By Kingsley Anaroke & Kenneth Jukpor
Dr. Dakuku Peterside is the immediate past Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he recounts his experience as Director General, noting the highpoints, achievements and regrets. Enjoy it:
Congratulations on the successful conclusion of your administration. Since the days of NMA four years has been the benchmark for Director Generals. Most people couldn’t conclude their peacefully, others who got the second four years found themselves booted out after few months. A lot of things played out under your regime but we didn’t expect you to come out 100 percent without flaws. How would you rate the experience?
It was an eventful four years. It has been described as the most reformative four years in the life of NIMASA. I came in at a time the reputation of NIMASA was at its lowest ebb. The stories in the media weren’t nice at all. People were beginning to lose faith in the regulation and regulatory powers of NIMASA. The first thing we had to do was to address the reputational issues, subsequently; we put NIMASA back on course in line with its mandate.
We came up with the medium term strategy plan which showed where we planned to be in the next three years. This plan was weaved around five strategic pillars. Looking back, one thing I can say with some degree of confidence is that NIMASA has undergone its most transformational changes in the history of the agency. I don’t think the agency ever got to this level of interaction with members of staff and industry stakeholders prior to the last four years.
On Maritime Security, we have the anti-piracy law and the ongoing Deep Blue Project to tackle piracy but the reality is that the menace still thrives. How soon will these efforts by NIMASA translate to safer territorial waters in Nigeria?
Everywhere in the world that has recorded the problem of maritime security, it took time to be eliminated. This is not a problem that can be dismissed with the wave of hands because it requires a very complex process. One credit no one can take away from our administration is that we have been able to lay the right foundation.
We identified the fact that our intelligence gathering system wasn’t good enough, hence we put the Command, Control Computer Communication Information (C4i) centre in place. We are at the next phase of integrating it with the Navy’s Falcon Eye and Nigerian Ports Authority’s (NPA) C3i system. Today, the C4i centre is operational. We knew we couldn’t rely on humans for intelligence but technology has made it possible for us to gather intelligence over a very wide area. We have a long coastline of 853km, hence it is easier to gather information using technology.
We also identified the fact that we don’t have response capability. This meant that even if we spotted the incidents, we didn’t have the equipments to respond speedily to intercept these guys and arrest them. We came out with the maritime security architecture called the Deep Blue Project that would see us acquire the necessary assets and equipment. Most of these assets, such as; special mission vessels, interceptor boats and aircrafts have been delivered, while other assets are still expected. The challenge why we haven’t deployed these facilities is that we can’t deploy them without training people to operate them. If we deploy without training, it could lead to a disaster that could see criminals overrun the untrained officers and seize the assets to use them against people who do legal businesses on the seas.
Another thing we did which would see posterity judge us kindly is the passage of the Suppression of Piracy and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act. It had been lingering for a very long time, but we were able to push it through within a very short period and for the first time there is a dedicated anti-piracy law in Nigeria. It is also the first in the whole of West and Central Africa. Considering the fact that this was passed under two years of real hard work, I think we deserve commendation. I must give kudos to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Federal Ministry of Justice and all those who gave us support to make this a reality. The challenge all along has been that even if you arrest somebody you can’t successfully prosecute him. Today, we have a law that would enable us prosecute these criminals. We also needed to train our people because assets and intelligence wouldn’t be enough.
Finally, we are building regional collaboration because it wouldn’t give maximum benefit to just police Nigerian territorial waters alone. No water is an Island; they all interconnect. So, the fact that as at today we haven’t eradicated piracy isn’t the same thing as we haven’t laid the right foundation. We are on course. What has happened is that there is a drastic drop in piracy and other activities on Nigerian waters. This has been acknowledged by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the industry. This is because we are putting the right building blocks in place and it is only a matter of time before we see the whole dividends.
We have said to the whole world that by June this year the Deep Blue Project would be deployed and by December, you can check out the level of maritime crime and piracy because it would have significantly dropped. We are focused because we know that if you don’t eliminate the problem of piracy and other crimes on the sea, you can’t get the maximum benefits from shipping required for the growth of the economy.
One of the biggest challenges during your administration which you inherited is the management or perceived mismanagement of the N50billion floating dock. You had two years to plan for the delivery of that facility, hence you should have planned better to make it an asset and prevented it from becoming a fiscal burden to the nation and NIMASA. How would you react to this?
AS you rightly observed the floating dock wasn’t initiated by our administration. It had a lot of encumbrances that we needed to clear before dealing with the main issues. At the time we needed approvals from several quarters before deciding on the final location, these approvals following government processes were very slow to arrive. When the floating dock left for Nigeria, we thought we could get the support of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to berth at the Continental Shipyard. We didn’t realize that the Continental Shipyard had already been restructured via Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement. So, it was a PPP venture between NPA and a private partner. The private partner didn’t give us the kind of cooperation we asked for.
We had taken it for granted that we would get that agreement to utilize the Continental Shipyard because we had initiated negotiations with them. When the floating dock got into the country, we had to berth it at the Naval dockyard. Operations at Naval dockyard became a problem because they also had their dock. As a result of these challenges, they gave us a new location but we had to follow due process, deepen the draft of the new location and put another quay. It was purely an issue of procurement process which we couldn’t wish away in the country before one is accused of corruption.
So, it’s not like we weren’t prepared. We simply had to go through due procurement processes and there are lots of intervening variables. What is the budgetary provision? Is it adequate for the new development we want to do? You have to get the budget right and a budget runs in a cycle. A budget is proposed and the National Assembly approves, even if something new is needed, you have to go through supplementary appropriation. It is within the powers of National Assembly to make such approvals or not. We had challenges of budgetary provisions, following due process, to get the new place for the floating dock to berth. We had a lot of technical Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to sign and operational MoUs to sign. There were lots of issues; but the good thing is that we have addressed these issues and the floating dock would be commencing operations very soon.
On the issue of $30,000 allegedly spent for berthing space daily for the floating dock. Would you comment on that?
There is no iota of truth in that and this can be verified. An accusation that we can be paying $30,000 a day is madness. It’s not possible and I challenge anybody on earth to come up with evidence that we are paying this sum. This is simply the figment of someone’s imagination. I don’t know where they got that from.
We saw the events that unfolded recently at the National Assembly on the issue of unaudited accounts at NIMASA since 2014. How would you explain this issue of accountability in NIMASA?
I don’t know if people understand what the issues are with the National Assembly. We were summoned by the National Assembly on the issue of unaudited accounts but I was out of the country at that time. I was on a national assignment in Zimbabwe and I made them a letter. The letter indicated that I wouldn’t be able to appear personally, but they were dealing with an institution and not Dakuku Peterside. We sent Executive Directors and other Directors who have direct responsibility for this assignment. When they got there, the committee resolved that they would do full status inquiry and that’s not a problem because it is a legislative procedure. Having served in the National Assembly in the past, I have background in these processes.
The issue is that by the time our administration began at NIMASA in 2016, there were already unaudited accounts since 2012 and you cannot audit the year that you are in-charge without auditing the previous years. We had to close out the accounts of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 in three years and I thought we deserved commendation. We told them that we were working on 2017 and they raised an argument that 2016 had not been submitted and truly we were in the process of submitting 2016 audited accounts. As I speak to you we have submitted that of 2016 to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation. I think that we deserve commendation because we met a backlog of unaudited accounts and we were able to clear five years in less than three years and put processes in place towards auditing 2017. The one for 2017 would be submitted anytime from now.
There are also reports that some of these things weren’t done speedily because there was a Director who was victimized and removed.
There is no truth in that. Besides, it isn’t the work of the Director of Finance to audit the account of the agency. It is usually done by external auditors and the procurement process of engaging the external auditor has nothing to do with the Director of Finance. The auditor would be dealing with the institution and its records and not individuals. If he wants to ask questions, he can call anybody anywhere without minding if the person was in NIMASA or at anywhere including the banks.
I don’t know about any Director that was victimized and I can say that clearly. No Director was victimized and the movement of any individual cannot affect the auditing process of a firm, not NIMASA. So, there is also no truth in it. It is simply a joke taken too far.
Despite the efforts to revamp Nigeria’s ship registry, top shipping stakeholders lament that foreign mother vessels reject NIMASA certified vessels for Ship to Ship (STS). Given this development, how would you rate the improvement of the nation’s ship registry?
There is absolutely no truth in this at all. It’s either that individual doesn’t know anything about shipping or he isn’t involved in the industry or he chose to feign ignorance. We made progress with the Nigerian ship registry. Are we where are supposed to be? The answer is no! Is there room for progress? Certainly yes!
One credit that industry stakeholders must give us is that we have laid a clear roadmap on how to transform the Nigerian ship registry and make it a world class registry. We have commenced the process of automating the entire ship registry. We have commenced the process of having linkages with other world class registries around the world so that vessels that carry Nigeria’s flag will be treated as if they are indigenous to those countries. We have repositioned our certificates to give it integrity and we are retraining our surveyors. We have put a number of things in place and we are now more responsive. If nothing else, people must appreciate that we put in place a pathway to achieve total transformation of the Nigerian ship registry and we are beginning to command respect.
What are the indicators? Today, Nigeria’s ship registry is number two in terms of tonnage after Liberia. It wasn’t so years ago and Liberia is an open registry. This position was confirmed by the IMO and that’s for the whole of Africa. What other evidence do you need to show that people now have confidence in Nigeria’s ship registry?
We have plans to open a second registry, an open registry but it requires legislative process. We have put the framework in place and I believe that those who will come after us will be able to achieve that for the country.
Your administration ends without the disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF). You’re also the Chairman of the Committee tasked with developing the guidelines for disbursement. What’s the latest development?
The ultimate powers for the disbursement of CVFF lie with the Minister of Transportation and not NIMASA. NIMASA is simply a custodian of the fund. As custodian of the fund, people must give us credit that we have been able to grow the fund from what we met to what it is today. We have been able to safeguard the fund and ensure that it isn’t applied to any other purpose other than the purpose for which it was designed by law.
We have also been in the forefront of the push for the disbursement of CVFF because we know that it is the only way to grow our tonnage. We pushed to the point that the Minister believed that he needed the approval of the President and he got that approval. This was a major milestone achieved. The Minister subsequently met with stakeholders and there was a consensus that there was need to review the guidelines and the Minister went further to set up a committee headed by the Director General of NIMASA to review the guidelines. We gave a commitment to the Minister of State for Transportation that in three months we would deliver a new guidelines for onward transmission to the National Assembly. If these aren’t progress, what is progress?
What’s the latest on these guidelines, have they been drafted? What happens now that you’re exiting as Director General of NIMASA?
It is a committee work and the incoming leadership should be able to continue and conclude with the guidelines.
There is a controversy trailing how much is in the CVFF purse at the moment. You talked about growing it; can you tell us how much percent increment was recorded under your administration?
What I can say is that as at the last count, we had over $200million in the CVFF. At the time we took over, we weren’t anywhere near $50million. I can challenge anybody to prove otherwise. Each time anybody encounters us, we make public how much we have in CVFF because it isn’t our money.
On seafarers’ development, how many were placed onboard vessels during your administration?
We had over 7,000 placed onboard vessels in one year, precisely in 2019. That is the highest record by any country in Africa in a single year. Let those who want to contradict me do so with statistics. We can publish the names of these seafarers and the vessels month by month. The Executive Director, Maritime Labour is here and he can confirm this.
There is no controversy about this because human beings are easy to count. Anybody can access the record of the Maritime Services department at NIMASA and they can give month by month placement and vessel by vessel placement. These details are verifiable. It would cost a lot to put an advert on the names of individuals, vessels and months on the national dailies, otherwise we would have published it. People can get these details from NIMASA.
As you know, MMS is women friendly. What is the problem with Mrs. Affi?
I have explained this matter over and over again and I am happy to explain it again. Mrs. Affi Nelson was hired alongside others sometime in 2015. As she was hired, there was an interim administration headed by Mr. Haruna Jaro. For some reason, Mr. Jaro disengaged them. It wasn’t just Mrs. Affi but several persons whom he felt were illegally engaged. He disengaged them within the period of probation which is allowed by the NIMASA Act and our Conditions of Service. When he disengaged them, I wasn’t Director General and the current Executive management wasn’t there.
They approached the Industrial Court that they were disengaged during the period of probation. The Industrial Court gave them judgement and we met as management of NIMASA noting that this was a direct affront to the NIMASA Conditions of Service which says that within the period of probation one can be disengaged. If we let the case go, it would mean that all those that have been disengaged in the past during the period of probation would come to lay claims and those to be disengaged in the future will also lay claims. We would open a plethora of cases and it was something we couldn’t handle so we decided to appeal the case. The case is before the Court of Appeal right now. We didn’t disengage her. We simply inherited the case.
It’s more than a decade since the Cabotage Act came on board, industry stakeholders posit that there hasn’t been commensurate development. We expected that your presence would have addressed this. What’s your take on this?
We have made a lot of progress with Cabotage. Are we satisfied with the level of progress? The answer is no! We came out with an initiative which we call the Cabotage Compliance Strategy to ensure that nobody applies for waivers under certain categories of seafarers or those who man vessels. We also rolled out a five-year waiver cessation plan because this Cabotage Compliance Strategy only deals with one aspect of Cabotage which is manning. The five-year cessation plan deals with all four elements of Cabotage, including ship building, ship owning, ship manning and ship registration.
The five-year waiver cessation plan is the most innovative strategy ever deployed on Cabotage. We entered into MoU with the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) to carry out a study on ship building facilities and do critical skills analysis on the personnel in the sector. We have done all of that and to the best of my knowledge, we have set the most critical template for Cabotage in the country. We got industry stakeholders to work with us on that project and some say it is the most ambitious project to ensure that we get the full benefits of Cabotage in Nigeria. We believe it is something that can be accomplished and be done in a very short time.
The number of foreign vessels account for less than 30 percent in the Cabotage regime. We have been able to get over 70 to 80 percent of Cabotage vessels whether bareboat charter, purchase or long term lease. So, we have been able to achieve that. I don’t know what other impact we want to measure. Or is it on Nigerian flagged vessels? We have over 70 percent of Nigerian flagged vessels trading on Nigerian waters and this wasn’t the case several years ago.
One area we haven’t done well is ship building activities and the challenge is lack of steel, aluminum and the lack of skilled manpower in the country. The cost of financing is also a challenge in the country. In China and many other countries, you finance ships with less than two percent interest. How do we expect Nigerian investors to compete with 22 percent interest rate? We have started engagement with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Ministry of Finance and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) on these issues.
You mentioned the challenge of ship finance; another challenge is the Customs duty on ships and parts. Were there efforts to address these under your administration?
There are two issues here. Those who bring in vessels to work short term in the country are charged less than those who bring in vessels to work long term. We have commenced negotiations with Customs and they stressed that only the Ministry of Finance can address this. We engaged the Finance Ministry and negotiations are progressing very well.
The International Women’ Day (IWD) was celebrated recently. How would you say you have empowered women during your administration at NIMASA?
I would cite a few instances, under my administration we signed MoU with World Maritime University (WMU) and part of the agreement we had was to reserve slots for women. Every year, we send women to be trained as maritime operators and professionals for Masters’ degree. We also have an agreement with the International Maritime Institute in Malta and we reserve slots for women.
Under the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), we made provisions for women to encourage them to take up seafaring. We are also encouraging women who are already in seafaring in line with the vision of IMO. We need both the male folk and the female folk to achieve optimal results in the Industry.
At NIMASA, we are reviewing our Conditions of Service which is yet to be approved. Part of the things proposed in the new Conditions of Service is an extension of the period of maternity leave for women. We have put in place a lot to encourage women to compete favourably in the industry.
The monthly and annual staff award by NIMASA is something that has been commended by everyone and other agencies are planning to copy it. What inspired this initiative?
When we joined Team NIMASA, we realized that the morale was low and there was nothing to inspire and motivate the members of staff to give their best. We considered several ideas on how to motivate or boost staff morale and encourage them to be at their best. We wanted to reward those who demonstrated the values we champion and preach every day. We wanted to get our staff to be the best in the industry.
Therefore, we appointed a committee to look at the various options and the committee recommended a number of things that we should do. One of those recommendations was the employee of the month and employee of the year, as it would boost morale and encourage people to demonstrate the values we preach.
We got PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (Pwc) to do the assessment to eradicate any form of favouritism or nepotism. We got our team to work with Pwc and they devised a scheme. Each department would nominate their best staff every month and Pwc sits with our staff to analyze each of the nominations and recommend the staff of the month. The staff of the month is celebrated, rewarded and encouraged. The issue isn’t just the performance at the workplace or coming up with new ideas; the winners must have displayed the NIMASA values of accountability, professionalism, excellence, commitment, among other values dear to us at the agency. We realized that this approach enhanced performance of staff and boosted productivity.
We also introduced the monthly knowledge transfer sessions and this is in two strands; the technical aspect of it where very experienced professionals teach younger ones on what it takes to work in the agency in order to achieve the results we set out to achieve. The other one is for the management cadre. We also introduced the Director General’s half-day seminar. In this seminar, we compare our activities with what is obtainable in other climes. We find out the global best practices and begin to implement these practices at the agency.
We also enhanced our training package with more members of staff sent for training both in Nigeria and abroad. The management also increased contribution to the pension scheme by almost 100 percent. So we now contribute more than we used to contribute before. Today, workers know that they can put in their best for the agency and when they retire there is sufficient provision for their pension.
Recently, you were labeled a ‘Nollywood DG’ by an industry stakeholder who lamented that you spent lavishly on awards and paid some artists over N50million. How would you react to this?
There’s no artist that got anything close to N20million in all the years that we organized Corporate Dinner/ Stakeholders Industry awards. We never paid any artist N20million not to talk about N50million. It never happened. Someone just chose to misinform the public for his covert reasons and the best thing to do is just ignore him.
Lastly, any regrets on your administration?
Absolutely, no regrets! When the President appointed me as the Director General of NIMASA, it was clear to me that it was within the space of four years. I was focused on delivering within four years. I may not have delivered on all that we have set out to achieve because we realized that there were certain variables of government processes and procedures. However, I am more than satisfied that my team has lifted NIMASA from where it was to a better position today. There is new focus, energy and passion as staff now have confidence in themselves. The members of staff know that they work in one of the best regulatory agencies in Nigeria and in Africa.
Today, NIMASA commands international respect. We have improved on our delivery and performance is much better than what it used to be. Our efficiency and effectiveness index has improved tremendously. I have just been informed that the rating agency for ISO has approved NIMASA’s ISO 9001 certification. So, the next thing is for us to get the certificates. What else can anybody ask for?
I met some of the best public servants in NIMASA when I got here. They were very desirous to work and willing to deliver. All they asked for was an opportunity and necessary tools to do their work. They lacked leadership at some point but we gave leadership, opportunities and direction. We also brought new levels of energy and I don’t think anybody can take away that from us.
How would you describe the maritime media?
They were very critical, but their criticism is an asset to us. It made us better with each passing day.
Any words of advice for the next administration?
For those who will succeed us, we wish them well. We want the members of staff to give them the same level of cooperation they gave to us. We were able to succeed because of the level of cooperation we enjoyed from the staff. They should simply remain focused and refuse to be distracted by anything.
In maritime regulation, the interest of the country is above any other issue. NIMASA is a regulator and not an operator. Many people misunderstand the agency’s role as a regulator and a promoter of the industry.
A good regulator must have eyes on the ball to know how the interest of Nigerians can be protected and not the interest of an individual. It is the interest of the collective that matters because we exercising regulatory powers on behalf of the Nigerian people. So, I wish the new leadership well.