President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday terminated the appointment of Mr. Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi as Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). The termination of Mr. Akpobolokemi’s appointment takes immediate effect, Femi Adesina, spokesperson for the President said in a statement.
The former NIMASA DG was directed to hand over to the management of NIMASA and all government property in his possession to the most senior officer in the agency who will remain in charge until a new Director-General is appointed.
The sack of Akpobolemi whose tenure at the Nigeria’s apex maritime regulatory agency has been riddled with controversies has long been expected.
Under the leadership of the former University lecturer, NIMASA had also become a major source of slush funds for carrying out discreet endeavors and initiatives at the behest of the administration of former President Jonathan.
The NIMASA DG was said to be the main sponsor of series of television documentaries through which hate and false messages about key opposition figures, including President Muhammadu Buhari, the then candidate of All Progressives Congress were dished out to Nigerians in the run up to 2015 general elections.
Akpolobemi has also been in the news over various allegations of contracts racketeering, nepotism and mismanagement of NIMASA since his appointment. Just recently, a bid advertisement by NIMASA for the Sand filling of NIMASA Shipyard/Dockyard at Okerenkoko, Delta state generated controversies.
Reports indicated that contracts for the construction of Shipbuilding/Dockyard have already been awarded and 15 percent mobilization has been paid to the contractors last year. According to a newspaper report, the groundbreaking for the construction of the N58 billion project was done by former President Goodluck Jonathan on May 2014.
The selection of Akpobolokemi to head cash rich NIMASA in 2010 was considered one of the most controversial appointments made by former President Jonathan.
Critics argued that the appointment of the former University lecturer, an Ijaw man like the former President was tinged with nepotism as Akpobolokemi did not possess the necessary qualifications to occupy the office of DG of NIMASA as stated in Sections 6 & 7 of the Act establishing the agency.
The Act had stipulated that the the DG of NIMASA should possess “relevant experience and capacity applicable to maritime administration, recognized expert knowledge, qualification and experience in one or more of the following fields.
As spelt out by the Act, the fields are maritime safety, maritime security, maritime pollution, nautical sciences and hydrographic and maritime engineering, finance, marine law, transport logistics, administration and marine labour. It was believed that Akpobolokemi was nominated for appointment by a group of former Niger Delta militants led by Government Ekpemupolo, otherwise known as Tompolo to capture the cash rich agency.
True to this suspicion, Tompolo became a regular face in the agency soon after Akpobolokemi’s appointment.
Sources told this magazine that the NIMASA usually picks the hotel and other bills of the ex Niger Delta militant whenever he visited Lagos with his large entourage. The frequent visit later culminated in a multi billion naira contracts awarded to Global West Vessel Specialists Nigeria Limited (GWVSNL) a company owned by the former militant for provision of platforms for security of the nation’s waterways, Ships & Ports in 2011.
The former NIMASA DG had claimed that the initiative was a Public Private Partnership arrangement with the company owned by Tompolo.
The contract worth $103.4 million (over N15 billion) was to supply 20 vessels for the use of the nation’s military authorities to secure the waterways. Jonathan, had in a memo dated 9 November 2011, with reference number PRES/99/MT/61, approved the contract, which the Federal Executive Council rubber-stamped on 5 January 2012.
NIMASA maintains that the concessionaire would help the federal government to enforce the sabotage law and collect levies on its behalf. It was reported in December 2014 that Tompolo had acquired seven decommissioned Norwegian battleships as part of the contract.
A probe by the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee investigating the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund, CVFF in 2014 has indicted that the management of NIMASA over the $326million payment to Global West.
But analysts had argued that the contract under which Tompolo was able to acquire sophisticated boats for patrol of Nigerian waters amounted to the former President handing out the security of the nation’s entire maritime domain to his kinsman under the guise of public-private-partnership (PPP).
The argument was that government would have channeled the money paid to GWVSNL to strengthen the Navy and Marine Police to secure the nation’s waterways.
Operators and stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime industry had also questioned the rationale behind the concession of the nation’s maritime security to a private company, especially one linked to a former militant.
It was gathered that President Jonathan had ordered the stoppage of payments to Global West few days ago.
The blockade of gas export by Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) by NIMASA over disagreement in revenue payment resulted in huge export losses for the firm and billions of naira in revenue to Nigeria.
However, President Jonathan turned deaf ears to the allegations of mismanagement and corruption that trailed Akpobolokemi to re-appoint him in October 2014 for another five year tenure which was cut short by his sack on Thursday.