Amaechi’s stewardship in maritime industry 

Amaechi’s stewardship in maritime industry

Until recently when President Muhammadu Buhari dissolved his cabinet, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, bestrode the Nigerian Maritime industry as the Minister of Transportation for about four years like a colossus.

Though the sector is an arm of his portfolio, it formed the major chunk of his task as the Minister and an important plank on which his tenure could be assessed.

Many stakeholders were divided over the  suitability of the Rivers State former two-term governor as minister of transportation, especially as the  one who had to superintend over a critical sector as maritime.

However, to us in the, the four years sojourn of Amaechi in the maritime industry as its driver left more of sour taste in the mouth of industry players than sweet memories.

Using major parameters for measuring his performance, it clearly shows that the erstwhile Minister left the sector in bad shape than he met it.

Under his watch, the industry recorded a stunted growth which undermines its huge potentials.

The performance of the sector is a screaming testimony to the failure of Amaechi in the maritime industry.

Shipping development suffered immeasurable damage as indigenous capacity was almost wiped out.

There was high mortality rate among indigenous shipowners who recorded over 90 percent loss of capacity.

For four years, Amaechi refused to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) , an interventionist fund meant to grow indigenous capacity in shipping.

Hiding under spurious excuses, Amaechi held on to the funds, which stakeholders said has so far accrued to over $200m, thus further compounding their woes.

Ironically, the last administration of Goodluck Jonathan was accused by the present goverment of diverting the funds to other use other than the one it was meant for.

Ameachi pointedly told the agitated indigenous ship owners that he would not release the funds as long as he remained a minister, a vow he diligently kept until his exit.

The much-touted National Shipping Line which the minister promised to revive did not materialise until he left office, despite the elaborate plan put up by his ministry.

This failure further blighted Nigeria’s chances to take control of the freight of its huge cargo it generates and earn more foreign exchange for the country.

Apart from the loss of capacity by indigenous shipowners, the industry also lost human capacity as most of its young cadets were unemployable due to lack of requisite sea-time experience.

Unfortunately, some of them took to menial jobs and crimes.

The seafarers’ pool, largely populated by old and tired seafarers, was almost depleted as there was not enough experienced manpower to replace them.

Insecurity on our waters took a dangerous dimension during Amaechi’s tenure as Nigerian waters earned an unenviable sobriquet of the most dangerous in the region due to the activities of pirates and sea robbers who even attacked ships on anchorage.

This incident raised shipping charges as foreign ship owners dreaded coming to Nigerian waters while those who mustered enough courage to come slammed series of surcharges on Nigerian shippers while insurance premium also shot up.

This unfortunate development culminated to the loss of the prestigious membership by Nigeria of Category C of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), an incident which signposts the under- performance of Nigerian Maritime industry in the global arena.

Equally distressing is the fact that the Minister could not muster enough political goodwill to convince President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the all-important National Transport Commission (NTC) bill, generally believed to have the capacity to lift the industry.

The catalogue of woes is endless.

Despite the much-trumpeted claims of the capacity of the industry to lift the GDP of Nigeria made by Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), there was no record of such contribution by the National Bureau of Statistics.

In fact, the NBS did not capture the sector in its periodic report of sectoral contributions to the nation’s GDP.

Experts said the maritime sector is weak and cannot compete favourably well with its contemporaries in the world.

Under Amaechi, Nigerian ports lost initiatives to the neighbouring countries when the country lost the much coveted position of preferred cargo hub centre to less fancied Togo, Ghana and Cote D’ivoire.

This was the culmination of a number of factors which include infrastructural decay, high cost of doing business at the ports and government policy inconsistencies.

These factors made Nigeria to rank low on the index of ease of doing business.

We bemoaned this unfortunate development as we regard  it as a missed opportunity to grow the maritime sector to complete globally, given its huge potentials for growth.

However, due to loss of foresight and passion to grow indigenous capacity, foreign ship owners took control of the industry, made huge profits which they repatriated to their countries as Nigeria  could not retain the capital in its economy.

Such was the lot of the sector under Amaechi who devoted much of his time, energy and attention to railway rehabilitation where he made remarkable accomplishment.

An accomplishment we laud and congratulate him for.

However, we are saddened by the parlous state he left the industry which maritime experts claimed has the capacity to rake in over seven trillion naira annually for government.

Perhaps, Amaechi realised his numerous failings in the industry that he had to apologise to the stakeholders, an apology we considered belated and uncalled for.

We are by no means dismissing the modest achievements Amaechi recorded in some areas in the sector.

We recognise the take-off of the process of the much sought after National Single Window project which the presidency has raised a committee for.

We hope and believe that if the project is pursued with determination and sincerity of purpose, it would have a great positive impact on maritime industry.

The National single window, if implemented, will create a single platform for all the relevant agencies in the industry such as NPA, NIMASA, Shippers Council, Customs and will enhance ease of doing business and boost efficiency and effectiveness.

We can only hope the project does not come to grief like the National Carrier project.

We also acknowledged his modest achievements in giving quality leadership and direction for the sweeping reforms in the NPA, NIMASA and MAN Oron, the reforms which unfortunately have little impact on the general performance of the industry.

We will not quickly forget the tenacity with which the former minister pursued any cause he believed in, no matter how unpopular it may be.

We shall continue to remember with nostalgia the failed attempts of Amaechi to control the large congregation of maritime journalists whom he wanted to fuse together, using the coercive instrumentality of government but failed.

He tried unsuccessfully the same method with the indigenous shipping owners.

He enacted his domineering posture during the inauguration of the third governing council for the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) when the chairman of the Council was to be elected or selected.

These are parts of the comic reliefs which the erstwhile minister regaled the industry with during his tenure.

Even though, Amaechi did his best to reposition the industry, b his best fell short of the general expectations of stakeholders who felt disappointed by the shoddy performance of the minister.

We cannot however predict if the erstwhile minister will stage a comeback to the industry as that decision remains the prerogative of Mr President.

Our wish is that whoever has the privilege of directing the affairs of the industry in the next dispensation should do so with right mental attitude, sincerity of purpose,  determination  and clarity of vision to take the industry from its present abyss of under -performance and sluggish growth.

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