Obasanjo To FG: Move Fast With Change Agenda *** Insists on privatisation of NNPC, planned national carriers

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has urged the federal government to work fast with its change agenda, as delay in the change process would become a bad name for the government and the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
Obasanjo who was speaking at the opening of a two-day maritime industry stakeholders conference in Lagos yesterday, also warned the President Muhammadu-led administration against putting government fund in the planned national shipping line and national air carrier.
The former president, who regretted his failure to privatise the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) explained that instances provided by privatised parastatals of government in the oil and gas and other sectors had shown that privatising NNPC would have saved the institution from the wanton corruption that rocked it in recent times, while making the corporation a much more productive one.
Obasanjo charged participants at the conference, who are largely maritime experts, investors and government agency stakeholders to think out of the box to come up with great ideas that could be used to harness the country’s huge maritime potential.
He said, “On the change agenda of the government, if we take too much time, change will become a bad name. We should not take too much time.
In any system, the institutions are very important and these institutions that we have not made to work and we have to make them work now. One of them is the Nigeria Liquidfied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG). But before I say more on NLNG let talk on the NNPC. One thing I wish I should have done during my tenure as president was to privatise NNPC. If I were to be there again, I would have privatised the NNPC so that it would not have been flagrantly mismanaged the way it was. May be I would have done that if I’m there today.
“For NLNG, we have 51 per cent owned by non-Nigerians and 49 per cent owned by Nigerians and from three trains that we started with, we are now going to seven and we have not put in more money than we did since the formation.
“Another one we reasonably did well was telecommunications. When I was military head of state, I struggled so hard to get telephone lines to half a million and I spent so much money, but in less than 10 years when we privatised telecoms, we got 120 million lines and government didn’t spend any money.
“And if the government wants to establish the national shipping line let it not puts its monies there. That is why I said we have to think out of box.”
As head of state, Obasanjo in 1979 before leaving office, signed funds for acquisition of 19 new vessels for the defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). As president from 1999, he kick-started several reforms programmes in the maritime sector with the signing into law the Council for Regulation of Freight Forwarding in Nigeria (CRFFN) Act and the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, otherwise known as the Cabotage Act. The former president also spearheaded the port concession regime in 2006 that have now brought about transformation of the ports, as well as became a model for African countries to copy. 
The former president however expressed dissapointment that despite all his efforts to reposition the country’s maritime, the sub-sector still remained largely under-harnessed.
He said, “When I was given a letter of invitation to be chairman of this occasion by the honourable minister of transport, I wasn’t sure what to do, but because of my interest in the maritime life of Nigeria, I decided to accept. I have personally had disappointments with maritime services in Nigeria. Despite all my reforms, there was no results and that is my pain.
Why have we not made progress? The reason why I was so concerned to have brought the reforms included that most of the countries in the early history that were great countries were so because of their maritime prowess. We are lucky we are not landlocked. We have 3,000 kilometres coastal stretch. How can we harness this was my concern.
“Again, 90 per cent of our trade, and trade all over the world is carried over water, so we have two advantages. We also have inland waterways which could make inland transportation cheaper, particularly for bulk goods. I want participants at this conference to think ou of the box. Why have we underperformed? Why have we not achieved as much as we could have? And that could apply for most of the challenges we faced in several sectors today.”
Obasanjo who recalled that the military government he headed did not take delivery of some of ships it bought before he left office in 1979, lamented that by 1999 all the 19 ships were gone, including the five ships that he met when he came in as head of state 1979.
“What did we do wrong in the past? How did we have 24 ships and before 20 years they were all gone? We wanted to able to train our own people, to become a hub in the region.
One of the 19 new ships was sold $1 million, but when the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron needed a ship for training, they bought same ship for $2 million. The week I took over as president in 1999, it went to sea and was seized for not being sea-worthy. They came to me and said we should pay $1 million to retrieve and I said no. The next day they released it.
“There was a young man in the system that talked to me and I asked him why are we not getting it right in the maritime sector. He said, one, there was no commitment, two, no professionalism and three, high level of corruption. And he gave me example. He said people who repair vessels collude with government officials to bring the ships for repair even when there was nothing wrong with the vessels, so that they siphon government money. 
“There were two ships missing for years; one military man was using it somewhere and two years later brought them back. Can you imagine that, doing such to your own country?”
The former president further berated corruption in NIMASA saying until the apex maritime regulatory agency became a source where people steal money, nobody knew about it. 
He disclosed that for eight years, values of dredging contracts were not made transparent to government by the relevant agencies, while the identities of the contractors remained undisclosed.
“Now we have boys who go to maritime academy but we have no shipping line where we can train them. Whatever you want to do, don’t build another national shipping line where government should put money. NNSL, Nigerian Airways were hearts breaking, but we have seen NLNG. So, let us adopt and adapt,” he concluded.
Also in his keynote address, the minister of transport, Mr Rotimi Amaechi said the federal government had agreed that the Nigerian government will not put money into the national shipping carrier. 
“We are bringing together private investors in abroad and in Nigeria who will pull resources together. The committee on this will turn in their reports in June,” Amaechi hinted.
He noted that in his personal assessment of the maritime challenge, corruption played a very prominent role in analysing what went wrong, adding that it was so because there were no punishments to discourage corruption. 
“I met two Canadians who told me they love Nigeria and I asked why and they said it is a place where you do anything and get away with it. 
“The problem with Nigeria is that the laws are not implemented. There are laws for everything. Like here those who run down NNSL are here and if they are here, how do we get the best of ideas?
People want to be in NIMASA for money; they say NIMASA makes dollars. This time, fortunately we have no money,” he said.
He stated that with the current challenge, it appeared that history was repeating itself. He admonished Nigerians to remain strong and supportive to the Buhari administration in the face of effects of change. “When Buhari first came, the civil government had run things amiss. Today same thing is happening. If anybody think change is easy that person is not serious and if we think we can change without any issues, we wouldn’t be serious,” he said.
According to him, the past government failed to computerise basic revenue remittance systems because it was ready to curb corruption.
“The TSA was initiated by the former government but they could implement it. If you want to eliminate corruption, go electronic. There was single window but it didn’t work. They don’t want things to be computerised because they are not ready to eliminate corruption. All I wanted was the presidential approval and now I have it and we can now effect the change the system badly needed,” he said.
Also speaking in a keynote address, the minister of state for transport, Senator Hadi Sirika said Nigeria was in dare need of resources with view of exploring opportunities in maritime industry. 
He however noted that the country’s over reliance on the oil economy has undermined other resources.
“The conference is an opportunity to bring in experts to identify the very issues of development in the maritime industry for urgent consideration,” he said.

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