By Hassan Adamu
When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Dr. Dakuku Peterside in March, 2016, to head the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), like the proverbial Hercules who was ordered by King Augeas to clean out the filthy Stables, a lot was expected from the technocrat cum politician.
It was just few a weeks after his petition in the Rivers State governorship election was thrown out by the Supreme Court when President Buhari appointed him. As an agency that is believed to be the cash-cow in the maritime sector, Dr Peterside is expected to turn the fortunes of the agency around.
Peterside was quick to spell out his plan for the agency soon after he took over. One of his first major priorities was to ensure major reforms in the next one year to boost its capacity to drive the growth and development of the Nigerian maritime industry. According to him, the reforms were in line with the ‘change’ agenda of the President Buhari administration which is committed to the diversification of the nation’s economy.
Peterside has also said that the agency has the requisite knowledgeable human capital required to refocus and reposition the agency to achieve results. He had said that the agency was developing a medium term strategic growth plan which will aid the management to focus on its core mandate of promoting the development of indigenous capacity in international and coastal shipping, as well as effectively regulating the maritime industry in Nigeria.
Unlike other public officials who have cultivated the habit of giving excuses when they assume office, Peterside decided to toe a different line. He refused to dwell on the past on how the agency was mismanaged by its previous helmsmen.
Instead, he said the public perception of NIMASA over the years would change under his leadership. He assured Nigerians that he would completely change the narrative from the negative perception of corruption, inefficiency and abandonment of its core mandate to that of a maritime administration that is alive to its responsibility, and intent on making Nigeria the preferred destination for maritime activities in Africa.
He had also emphasized that the agency would do what is needed, including seeking legislative amendment if need be, to ensure full compliance with the Cabotage Act 2003, which, according to him has become necessary to fast-track the desired growth in the maritime sector.
Since his appointment, he has lived up to his promise. He has been able to garner support from key players in the industry. For instance, a former Minister of Interior, Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho, soon after the appointment of Peterside, said that indigenous ship owners would support him.
Iheanacho, who is the chairman of Genesis Shipping Worldwide, had said the NIMASA boss would do well to court the support of indigenous shipping operators, adding that the ship owners would fully support him. “It is our hope that he would concentrate his efforts in a genuine attempt to grow indigenous capacity through judicious use of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF),” Iheanacho promised.
Iheanacho had his expectations too. He explained that Peterside would need to understand the difference and the distinction between the administrative responsibilities for the safety of shipping and security of the maritime environment.
Also, former Director-General of the defunct Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA), Mr John Egesi, had also said that “there is a golden lining somewhere in the appointment of Peterside and his qualifications. Peterside studied Management.
The former NMA boss had said that when he looked at the appointment of Peterside with his language of Management Economics, he would understand quicker. “His knowledge of Management Economics gives him an advantage,” said -Egesi.
Has Peterside fulfilled some of the things he set out to achieve? Yes. Are there more grounds to be covered? Of course! Before Dr Peterside was appointed, NIMASA was seen as a job for the boys. Contracts running into billions of naira were reportedly awarded to Niger Delta militants by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. But with the assumption of office of Peterside, the unwholesome practice stopped.
In July, NIMASA under the leadership of Peterside stopped payment to Global West Vessel Specialists Nigeria Limited (GWVSNL). The company is owned by Government Ekpomupolo, popularly known as Tompolo. The company was awarded the contract for the protection of the nation’s waterways in 2011 by the administration of President Jonathan.
Again, Dr Peterside, soon after he assumed office, stopped the arbitrary recruitment in the agency. When some miscreants wanted to defraud the unsuspecting public under the guise that NIMASA was recruiting, Peterside immediately intervened and advised members of the public not to be deceived by fraudsters.
Peterside had warned that members of the public should not be deceived that the agency had engaged a recruitment firm to employ on its behalf.
“We urge members of the public to disregard the activities of unscrupulous elements who are bent on defrauding them of their hard-earned resources under the guise of engaging on a recruitment exercise for NIMASA. As a public institution committed to the rule of law and best practices, NIMASA has standard procedures for communicating its activities and will not request money from would-be candidates as the fraudsters are doing.
He has promised that the agency will always communicate its programmes and projects using well-known channels of the media, its website and the social media.
On the renewed militancy in the Niger Delta region, he has proffered solutions. He has suggested a legal framework that prescribes stjiff sanctions, vigilant military-led patrols and better intelligence gathering to tackle sea piracy. This is in addition to tackling rising cases of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea which requires a multi-stakeholders approach.
He said that the activities of pirates have hampered smooth operation of commerce, which is one of the drivers of global economy. Peterside said that all avenues would be explored to keep Nigeria’s waterways safe for ships plying them. He noted that this required wider consultation.
The NIMASA helmsman said under his leadership, a number of new initiatives would be championed, aimed at achieving zero pirate activities in Nigerian waters.
Although it is too early to judge him so far, Dr Peterside has surpassed critics’s expectations. It may still be long to achieve maximum result but with Peterside and his team at NIMASA, he will deliver on the mandate of the agency.
Adamu writes from Abuja