By Felix Ugbechie
WHEN Ziakede Akpobolokemi was appointed the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Maritime Administration And Safety Agency, NIMASA, many operators in the sector welcomed him with clenched hands. This was understandable. Coming from the academia, it was expected that many would see him as a fringe player in the industry. But hardly had he settled down, than he proved the pessimists wrong.
Today he has not only sustained the momentum in the agency, but has also transformed it in such a novel and uncommon manner akin only to a creative thinker, an uncommon business mogul, a diligent entrepreneur; a courageous industrialist, an incurable optimist and an ambitious impresario all rolled into one.
Akpobolokemi has defied the odds and is gradually etching his name in golden marble as a turn-around expert and a visionary of astounding proportions. It is often said that if you play an old lady a music she is used to in her dancing days, no matter how frail and weak her waist and legs are, she would always wriggle to the tunes of the music. Such could be said of Akpobolokemi. Coming from a knowledge-based sector, he knew that in future, the dearth of professionals could hamper the operations of the agency. Pragmatic and forward looking, he conceived the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU) which is to provide a solution to the dearth of qualified professionals in the Nigerian Maritime sector.
This laudable initiative will of course, produce high level manpower for Nigeria’s maritime/shipping sector on sustainable basis. It will also provide training for seafarers, master mariners, marine engineers, naval architects, nautical scientists and other specialised maritime/shipping trade skills. Interestingly, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has performed the ground-breaking ceremony of the university at Okerenkoko and also flagged-off activities at the university’s temporary site in Kurutie, both in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. There is an on-going effort to source for technical collaboration with foreign maritime institutions. When this finally takes off the university is envisaged to become a centre of excellence in innovative research for the maritime sector in the West and Central Africa sub-region when it fully evolves.
Today, the noble virtues of Akpobolokemi- dynamism, innovativeness and creativity have positively rubbed off on the agency, turning it into Africa’s strongest and most innovative maritime agency. His commitment to excellence is unequaled. His insistence that second best does not lead to success has led the agency maintaining high standards as well as being proactive in raising the bar in order to achieve excellence in all areas. One of such noticeable landmarks is the NIMASA Shipyard and Dockyard, also located in Okerenkoko. He notes that the vision behind this project is to transform the maritime sector into an industry that will generate capable local manpower, which will contribute significantly to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.
“The vision behind the shipyard and dockyard project is to have a world-class building and repair facility that will be commercially viable to transform the nation’s economy. The project is being developed in two phases. Phase one is the ship building facility to handle smaller vessels and maintain ships plying the nation’s inland waterways while the second phase is planned for a facility that will handle ocean-going vessels and offshore installations which will serve the oil and gas industry”. This facility would of course, fill the major infrastructural capacity gap that has negatively affected the sector’s performance.
“Another important reason for undertaking the project is that the ship and dockyard facility will support the university by providing opportunity for the practical training of naval architects, marine, communication and control engineers. The physical proximity of the ship and dockyard facility to the university is deliberately conceived to facilitate adequate practical training of students in requisite areas”. Sensitivity is another attribute he brings on board. He is a good communicator who genuinely likes all kinds of people and is comfortable talking to perfect strangers in all kinds of environments. He is also accessible. With all the air of opulence around him, he is always accessible to everybody.
Akpobolokemi places a premium on resourcefulness and intelligence. This is true when one considers the sustenance and continuous investment in Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP).The emphasis here is on human capacity development for the present and the future mindful of its critical role in exploiting the potential of the sector. He notes: “I am glad to inform you that under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), which started five years ago, over 2,500 young Nigerians have benefitted or are currently enjoying various levels of sponsorship in schools in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Romania, India and Philippines.
“The first set of twenty-three (23) qualified seafarers under the scheme has already emerged from the Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport, Egypt having completed their sea time training and earned their Certificates of Competencies (CoC). Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 14 of them graduated with first class Honours, while one of our students emerged the best overall graduating student from the Institution this year.
From capacity building, to infrastructural and human capital development especially in Maritime Labour, he recognizes the fact that this forms the basic requirement to grow any sector. One other commendable area being in maritime safety, which is an area that cannot be compromised. To him, for any sustainable and meaningful growth in the maritime sector, a robust maritime domain awareness system is inevitable. “NIMASA has therefore entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Air Force to enhance Water patrol and Aerial surveillance of Nigeria’s maritime domain. We identify the fact that a well trained workforce provides the ingredient for a highly productive sector”.
Undoubtedly, Akpobolokemi is leaving an indelible footprint in NIMASA and his administration could be summed up in what, Forbes describes as one the African public leaders, empire builders, moguls and high-flying chief executives of multinational corporations who possess continental clout and wield the most widespread influence in Africa’s business and economic circles”.