very strong analysis on what he should do, don’t forget that freight forwarding is not his profession. So, it behoves on him to get advice on that. We recalled that at the last stakeholders’ meeting which he presided over, everything went well until this issue of who is a declarant came up which is being tackled now.
“So, he has been doing well and for me, it is all about getting the right advice. On the issue of election for the CRFFN governing council, we needed money to conduct that election but then we have advised that the first experience which had to do with the maiden elected of the council created this bottleneck where we are and therefore the need for an all inclusive council is becoming more important, the law is made for man.
” What I am saying is and it is sinking well into them now, five registered associations and of course, the individual registered members and then the nominees if the Honorable Minister are also there. What it means is that about 15 chances or thereabout should be proratad among the freight forwarding associations so that we can have an all inclusive administration”.
On his part, a foremost mariner who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity pointed out that the maritime sector was in comatose and that the practitioners had been battered before the coming on board of Amaechi as Minister of Transportation.
The source posited that one year on, nothing possibly had been done for the people even as he maintained that all the ships; oil and gas, offshore, coastal and so on had been laid up.
He disclosed that in the last one year, all that the minister had achieved was holding talk shows and workshops which he said had not added any value to the industry saying that what the Minister should have done was to inquire from the practitioners what their problems were and fashion out ways of helping them.
He said,” When the people are not working, they are not receiving income, there is no reform, there is no amount of workshops that you will do that they will listen. The service providers are all in financial burden, people cannot pay their debt.
“So, importantly, people want to see improvement in their trade, then you can gather them together and talk ti them, they will listen to you but when there is no improvement in their trade, between you and me, whatever you say on the right, it goes out on the left. The idea is to partner with the industry because politicians will come and go but the executives will be here for 20 to 30 years because that is the life they know.
“So, if you don’t come and partner with them, listen to them and see how you can assist them before you bring regulations and increase in tariff , you are not helping the industry”.
The source however advised the minister to stop eschew politics, stop blaming people who diverted intervention fund meant for the development of the industry and come out with a Marshall plan on how to turn the fortunes of the industry around.
“So, I have not really seen that business atmosphere being created by this Minister because most people when they come, they walk away, those who stay do that for relevance. So, he needs to call the people that are feeling the pinch and ask them what their problems are”, the source said.
Also speaking, the National President of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu said he had never been comfortable with the Minister of Transportation as he is more of NPA Minister than Minister of Transportation as according to him, NPA dictate for him what to do and what not to do.
When asked to give his assessment of Amaechi’s one year in office, he said,”You better ask about the Minister of Finance that is regulating the activities of the customs agents and customs brokers. I don’t want to talk about the Minister of Transport. I have complained that most Ministers of Transport are Ministers of NPA, because any time they come around, all the agencies are around, they tell them where to pass and where not to pass, he enjoys open discussion, he cannot succeed. People will tell you what they want you to hear.
“By now I thought Amaechi have known over the years before he went into politics as a student, who are the people in the industry I need to talk to . Who are the key players? Invite them one on one and say, we are not in the open now, what do you think we can do about this sector but here, it is like a jamboree”.
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