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Nigeria shipping nearly at full steam

Interview - November 7, 2012
Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, General Director of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), speaks with Upper Reach about the importance of private sector involvement and the growing number of local human resources in the shipping sector

The last Nigerian presidential elections were the most democratic and transparent so far, and will hopefully pave the way towards a steady and fruitful development. Sadly the international community still has a distorted image of Nigeria. What needs to be done in order change that perception, and create a universally recognised and respected brand Nigeria?

You are absolutely right that the last elections were the best in the history of this country. The government, led by His Excellency President Goodluck Jonathan desired to bring positive change to Nigeria. It came with the Transformation Agenda in the different economic sectors, and you can see those changes gradually permeating into the very fabric of the Nigerian society. Change may take a long time to manifest in fullness, therefore patience is required.

Some negative stereotypes about the country may not be right. We are engaging the international community, as in the government, to send the right message that we are on course in our democratic culture and drive. I think it is a matter of time before the entire world appreciates what the government is doing. The government is making fantastic improvements in different parts of the country, which have been neglected for so many years. So only one or two years of the current administration is not enough to effect all of the changes needed, but as you can see we have started very well. In some sectors you see the transformation that is taking place, so the international community should render the support that the government of Nigeria needs to complete its transformation programme.

The Ministry of Transport has stated that the country’s maritime sector can only be developed with full participation of the private sector. Do you agree with this strategy? How would you describe the partnership between the private and public sectors in Nigeria?

All over the world public-private partnerships (PPPs) are gaining ground. The government alone cannot develop any single sector in any economy. The private sector can come in with expertise, skill, enthusiasm, and the intention of recouping their investment. To make profit you have to work very hard, bring productivity, be creative, go digital, etc. The hallmark of capitalism is not letting the government do everything for you. In mixed capitalism there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between what the government and private sector bring in. They have to cooperate; they are two sides of the same coin. The days of socialism are gone, but extreme capitalism also isn’t ideal. There is still a need for the public and private sectors to come together to help develop society.

In the transport sector the same thing is applicable. If the private sector doesn’t key into the development programme in the transport and maritime sector, there is hardly anything we can do. The private sector can come in with their creativity and expertise, the government can set the direction, policy, and framework, and the development can go forward.

Senator Idris Umar, the Minister of Transport said, “We will encourage participatory individuals in the maritime industry so that the goals can be achieved for the development of the nation. In an interview with Business Day in 2010, it was estimated that only 2%-5% of vessels are owned by Nigerians. How do you predict a change of this figure to 2%-5% indigenous vessel ownership?

It is obvious that the number of Nigerians participating in the maritime sector is quite low. But in terms of a definite figure of 2%-3%, I cannot defend that. We are encouraging private investors to enter the maritime sector because they alone can help the government bring the necessary changes we are all craving. About a month or so ago, because of the interest in the maritime sector, the government organised a presidential retreat, so that the government, private sector, and policymakers could all come together, to come up with an agenda to encourage Nigerians to participate and benefit from the huge potential that exists in the industry. We appreciate that Nigerian participation is not at an ideal level, but we have started the drive towards changing that status quo.

NIMASA was created on August 1st 2006 when the National Maritime Authority merged with Maritime Labour Industrial Council. Its mandate was to ensure the orderly development, protection and manpower training in the shipping industry. Could you please take us through the turning points of NIMASA under your administration?

One when of the greatest things that is happening in NIMASA is in the area of manpower development. This year alone we are going to train close to 2,000 seafarers in different parts of the world. They were sent to different maritime academies and universities worldwide for training, in order to boost manpower development in the sector. That is ongoing. In terms of maritime safety and security, we are reducing the piracy problems in the maritime domain. The government has given us all the desired support in achieving that. The government has also invited the private sector to participate in the coastal activities. For instance, the issue of national carrier and carrying crude or government-bound cargo participation will lead to investment and employment. The government is making giant strides in that and decisions are being taken. Right now there is a subcommittee as a result of the presidential retreat to harmonise all the different opinions in uniformed action that will support the maritime aspirations and goals, and key assets of the Transformation Agenda. I think we’re headed in the right direction.

In terms of physical infrastructure we are establishing the maritime university to build manpower, building shipyards, making presentations to government in liberalising shipbuilding and repair yards in the country, and creating incentives for investment in ships used in domestic trade. NIMASA is building its own ship and dockyard, after which we’d like the private sector to interface with NIMASA in running it. Similarly with the maritime university that is approved for development. Because we are sensitive to the fact that manpower is crucial to developing the maritime sector, we have decided to establish Institutes of Maritime Studies in four Nigerian universities. Some of these projects have already taken off, and by the grace of God we’re going to see them completed. This way we will be able to compete with any other country in any part of the world. Across all fronts we are making strategic gains. The framework and policy has been developed, so it is now time for implementation. When I came in, we visualised every tender. We looked at our mandate, where we were, where we are, and where we’re going.

We incorporated every shade of opinion by engaging stakeholders, and we ultimately came up with the four-point agenda to develop the maritime sector, allow indigenous people to participate in the trade, empower Nigerians and create employment, and bring peace and stop illegalities in our maritime domain. We need to sustain this environment for tomorrow’s children, so a lot of things are on-going. Safety and security-wise we are on top of the matter; it is not business as usual.

Manpower is certainly crucial for development. Do you think Nigeria will be self-sufficient to fill the growing needs of the maritime sector?

Yes, our goal is to be self-sufficient. We should be masters in domestic, coastal trade, providing expertise and the shipyards to build the vessels, and dockyards to repair the vessels. We should have the locally-trained manpower to cater for to the industry. We should have the enabling environment to do that. Once all of these things happen, the idea that we’re pushing today is going to be a reality tomorrow. The vision is already there, and we are now marching towards that vision.

Can you tell us exactly where you’re sending your trainees?

We are sending our citizens to different parts of the world, to maritime academies in Egypt, India, and the UK. Since the number keeps growing, we are now contacting other academies in Europe and Asia to train them, while building our own indigenous academies at the same time. We are making conscious efforts to improve the quality of education in our existing maritime academies and giving them a lot of support. We are also taking steps in intervention policies, but the most important thing is to produce the manpower that is needed for development. There may not be just one country that has trained such a number of seafarers at a time. This training is a scholarship programme because this industry is critical to our survival, employment generation efforts, and so many things that we’re talking about in Nigeria. Even for our peace. So the students are being sent abroad while we’re developing our own indigenous academies.

NIMASA recently entered into a PPP with Global West to provide the needed platforms, and has already yielded positive results. How do you see the future for PPP projects, especially in the maritime sector? How are you making the process more accurate, effective, and less time-consuming?

One of the greatest things that have happened since I entered the maritime sector is the PPP approach to doing things. PPP has enabled NIMASA to meet each of its primary responsibilities; safety, security, enforcing environmental laws, etc. We have started receiving the platforms that are needed for us to implement our day-to-day operations in terms of our regulatory functions. PPPs are eventually going to cause our revenues to improve. We are very conscious of our core mandate, and right now we have started seeing the results. All of the vessels arrested for illegal activities have been as a result of the PPP structure that has been created.

In terms of our regulatory compliance and laws, ensuring all standards including safety, security, and environmental protection, and the government’s desire for increased revenue, we are going to be there. This is going to be reflected in our books in a matter of months. The PPP structure is an on-going process, but we make giant strides every day. At the end of the day, the main reason why NIMASA was established should be realised. There are many prospects for PPPs, and by the grace of God, many other PPPs will come. The government doesn’t have a monopoly on creativity and expertise.

There are many talented Nigerians in the private sector, and there needs to be a balance by incorporating the private sector, acknowledging the policy framework, and contribute to the maritime sector in Nigeria. We want to encourage different kinds of PPP programmes in different areas of our maritime industry.

In June the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) stated that they would collaborate with NIMASA as partners. In August you announced cooperation with the Nigeria Air Force. Both of these partnerships are part of the current administration’s Transformation Agenda to position Nigeria as a maritime and transport hub in Africa. How would you describe the current stages of cooperation with both entities, and where would you like to go from this point on?

Government agencies must not operate at across purposes. There should be a common agenda to transform and develop Nigeria. That is the underlying principle that all of us should work towards. Even though NIMASA is the main regulatory body, it cannot be an island. We need the support of other strategic stakeholders; the Nigerian customs, Navy, security establishments, etc. The more we integrate and work together, the more we are going to achieve our common dreams of empowering our people, generate employment, and bring peace. That is why we decided to partner with the Air Force, because of their capabilities in aerial surveillance. They are well-trained, knowledgeable, and an enterprising institution in Nigeria. Therefore if we have any shortcomings, we can interface with them to help us solve the problem, and vice versa. Then our common objective of creating security, safety, search and rescue in the maritime sector can be achieved. In the PPP we signed with the NPA, they stand to benefit four times more than NIMASA, because the resources we receive on a yearly basis are a quarter of what they receive. As more ships are captured that are avoiding our duties, they will no longer be able to avoid those costs. We can never reach our optimal desire by isolating ourselves. We must interface, and there is a lot of interest being shown by agencies and institutions who are ready to help; particularly the Air Force. We have seen how cordial they are, and continually provide us their helicopters for logistics. Government Agencies must always work together to solve problems in our various sectors.

NIMASA has presented a draft Anti-Piracy Bill, and you personally drew attention to the problem of illegal arms coming through Nigeria’s waterways. Although you have few powers of enforcement, what is NIMASA doing to fight against piracy and other illegal activities in Nigerian waters?

The definition of piracy is not very straightforward and strict, and here it can include sea robbery. So a legal definition must be given to piracy so that you can enforce those laws. If anybody is caught in the act of piracy, they should face judicial action in our courts. Therefore there should be a definitive law as to what constitutes piracy.

We have also presented a bill to stakeholders, which galvanizes the feelings about a piracy law. Subsequently we need to inform the Federal Government through the Ministry of Transport that will now present that proposal to the Executive Council.

Once it becomes law, we must implement. We have not sent any bill to the National Assembly on piracy because if it is going to go through as an executive bill, there are other channels. The Minister must be in the picture, and he must take this proposal to the President or Executive Council, who will subsequently send it to the National Assembly. But we can create an enabling environment to gauge how people feel about this issue, so I forward my recommendations to the government so they can make decisions.

In terms of prosecution, we as an institution have not been given the right of prosecution. The EFCC, the police, and the attorney general are the ones who can prosecute. When we have a case and there are grounds for prosecution, we take it to them. We always seek the assistance of the government to help us fight crime. A fortnight ago we arrested a vessel, its crew, and some elements of its company that were engaged in shady oil businesses and gun-running. This attracted NIMASA patrol boats, and we handed the case to the EFCC. They will probably handle the economic aspect of it, and the non-economic issues, such as gun-running, will be handled by the police as directed by the government.

With regards to foreign direct investment (FDI) coming to the country, the UK government has established its new 2011-2015 plan where £1.2 billion pounds will be invested in Sub-Saharan Africa. What are Nigeria’s main competitive advantages that make them deserve part of this FDI?

One of the reasons why the government was so enthusiastic about the PPP agreement is to attract foreign investment in the maritime sector. We must make the environment safe, and stop the criminality. There must be transparency, and that is the objective of the government, so that expatriates can come with their associates to invest. If you don’t offer safety and security – no matter how good the plans are – no investors will come. We have to implement our plans in the sector, so investors bring their funds to the region. Private and foreign investment is key for development. No country can develop only with their own resources. China for example has a population of more than 1 billion, but still they look for investment everywhere. No country can be an island, not even Nigeria with all its resources and potential. While we open our business for international participation, there are certain things that Nigerians should be encouraged to do in the local market. But there are areas where we need expertise from our partners in the West; it is a win-win situation for both parties.

Personally you have had a great impact in the development of Nigeria’s maritime sector that suffered massively after the collapse of NNSL and the failure of the 2003 Cabotage Act. Under your supervision NIMASA is finally having the right direction for becoming one of the main players in Africa. What is the legacy that you would like to leave behind for Nigeria?

We are not interested in just building personalities in NIMASA; we want to develop the institution. I want to leave a legacy where government institutions are run transparently, and there is accountability. I want to see an agency where all the systems are digitalised. I want maritime piracy to disappear; we have zero tolerance for piracy. We want to put a stop to the individuals that are stealing crude oil. We want to register every cargo that enters or leaves Nigeria. We want to emulate the Philippines, who are one of the world’s main providers of seafaring services; we also want to enter that business niche. We want to have maritime academies to help to close the knowledge gap. We want private investments so that thousands of Nigerians can be employed in the maritime sector. We also want to see Nigerians participating in the Cabotage trade. As an institution, we want to leverage on this Cabotage Law to employ Nigerians in fields where they can do well. We want to see a complete transformation of the sector. With the help of God, all these objectives will become a reality by the end of my tenure. We want to see a visible change.

All what we have accomplished until now should encourage Nigerians to give them confidence that things are gradually becoming right in the market. The goal is very robust, so the plan of action marching towards that goal must equally be very robust. What steps adopted today will make Nigeria become a global hub in the supply of seafarers and first class mariners? We are laying the foundations for that, and I will see that nothing interferes with that. In 10-20 years, I want to see 10,000-20,000 seafarers of Nigerian origin. I want to see this country develop thanks to the measures we are taking today. We want to put an end to criminality in the maritime domain. Nigeria has to earn back its respect in the eyes of the world. Nigerians are good people. The very few criminals here should not be used to stereotype the entire country.