By UCHE USIM
WHEN Dr Dakuku Peterside was appointed the Director General/Chief Executive officer of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in March this year, little did he know the extent of rot choking the agency.
Worse still, the gale of looting under his predecessors had further worsened the already tainted picture of NIMASA and it became a monumental challenge to address.
The repulsive perception, coupled with gloomy global economy had shrunk the finances of the parastatal.
However, Peterside has since rolled up his sleeves and began what could be termed the Herculean task of repositioning the agency amid paucity of funds.
He is aggressively interfacing with foreign and local stakeholders in the urgent assignment of taking NIMASA to the next level.
In a recent chat with select journalists, Peterside x-rayed the challenges of the parastatal, even as he unveiled its strategic development master plan.
What was the state of things in the organisation when you took over as the CEO?
I will start with what I consider truths that are inevitable. Truth number one, we observed that unfortunately, and for reasons we cannot explain, NIMASA is battling reputation problem. I don’t know how we got this kind of damaging reputation before the Nigerian people. It is easier to associate NIMASA with corruption and impunity than as an agency of government that does its work and add value to Nigerian people. And so, I inherited that problem. I cannot do a diagnostic of how we got there but that is what we inherited.
Second truth I tell myself is that I inherited a workforce that is resourceful, that is dynamic but somehow it is not goal-oriented because of the leadership gap at some points and that is another challenge I inherited.
Challenge number three is that we got here at a time when the economy of the world is almost at recession and because of that, it has affected the volume of trade that our people are involved in, in terms of import and export and not just that, there is a downturn in the economy globally. Our new forex regime affects business and the government is doing a lot to promote export and discourage import. The whole of these will have effect on the work we do in NIMASA. I just want you to have this background.
What plans are you putting in place to return the organisation to the part of recovery?
We came in with one cardinal objective and every other objective will support that one objective. That one objective is to restructure, reform and reposition NIMASA. That is the one single mandate we came to NIMASA with and to accomplish that, we also identify five pillars with which to achieve these objectives.
Pillar number one is what we call the survey, inspection and certification transformation initiative. Pillar number two is what we call environment, security and search and rescue initiative.
Pillar number three is what we call capacity building and promotional initiatives. Pillar number four is the digital transformation strategy. Pillar number five is structural and cultural reforms.
These are the five pillars to help achieve that one single objective of restructuring, reforming and repositioning NIMASA. The question now is; what is that thing that we are actually doing on pillar number one, which is the survey, inspection and certification transformation programme? To answer that, we also have to answer this; what is our core mandate in NIMASA as enshrined in the NIMASA Act 2007? It is to ensure that vessels that ply our territorial waters are safe and secure. Vessels being safe and secure means that individuals who man the vessels are qualified to man the vessels. Our mandate is also to make sure that the vessels themselves are sea worthy and that it is conveying goods that is meant for that size of vessel. To do that, there are International Maritime Organisation(IMO) instruments. The IMO is the United Nations specialised agency that regulates international shipping activities and to do that, the IMO makes several instruments. There is one called SOLAS (Safety Of Lives At Sea). SOLAS is one of the instruments that IMO put in place and for us at NIMASA, to achieve our objective, we’ve to enforce those IMO instruments and to enforce those IMO instruments, there are three important duties under this first pillar and that is the flag state control, the port state control and the coastal state. What is done is that for the flag state control, there are vessels registered under our flag to ensure that they are sea worthy and that they are manned by the persons who are qualified to man them. The other one is port state control, for vessels coming into our territorial waters and of course, leaving our territorial waters and the final one is coastal state duties which has to do with vessels that trade within our coastal waters.
Currently, we want to take it to the next level. We want to look at how we do our job and enhance efficiency and effectiveness on our port and with regards to flag state control duties. So, we intend to put a number of things in place to ensure that we meet the IMO obligations that are required of us as a flag administration and as a maritime administration. So, in that pillar number one, we are using technology to drive our processes, we are training our surveyors and our surveyors who are in-house are good but we want to ensure that we retrain them so that they do their work in a more efficient manner and at the end of the day, those who trade with us will go home satisfied. The other ones are nominated surveyors who work on our behalf. We need to retrain them, we need to supervise them closely and the third leg is that we have some classification societies; these are specialised organisations who help us certify vessels and ensure that these vessels are manned by the person who are supposed to man them. We already have eight classification societies, what we are doing is to review the work they are doing, ensure they meet international standards and satisfy our own minimum conditions. That is what we are trying to do to transform the way we carry out our flag and state duties. That is pillar number one. Pillar number two has to do with our environment, security and search and rescue functions. Currently, our vision is to ensure that shipping activities have minimum impact on the environment. To do that, we want to be more vigilant. Currently, we monitor what the vessels that ply our waterways do but in addition, we want to monitor the vessels that patrol our coastal area and the entire economic zone on a 24-hour basis to ensure that nobody damages our environment in the course of carrying out economic activities. Of course, that again is one of the IMO instruments. Our objective is to attain at least ninety percent compliance in enforcement of those IMO instruments. So for me, we intend to move from where we are now to 95 percent of compliance with IMO instruments that govern the marine environment. One key thing we intend to do is to get vessels to patrol our waterways and territorial waters to ensure that there is no damaging effect.
How is the state of maritime security now?
Maritime security is key for us. We are going to enter into an MoU. We had one before but it has lapsed and we intend to renew it. We are going to have an MoU with the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air force so that they can deploy their aircraft to put an eye on our maritime domain and same with the Navy.
Recently, the Nigerian Navy introduced what is called the falcon-i. It is a surveillance system whereby from a room, which acts like the command centre, we can see all that is going on within our territorial waters. NIMASA has surveillance system but we also link it with the Navy surveillance system so that if you are connected to it, on your phone, you can see what is happening in Port Harcourt, Lagos and any of these waterways. You see these things online, real time, 24 hours/days a week. Navy will patrol our waterways to ensure that we bring the incident of piracy to zero or the minimum level if we can’t achieve zero. Only this year alone, there are number of incidents of piracy and we are working hard to tackle them. The second leg of it is that if anyone commits crime, how do you respond? If we have fast moving boats stationed at certain strategic positions and of course, have security men who are armed, that will be good. NIMASA has a responsibility to put an eye on our waterways but we are not a security organisation and so we need such organisations like the military, so that we can respond at short notices. The final leg is that if this happens and we intercept the people how do we prosecute them? So, what NIMASA is doing is that we are championing an anti-piracy bill which will change how prosecution is done when crime is committed on sea and how we deal with criminals on sea. That is before the Minister of Justice and we hope to forward it to the National Assembly to be passed into law. This will help check piracy and other crimes that take place at sea.
The third one is the Search and Rescue (SAR) functions of NIMASA, which is enshrined in the NIMASA Act and which is one of the IMO instruments which Nigeria is a party to. Before now, if we had a major incident, we were likely not to respond as fast as anybody would expect us. We are re-engineering our SAR programme initiative, including the team to ensure that we rescue every other person. In a coast in America not too long ago, there was an aircraft accident and not a single soul was lost because of the response of the agency in charge of emergency. We think that Nigeria has the capacity and capability to respond in the same manner if we put the right things in place. Emergencies do not give you a signal before they occur that is why you provide for emergencies before they occur and I can tell you that NIMASA is getting better and better in response to emergencies but we pray that one does not occur.
What of capacity building?
We are working on capacity building and promotion. One of the two major pillars of the NIMASA structure as enshrined in NIMASA Act is to promote indigenous shipping and indigenous classification in cabotage. That is one of the major functions of NIMASA and incidentally, we have played down on that and our eyes have been on revenue side looking at how much we get into the national coffers. But it is more important to promote indigenous classification in shipping. To promote indigenous shipping, two things are critical. One is infrastructure and the other one is the human element. To get the human element, we need to train the seafarers. A nation like Philippines rakes in USD 7 billion for exporting seafarers annually. Go and check how much we earn from oil annually and do a comparative analysis. By exporting seafarers alone, a country earns as much as that. The combined earning of China and India from seafarers in a year is more that what we earn from oil in two years. Nigeria has a population of well over 150 million people, more than the population of the Philippines; so, we can export seafarers and for us at NIMASA, it’s doable. I am sure many of you are aware of the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP). It is an intervention initiative whereby we send our people abroad to acquire specialised skills to work as seafarers on board various vessels. We intend to re-engineer that programme and come up with NSDP 3 and in addition to the new initiative, we intend to look at our training institutions like the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron and other maritime training agencies and engineer them to ensure they deliver on our capacity building initiative. That is one area we are looking at, and in terms of promotional activities, we intend to get our people to work in the area of shipbuilding and ship dockyards. That is one area we are not getting right even in the cabotage regime. In cabotage regime, we ought to have ships built in Nigeria, registered in Nigeria, manned by Nigerians and owned by Nigerians. So, in the area of capacity building and promotion initiatives, we intend to promote Nigeria as the most important destination in Africa in shipbuilding and ship repair facilities. In addition to that, we are also promoting our people to start ship plants in Nigeria. In the area of ownership of vessels, if we can move from our 20 percent to between 90 and 95 per cent ownership, it will be nice. In many countries, they insist on 100 percent ownership of vessels that will do their local trading, that is the direction we are headed. If we train our people, we will be sure that in the next three years, we will have 90 percent of our vessels manned by Nigerians, that’s where we are going.
What are you doing in the area of automation?
We intend to automate all our processes by the end of three years. Our short term is that this year, we are going to issue marine notice by sometime in October or November that nobody should do manual receipt, manual debit note, etc because all those processes should be automated by then. Automation will enhance transparency, reduce corruption and stop manipulation. What we want to take away is discretion. You will not need to have a contact with anybody. Once you have your computer, you can generate your invoice in your office. So, you will not need to come to NIMASA to stand for four hours just to pay your own dues. We are going to automate our processes that if you want to register your vessels, you don’t need to come to NIMASA; from your laptop in your house, you can upload all the documents you need to upload and immediately, you will get your response and will not require you to come in contact with anybody. That is the direction the world is going and Nigeria is not an isolated country, Nigeria is not different, we have the capacity, we have the capability, we can do it and for us in NIMASA we believe is accomplishable. And I think that very soon, we will accomplish that.