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Head of NNPC’S Crude Oil Marketing Redeploys

Dr Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, an indigene of Bayelsa State, was appointed the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) in December 2010. For four-and-a-half years, he superintended over the affairs of the government agency. Dr. Akpobolokemi reveals some of his winning strategies in this interview with AYO AROWOLO, as well as the low and high points of his administration. Excerpts: 

What would you say qualifies you to hold this office?
The laws of NIMASA are very clear on the qualifications of who can hold this office. I have first and second degrees in Marketing from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) and a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Business Administration from the University of Port-Harcourt (UNIPORT). These academic qualifications are appropriately complemented by the fact that my home state is a maritime area. I have an innate wisdom on how to execute jobs like this, having been exposed to maritime culture. I, therefore, feel I am qualified for the office, having met the basic requirement of a University degree in administration, and attended several Management courses at both Oxford and Harvard Universities.
NIMASA appears to have  made some progress in recent times. What would you say is responsible for this? 
I ascribe it, first to God and also to hard work. I put in all my energy and time into this job, and I work long hours with my team. I work as if there is no other thing to do. I have passion for the job and I put in my best.

What  would you say guided you in making a career choice in this area  and what has kept you on the move progressively?
It is all God, and that I have remained focused all through my youthful days and all through schooling. I have maintained level-headedness at all times to avoid distractions. I came from a humble background and my parents were emphatic on discipline and education which were the virtues that saw me through school, and then, to a working career. I worked in several places, including lecturing in the University (I lectured in Niger Delta University). I have also been involved in business before getting this appointment. I have been an entrepreneur but as I got this job, I decided to leave everything behind and concentrate on this job so as to give it my best to get results. I decided not to combine it with any other thing because it is quite tasking and needs all the attention it can get.
You mentioned God three times now. Does that say anything about your spirituality?
For me, I keep the things of God personal and in my heart. I do not discriminate against any faith or religion. My God is in my heart and I do my best to please Him. I discharge my assignments to the best of my judgment with fairness and truthfulness to God and mankind, and uphold the tenets of NIMASA. I largely do not believe that you must belong to a particular religion or denomination or worship God in a particular way to know Him. God has to do with the expression of purity, love and sincerity. Love everyone you come across.
You were in the private sector and now in government, how will you compare the two experiences? Do you think government has any reason being in business?
My prayer is that one day government business in Nigeria would be run like the private sector, in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and responsiveness. Surely, the government business has a thing or two to learn from the private sector. The private sector is free from bureaucratic bottlenecks that impede the decision-making process of the public sector. It runs more accountable operations and is more customer-oriented. Decisions are taken much faster and results are achieved; but the public sector is a different story. You have to have much patience and give considerations to several things that do not add up to the bottom-line. Government business must be encouraged to run like the private enterprise, based on efficiency, effectiveness, productivity and merit. This will, no doubt, entrench a business culture that creates value for the public service, borrowing from the private sector operational methods of efficiency, productivity and value for money.
As someone who transited from unknown quarters to managing one of the most strategic agencies of the Nigerian Government, what would you describe as the qualities that were responsible for this and what are the lessons here for young people out there?

The lesson is that they must come with integrity, strong conviction and honesty, because whatever happens, the Will of God will surely prevail. Anyone wanting to come this far must imbibe and develop a strong belief and conviction in what you stand for, even at gunpoint. Otherwise the person is bound to derail, and this is why I have not derailed on this job. Integrity, wisdom, strong belief and convictions are the qualities you need for success in the public service. Above all, one must conquer fear and doubt in order to make any remarkable achievement in life and in public service.

That’s interesting; could you tell us more about doubts and fear? Why do you think they hold the key to achieving success, especially in the public service?
Doubts and fear are the greatest robbers of man’s destinies. Fear and doubt hinder one’s abilities, capabilities, potential and deliverables. The fear of the future, of the unknown, of events, occurrences and outcomes only limit man’s ability to excel. Until one is able to conquer these vices, success is a mirage.

When you came into this organization, there must have been some objectives you set to achieve. How far have you gone reaching those goals? What would you say are the highpoints of your administration, the achievements and contributions? What would you say is the state of the affairs of your organisation since you joined it and how have you been able to transform it?

Oh yes, if I begin to showcase what we have been able to achieve since the first day I came into this organisation, it’s been success all the way.  This administration has painstakingly worked on the control and prevention of piracy and other forms of insecurity in the coastal water ways in Nigeria. This has been acknowledged by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). We have repositioned the maritime sector as an important sector in the nation’s economy. We have passionately driven the agency’s Nigeria Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), designed to grow capacity to fill existing gaps for qualified manpower in the fields of Maritime Engineering, Naval Architecture, Nautical Science and other professional areas in the maritime sector with the sponsoring of over 2,500 Nigerian youths for training in reputable maritime universities in the United Kingdom,  Philippines, India, Egypt, and Romania, among others.

We have also set up Institutes of Maritime Studies in the University of Lagos, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, in Niger State, and Niger Delta University, Amasoma, Bayelsa State, as a way of boosting manpower training and development. Two more Institutes in the Federal University, Kasare, Gombe State, and Anambra State University, Uli, have been established. This is besides the establishment of a Maritime University, a Science and Technical College as well a Shipyard and Dockyard in Delta State.

Our commitment to safe and secure shipping has led to the endorsement of working agreements with the Nigeria Navy and the Nigeria Air Force, towards ridding the maritime domain of all forms of piracy and related crimes. The agency has also procured various platforms through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement for a round the clock monitoring of the Nigerian Maritime Domain.

In a bid to completely eradicate maritime crimes, the administration has also launched a satellite surveillance facility capable of detecting boats and ships, including those that have their automatic identification system switched off with a base station relaying real time Information.

Under our mandate, NIMASA has reclaimed its pride of place as the regulator of the industry, discharging its mandate in accordance with its enabling laws. Even common people can easily identify and recognise NIMASA for what it is, and what its mandates are, quite unlike before.

We have been able to launch several innovations such as the online verification of seafarers’ certificates, online sailing certificate and ship manifest as well as the automation of the process of ship registration in Nigeria among others.
The vision of this administration is a maritime industry where Nigerians are the dominant players with indigenous capacity for building of vessels in coastal and inland trade in the medium term and sea going vessels in the long run whilst contributing significantly to the global pool of seafarers.

This administration has achieved a lot in several areas such as Domain Awareness and Maritime Security, in the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS), in the operational and enforcement capability with our partnership with Messrs Global West Vessels Specialist Limited (GWSVSL).

What we did was to go back to our core mandate, which was security, safety, capacity building, and indigenous participation. With this, there has been a total departure from what used to be in the past. For instance, this organisation did not have even one vessel for operations, no seafarers to work with, no security to combat the pirates and oil thieves; even this office wasn’t connected to the then PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria), the generator was on hire, costing N150,000 daily. That’s without the cost of diesel, and that was for three years. But what we have today after a few years is a clear departure from all those things. So, I came to change the thinking and mindset of the people here, that this agency is not a contract awarding organisation, but a maritime safety and security agency.
What is your style of leadership, and how do you define leadership?
Leadership to me is about showing example, making influence, demonstrating examples and forming consensus. What we have been able to do so far is as a result of engagement intensively from the grassroots upwards. Today as we speak, we have an agreement with the Nigerian Navy and the Air Force to provide adequate security to checkmate pirates.
How would you say NIMASA has contributed to the purse of the country in terms of revenue generation? 
The purpose of setting up NIMASA is not to raise funds for government but to guide, secure and regulate the waterways in Nigeria. Of course, NIMASA, in the course of its duties, has been generating income for the government and making remittances of same. In 2014, NIMASA remitted about N9billion to the Federal Government. We have always made our remittances, and at no time have we received funds from the government. I have heard rumours out there that NIMASA doesn’t make their remittances. However, these are not true; we have never failed in this responsibility at any time.
What would you say are the other achievements of NIMASA apart from what you have related thus far?
Before answering the question, I would say the first achievement of NIMASA is that of industry awareness and recognition. Hitherto, not many people out there knew about neither NIMASA nor what it does; but today, the story is different. Outside the shores of Nigeria, NIMASA is very popular and highly recognised. Several countries have written to us to recognise us for the work we are doing here. Australia just did and so have many other countries and organisations.

You stated that income generation is not a core function of the Agency. At what point would you now say NIMASA started generating income for the government?

Income generation has always been an integral part of the operational responsibilities of NIMASA, because it takes money to carry out its functions. In the course of delivering its mandates, funds are generated through licensing, operational fees, and so forth. Fund- raising is not an independent function or activity of NIMASA, but a consequential outcome of its activities and operations. Without money how do you establish Universities, run programmes in various Universities? How do you pay salaries and so on? So, we have to raise funds to undertake our core activities and mandates.
There was a story making the rounds that NIMASA granted an ex-Niger Delta militant a contract for coastal waterways security. How true is this?
This explanation has been made in several fora countless times without much result. But the more this is done, the more it keeps coming up again. I don’t know why; may  because the pirates have infiltrated the media and public discourse with so much political influence. They are so big, powerful and connected that they won’t be there watching you get them out of operations. So they mobilise everything at their disposal to fight back. I believe these are the people that are orchestrating this story. This PPP arrangement with Global West Vessels has been in operation even before I was made the Director-General. While former President Umaru Yar’Adua was in office, I didn’t know how the ex-militant in question (Mr. Tompolo) would be involved in this process.
Also, anyone can visit the Corporate Affairs Commission to verify if Tompolo is one of the company’s Directors. That contract is a partnership arrangement where for any sum accrual to the company, much more would be gotten by NIMASA, and by extension the government. It was entered into to guarantee efficiency, effectiveness and productivity, so that the company brings in its private sector business culture; provide the vessels without any bureaucratic bottlenecks to aid our operations unhindered. But I think what is happening is that the pirates and the criminals have ganged up to see that we keep up with our old ways of doing things, sit back in the office with no outboard equipment or technology, while they have a field day looting the nation’s treasures in the waterways.
But we have resolved to succeed in our core mandate and make our own contributions to the country. On an occasion where the C.E.Os of all government agencies and parastatals were brought in, I was asked to make a presentation on what NIMASA has as its programmes and what their contributions would be to the nation. After the presentation, I was adjudged as ambitious and was asked if it is realiseable and I made it clear to former President (Dr.) Goodluck Jonathan, that it was highly realisable and that all I needed were his encouragement and backing. That was because if I wouldn’t be allowed to do the job in the best way possible, how would we make success out of it? I made it clear that I would resign of I wasn’t given the chance to do the job in the way I knew best to achieve success.

This is because by the grace of God, I have conquered fear and doubt and would make success of anything I get involved with. So, there is no way NIMASA under my watch would be granting contracts without proper due process and procedures. But can anyone tell me how the operations of this contract would adversely affect any organisation, persons or vessels? How would efficiency in the operations of NIMASA through a PPP arrangement affect the business of any vessel or its owners? This is a debate on which I am willing to engage anybody. There are also stories making the rounds that NIMASA is paying Global West Vessels billions of Naira. But this is unfounded. Look, if Global West Vessels gets paid billions of Naira, then, NIMASA would get much more than that in several fold.  That’s the nature of the contract.
What are the exact financial details of the contract: 70:30, 60:40 or what?
The details are what you would need to go through the contract documents to know exactly. But for time, we would have made records available to you, but what you must know is that for every sum Global West Vessels gets, NIMASA would receive multiple folds as spelt out by this contractual agreement.
Is this contractual agreement going to favour NIMASA?
Of course yes, by all means. How you would know if it does favour NIMASA or not? It is by benchmarking it with other agencies and with the past years of NIMASA. At no time in the life of this agency has it been able to remit N10billion to the government. Yet, we remitted N10 billion to the government last year. How many other agencies accomplished that? Before now, getting N5billion in remittance was even difficult, but with the efficient relationship with the Global West Vessels, we have been able to achieve this feat.

How many vessels did previous administrations of NIMASA have and how many workers did they have? Nevertheless, today we have about 1500 workers, and if NIMASA weren’t making money, how would it be able to pay these staff? If we are making money, would we have been sitting down and making all this money? Isn’t it due to the efficient and effective system and strategy worked out with the PPP arrangements and other collaborations with organisations such as the Nigeria Air Force and the Navy?
It’s obvious that your background in the business has made some impact on your performance. To what extent would you say your private sector exposure has influenced your performance on the job?

When I joined the agency newly, many people were expecting me to fail. I am not a politician but we live in a charged political environment. So, several people were thinking that having come from the same geo-political zone with erstwhile Mr. President (Goodluck Jonathan), he must have put his kinsman there. So, they were plotting for me to fail or underperform. However, what I asked them to do was to benchmark me with my performances and the achievements of my administration. As God would have it, before long my impact and contributions began to speak for me, and today the impact of this administration is there for all to see. I breathe, meditate and think success every time. I think and meditate success before going to bed and say to myself, ‘God never failed me and I don’t see Him doing that now.’ I have also conquered fear and doubt so I am confident that I will make it wherever I find myself. Thus, I know I will make it here and anywhere I find myself.

The problem with Nigeria is that there are some people who have assumed a larger than life role, but with what the former president assured me that he would give me total support and not interfere with the process of getting job done, because I want the jobs done. Otherwise I would resign and seek other things to do, because I believe there are always alternatives.
How have you been able to make some impacts, especially in the area of labour and capacity building?
Before now NIMASA, had no seafarer, no surveyor, no engineer, nothing. I have had to travel and meet skilled Nigerians resident outside the country to invite them to join us here. Mind you, the pay isn’t comparable with what you can get elsewhere but I have had to compare personal skills and energy to be able to attract these people to join us and work for NIMASA. Today, we can boast of several highly skilled individuals in all areas of maritime and seafarer technology that whenever the mandatory verification exercises by the International Maritime Organisation come up, we would be very proud to showcase what we have. Ours is the best in Africa. These are some of the things we are doing to attract needed skills in the maritime industry. These are in addition to the various educational programmes in which we are involved, as we have discussed earlier.
With the huge projects you have undertaken, which are, of course, capital intensive, how would you ensure the sustainability of these projects?
NIMASA has never gone to any bank or government to ask for money and will not. This is because its operations and mandates are very crucial, vital, and at the heart of the Nigerian economy, safety and security of the global business and politics. Therefore, issues of money and income are and will never be a challenge. Any C.E.O. of this organisation that knows his onions will never be challenged in the area of sustainability of our projects in terms of funding. So, sustaining all our projects isn’t a challenge, because they were initiated as self-financing and would be sustained the same way.
As a family man, what could you say about your family? Is any of your children following your steps in the Maritime industry?
I am married with children, and my children are still relatively young they are still in the primary and secondary schools. But I wouldn’t want to dictate to them the profession to go into, because you might want them to become medical doctors. Whereas they might be better footballers, journalists or entertainers, and so on. So, I would want them to choose the profession of their choice. I will only guide, counsel and educate them on this.
As a leader, do you believe that continuous personal development and reading is a must? In this regard, what are the books you have read that have made the most impact in your life? Could you mention just a few of themf them?
I’ve read a lot of books and several of them have made impacts in my life. I mean books such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, The Bible. In fact, there are several others.
Could you state a more recent one you have read, especially on Leadership and so on?
There are quite a handful of them that I can’t recollect now. But I do attend, on a regular basis, courses on Leadership, Business, Finance and Management at the Harvard Business School, Oxford University and in several other places. So, I remain current and updated.
What would you recommend for the sustainability and the future of this agency? How do you see the future of NIMASA?
That the future handlers of NIMASA should sustain the already set up programmes and projects, and drive a maritime administration that ensures safety, security, capacity building and indigenous participation and dominance. Take the already established projects to the next levels and ensure their sustainability. Develop skills in the core areas of our mandate and attract new ones out there. I would like to see our dockyards building coastal vessels and in the long run, building long-range international haulage vessels. That we would be developing our own marine engineers, surveyors, seafarers, and so on. That would be my wish.
If you would advise President Muhammadu Buhari, would you say he should retain your office?
I would say to him to judge by the achievements and progress made by this administration and by this agency, especially in the recent past. And I would ask to be judged by my merits and our achievements. I believe I would do more, given another opportunity. 

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