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Nigeria’s Loss of IMO Seat: One Defeat Too Many

Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation

Last week Friday, Nigeria once again lost its bid to regain the Category C seat of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in a keenly contested election in London Headquarters of the world body.

Last weekend’s loss makes it the sixth consecutive failed attempt which Nigeria made to recapture the global crown it lost in 2011.

The latest loss was particularly painful and dramatic as the country lost against high expectations and hope for a better outing.

Disappointed stakeholders have since then been making wild guesses as to why Nigeria has consistently become a serial loser at the IMO Council seat elections.

While some believed that the maritime administration in Nigeria has not done enough to make the country merit a seat to dine with serious maritime nations in the world, others believed the loss was an unfair reflection of efforts of the present management of NIMASA to shore up our maritime fortunes.

Not a few stakeholders gave Nigeria a chance to clinch the coveted position which it narrowly lost to Kenya by one vote in 2019.

Nonetheless, we are saddened by this latest loss given the level of improvements we thought our maritime administration has recorded in recent times.

Before this time, the previous losses have mainly been attributed to the notoriety of Nigeria’s waters for pirate attacks as well as the shambled state of our ship registry.

Our Search and Rescue operations were also blamed while the poor level of compliance of port infrastructures to the ISPS code was not spared.

But in recent times, the present management of NIMASA led by Dr Bashir Jamoh has shown uncommon commitment and courage to tackle these challenges.

We can recall that incidents of pirate attacks on our waters drastically reduced early this year due to the collaborative efforts of NIMASA with the Navy.

The notorious Gulf of Guinea was calmer in recent times due to the conscious collaborative efforts and strategic partnership which Nigeria had with foreign Navies whose presence has helped to reduce the incidence of piracy in the region.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) even acknowledged this feat in its quarterly assessment reports.

Incidents of piracy in the first nine months of 2021 are the lowest reported in 17 years.

This represents 77 percent decrease in incidents between 2021 and 2020 and 95 percent reduction from 2018. “The IMB also reported a 39 percent reduction in piracy and armed robbery incidents in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG),” said Jimoh.

To complement its security efforts on Nigerian waters, NIMASA launched an operation of a modern and sophisticated security architecture known as Command, Control Computer Communication and Information System(C4i).

This is to create maximum security, strong surveillance as well as low freight costs that will boost the confidence of investors and port users.

Also, the NIMASA management took a bold step to revamp the ship registry which has for some years been a disincentive for ships to fly Nigeria’s flag.

On the ISPS code compliance level of Nigerian Ports facilities, the United States Coast Guards (USCG) commended NIMASA as the Designated Authority (DA) over the improved compliance level attained by the country which was rated at 90 percent.

The Search and Rescue operations of the agency have recorded significant milestones in recent times with its rescue operations to salvage distressed ships, passengers, and crew members.

To put the icing on the cake, the Federal Government, early this year, launched the multi-billion dollars security apparatus called deep blue project which was a revolutionary security architecture to sweep our waters of criminal elements.

The project, being driven by NIMASA, involves all other security agencies whose personnel are equipped with the sophisticated hardware and assets acquired under the project to engage criminals on our waters and keep our waters safe.

The international community even commended this security initiative which it confessed has considerable calming effects on the raging Gulf of Guinea.

With all these efforts to improve maritime security and Safety on our waters, which is the core function of any maritime administration in the world and for which Nigeria through NIMASA has acquitted itself, what more does the world want?

The efforts of the incumbent NIMASA management in maritime security have even been acknowledged by the IMO when the body described Nigeria as the most improved maritime nation in the sub-region.

Why then are all these efforts by Nigeria not rewarded with a victory at the IMO elections?

As far as we are concerned, Nigeria lost the elections to grand international conspiracy and criminal gang-up by her jealous and ingrate neighbours.

We are not by any means suggesting that our challenges in the maritime industry are over.

On the contrary, we still need to firm up on some other key areas of administration and operations to put the industry on a sound footing, especially the grey areas identified in the audit exercise by the IMO.

But our position is that, unlike the previous defeats which Nigeria has suffered since 2011, the current loss is most unjustified and unkindest cut given the sincerity of purpose of Jamoh- led management in its reformation agenda in the industry aimed at correcting some of the administrative and operational lapses that had hitherto caused our failures at the IMO Council elections.

Despite this loss, however, we would like to commend Nigeria nay NIMASA for fighting a good battle.

They have put up a good show.

To us Nigeria didn’t lose as a result of administrative ineptitude and operational laxity as some critics may want us to believe but instead, we lost to bad international politics heavily steeped in “bad belle”.

We want to encourage Jamoh and his team not to be despondent nor allow their fighting spirit to be dampened as a result of this defeat which to us, was “against the run of play”.

Rather, the management should go back to the drawing board and commence immediate preparations for the next IMO council elections in 2023.

The defeat should also spur NIMASA to improve on its current drive to reform the maritime industry that will make us break the chains of defeat in subsequent elections.

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The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.

Arguably, the Nigeria Shippers’ Council is gradually losing its bite.
The council, which was bequeathed to the present Executive Secretary of the agency,  Emmanuel Jime, by the vibrant and energetic Hassan Bello, its immediate past  CEO, is becoming a lame duck, a toothless bulldog that is gradually losing the sting, ferocity, and vibrancy it acquired under the immediate past helmsman.
Unfortunately, Jime, a politician, who took over the mantle of leadership when his predecessor honourably bowed out of service, is presiding over a whimper of a council, which is gradually becoming colourless in character and hollow in value.
The current face-off between the freight forwarders and the shipping companies has exposed the extent to which the council has lost respect, character and bite within the short period that Jime took over, and these are the vital attributes that the retired Bello has built into the agency.
Before Bello took over the council and shortly after it transmuted into the industry economic regulator, Shippers Council was greatly incapacitated with a voice not more than that of a whimpering child: muffled, shaky, devoid of life and confidence.
But immediately Bello, widely regarded as one of the best and finest technocrats to have passed through the industry, took over the whimpering child, he polished the colourless agency into a formidable, respectable and effective regulator whose words were order to which the powerful but arrogant shipping companies have come to defer and hold in reverence.
But after the exit of  Bello, the Shippers’Council she bequeathed is gradually losing its taste and value for which it was known.
The face-off between the shipping companies and customs brokers has brought this unfortunate reality to the fore.
In October this year, angry freight forwarders issued a two-week ultimatum to the predominantly foreign shipping companies in the country over their unbridled and mindless extortion perpetrated through numerous illegal charges.
They listed their grievances which they wanted to be addressed without which they will ground port operations.
Even though the contending matters are within the sphere of influence of the Shippers’Council, it was the Council for the Regulation of Freight Forwarding Practices in Nigeria(CRFFN) that took the initiative to broker peace between the two feuding parties when it convened a peace meeting.
The Shippers Council, the economic regulator, was only coopted into the peace meeting when it became glaringly clear that it has lost the initiative to be proactive.
Notwithstanding the presence of the Council which is their regulator, the arrogant shipping companies snubbed the peace meeting when they refused to attend.
Undaunted though, the CRFFN, which has clearly seized the initiative from the laid-back and lacklustre Shippers’ Council, reconvened the peace meeting last week Friday with the Council tagging along with other agencies like a lame duck.
Once again, the shipping companies, even though reluctantly sent representatives, didn’t accord much respect to the conveners of the meeting.
With annoying arrogance, the service providers partially conceded to one out of the numerous demands of the aggrieved freight forwarders when they agreed to give them six days period of grace for demurrage instead of the 14 days grace the freight forwarders asked for.
Even, the six days grace period was not clearly defined but dumped on them with you- can- go- to- hell -if- you- don’t want- it – attitude.
Expectedly, neither the Shippers’Council nor the CRFFN could do anything as the meeting was deadlocked.
The outcome of this issue has clearly defined the present state of the Shippers’Council.
It has clearly exposed the council under the present leadership as one which lacks the capacity to protect the interests of shippers it was created for.
It has shown a council that has lost the initiative to act and one which is not proactive.
It has lost the verve, glamour and the springy movement it was known for under the past leadership.
The freight forwarders themselves have expressed their lack of confidence in the ability of the  Council to resolve the lingering issues and stave off the impending strike which the customs brokers have vowed to embark on at the expiration of the new ultimatum, given the deadlocked peace meeting.
Although the shipping companies are not better in character and temperament under the past leadership of the council, Bello was still able to rein them in with his high level of interaction, engagement, consultations and high wire diplomacy that made the  Council achieve a considerable level of compliance and cooperation among the service providers.
Though the battle was tough and long-drawn as the recalcitrant shipping companies resorted to litigation to entrench their operational impunity, they however found the sheer determination, resilience, passion and uncompromising attitude of Barrister Hassan Bello too strong to break.
Does the present ES possess such attributes that helped his predecessor to succeed?
Only time will tell.
But the signal of lethargy, despondency, and lack of direction exhibited by the council so far in handing its core mandate in the early days of the current leadership, gives no reason to cheer and the situation was compounded by the equally visionless public affairs department of the council which is headed by a person of similar professional incompetent genes.
It clearly shows that Jime has inherited an oversized shoe.
The highly exploitative shipping companies may want to take advantage of the lack of will of the present leadership of the council to renew their onslaught on the users of their services.
They may want to exploit lack of experience in the workings of the industry of the present helmsman at the Shippers’ Council to unleash operational terror on the weary freight forwarders.
The present face-off between them and the freight forwarders is a test case.
If the Shippers’Council and the CRFFN fail to broker a truce between the two warring parties and stave off the impending service disruption, then Jime would have failed his first assignment as the Chief Executive officer of an economic regulator which has failed to tame one of its constituents.
Then and unfortunately too, that will signal the beginning of the descent of the council into the pre-Bello era when the agency was a toothless bulldog, which could only bark but shy to bite.
The reason for the sudden dip in the fortune of the council may not be far-fetched if we look at the antecedents of all the agencies of government where top appointments were used as political patronage to rehabilitate politicians, especially those who suffered political setbacks.
Unlike his predecessor, Barrister Hassan Bello, who is an industry man that rose through the ranks in the Shippers Council,  Hon. Emmanuel Jime is a thoroughbred politician and former APC governorship candidate in Benue State whose passion for ruling the state may still have an overring place in his mind.
That has always been the fate of government parastatals which are headed by active politicians as all other assignments will take a back seat in the pursuit of their political goals and ambition.
The same scenario is playing out at the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) where an active politician heads the agency whose 2022 budget proposal was recently dismissed by members of the Senate committee who described the presentation of NIWA’s  Chief Executive as incoherent and inconsistent with the figures presented.
Contrast this with the cheering performance and runaway achievements being recorded at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) whose Chief Executive, just like Barrister Bello, is a  ”home boy”, a home-grown, thoroughbred professional.
Or better still juxtapose that with the impressive runs of the helmsman at MAN, Oron who is also not a politician but professional.
You can call them a tale of two cities. One headed by politician and the other by professional.
The success of the present ES in his onerous task of steering the ship of the Council will however depend on the willpower, cooperation and commitment of the Directors he inherited who were part of Bello’s roaring success.
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POF: An instrument of oppression, impoverishment

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ANLCA’S War of Attrition, NAGAFF’S  Gains

Eyewitness Reporter

For over three years now, the Association of Nigerian  Licenced Customs Agents(ANLCA) has been embroiled in a senseless war of attrition.

A needless war that is being fuelled by greed, selfishness, avariciousness, and self-preservation.

An intractable war that has had an incalculable toll and dealt unimaginable damage to the corporate image of the supposedly oldest and most influential freight forwarding group in Nigeria.

A war that has greatly eroded the public goodwill, confidence, and acceptability of the association.

In the course of the imbroglio, ANLCA has shrunk in influence, fame, quality and status.

The association has flittered away its reputation which it had built over 67 years of its existence on the altar of egocentric squabbles.

During this mindless fight for the soul of the association, ANLCA has lost the respect, clout, public sympathy and empathy that have made it the once preferred freight forwarding group.

As a matter of fact, the endless war that has polarised and factionalised the association has rendered the once vibrant, articulate, respected and most sought after group weak, ineffective, lame, broken, decapitated and degraded.

But the loss of ANLCA is the gain of NAGAFF.

All these years when the gladiators in ANLCA are busy clawing at one another’s throats, tearing themselves apart, trampling upon their hapless members who they are supposed to protect, the leadership of the  National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF)has been busy consolidating and building the association into a formidable, virile and a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

NAGAFF,  founded and driven by Dr Boniface Aniebonam, a sagacious, audacious, shrewd, visionary, intelligent mobiliser and administrator, has cashed in on the prostrate ANLCA to become the emerging octopus in the freight forwarding industry.

NAGAFF, a child of necessity founded 22 years ago, has scooped and leveraged on all the goodwill, fame, clout, respect, and public acceptability that the ANLCA has unwittingly flittered away.

Aniebonam has been able to build  NAGAFF into a stronger,  respectable,  acceptable and visionary brand which has completely taken the initiatives away from the hapless, clueless, weakened and distabilised ANLCA whose hitherto vibrancy has been blunt by years of internal wrangling.

Little wonder the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) last week appointed Aniebonam, popularly referred to as Founder, as its ambassador in the freight forwarding industry.

The position confers Aniebonam the privilege of representing and working with the NDLEA in its propagation of anti-drug crusade among freight forwarders.

To us, the President of ANLCA, whose association is the oldest and supposedly most influential,  should have been best suited for this coveted position.

But when the association has been rendered prostate and clueless due to years of ego war, it was not a surprise that Aniebonam,  the Founder and Pathfinder of  NAGAFF, the emerging force in the freight forwarding industry, will readily be the preferred recipient.

As nature abhors a vacuum, NAGAFF has continued to take the initiatives to fill the gap created by the slumbering and fumbling ANLCA.

It was NAGAFF that took the initiative of fighting the excessiveness of the service providers to protect the hapless freight forwarders from the extortionist tendencies of these capitalists.

Aptly dubbed NAGAFF 100 percent compliance team, the anti-corruption arm of NAGAFF, the association has been able to checkmate most of the excesses of the service providers.

An attempt by ANLCA to replicate this noble initiative by NAGAFF expectedly fizzled out like candlelight in the wind due to lack of purpose.

Not only that, NAGAFF recently hosted Barrister Hassan Bello, the retired and highly celebrated Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers’ Council, to a lavish reception meant to honour him for his selfless service to the industry during his eight-year tenure.

These and many more initiatives taken by NAGAFF have made the association the most active and proactive freight forwarding group in the industry.

Unfortunately, all this while when NAGAFF was building, rebranding and consolidating, ANLCA, a supposedly oldest freight forwarding group, was gradually receding in importance, fame, status and influence as its supposed leaders who are expected to build the association are busy destroying the legacy left by its founding fathers in their inordinate ambition to appropriate the spoils of office to themselves.

Like most industry stakeholders who are already tired and irritated by the endless war in ANLCA, we shall no longer advise the gladiators to sheath their swords because such admonition has not been heeded in the past.

Rather than heed the warnings and advice of concerned stakeholders, the gladiators seemed more determined as they continued to get more incensed and enraged with one another, appearing hell-bent on destroying the great legacy they inherited from the founding fathers.

However,  the ANLCA warlords should realise that every jab they throw at one another will only make NAGAFF stronger, more influential, more popular and prosperous until it finally drowns the war-torn association in its own act of foolery.

But if the ANLCA gladiators could engage themselves in self- retrospect that their act is capable of destroying the great association that was once the envy of other rival associations and end this factional war, maybe, just maybe, ANLCA  could manage to salvage and recover some of the gains it has conceded to NAGAFF.

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