Shippers’ Council 2019 Stakeholders Appreciation Night: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (Part 2).

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In part 1 of this special report entitled, “How Late Commencement, Boredom, Starvation Marred Shippers Council’s 2019 Appreciation Night”, we gave you minutes by minutes reportage of what went down at the occasion, how it all began and ended in mixed feelings and disappointment for some people.

In this part 2, using analytical journalistic style of writing fused with a sense of constructive criticism, we shall focus on the commendable and condemnable developments as well as lessons from the occasion.

A. First, The Good:

I. Excellent Motive: The intention of the Hassan Bello – led management of the Nigerian Shippers Council in hosting a yearly end of the year dinner for its stakeholders is in itself a welcome development. This is because the occasion affords them an opportunity not only to appreciate its stakeholders, but to also give good accountability of its stewardship to stakeholders over the year ending, sell its innovations and programmes and equally celebrate its achievements and milestones.

The end result is to build good image and public trust, attain good public perception and consolidate on good public relations to reposition NSC as a responsible Corporate brand. Excellent motive, you will say if diligently followed through.

II. NSC Staff Housing Scheme: Another development worthy of commendation at the 2019 edition of NSC’s Night of Appreciation is the fact that over 100 staff of the Council benefited from the agency’s Staff Housing Scheme and were handed keys to their houses by the Minister of Transportation at the occasion.

What this means is that these 100 beneficiaries are now landlords and landladies, thanks to Nigerian Shippers Council for this ‘House for Staff Scheme’.

III. News of CVFF Disbursement: The 2019 Night of Appreciation if not for anything will be remembered as a harbinger of good news for Nigerian ship owners. This is because it was at the occasion that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi broke the news that the President had approved for the disbursements of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF) to indigenous ship owners by January 2020.

This public announcement by the Minister at the occasion overshadowed everything else that happened at the occasion as it was greeted with ovation and long rounds of applause by all stakeholders not just the ship owners. The press went to town with the breaking news in various headlines and riders.

I know that the DG NIMASA, Dr Dakuku Peterside would have preferred that the Minister broke the CVFF news at NIMASA Corporate Dinner Scheduled for January 2020, after all, NIMASA is the collector and custodian of the CVFF, but like Biblical Pilate, who said to the Jewish authorities that “What I have written, I have written”, what the Minister has said, he has said. NSC Appreciation Night heralded news of eventual disbursement of the long awaited CVFF to ship owners.

Even though it was a mere announcement of Mr President’s approval to disburse the fund, not really the actual disbursement of the fund, yet stakeholders were jubilant in joyful expectations that the Minister would make true his promise by January 2020 unlike previous occasions where such announcement was made, and nothing happened thereafter.

B. The Bad:
Some bad aspects of the occasion, includes, but not limited to:

I. The Late Commencement: As an agency of government, it doesn’t speak well of the Nigerian Shippers Council that an event it advertised would start by 5pm, started quarter to 8pm, which is over two and half hours behind schedule. To me, that is unacceptable, especially in an event tagged Stakeholders Appreciation Night. The Minister of Transportation was to blame for the late commencement because he was the one stakeholders spent 2hrs and 45 minutes of their precious time waiting for his arrival.

Unfortunately, when he eventually arrived and was later invited to deliver his keynote Speech, he didn’t render any form of apology for his lateness, but went straight ahead making his speech. This made me wonder if the Minister was not aware that he kept stakeholders and captains of maritime industry waiting for nearly 3 hours, or was his lateness and attitude a deliberate show of bad example of leadership.

II. The Boring Programmes: While the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi takes the blame for late commencement of the occasion, the organisers, Nigerian Shippers Council takes full blame for driving the event with long list of Goodwill Messages and boring event programmes.

Speaking from event management point of view, one would have expected NSC to start the occasion with the Goodwill Messages and the NSC youngsters presentations so that when the Minister comes, you take the Welcome Address by your Board Chairman and Opening Remarks by Chairman of the Occasion, then the Special Presentation by NIMASA DG so that after the Minister’s Keynote speech, the event would come to an end.

Alternatively, if the Minister must arrive before the commencement, you manage time by cutting short some Goodwill Messages and scrap some other programs. But starting quarter to 8pm and wanting to exhaust your long list of programmes while your guests listen and watch with empty stomachs is quite unfair and shows high level of insensitivity on your part to your guests.

III. The Undue Starvation: Another bad aspect of the occasion was the undue starvation of maritime stakeholders at an event meant to appreciate them. Those who came there as early as 5pm and left before 10pm, left with empty stomach, no doubt. But that was avoidable. Isn’t it?

Like I said in part 1 of this report, that majority of participants who came to that occasion, came straight from their office. Probably, they last meal was lunch, taken around 1 or 2pm. Calculation would be that for an event meant to start by 5pm, dinner would be ready by 8pm or so. But it was around that 8pm that the event was just starting while hunger was already knocking at the doors of our stomachs.

The irony of the situation was that the Transport Minister, who was responsible for the late commencement was already filling hungry even in his late-coming and shortly after he came, he ordered NSC boss, Hassan Bello to serve him some meat to hold himself while listening to the unending goodwill messages. While the Minister was helping himself with the some meat, the rest of the audience who came much earlier was starving. Is good to be a minister, you would say!

Funny enough, the same minister during his keynote speech confessed that he was losing his cool due to the hunger, and had to ask Bello to get him something or he would go and serve himself as he couldn’t bear the starvation any longer. He however apologised to stakeholders on behalf of the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Shippers Council, Barr Hassan Bello for the undue starvation, but failed to apologise for himself for coming too late and being the main cause of the starvation.

C. The Ugly:
The 2019 Shippers Council Appreciation Night also has its own ugly scenarios which include:

I. Hon Mohammed and His Grammatical Blunder: Believe it or not not, English language is a respecter of no man or woman no matter how highly placed. If you don’t know it, you don’t know it! In fact, the more highly placed you are, the greater your chances of being disgraced by the language if you don’t have mastery of your grammar.

Otherwise, how would one explain the situation where the House Committee Chairman on Ports and Harbours, Hon Dahtu Mohammed was repeatedly misusing “facilitate” instead of “felicitate” during his goodwill message at the occasion. The Honourable was heard on record repeatedly saying, “We facilitate with the Nigerian Shippers Council on this occasion”, instead of, “We felicitate with the Nigerian Shippers Council on this occasion”.

That was an avoidable grammatical blunder if the Honourable had taken time to write his speech instead of attempting to speak extempore at such occasion without being in control of his grammar.

II. The Conspicuous Absence of Hadiza, NPA Boss: The Shippers Council Appreciation Night is usually the convergence of who is who in the Nigerian Shipping industry. This is more so when taken into cognizance the humility, accessibility and kindness of Hassan Bello whom many have described as ‘one of its kind’ compared with other heads of agencies under the Transport Ministry.

Being the friend of all, and the beloved of all, a lot of industry stakeholders would like to attend the occasion if not for anything, but for Bello. However, if you take a roll call of dignitaries at the occasion, one big name was conspicuously missing, and that was the Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman.

Unlike 2018 edition of the occasion where I came relatively late, this year, I came quite early. I was there when the MC picked the Mic and began introduction of dignitaries and their representatives for those couldn’t make it personally. At no time was the name Hadiza Bala Usman or her representative from NPA mentioned, let alone, there was no one to answer to it.

One wonders if the NPA Boss was never invited or she was invited but failed to either attend personally or even send a representative, but how could that be especially when it was obvious that the Minister of Transportation was going to grace the occasion. Whatever be the case, her absence was hugely noticeable.

III. Shippers Association Was Totally Ignored: Another ugly side of the Shippers Council Appreciation Night was the fact that the owners of the Council were totally ignored throughout the occasion either deliberately or by act of omission.

As I was parking my car at the underground car park of intercontinental hotel, the President of Shippers Association of Lagos state (SAL), Rev Jonathan Nicol had already parked his car, as I saw him moving towards the elevator with two or three of his children, I guess.

Coming inside the hall, I also saw him and a couple of other members of his Association sitting in a table meant for them. But I never heard or saw when the association was mentioned for recognition, let alone called upon to deliver a goodwill message. That got me thinking. Is Shippers Association not supposedly the owners of Shippers Council whose primary interest the Council was established to protect? Why should they be so ignored or given a back seat at an occasion like this?

This brings me to the next ugly side of the occasion which has to do with monopolization of the outing by government agencies and their functionaries. The occasion was tagged Stakeholders Appreciation Night, not government agencies appreciation Night. Or how would you explain a situation where out of about 8-10 dignitaries that delivered goodwill message at the occasion, only one was drawn from the private sector. That was Princess Vicky Haastrup, President of Seaports Terminal Operators Association of Nigeria (STOAN).

Every other person that spoke at that occasion was from the public sector, starting from the Board Chairman of NSC who spoke first by delivering the welcome Address to Dr Dakuku Peterside, NIMASA DG who made the last speech before the Minister’s Keynote Speech. All but one was from the public sector.

That made me feel that government agencies and their functionaries are playing lip service when they tell you that public – private partnership is a panacea for economic development of any nation. Or when they keep mouthing that the private sector is the engine that drives any successful economy of the world.

They only say it in theory, they don’t mean it in practice. In fact, they won’t even allow it happen in practical terms. So long as public officials see themselves as superior to private operators, Nigeria will not develop. So long as public officials feel they should be the only ones talking in conferences and in public gatherings like this, while private operators should listen and clap for them, we are far from economic emancipation of Nigeria and Nigerians.

The way Shippers Association and other private operators were treated at the NSC’s 2019 Stakeholders Appreciation Night reminds me of what happened at the 2019 Day of the Seafarers organised by NIMASA at Oriental Hotel this year. At that occasion meant to celebrate Seafarers, no seafarer was given a significant role to play at the occasion.

The Chairman of the Occasion, the Special Guests, the Paper Presenters, the Panel Discussants including the Moderator, none of them was a seafarer. In fact, no seafarer was called to the high table. And I asked: Did you only invite the Seafarers here just to come, eat and go? Why not make one of them a Panelist and get their perspectives on the matter under discussion? You can’t be discussing someone’s affairs or claim to be solving someone’s challenges without his or her inputs. That’s pretense.

So, like the Minister of Transportation said at the Shippers Council Night of Appreciation, that until stakeholders are bold enough to tell government parastatals and their heads the honest truth, they should not expect positive changes or any improvements whatsoever. He also warned heads of government agencies to be wary of those who always praise them in everything for those are not good friends but sycophants.

The Minister also said that in 2020, he would set targets for agencies under his ministry and demand performance from their heads not goodness. And to achieve this, stakeholders must speak truth to government and its functionaries.

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