Unfolding indications may be to the fact that the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has eased off its security arrangements at the Burma Road, Apapa Lagos headquarters, sliding it from the ISPS Code level 3, which traditionally amounts to a state of war, to a more amenable ISPS Code Level 2. This is good news.
The bad news however, is that up till this moment, journalists cannot enter the public building, except if only invited!
When the Maritime First heard this, it sounded unbelievable. The Editor therefore went on confirmation binge, taking along a lady correspondent from the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and the newly elected President of the Maritime Reporters Association of Nigeria (MARAN), also a lady, last Tuesday. The idea was perhaps, if they see two harmless ladies, the story may actually favour the agency.
“Can you please identify yourselves individually?”
One produced a NAN Identity card, the other handed over a Vanguard card. Both were screened, returned, while I pretended to be fumbling for my own.
“We have closed to the public today please. You can come tomorrow”. I told them it was 4.17 pm, and in any case, the official closing hour for public workers could not be less than 5.00pm.
The lanky security obviously didn’t like that and it was visible he was struggling to hold his temper. “Ok. Can you call the person you want to see on your phone, hand the phone to me and let me speak first with the person?”
The three of us said we were coming for an assignment.
“Ok. Can you phone the person who invited you for the assignment, so that I can first speak with the person?” then turning directly to me, he ask, “Can I now see your identity card?”
Common sense told me that journalist were probably seen as ‘persona- non-gratta’ here; so I gave him a National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Student Id. Card. He took it, looked at it, and bellowed: “Look, I know you, you are a journalist and this is a student id card”, handed over the card and properly latched the giant gate properly closed.
Every appeal from the two ladies made to the effect that they were there to cover some assignment fell on the rock!
I surveyed the gate; strong, solid and effectively, blocking our entrance into the public building. If journalists were treated this way, at a public building, what would be the fate of other stakeholders?
At that point, my respect and genuine admiration soared for Speaker, Tambuwal. If the Speaker were here, he would probably not be entertaining that kind of embarrassment, listening to such distracting, denigrating questions: he would have long scaled the barricade, and peacefully made his way into the building, even if anyone out of shock or desperation would on an account of that, remove one of his ‘titles’ pre-fixing his name.
The security man had spoken. So we stood there, behind the gate, until the newly elected President of the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-owners Association (NISA), Capt. Dada Olaniyi Labinjo arrived, 23 minutes later. It was him who cleared the way for us, stressing that the press was part of his entourage, invited to cover the maiden visit of the NISA, to the management of NIMASA, after the October 24 election which produced the new executive.
I know by now, somebody would probably be asking, why didn’t any of us phone the Public Relations Department, especially the Head; Deputy Director, Isischei Osamgbi, who was also, probably the first trained journalist to head the Department? We dared not. Or rather, I would rather not. The gentleman neither picks my calls nor responded to text messages. Besides, my last two phoning experiences had left me more humiliated than anything else. On one occasion, he had asked: “Which university did you go self?”.
Somebody had asked if it was morally sound for the Central Bank of Nigeria to establish and run a bank; and when we answered no, he then wondered why maritime journalists were keeping quiet, even as the agency pumps billions of the Nigerian peoples fund into establishing a shipyard in Okerenkoko. That was all we were trying to ask of him.
It was only when I humbly told him that I finished from the University of Ibadan that he backed off. Those who think women are there worse enemies may be totally wrong! Journalists are!
The second time was when we told him that some NIMASA staff were complaining that monies were leaving the agency under questionable circumstances. That some were even saying they would be lucky to collect their usual “furniture” allowance this year.
“Which NIMASA staff? The one you employed in your office?
“My brother, let me let you as a journalist, go and look for core news stories, so that you will have respect from me. Go and look for core maritime stories that would give you respect.
“I have done this job eh? It is the thing that gives me respect or took me to where I am today. Any NIMASA staff telling you anything is not only lying; he is ungrateful to God.
“Do you hear me? Any NIMASA staff telling you anything about salaries is not only lying, but he is also ungrateful to God and God will punish that person!
“Because NIMASA as an agency is one of the best paying and it is the people who structured it that did in such way that people who earn salary would fly in the same level, with their counterparts all over the world.
“Are you with me?”
“I am with you brother”
“Have you seen anybody in Aviation sector or even NNPC leaving the government sector to go to the private sector? No! Because they are well paid. And those were the things the founding fathers had in mind when they brought NIMASA in and brought it up unto the level it should be!
And since then, no NIMASA staff would tell you that they have never earned their salaries as at when due.”
“But I learnt that the last salary was a bit delayed. Is it true?”
“Look, the more you insist, the more I lose the remaining little respect I have for you. You are losing respect very fast. If I have respect for you before, it is fast vanishing! And I would crave you, all your magazine don’t bring it; when you bring it, I am going to put them in the dust bin 0. They are trash! I am a seasoned journalist, and I tell you, they are trash! No content!! And if I who is your stakeholder puts it in the dust bin, you can imagine that it doesn’t attract non stakeholders…And the only way you can get my respect, get my advertorial, is if your magazine is constructive, is standard, and the content is valid”
As he spoke, I wondered if we were indeed speaking with a Public Relation Manager and image launderer; or somebody else.
Now, if an image maker/ launderer speak like this, how many enemies do you think he could be making for both his organization and boss? Needless to say, that the image of the agency is no longer significantly or dramatically growing again, before the Nigerian media!
And since he had actually lost all the remaining little respect he had for us, if ever there was one in the first place anyway, he had since stopped picking my calls. He also doesn’t respond to any text message too, even on relevant public issues. We recalled he did not respond to the text message inquiring why the CVFF only amounted to mere N39 billion this year, after a 10 year ‘esusu’-collection. We were particularly alarmed because we knew that former DG, Temisan Omatseye left over $140million (N22.5bn).
So, if Omatseye left N22.bn, when he was leaving; and the Global West Shipping Services was here, to assist the agency boost revenues, then, where are we?
We had also wanted to inquire if the N39bn figure was inclusive of the $150m (N24bn) which the NLNG recently paid to the agency as “peace offering” or whatever? If it was, the sum would have meant N24bn plus N22.5bn; plus whatever the agency had recorded, under the current DG-Akpobolokemi. If the NLNG’s “peace offering” was not there, then where is the money?
These were some of the little information the Deputy Director, Public Relations (DDPR) ought to have quietly responded to. He did not. Perhaps, it is true that the Golden era of NIMASA Public Relations Department started under Willy Azuh, the man now in London, serving Nigeria in a higher capacity. The Golden era died after Hajia Lami Tumaka was removed from that office. Those who taught women were their own worst enemies are absolutely wrong. Journalists are; because they also deny their colleagues of whatever respect, the poor- paying profession had attached to those in the career. Could this be why some journalists see the agency today as a garrison? And could this be why some in the industry believe today, that some parastatals were actually being run like the Talibans were running Afghanistan?!
NIMASA is not a garrison because of the ISPS Code level 2 which demands a stakeholder first get screened, issued an entry card; enter inside, re-screened and re-issued another entry card to enter the building, while your purse is re-screened by a giant x-ray machine; by a metal detector frisks that also scans you to your pants.
The security system is wonderful. Ebola cannot infiltrate it. And neither can Tambuwal! And while we are at this, let the Senate President know, that Nigerians are waiting to see how he reacts to Tambuwal’s humiliation. Democratic institutions are being gradually ‘demonized’ and those who should talk are snoring. Today it is Tambuwal. Tomorrow, it could be their turn. Remember what the German philosopher said: When they came for the Protestants… I said I was a catholic. By the time they came for me,… there was no body standing to speak for me.
NIMASA is not a garrison because stakeholders can no longer gain access without being frisked and scanned by equipment far bigger than those you find at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport. NIMASA is a garrison, because journalists who have a legitimate mandate as watchdogs to protect the public interest can no longer enter into it.
Surprisingly, when we finally gained entrance because the NISA President, Capt. Dada Labinjo, said he would not enter until we were allowed in, we found a most humble and amiable Director General, who never knew that MARAN now has a woman President.
“Where is Mr. Bolaji? When did you hold your election to produce a female president?” a bewildered DG asked. It was then that Osamgbi told him that an election was actually held, some two weeks back; and a woman emerged as President.
Now, if a former university teacher who majored in marketing became a Director General, and would not bother about how his Public Relation Department was either “marketing” his organization or his person or the type of information he is deliberately denied off, why should we?
And if hardworking journalists are publicly treated as ‘persona- non-gratta’ in public buildings, would they also be expected to give respect to the agency?
Isichei Osamgbi is a seasoned journalist. We hold him in very high esteem. But that cannot deny the fact that the agency has seemingly turn into a garrison of some sort.
“Nemo dat quod non habeat”—as they say in law, is probably true on both side: “no man gives what he has not”!