Adegboyega Olopoenia is the National President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners. In this interview with newsmen in Lagos, he bares his mind on the recent handover of the outgone Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi to Barr. Callistus Obi as the Acting Director-General of the agency, the need to appoint a professional to head all maritime agencies and many more. Our correspondent was at the briefing and filed in this report. Excerpt;
What is your view on the recent appointment of a new Acting Director-General for the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)?
Over the years, this game of musical chairs according to the case, a DG will be appointed, after sometimes, he will be removed, there is nothing new about it. What has happened, to me, I think it is something for the industry to reflect on. Is it the way people should be appointed and relieved of their position. That is an issue on its own.
But the critical thing as far as Master Mariners are concerned is that it is not a question of removing the DG that matters now, what about the institution itself that is NIMASA? Because as you can see, the way things are now, it appears there is no direction there because if there is a direction, this issue of musical chairs would not have arose in which case, what we are saying is that government should ensure that technocrats, professionals are the ones that head the industry not only in NIMASA but in all maritime institutions in Nigeria. That is the starting point because if a professional is there, he would have known what to do. So, it is not because there is a change in government that is why he should be removed because the man would have been there on his merit as a professional not as a politician.
What Master Mariners are saying in essence, which we have even said at our last press conference is that maritime parastatals in Nigeria just like what is happening in the Aviation industry should be headed by core maritime professionals which means that round peg in a round hole.
Are you saying in essence that the change we saw in NIMASA in the last 24 hours may not be the desire change that the stakeholders are actually yearning for?
If a professional is not put there, it will not make any difference, the key thing there is to put a round peg in the round hole, it is not a question of removing the person but putting the right person there to pilot the affairs of the agency. And not only NIMASA by the way, NPA and other agencies, MAN Oron is there, the man there is not a Mariner. So, it is so complex.
Many have argued that this new NIMASA helmsman, that three year is not enough for him to have grasp the nitty-gritty of the Nigerian Maritime industry as to head an agency as big as and as important as NIMASA. What is your take on this?
Abinitio, if you don’t put the right person at the right place, how would the person perform? The appointment itself was wrong in the first place and we at the Master Mariners has been consistent in saying that a place like NIMASA should be headed by a maritime professional not by a politician. So, three years, one year does not make any sense, even if he had stayed ten years. Of course, some people would say he has performed so well but from our own perspective, that is not the issue now.
Our own position is that if you go to the Aviation industry, you will see that in the past, they used to have this problem that we have in the maritime whereby they are having problems with the leadership in the industry but in the past seven years now when there has been Aviation professionals, technocrats at the NCAA, NAMA, all those places, there has been some level of stability in the Aviation industry in Nigeria. We want that thing to be replicated in the maritime sector.
Would you have wished that Akpobolokemi continued in the office as the DG of NIMASA?
That is not even an issue, my own issue is not the DG now, whatever he has done, he would have been removed anyway because this is a political season but if he was to be a professional, one, he wouldn’t have been afraid of whether he would be removed or not. He will just be performing his duty in a professional way not as a politician.
About the outgone DG, some stakeholders have tipped him as the best DG that NIMASA has ever had. What is your rating of him?
What is your own rating too if I may ask you? Is he the best DG that NIMASA has ever had? You are a stakeholder too now. Are you not a stakeholder? Well, I am a Master Mariner and I have said that NIMASA should be headed by a maritime professional. The former DG, is he a maritime professional?
If a professional is sitting there and there is the need to remove him, we still have to hope that a professional is going to succeed him. So, it is as simple as that, there will be no fear about that and there will be continuity in policies.
And the person that they are singing his praise, no matter how bad you are, you will always have people that will support you, people that you have assisted. So, whether he has done bad or not doesn’t matter now, you will see his praise singers. But the problem we have is that if you don’t put a proper person in a government institution like that, you will just be having the same problem over and over again.
The new man that comes now will change everything in NIMASA, he is coming with his own ideas. There is no way he will continue where the former DG stopped because there is no clear cut policy framework there.
But some have argued that NIMASA is not about the political heads but about the core civil servants who run the day to day activities of the agency and as such whoever is the political head does not count since the bulk of the jobs are being executed by the staff. Do you agree with that?
Well, if that is the analogy you want to give now, what about the country itself? If you say that that was a good analogy, what has happened to the government? We have a President that had just left and we have a new President now, are there no changes in the country?
So, the head of anything matters a lot, whoever is at the top makes a lot of difference because that person must give direction to his followers and if the person that should give direction does not have a clear cut, he does not understand what he is supposed to be doing anyway, no matter what those who are working under him will want to do, that man will always want to come with his own ideas whereas if there had been a clear cut path for NIMASA, there will not be policy flip flops in NIMASA because as soon as a new DG comes now, he will start his own system again, another one comes, he will jettison the former system and start his own system all over and over again and that is what has been happening in NIMASA and we have said that the long and short story is that there is no consistent policy framework in NIMASA because of this flip flop and for the fact that there is no clear cut direction.
Some people have called for a probe into the management of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) with the intent of unmasking what the true position of the fund is following the allegation that the fund which had accumulated over the years into billions of Naira had been depleted. Do you think all that is necessary now?
I don’t want to know the position of the CVFF, I don’t want to know how much is there, whether it has been disbursed or whether it has not been disbursed. What we know and what we expect everybody to know is that the Cabotage project is not working. More than ten years now, the cabotage law as a project is not working.
And if you are doing something for ten years and you are not getting the result, is it not time for you to have a rethink? From our association here, the Master Mariners which we said at our last press conference, you see that the cabotage Act itself should be amended, it need to be reviewed so that it will tackle some of the problems that we have seen in the operation of the Act, so that it can be able to work in a better way.
But you discover that at the moment now, everybody is making noise about the CVFF and all that, what about the other aspects of the cabotage? That we are supposed to build a ship in Nigeria manned and crewed by Nigerians. How many Nigerian seafarers are out there for the past ten years now? How many waivers has government given? How many ships have come to Nigeria through cabotage? These are a number of things we should be asking ourselves and if it is not working, that means that there is the need for it to be reviewed so that we can actually get the gains of it rather than only narrow it down to disbursement of funds.