President Muhammadu Buhari sacked the Director-General (DG) of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Patrick Akpobolokemi on 16 July.
Akpobolokemi was instructed in the letter from the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport to hand over to the most senior officer at the agency. The letter indicated that this was Calistus Obi, who was the executive director, Maritime Labour and Cabotage Services, and Obi became the acting DG.
NIMASA had two other executive directors – Baba Haruna Jauro (Finance and Administration) and Bala Agaba (Maritime Safety and Shipping Development). All three were appointed at the same time by the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan.
Jauro then protested against Obi’s appointment to the Head of Service, claiming he was Obi’s senior by 24 hours because he reported to work a day before Obi’s first day at work. So two days after Obi’s appointment, the Head of Service over-ruled the permanent secretary and appointed Jauro as acting DG.
This decision has set the cat among the pigeons in terms of commentary in the mainstream and social media. Several have argued that Jauro (a northerner) replaced Obi (an Igbo) because of his ethnicity. Some Nigerians have already been raising concerns that the president’s appointments have had a northern slant.
The truth this time is that Jauro’s ethnicity did not play a role in his elevation. It was done purely on grounds of seniority.
But the decision has exposed the muddle the new administration has created for itself. It first started by dissolving the boards of federal agencies. As the boards were dissolved, the executive directors of NIMASA should have gone because they are also board members. But the confusion in the new administration, without a Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who should be coordinating this kind of business, meant members of a non-existent board stayed on to fight over who should act as DG. The Ministry of Transport failed to do its due diligence in first establishing that the board no longer exists and then who should take over. An SGF, with four or five permanent secretaries working under him would have been expected to ensure that due process was followed.
The flip-flop in appointing Obi and replacing him in two days with Jauro has created animosity between the two. They are likely to be in a state of conflict until they are either both removed or one goes. Obi is likely to struggle to come to terms with the loss of face of being acting DG for just two days. There was also a rumour that because his wife is a senior official at the Ministry of Transport, she had a hand in his appointment as acting DG.
The situation has left morale in the organisation at an all-time low. As with most things Nigerian, ethnic chauvinism has come to the fore. Some people from the north were said to have become all triumphalist, suggesting that Buhari’s ascendancy to the presidency meant “they were now in control”, like they predicted would happen to colleagues from other ethnic groups before the (s)election.
NIMASA was an accident waiting to happen once Buhari won the (s)election. The former DG Akpobolokemi got the job on the recommendation of Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo, a former commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). NIMASA was allegedly paying Tompolo 1.5bn naira ($7.5m) a month as a part of a “security” contract to patrol the waterways of the Niger Delta.
Akpobolokemi was very partisan in his support for Goodluck Jonathan during the (s)election. So his sacking by Buhari was inevitable.
Staff at NIMASA are dreading a massive cull by the new administration because the organisation is seen by the Buhari team as infiltrated by Jonathan loyalists.