The Honorable Minister of State for Transport, Senator Gbemisola Saraki was on a week-long visit to Lagos from Sunday June 19 to Saturday June 25 during which she inspected various government projects under the Federal Ministry of Transport (FMOT ) and held a series of public meetings with maritime industry stakeholders.
Saraki became the de facto minister in charge of FMOT upon the resignation of Rotimi Amaechi on May 16, 2022 to contest the presidential primary election of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party, which he lost to the former governor from Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Saraki’s first visit saw her inspecting Mobolaji Johnson Railway Station, Ebute Metta, Apapa Port, Tin Can Island Port, Naval Shipyard to participate in World Hydrography Day and inspect certain assets belonging to the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). She also inspected the Deep Blue project and the NIMASA facilities in Kirikiri.
The Honorable Minister went further by organizing a series of public meetings with all the main stakeholders, including terminal operators, freight forwarders, shipping companies, indigenous shipowners, barge operators, maritime lawyers, handling businesses, women’s groups, journalists and others for three days.
Saraki’s appointment was a breath of fresh air for the maritime industry, especially given the autocratic and non-progressive leadership style of his predecessor. Indeed, Gbemi Saraki’s predecessor never held engagement meetings with maritime industry operators. The few times he met them, he freely denigrated and insulted them. He never sat down with the operators to discuss their challenges and how to meet the challenges.
Minister Saraki’s visit was certainly refreshing. Many were visibly happy because for the first time in seven years, the government came to them.
The government listened to them and engaged them. This is a clear change from the former Minister’s backslidden leadership style which neither solicited nor solicited the views of industry on any issue. It is not surprising that he could not cite any concrete achievements in the maritime industry. Indeed, the former Minister admitted to neglecting the maritime industry, but he did not allow the Minister of State to oversee the industry as originally promised.
Now that she is in charge of the ministry, we strongly believe that Senator Saraki will tackle the myriad issues facing the sector. The sustainability of the Deep Blue project is crucial in the fight against piracy. In addition, the government must now rise to the task of empowering Indigenous shipowners to end the unflattering dominance and preponderance of foreign vessels trading illegally in our waters. More than 5,000 cargo ships, excluding tankers, call at Nigerian ports every year, but none of these ships are owned by Nigerians. This is really a sad comment. Senator Saraki has promised to fill this major gap and we are confident that she has the capacity, the competence and the political will to do so. The advantages of developing local maritime tonnage are numerous. First, it will lead to the retention of much-needed value and foreign currency in our economy. It will also create jobs for our sailors and provide sea time opportunities for our cadets. This will, by extension, reduce unemployment and criminal activity on our waters.
On the port side, the minister assured that she would put an end to the famous Apapa traffic jam. She also expressed her commitment to start operating the Lekki deepwater port before the end of the year, in addition to identifying the need to attract new investment to rebuild the rapidly decaying infrastructure in other seaports. The Minister has also demonstrated great ability and an unwavering commitment to delivering outstanding rail projects across the country.
Senator Gbemi Saraki is different. She has demonstrated true leadership qualities and we have no doubt that she will succeed as Minister of Transport. We therefore call on President Muhammadu Buhari to make her Minister of Transport and allow her to oversee the affairs of the Federal Ministry of Transport for the remaining eleven months of his administration. It would be retrograde and unfair to appoint a new minister at this time. Gbemi Saraki has already laid the necessary foundations and started the task of rebuilding the sector. A new minister will need time to learn and understand the issues, but the country certainly does not have that luxury of time.
Senator Gbemi Saraki should be allowed to continue the good work she started so that the legacy of President Muhammadu Buhari can be deeply rooted in the maritime industry and other segments of the transport sector.
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