Six months since the former Chief Executive Officer of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) was appointed the chief scribe to the federal government, the statutory regulator of Nigeria’s inland waterways has been without a substantive head. The appointment of a governing board without a chief executive has created an unusual and troubling scenario writes Roland Ekama.
As Mr. Boss Mustapha, the former Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) was attending the 2017 World Maritime Day event in Lagos last year, his appointment as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) was announced. He hurried to Abuja to take up the new responsibility. That was on October 30, 2017. Since then, the federal government has neither deemed it fit to appoint a replacement, nor made any categorical statement on the matter, thus leaving a yawning leadership vacuum in the maritime agency for over six months.
PIX: Mr. Boss Mustapha, the former Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA)
Rather than appoint a new helmsman, the government in December 2017, constituted a governing board while maintaining a deafening silence on the chief executive officer to run the critical government agency. The governing board has Admiral Ibrahim Iko as chairman with Barrister Ejike Anakani, Munir Uthman Mohammed, Hajiya Hauwa Gadaka, Ezekiel Adetunloro and Dr. John Harry as members.
Findings show that instead of tested industry hands and professionals (except the chairman who parades an enviable record as a retired top naval officer), the federal government has, as usual, gone ahead to populate the board with politicians who have no experience whatsoever in transportation, maritime engineering and inland waterway operations.
On March 2, 2018, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, inaugurated the new NIWA board alongside those of other agencies under the ministry.
Section 3(1) and (2) of the NIWA Act 47 Laws stipulates that a board chairman and members which shall include one representative each from the Federal Ministry of Transportation, National Planning Commission and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources shall be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the minister. The managing director of the agency shall also be an appointee of the president. Members of the board shall also comprise representative each from the Council for the Regulation of Engineering Profession in Nigeria (COREN), the Surveyors’ Council of Nigeria, NACCIMA, NPA, a master mariner and one person from a public interest to be appointed by the minister.
In the discharge of her duties as an agency of the federal government, NIWA has, over time, contended with numerous challenges. These include litigation and other forms of disagreement between her and counterpart state agencies on specific areas of the inland waterways that are on the exclusive and the concurrent list.
Despite efforts to reduce frequent mishaps on the waterways, boat accidents are on the increase. Transporters using inland waterways for public transportation still litter the routes with rickety and substandard crafts that expose people to the risk of mishaps during navigation.
PIX: Engr. M J. Sambo, Lagos Area Manager, NIWA
NIWA has been battling with the refusal of many boat passengers to adhere to safety precautions which include the compulsory wearing of safety jackets, etc. Sand dredgers, fishermen and other operators on inland waterways have also been having running battles with government agencies over enforcement of simple safety regulations, multiple taxation and who to pay to each time. Apart from state government officials, local government staff and hoodlums take advantage of lax enforcement procedures to also come into the fray, making illegal monetary demands from inland waterway operators.
Recently, NIWA handed a 14-day ultimatum to sand dredgers in Addo/Badore area of Lagos State to wind down their operations following lamentations from residents of the area over untold hardship resulting from dredging activities. The General Manager, Lagos Zone of NIWA, Mr. Mu’azu Sambo, made this known at a joint meeting with representatives of the Addo Residents Estates Associations, the Tipper Drivers Group and members of the Dredgers’ Association.
The marching order to vacate the area was issued after representatives of the residents of the Addo/Badore area presented their grievances at a meeting. As Mrs. Funke Jegede, chairman, Addo/Badore Residents Estates Association Forum stated, almost on a daily basis, residents including school children got home past midnight due to the traffic congestion engendered by operations of the dredgers.
The road leading to the area has become impassable as dredgers’ heavy duty trucks laden with wet sands have created craters on the road and made vehicular movement to the area a nightmare.
“The trucks not only carry wet sand dripping water and sand all around the roads, they make U-turns right over the median, not even bothering to get to the roundabout anymore”, she lamented.
“We have made several efforts to address the issues, but to no avail. Even the state government has vowed never to come and fix the roads again as long as the dredging activities continue in this residential area. I just appeal that you take your operations outside a residential area so that mothers and their children will not keep facing avoidable suffering.”
Without a substantive chief executive officer, what are guarantees that this and other teething problems will ever be given due attention? Who coordinates activities, undertakes negotiations when and where necessary? Now that a new board is in place and there is no chief executive officer, who implements critical policy decisions towards realizing the objectives of the agency? Can pressing matters and other forms of disagreements be resolved in the absence of a substantive head?
During his short stay in office as NIWA helmsman, Boss Mustapha, in 2017, successfully hosted the agency’s second International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) and promised to move the agency to the next level.
He stepped up efforts to facilitate the passing of NIWA Amendment Bill in the Senate into law. Before his present appointment, he had started making considerable efforts to achieve the same in the House of Representatives. If the bill is passed into law, NIWA becomes more self-sustaining especially in revenue generation and seamless enforcement of its enabling act.
Tayo Fadile, the agency’s spokesman had disclosed that four months after assuming office, Mustapha used his contacts to obtain a certificate of compliance from the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) to facilitate the process of concessioning the Onitsha River Port and other ports involved in the programme, including Baro, Lokoja and Oguta river ports.
Mustapha’s era as NIWA helmsman witnessed the training and exposure of the agency’s engineers to more professional experiences, including using them to start the dredging of existing channels. This was expected to save the government huge sums of money that would have been paid to contractors. During his maiden visit to the abandoned Baro River Port, Boss Mustapha had promised that the facility would be completed and repositioned to justify government’s huge investments in it.
He had also promised to reposition the area offices in Oguta, Warri and Yenagoa to practically address challenges faced in those regions. But he did not have the time to execute his projects as he shortly afterwards made the SGF.
To showcase the vast economic opportunities available on the nation’s waterways, NIWA had, in August, 2014, held her first International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) in Lagos.
With the theme Modernizing Inland Water Infrastructure and Vessels for Safe and Sustainable Inland Water Transportation in Nigeria, the forum provided a platform for dialogue among different groups and stakeholders involved in the sustainability, safety and utilization of the nation’s inland waterways for the benefit of the economy.
Participants in the parley included government officials, regulatory bodies, financial institutions as well as maritime and private sector stakeholders.
River transportation organisations, oil and gas supporting companies and commercial sand-miners mounted exhibitions. Others included dredging companies, shore-based businesses, river craft owners and operators, boat and yacht manufacturers, resort managers among others.
In a pre-event meeting, then Managing Director of NIWA, Hajiya Maryam Ciroma, said the I.C.E. was borne out of the need to bring to the knowledge of the local and international communities the business potentials of the dredged River Niger.
Ciroma said that the I.C.E would provide a veritable platform for investors to know that there are commercially vibrant inland waterways in Nigeria.
She said that having pumped a lot of money into dredging the River Niger, it was only proper to put it to a profitable use for the good of the economy.
“It is right for us to bring this knowledge to everybody and we thought that the best way to go about it is to hold an International Conference and Exhibition where we will exhibit what the dredged River Nigeria potentially has for the growth of the Nigerian economy. We need everybody to know that there is good business for anybody who wants to invest in our inland waterways”, Ciroma had said.
She stated that government plans to get involved in a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) initiative as a way to ensure efficiency and viability in the management of inland waterway transport business in Nigeria. For the already completed Onitsha River Port, she said it would be concessioned.
The conference, NIWA revealed, was designed to provide opportunity for waterway transport operators and owners in Nigeria to network and partner with foreign boat operators and manufacturers.
Nigeria has the second longest length of waterways in Africa, with over 8,600km of inland waterways and an extensive coastland of about 852 kilometers cutting across 28 states.
In September 2010, the Federal government under President Goodluck Jonathan flagged off the dredging of Lower River Niger in Lokoja. Eight years down the line, this massive investment expected to expose massive economic potentials in the inland waterway sub sector has not yielded any positive impact either on public transportation or allied economic activities in Nigeria.
The last administration also informed the world that it was out to consolidate the rehabilitation of the Onitsha River Port for optimal utilization. Till date, government is yet to meet stakeholders’ expectations in this regard.
Meanwhile, massive jetties under construction along the River Niger, Lokoja, Oguta Lake, Degema, Onitsha, Owerrinta and Ndoni have become abandoned. Others are located in Pategi, Burutu, Yenagoa, Baro, Igbokoda and Ondo waterways.
The non-appointment of a substantive head for NIWA has become a source of concern especially for waterways security experts. As stated recently by Collins Ejeruike, a marine security pundit, NIWA needs the support of NIMASA, NPA, Immigration, NDLEA, Marine unit of the Police and Customs to jointly combat insecurity on the inland waterways.