Please, tell us about your role in NIMASA, your relations with Germany and elaborate on the opportunities that exist in the shipping sector in Nigeria.
I can come and go, but how can I transform this institution so that the changes we are making now become permanent. There needs to be continuity. I am particularly happy with Germany and its Chancellor, who has proven beyond reasonable doubt that women have leadership qualities. For the fact the entire Eurozone is in crisis and Germany is strong, sustaining the whole of Europe, and getting stronger under the leadership of a woman. It encourages me so much that we are moving beyond the issue of gender.
There are many opportunities in Nigeria, some of which will only come to light once foreigners starting coming in. For instance in the maritime sector, I know that we have not even scratched the surface in terms of brute potential. Nigeria has been blessed with a vast coastline, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), oil and gas infrastructure, and mineral resources, including iron and gold, much of which is still untapped. We need countries like Germany to come in and partner with our government, and institutions like NIMASA to create greatness and wealth for our foreign partners and ourselves.
There is no shipping environment in the world that is more attractive than Nigeria. The potential is so vast and still yet untapped, from aquaculture to fisheries. With such a large population as Nigeria’s, we need a significant number of maritime academies to sustain this growing population. There is also a need for many more shipyards and dockyards. NIMASA is at the point of establishing a new academy and shipyard, but we want to partner with the private sector in terms of management.
I think it is the role of government and government institutions to enable the adequate environment for the private sector to lead industry.
We are creating the right environment. For instance, the government has opened up the market in some areas, having just approved a contract for the private sector to provide platforms and electronic surveillance systems to allow NIMASA to fulfil its statutory obligations. Right now the government thinks that having the private sector enter business activities will be more rewarding for Nigeria and Nigerians. All sectors from the shipping industry want the private sector to come in; from academy and dockyard, to shipyard, support services, logistics, etc. The emphasis on government-led activities is fading. The government is just acting as the enabler but more people are coming in from overseas to collaborate.
What motivation is needed to recall the diaspora in the international community to return to Nigeria, and help the shipping industry grow?
Number one is transparency. We need to give investors confidence and a guarantee to bring their resources here. We have to protect investors who are coming here to invest legitimately. There should be legal protection from the government for investors coming here with millions of US Dollars or British Pounds. There is a gradual focus on enduring legacy, guaranteeing investment, and making this system transparent, with due process and accountability. Once there is transparency, accountability, due process, a guarantee for investments, and an attractive profit margin for different kinds of businesses, investors will be interested in coming in.
NIMASA was created to sustain and support government programmes and policies in the shipping sector. We are the heart of the Nigerian government involved in international shipping activities and maritime sector, in order to develop this country. We are very critical, because everything from the shoes we wear to the books we buy is done through international trade, of which shipping accounts for over 90%. This creates millions of jobs, alongside a scheme to encourage the participation of the indigenous population. We need the foreigners as well, and we need Europe, American and Asia. It is a win-win situation for everybody.
It is true that many indigenous companies have lost business to international companies?
No. The act in particular is supposed to give leverage to local players to benefit within the sector in Nigeria. They need to have the capacity and expertise to do that. Some are gaining the experience, but we still need players and products from the West. There are many opportunities for collaboration and interface between foreigners and locals, and it should be a win-win situation for all. No country can be an island. You can have competencies in one area and be lacking in another area. We need to come together, and many things can be jointly-owned or jointly-funded, whether between foreign and local private sector, government-government, government-local private sector, or government-foreign private sector. Public private partnership (PPP) models are a great example.
It is important that we build prosperity from the perspective of mutual understanding and win-win. Even if we have the capacity to do everything necessary in the shipping sector ourselves, in order to bring about world peace and harmony, people need to work together. The only way to solve problems of terrorism, disease, poverty, and illiteracy, are for nations and institutions to come together in win-win partnerships. When you have natural resources, you cannot proclaim an exclusive right over them. You must be prepared to help others in need in order to create an enduring peace in this world. Poverty and illiteracy have cost the world many crises, as has extreme capitalism. There has to be some balance between profit making and social welfare. Individual happiness can be traced to collective happiness, and there is a moral burden on those doing well to help support those who are not doing well.
That is why Nigeria is at the forefront of championing development, progress, and peace in Africa, and the sub-region in particular. Think about what Nigeria did in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and in the whole of Africa to ensure that we come out of poverty, degradation, civil strife, and environmental problems to become strong. A strong Africa will help the international community. If the majority of African countries are in crises, it will affect the entire planet. It is also in the world’s interest to support Africa to grow and development. There is a human face and social responsibility side to business.
The growth also has to be sustainable and strategic. Germany is synonymous with engineering, technology, and innovation. How can the German business community help Nigeria’s shipping sector?
I would suggest that the German business community approach NIMASA for a formal discussion on key areas of interest. We can tell you about areas that will be very profitable for both countries to enter strategic alliances of cooperation. NIMASA can provide a practical, enabling environment for businesses to come. We will ensure that German investments are protected. The current number of shipyards we have cannot account for the demand, not even 5% of it. So the potential is very, very big. Right now there are 10 maritime academies in this country. We have the population, and there are young men wanting to get into shipping. The market is really here, for everything from electronic systems, to shipbuilding. There are many untapped opportunities.
The shipping industry is one of the strongest in the country, but there are still obstacles to its future growth. What constraints need to be addressed to allow for the continued development of Nigeria’s shipping industry?
Before this administration, one of the problems we had was with the priority placed on the industry. At some point the government got it wrong. Our robust national shipping line was liquidated, and that brought about so many challenges. But we are finally getting back on track. This government is hugely passionate about the shipping industry and is regularly in contact with us about different opportunities, which did not happen in the past. The government is integrating the shipping industry’s opportunities into its transformation agenda, believing that the industry should be opened up.
With that passion and political will, we can go places. Right now the status quo is changing, and because this government is interested in the shipping industry, they have also mandated NIMASA to extend its anti-piracy campaigns to the Republic of Benin. The President of Benin came to Nigeria and asked our President for assistance in combating piracy, after 35 pirate attacks ravished the Benin shipping industry. We have been in Benin for almost five months now, and there has not been one attack. That is a 100% success story.
The President has just approved plans for us to have comprehensive approach to stopping piracy in the coast, so both foreign and indigenous companies can operate with maximum security. In the next three months, the entire Nigerian coast should be free from piracy, in order to encourage the international community to do business here. The government wants these platforms and systems in place shortly so that the entire coast and EEZ is well protected from piracy and criminal activity. We had a very successful pilot scheme in Lagos, which inspired the government to extend this programme to Benin, which has even earned the commendation of the UN Security Council. If there is no peace and security in Nigerian waters, people will be scared to come and make investments.
What other steps need to be taken in order to boost Nigeria as a maritime hub?
Because right now we have a young population so we need as many academies as possible. We need private sector driven academies, PPP academies, and government academies. There can never be enough. We are interested in having European or Asian partners participate in the management of these academies so they are to international standards. We would like to see the private sector participate in the building of shipyards and training of seafarers. These are short term objectives in which we are engaging the National Assembly to make the appropriate approvals. We are discussing how to partner with different stakeholders, so the shipping industry must be open for transformation and employment generation, and peace in the sub-region.
Of course there are some bureaucratic challenges which we are gradually circumventing. Previously it was impossible to approve a PPP program in less than a year. Four or five years later they were still dillydallying. But we have passed through all of the necessary agencies and received government approval within a year. More and more people understand that we need to fast-track a number of processes for development to take place. We are strengthening our anti-corruption agencies to ensure the government’s goal of accountability and focus these institutions. We are taking the right steps to ensure an accountable society, government, and institutions, what with the Freedom of Information Bill, etc. Europe, Asia and the West have been able to develop as they have because there is rule of law and due process, whether in awarding contracts, or government spending.
The knowledge base and Nigerian citizenry is undergoing a dramatic departure from the past, and people are hungry for more information. I give credit to our former President Obasanjo for opening up the channels of communication. The military understands its mandate is to protect the citizens of the country and not venture into governance. The power belongs only to the people. Civil and democratic governance is vital for the prosperity of a society. This government welcomes constructive criticism and reaches across party lines to form a consensus. Our President is interested in having the most qualified individuals for the job, not in bickering over party affiliations. Once this consensus can be consolidated, we will be able to make rapid progress in this country, and throughout the African continent. We are happy to have a government that is steering us in the right direction.
How do you see the industry in 5-7 years’ time, taking into account NIMASA’s capacity building initiatives?
In the next five years, I am sure that we will see a radically transformed shipping sector that is going to generate thousands of jobs, open up the industry, and build indigenous capacity. The interface between Nigeria and the international community in the area of shipping is going to be galvanised. I see a reignited interest for the international community to come and invest in Nigeria’s shipping sector. My vision is that Nigeria’s maritime sector will become a hub in Africa, and that is not going to take too long. Nigeria will be collaborating with partners from all over the world, and new investment areas will emerge. I will happy leaving NIMASA and seeing this vision materialise. I also want a maritime sector where piracy is non-existent.
NIMASA plays an extremely important role when it comes to the country’s progress and competitiveness. Could you send a final message to the readers of The Financial Times Deutschland about the shipping industry here in Nigeria?
We are open and waiting for investors to come from Germany. We are ever-ready for them. We have started creating the enabling environment, the manifestations of which will soon be seen by all. This is an ideal investment destination for investors from all over the world, whether Europe, Asia, America or Nigeria. They should be in a hurry to come here. We are open to them and want to create a robust shipping sector. Our shipping industry has so much potential to offer than many other places in the world. They should come and have discussions with NIMASA. This government is listening and taking on our advice. The potential and profit margins are there, and this is the place to come. German investors should expand their frontiers and look into the Nigerian shipping industry hub. We welcome and will protect any company, government, or institution that is here for legitimate business. It is our responsibility, and we have the wherewithal to do so.