We saw it grow
They sawed it off with aides
Brothers in tribal colours
And the anthill came crumbling
Ants are scampering for safety
The man of the people feasts
On denial cooked on trite
And tribal thorns of shipping
And things fall apart
NISA is no longer at ease
Burial feast makes merry
Before bare faces
We are all undertakers
But who carries NISA coffin, first?
This 4 –stanza poem is a twin-tribute to the Nigerian Shipowners Association (NISA), currently enmeshed in inglorious naked dance at the market square and the late famous “gatekeeper,” Benjamin Bradlee who passed away recently at the age of 93. For 23 years, Bradlee was the Editor of the great Washington Post and under his watch the paper broke landmark stories like the Watergate Scandal that resulted in the resignation of the American president, Richard Nixon who did unethical things against the Democratic Party all in the bid to win an election.
Watergate represented the worst of American politics. The term Watergate has come to encompass an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration.
Those activities included such “dirty tricks” as bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious. Nixon and his close aides ordered harassment of activist groups and political figures, using the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The scandal led to the discovery of multiple abuses of power by the Nixon administration, articles of impeachment and the resignation of Richard Nixon, the president of the United States, on August 9, 1974.
Since the Watergate incident, every scandal now had the suffix –“gate”.
While I thank Mike Awoyinfa for some insight on this, NISA now adorns “gate” graciously and befittingly for the magnitude of the unprofessional and unethical practices that punctuated its elections and post elections activities.
NISA, supposedly, a body of shipowners in Nigeria, conducted elections for the first time in twelve years of existence on October 24, 2014. Navy Capt. Dada Labinjo, emerged winner over Engr. Greg Ogbeifun and Barr. Temi Omatseye, who contested alongside for the position of the president of NISA. The victory was against the run of public perception and belief, especially when Labinjo had served as General Secretary for twelve years; with the argument that NISA has sat like a duck over the years, so has nothing new to offer in the cyber-age.
Both Greg and Omatseye had sent petition to the NISA Appeal Panel, chaired by Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kalu, raising the issue of eligibility on the grounds that Labinjo owns no ship and was granted waivers through the backdoor. Also, that most of Labinjo’s voters were not just glorified NISA members but market women and men turned clearing agents. This allegation presupposes that the composition of NISA as currently allowed by its constitution makes it possible for anybody capable of paying N250,000 registration fee to be a member of NISA but must not be a shipowner.
However, Labinjo in an interview with MMS Plus Weekly had explained that there are three categories of members: shipowners, ancilliary and auxiliary members. On this ground, providers of shipping services in any form can be a member.
And this is exactly how the over 160 members of NISA were raised. It is obvious that non-shipowners dominate the shipowners. According to the petitioners, these are the people that voted for Labinjo, whom a lot of people had lived under the illusion that nobody likes.
Expectedly, the election appeal panel last week upheld the election of Labinjo as the credibly elected president of the NISA. But this is foreshadowing danger for NISA. The basis for upholding the election result was not made public, many members afterward had said that esprit the corps in Nigerian Navy family played a role.
In protest, it has been said that six candidates among the winners in the controversial election have resigned their positions on the grounds that they cannot work with Labinjo. One of such persons is the Lagos Co-ordinator of NISA, Mr. Emeka Ndu. Mrs. Margaret Orakwusi, the 1st Vice-president has reportedly indicated her interest to resign her position, on the excuse that she cannot work with Labinjo.
Also, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) has unofficially noted that it cannot work with Labinjo. Before the election, some of the candidates had said that if Labinjo wins the election they would leave NISA. And Labinjo on his own had reportedly said that if members refused to co-operate with him on winning the election, he would resign.
The raging post-election brouhaha, has cast blight on the integrity of the NISA Electoral Committee (ASSECO), especially over the issue of accreditation of members who could not meet their financial obligations as discussed at a general meeting.
This is the angle that observers have raised insinuation of power of incumbency factor and undue advantage or leverage for Labinjo who was the General Secretary, his resignation notwithstanding.
The immediate past president, Chief Isaac Jolapamo was also said to have influenced the election result in favour of Labinjo, his kinsman who will protect him as a successor.
Of the truth, the corporate image of NISA in the shipping industry is like a sagged breast of an old woman. It is associated with numerous professional oddities, including the allegation that NIMASA picks the personal bills of the executives, and this explain why some people earnestly craved for a change that did not come. The allegation however cannot be substantiated; it could be a way of naming a dog to hang it.
As expected, a new NISA is being cooked to capture strictly shipowners and those who share their vision, meaning that the Labinjo – led NISA is an emergent coffin.
This development has elicited comments from maritime stakeholders, and shipping in particular.
Otunba Kunle Folarin, Chairman, Ports Consultative Council (PCC) said: “The NISA election should not have generated any crisis because from the report we received, it was openly contested and NIMASA was the umpire and there was no credibility crisis in terms of processes and procedures for the election, what probably can be ascribed to the different opinions expressed is that this is probably the first election held by the association on the backdrop that we are coming from a consensus executive in the past.
So, it is a learning process for them to accept procedures and processes and inevitably the result of conducting the elections. Let’s put that aside, I think what the association should be concerned with is building consensus among the membership, mending fences where necessary and focus on the objectives in the mandate the association has given those who are going to run it and show presence in the Nigerian maritime industry and in the freight generated by our international trade and also add value to the Nigerian economy from the maritime sector. These are very demanding requirements which do not leave room for bickering over elections. If there is no election, it will not stop indigenous action in the maritime sector but it will only enhance it if they come with collective wisdom on how to move forward and I think that should be their concern now. The election is a platform; it is not an instrument to achieve their ultimate goals”.
However, the issue of eligibility should have surfaced before the election, some observers have argued.
NISA has fallen apart and this could affect, adversely the 2015 edition of Nigerian Maritime Expo (NIMAREX).
Recall that NISA will not be the first shipowners association to be extinct. Nigerian Shipping Companies Association (NSCA) which had Capt. Emmanuel Iheanacho as the Executive Secretary had died. That is social change in full force. But NISA, like any great association, brand or personality will definitely carry cross at some point.
True great men and women must pass through three bus-stops called Doubt, Discouragement and Fear of the future. So, also do great institutions experience different current of tides: Crisis, Derailment and Regression. How these bus-stops are managed determine the future of the group or body.
Now, NISA is on the cliff. The wisdom of Solomon must be brought to bear at this point. Everybody should sheathe his or her sword. Should NISA die because of obsession and greed?
If the contending forces cannot agree with the reality, shouldn’t Labinjo take the path of honour as a man of integrity and peace and relinquish the victory? If NISA dies, the process of building another association to the point of credibility is not easy but tortuous. A lot of grounds would have been lost.
All NISA members who have been making inflammatory comments garnished with ethnic rascality, stocking the flame of discord under the guise of supporting their brothers are all undertakers.
Even, a section of the ethnic – centric media are undertakers. Should twelve years of hard labour be in vein?
By: Kingsley Anaroke
CEO Kings Communications Ltd
Publishers of MMS Plus weekly and The Nigerian Tycoon