President Muhammadu Buhari

Operators in Nigeria’s maritime industry have strongly opposed moves by the Nigerian Navy seeking an amendment to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety NIMASA Act 17 of 2007 to pave way for the ceding of one per cent of the agency’s revenue to it.

President of the African Ship Owners Association, Mr. Temisan Omatseye, one of the stakeholders, who condemned the move, spoke during a one-day public hearing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration on: a “Bill for an Act to Amend the NIMASA Act, No. 17 2007 to increase the functions of the agency and for related matters (HB; 1131 & 1178) currently before the lower legislative chamber.

Omatseye, who is a former Director General of NIMASA, while condemning the move, noted that it clearly contravenes all international conventions and protocols of the International Maritime Organisation IMO, the global maritime body, which must be fully implemented since the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a signatory to such conventions.

Specifically, he cited section 22 (P) of the NIMASA Act, which empowers the agency to provide maritime security, arguing that the IMO frowns at issues of military engagement in commercial activities.

Similarly, chairman of Ports Consultative Council PCC, an advisory policy body for the industry, Otunba Kunle Folarin, another stakeholder, who also condemned the move during the public hearing, noted that the Nigerian nation is a critical stakeholder in the international maritime space, hence the need to exercise caution in amending any bill that may jeopardise the future of the country in the global maritime industry.

“NIMASA’s efforts and contributions to regional cooperation should be consolidated, rather than trying to usurp some of the functions of the agency as it will affect the day -day operations of the agency in carrying out its statutory mandates”, he said emphatically.

The PCC-boss also cautioned that the House of Representatives Committee on Maritime Safety, Education and Administration that this current move may ignite a rift before the two agencies that have over the years enjoyed collaborative working relationships to the extent of signing a Memorandum of Understanding MoU, that has enhanced maritime security in the country.

He therefore charged the committee to ensure that NIMASA and Nigerian Navy should not work at cross-purposes as they are both critical to the safety and security of the nation’s territorial waterways.

Meanwhile, the representative of Association of Marine Engineers and Surveyors (AMES), Engr. Emmanuel Ilori also while speaking at the event, condemned the move in strong terms, describing it as an attempt by the Nigerian Navy to usurp the roles of NIMASA by way of seeking amendment to the bill, which will also lead to ceding part of the agency’s revenue to Navy.

According to him, the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund CVFF should not be raided to fund another Agency of government that already has a budget from the Federal Government. He called on the Navy to seek for more budgetary funding from the right sources and not from NIMASA as both agencies have their jurisdiction as regarding budget and expenditure.

“NIMASA is already investing in infrastructure that will lead to a total coverage of the maritime sector, hence the need to encourage them for the good of the maritime sector. At this critical time, it is premature to seek any form of amendment and we need to support NIMASA on this; more so we are going to IMO again and Nigeria must not be an object of ridicule again” Engr. Ilori said.

Other stakeholders who also condemned the proposed bill include, the President of the Stevedoring Association of Nigeria, Mr. Bolaji Sunmola, representative of the Nigerian Maritime Law Association NMLA, Mrs. Oritsema Tosa, Lagos coordinator of the Nigerian Ship Owners Association NISA, Captain Taiwo Akinpelumi, Director General, NISA, Engr. Oliver Ogbuagu, Secretary General, Abuja MoU, Mrs. Mfon Usoro among others, who unanimously called for caution.

The stakeholders were also unanimous in their views that NIMASA needs more regulatory powers in order to be able to carry out its function effectively instead of the current move to dissipate its existing powers.

Meanwhile, Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, who also spoke at the event, noted that NIMASA is a responsible agency and will always encourage collaborations rather than acrimonies.

The DG who was represented by the Executive Director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, Mr. Ahmed Gambo stated that “it is national interest and issues of global best practices that is top most; it is not an issue of NIMASA versus the Nigerian Navy”.

He also urged the House Committee to take an informed position on the matter in the interest of the nation, to consolidate the powers of the agency, rather than do otherwise.

Chairman of the committee, Mr. Mohammed Umaru Bago, had while making remarks earlier, observed that the maritime industry is so critical to the nation and its economy in particular that anything concerning its statutory and regulatory framework should be given adequate legislative attention.

Speaker of the House of Representative Mr. Yakubu Dogara, who was represented by Dr. Ossai Ossai, who is also the chairman of the Committee on Ethics and Privilege, noted that the essence of the Public Hearing is to give everyone an opportunity to air their views and contribute to the legislative process.

Recall that NIMASA currently gives five per cent of its revenue to the Maritime Academy of Nigeria MAN, Oron, Akwa Ibom as part of its statutory funding.