By Okey Ibeke
ONE of the major issues that are likely to occupy the mind of the newly inaugurated Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, is how to return Nigeria to Category C of the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, council seat. Nigeria’s four consecutive attempts to get re-elected into the council ended in failures, the last being the November 2019.
IMO is a specialised agency of the United Nations, established to develop and adopt regulatory and enforcement legislations for international shipping. The agency works with governments, which are responsible for implementing these regulations. The IMO regularly conducts this audit scheme as part of the efforts to standardise shipping as a global business.
To regain the seat, it is pertinent that the new leadership in NIMASA should do things differently. This different approach must entail ensuring that all the IMO regulations, stipulations, directives and expectations are satisfied in order to earn the deserved recognition, and thereby prepare the country to bid and get elected into the Council.
Industry operators are optimistic that with NIMASA now led by a person adjudged to be a professional, someone who has had over three decades of experience in the industry, things will be done differently, and in line with the core mandate of the agency.
For many years, maritime industry stakeholders have been yearning for a maritime professional or technocrat, “a home boy” who knows the nitty-gritty of the problems besetting the nation’s maritime sector and how to address them, in order for Nigeria to take up its position in the comity of maritime nations.
With Jamoh leading the apex maritime regulatory agency, they expect that all the mistakes, negligence and haphazardness in the implementation of NIMASA’s statutory responsibilities would be swiftly redressed.
One does not need to remind Dr. Jamoh that so much is expected of him. His last two predecessors came to NIMASA as outsiders, and so not much was expected from them as they were supposed to spend their first year in office to learn the ropes. But this is not the case with Jamoh. What this means is that Jamoh cannot afford to lead Nigeria to London for IMO Council elections, and the country will come back with failure. He should remember that he was part and parcel of the immediate past NIMASA management that went for the election two times and failed.
The reason or reasons for Nigeria’s repeated losses should have been clear to Jamoh and concerned authorities by now. They ought to have learned their lessons by now. The lesson is that it takes more than lobbying, campaigns and rhetoric for a country to be elected into IMO Council seat. This is the path Nigeria has been taking over the years, with the results being glaring failures.
In 2017, when Nigeria failed for the third consecutive time, stakeholders were quick to refer to policy somersaults, shoddy preparation and inexperience of the representatives of Nigeria. Of particular note was the comment of a London-based Nigerian maritime analyst, Donald Adebola, who spoke shortly after the election. Adebola attributed Nigeria’s loss to inexperience and shoddy preparation by the handlers of the country’s bid.
It is expected that in the next bid the new NIMASA management would not see the IMO election as just an outing for NIMASA, the Ministry of Transport and politicians in the national assembly, but real work with industry operators to create a thriving and unimpeachable maritime domain, since the election does not call for oratory and political maneuvers. According to experts, all it takes is satisfying IMO regulations and resolving satisfactorily all the world body’s queries and reservations concerning Nigerian maritime sector.
In 2016, a report of the IMO Member State Audit Scheme, IMSAS, raised queries about Nigeria’s maritime sector. It is expected that this time around, before making another bid for the IMO seat, all these queries should be fully resolved. These queries were still pending or not properly tidied up before Nigeria made the bid for the IMO Council in 2017 and 2019.
IMSAS is the mandatory audit of all IMO member states which is aimed at determining the extent to which they give full and complete effect to their obligations and responsibilities contained in a number of IMO treaty instruments.
When a government ratifies an IMO convention, it agrees to make it part of its national law and to enforce all of its provisions. Apart from governments, other actors in the enforcement of international safety, security and pollution prevention standards as they relate to ships and shipping activities are Recognised Organisations, ROs, shipping companies, and shipboard personnel or seafarers. But, ultimately, the buck stops with the governments.
Governments, through their agencies, cannot ignore these regulations while spending time and resources in campaigning, lobbying and hosting diplomats, in expectation of being recognised and elected into IMO Council seat. The IMSAS audit follows a procedure that includes Planning, Preparation, Conducting the Audit, Reporting, Member State Corrective Action Plan, Audit follow-up, and Records.
According to findings, Nigeria was found wanting in some aspects of the IMO instruments implementation code for member states during the 2016 IMSAS audit. The IMSAS final audit report of Nigeria had a finding on strategy. There was also a Finding on Nigeria in the area of assignment of responsibilities and obligations to ROs. All these Findings NIMASA claimed to have been closed out in the Correction Action Plan. But some gaps are still there.
In the 2016 audit report, there was also a Finding that Nigeria did not comply with the criteria for selection, qualification and training of surveyors. In the Corrective Action Plan, however, NIMASA said a consultant was engaged to do a draft policy on recruitment, selection, qualification and training of flag state surveyors. Was the ensuing policy able to resolve the issues of employment and placement of surveyors?
On the responsibility of flag states with respect to marine safety investigation, the IMSAS audit report on Nigeria contained a Finding that casualty investigations were not conducted in compliance with the mandatory rules of impartiality, objectivity and independence of investigators.
NIMASA also claimed that the non-conformity had been amended in the proposed review of the Merchant Shipping Act, 2007. Up to today, there is no report that the Merchant Shipping Act of 2007 has been amended, does IMO work on mere proposals or what is on ground?
Similarly, under the audit scheme, the obligations and responsibilities of coastal states include provision of radio communication services, meteorological services and warnings, search and rescue services, hydrographic services, and aids to navigation.
The IMSAS audit of Nigeria identified all the above as Areas for Further Development. According to NIMASA, the Corrective Action Plan submitted to IMO contained adequate steps to provide the services. These, again, are statements of intents and proposals. Have these services been provided?
There were also Findings as regards the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of port states, which include provision of port reception facilities, Port State Control, and keeping a register of fuel oil supplies. Nigeria had findings on all these, but NIMASA said these have been closed out in the Corrective Action Plan.
Most importantly, states have the responsibility to ratify relevant IMO conventions, domesticate them, and promulgate regulations to give full and complete effect to them to ensure safety of life at sea and protection of the environment. The IMSAS audit of Nigeria had many findings in this area. Again, NIMASA said the Legal Unit of the agency with the management had moved to try to erase the deficits. It said there were ongoing processes by the unit to amend the Merchant Shipping Act, 2007 and NIMASA Act, 2007, and it had engaged a consultant to work on the two Acts. But have all these been completed?
On the whole, the final report of the IMSAS Audit of Nigeria in 2016 contained 11 Findings, one Observation, and seven Areas for Further Development. One is constrained at this juncture to ask if the necessary steps NIMASA said have been taken to fill the gaps been completed? The same question goes for the Corrective Action Plan. Have the necessary corrections in the action plan been made?
These are issues and challenges before Jamoh. One needs not be told that the world is now a global village. There is nothing we do or we have that IMO and the world maritime community will not know. They don’t even need to conduct another IMAS Audit to find out. We cannot deceive IMO with promises or mere proposals of corrective measures. Unlike Nigeria’s elections, IMO elections do not thrive on promises – whether fake or genuine. It works with what is on ground – verifiable real time.
There is also the issue of insecurity of the nation’s territorial waters and the Gulf of Guinea. This must be tackled with dispatch. The world must see that Nigeria’s waters is indeed very safe, instead of being regaled with tales of what Nigeria is doing and investments in maritime assets while the country continues to occupy the unenviable position as the world’s piracy hotspot.
It is, therefore, necessary that all pending issues in the industry, including maritime insecurity be adequately resolved before further contest of the IMO Council election. The Jamoh administration is, therefore, expected to spend the agency’s money in tackling all these problems. Industry operators do not expect him to toe the line of previous administrations – of which he was a part – which spent huge sums of money organising parties, receptions and on non-maritime related programmes and gestures, instead of concentrating on growing the industry.
It is necessary to remind Jamoh once again that as an insider, industry operators expect so much from him. He should not be deceived into thinking that as a kindred spirit he would be spared in case of any failure. With him, any outing or bid for IMO Council seat is expected to end in success and not stories. Failure in such a venture will surely attract the same level of, or even more virulent condemnations from industry operators. Knowing who they are, it is the same people that are organizing receptions for him, applauding and praising him that will call for his head. This is the industry tradition.