Weekend Ginger: NIMASA… a bull in China shop?

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

…Hold NISA accountable too!

Senate President, David Mark
Senate President, David Mark

Powerful, pampered, but with a vision for the pursuit of secondary and tertiary objectives, the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) may soon emerge a bull in a china shop.


Created from the merger of National Maritime Authority and Joint Maritime Labour Industrial Council (former parastatals of the Federal Ministry of Transport) on the 1st August 2006, the NIMASA is the apex regulatory and promotional maritime agency established  by the NIMASA Act 2007

NIMASA DG, Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi
NIMASA DG, Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi

Its primary functions is to pursue the development of shipping and regulatory matters relating to merchant shipping and seafarers; the establishment of Maritime Training and Safety Standards; and Development and implementation of policies and programs, which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure.

One of the platforms for pursuing this goals was the creation of the Cabotage Act 2003, a Jones Act modification. The agency has abdicated this primary responsibility.

The secondary goals involved the administration and regulation of shipping licenses,  Administration, Regulation and Certification of Seafarers,  the Provision of Maritime Search and Rescue Services; Carrying out Air and Coastal Surveillance; the Control and prevention of Maritime Pollution and the Performance of Port and Flag State duties.

The tertiary  duty is largely to Provide Maritime Security;  Establishment of the procedure for the implementation of conventions of the International Maritime    Organization (IMO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), and other international conventions to which Nigeria is a party on Maritime Safety and Security; Maritime Labour, Commercial Shipping; and for the implementation of Codes, Resolutions and Circulars arising there from. These tertiary duties, the agency has however pursued with unrelenting vigour, and single purpose determination; and sadly enough, at the detriment of more relevant objectives.

Take its handling and implementation of the Ballast water law for instance, and you begin to appreciate how far the agency must be from reality.

Though the good law came, in a bid to protect the aquatic environment, the world knows, that our implementation is warped.
Ships sailing from one regional area to another, must ingest some quantity of water, to ensure stability, before embarking on their long journey. And such waters they eject on arrival, to enable them load desired cargo, before going back. Overtime, it was noticed that some of the water so ejected contained various bacteria and organisms, sometimes very dangerous to the second party. The global solution therefore, was for IMO to task internationally sailing vessels to ensure they procure certain equipment to assist in purifying their ballast waters, in addition to adopting specific measures to manage or control such waters.

Ordinarily, a good law. All the agency needed to do, was simply ensure compliance by the internationally trading vessels. But a chat with Nigerian ship owners, easily reveals, that the agency is meticulously and zealously hounding ships, for sailing from Lagos to Warri or Calabar, on issues of ballast water compliance, forgetting that the same water from Lagos, freely extends to Warri, irrespective of their different names!

Most industry watchers easily blame such NIMASA’s lapses on misplaced priority. But the informed know that the shortcomings may not be easily separate-able from leadership. No one can give that which it has not. Nemo dat quod non habet!

But you begin to pity this country, when you see the vigour with which the NIMASA had pursued the Maritime Labour Convention on the issue of payment of seafarers in Nigeria.

How can an agency that gleefully watches the gradual demise of indigenous shipping companies, take the front seat, in championing how heavy the largely un-employed seafarers must be paid?

How would our dear Emperor Nero’s tears not be considered crocodile, if the people believe he master-minded the setting ablaze of the holy city?

History tells us that the shipping business is both technical and international. Same history tells us that, because Nigeria, like several other developing countries lacks the technical know-how to compete, the United Nations evolved a Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) which created a protective mechanism called cargo allocation, 40: 40: 20; formula, around 1974, mandatorily reserving about 40 percent of a nation’s cargo to indigenous ship operators. To ensure its effectiveness, the NIMASA (then NMA) was created to protectively enforce it.
Ironically, when the babyish NMA grew up into adulthood, it abrogated the very same reason for which it came into existence!

Speaking on the importance of indigenous ownership of ships as core function of the agency in February 2003, the then Minister of Transport, Chief Ojo Maduekwe had pledged that Government would ensure that the agency worked towards it.

“We agree of course, as you know, that excessive government involvement is the first condition for the kinds of corruption that I have just alluded to. So, here, we are not going back to the condition we were in 1979 when Government was everywhere; when Government put on everything. Yet, we have the responsibility of assisting private ship owners to own ships; to get into shipping business. Even for national security considerations, we cannot afford to leave our maritime business completely in the hands of Government”, Ojo had declared (Maritime Under Democracy 2003 page 25, co written by Ray Ugochukwu, David Ogah, Dele Aderibigbe and Francis Ugwoke).

Ojo Maduekwe’s declaration today no where to being realized. The country not only does not own a single ocean going ship, even it’s lack-lustre performing  domestic ones are gleefully described as “rust buckets”!

How many vessels has the NIMASA assisted the country to own? Why has the agency taken more interest, in pursuing tertiary jobs of pursuing piracy, via an MoU with the Navy, for a function that the Nigerian Navy should exercise exclusive jurisdiction?
Why has the National Assembly gloss over this anomaly? And why has the political class, periodically lament youth unemployment, especially during campaigns, when they always decline to do the simplest of what their tasks demands?

It is for this reason that the Maritime First crew would rather blame the industry stakeholders, particularly the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-owners Association, instead of the agency leadership. What has been the NISA input, in the “good” administration of the agency? Absolutely, nothing to write home about! On the contrary, it has been the NIMASA, seemingly ignorantly, setting agenda, while the NISA sheepishly followed.

Granted that the country has unfortunately sailed far, from desired destination. Granted the fact of Nemo dat quod non habet… But, then, NISA must be bold enough, to accept a fair share of these blames!