The 2015 edition of the Nigerian Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) may have come and gone but its memories will still linger for a while in the minds of the stakeholders in the maritime industry in Nigeria owing to the fact of the uniqueness of this year’s event.
What made this year’s NIMAREX event unique and in what sense was the event unique will be the question in the mind of my readers, I guess? Yes! This year’s NIMAREX event was unique in so many senses but before I go on reeling out what made NIMAREX 2015 unique, it will be appropriate that I delve a little into the history of the event which has now become an annual ritual in the Nigerian maritime industry and is gradually assuming a global dimension.
The NIMAREX event which witnessed its 5th edition with the 2015 edition was created in 2011 through the instrumentality of the then Indigenous Ship owners Association of Nigeria (ISAN) now Nigerian Indigenous Ship owners Association (NISA) with the sole aim of throwing up solutions towards enhancing the economic fortunes of Nigeria through the deliberate and ambitious exploitation of the huge maritime resources of the country.
The event since inception had always been held in the first quarter of every year except for this year’s edition which came in the third quarter owing to a number of reasons which will eventually drive me to telling you what made this year’s edition unique.
In the words of the NIMAREX 2015 Planning Committee Chairman, Mr. Ayorinde Adedoyin,” This 2015 edition would therefore be a special edition because of the nature of the year in the history of Nigerian political development with the chequered electoral re-scheduling”. The event was unique also because never in the history of NIMAREX had the date slated for the event been shifted except for this year’s which date was shifted twice before it finally held in July, 2015.
Giving reasons for the shift in dates, the 2015 NIMAREX Planning Committee Secretary, Barr. Osuala Emmanuel Nwagbara adduced that the change in the election time-table for the 2015 general election in the country necessitated the shifts which gave room for further planning on the part of the event’s Planning Committee so as to make the event a huge success and an event to remember in the industry. But the question is, was that dream of making this year’s NIMAREX event one to be remembered achieved especially with the activities that played out at the event proper?
First, President Muhammadu Buhari was scheduled to be the Special Guest of Honour, Gov. Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State was to be the Guest of Honour, the Honourable Minister of Transport was supposed to be the Chief Host while Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (Rtd.) was to be the Chairman of the opening ceremony. But apart from Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar who sent in a representative under some contestable circumstance, every other persons named above were absent from the event. Not only that they were absent, they did not deem it fit to send in a representative so as to give credence to their support for the event.
Secondly, the initiator of the event, that is NISA which had been polarized over the last few months, had difficulties in putting up a tangible appearance as it took the Secretary of one the factions in the association to save the day as the Acting President of the faction which was part of the event did not put up appearance on a day that he was supposed to be making his maiden outing in that capacity in the maritime community.
Thirdly, the attendance at the opening ceremony was nothing to compare with what obtained in the previous editions of the event as the hall previously used for conferences was now used for exhibitions in this year’s event whereas a smaller hall was used for conference this year as opposed to what obtained previously.
The opening ceremony was soon over, it was time to tour the exhibition hall so as to showcase the various ingenuity of the Nigerian Maritime industry to the participants with the expectation that all will be back to the hall for the conference proper. Surprisingly, the conference hall was embarrassingly empty by the time the remnant of the conferee returned for the real business that brought them to the event.
Speaking on his assessment of the 2015 NIMAREX event, the National Publicity Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Dr. Kayode Farinto said that this year’s NIMAREX event was without its original glamour and aura saying that attendance in this year’s event was very low.
Adducing reasons for the low turnout of participants at this year’s event, Farinto said,” Maybe because of the fact that the Indigenous Ship owners has been polarized, they now have two associations, so, we don’t know which of the two factions controls NIMAREX. So, it made it look somehow polarized without the fanfare. But we hope this year’s event will achieve the desired result that it will not be like the normal talk show that we normally have on a yearly basis”.
On his part, the National Publicity Secretary of NISA, Mr. Emmanuel Ilori posited that NIMAREX 2015 succeeded in every sense of it adding that one had to look at the circumstances under which the Planning Committee was able to carry out their function.
While pointing out that as a result of the tension generated by the 2015 general election in the country which many thought would divide the country, he hinted that many foreign companies which had earlier made payments for the event had their money refunded back to them due to the uncertainty in the political future of the country thus dealing a heavy blow on the event which later went on as scheduled.
According to Ilori,” So then, we have to consider the political situation concerning NIMAREX and the fact that NIMAREX held this year is a testimony for the strength of that brand and for once, we were able to show that we can raise awareness on the positive and the negative of the industry. The present administration that is coming will have something to begin to build on because NIMAREX this year was very successful in my opinion.
“There might be hiccups but you find out that they were able to manipulate their way around this difficult year. It is a very difficult year for Nigeria even up till now, we don’t have a minister. So, you can imagine holding the NIMAREX in Nigeria when there is no minister, key government people were not in place. It is an achievement on its own and we were able to raise awareness of the importance of the maritime sector to the economy.
“A worst case scenario is if there is no NIMAREX this year, that was the worst case but that NIMAREX held this year should be celebrated. We should congratulate those who organized the NIMAREX, that actually, they were able to make this year’s NIMAREX hold because it was under very difficult environment. That is the situation”, he added.
Also speaking, the Secretary, 2015 NIMAREX Planning Committee, Barr. Osuala Emmanuel Nwagbara described this year’s NIMAREX event as a huge success by his own estimation and by the estimation of those who appreciated the circumstances under which his committee carried out its function.
Nwagbara disclosed that even with the difficulties encountered during the planning stage they were able to record more than 90% presence in terms of the speakers at the event as well as recorded more exhibitors than they anticipated judging from the circumstances that they operated.
He said,” we did not expect the kind of crowd that attended the event both the exhibition and the conference. So, my assessment of it is that it was a very huge success. We had to postpone twice all because of the change in the election time-tables. NIMAREX was organized without a Minister in office, NIMAREX was organized while the government was still settling down, NIMAREX was organized that we had successfully in the midst of the crisis rocking the Nigerian Indigenous Ship owners Association whose idea NIMAREX actually comes from, NIMAREX was successfully organized to the fact that even within the faction that supported NIMAREX, the faction NISA, there was still a challenge within the leadership.
“So, with all these challenges, the planners’ reputation was at stake. So, we did everything in power to make sure that NIMAREX held and it was a huge success. To underline it all, I believe that if NIMAREX did not hold, that would have been the end of NIMAREX”.
On the low turnout of participants to the event, he had this to say,” No, you don’t have the record, if you have the record, you won’t say this. In fact, you may have been speaking based on your experience of the first day. For the first time, NIMAREX recorded bumper appearance for the three days. In fact, the second day, we recorded more attendance. At a point, surprisingly, the conference hall was overcrowded”.
Speaking on the choice hall for this year’s conference, the Planning Committee Scribe explained that it was a matter of economics that they chose a hall which they could use optimally knowing fully well that they operated with a lean budget thereby avoiding rooms for under-utilization.
On the emptiness of the conference hall on returning from the exhibition for the conference, Nwagbara who is also the Managing Partner of Maritime and Commercial Law Chambers disclosed,” let me correct an impression, it is not correct that the hall was empty when we returned from the exhibition hall. The planning was this way; we had the opening ceremony which was for everybody that attended the exhibition. Then, after the opening session, we had to go for exhibition, exhibition again is for all and sundry. After spending good time at the exhibition hall, we came back to the conference. The conference room was now open to those who paid for the conference. It was not for Dick and Tom, it was not for everybody.
“It was not like the government sponsoring the event, paying for the conference, paying for the exhibition and everybody goes there to showcase and then come and listen. This year, everybody that attended the conference hall, whoever you saw in the conference hall this year paid for the conference and they went home with value. For those who did not pay for the conference, they were content doing business in the exhibition hall”.
On the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and other key government functionaries from the event, Nwagbara opined that since the President was still putting his acts together, one would not expect that he would have been at the event since there were many things calling for his attention at the same.
“This is a President who didn’t have yet Minister, who has not settled down in office and didn’t have Ministers, so there was no Minister of Transport who will receive him at the conference. So, we were not surprised that the president did not put up physical appearance but the President was with us in spirit because he also sent us his goodwill messages even at the planning stage”, he explained.
When asked if the current planning committee was going to plan for next year’s NIMAREX event, he said,” Well, we have not met after the event. We are still trying to put records together, that is what we have done and then before we can think of next year. But we are not saying that there is going to be a disconnect, NIMAREX will continue whether it is our own planning committee or not. If we are privile3ged to continue in office for next year, we will be happy to work as a planning committee. If we are not fortunate to continue to pilot the affairs of NIMAREX, we will hand over to the next planning committee.
“We also have in place, a plan to organize a round table on some of the issues that were on focus at the last conference and exhibitions. So, we will plan a round table that will make recommendations to the President. We are looking forward to it, a round table that will put together all the issues put together and necessary to be given attention to in the maritime industry in Nigeria. We organize this round table and make a concise version of it and then sent it to the President for implementation. That my committee is still in place to do but whether that will take us to next year, we cannot say for now”.
Having said the above, whether or not NIMAREX 2015 succeeded will begin to manifest in the months ahead as the industry awaits government actions on many Germaine issues raised at the conference which many believed if well implemented will fast track Nigeria’s dream of becoming a hub for West and Central Africa in terms of port operations.
But like Nwagbara and Ilori adduced, that NIMAREX held this year was a good omen for the industry and the Planning Committee members should be commended for standing their ground even when the pressures for outright cancellation of this year’s event was insurmountable. Like they say, a life dog is better than a dead lion, a NIMAREX event poorly organized is better than a NIMAREX event that never held. And so, let the tradition continue…
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