In this interview with Nkechi Iloghalu and Lynda Eze, the newly elected chairman of Apapa chapter of Igbo Maritime Forum, IMF, Chief Mike Ekeocha, he states the essence of the forum and the catchment area; he also states what he intends to do for the members as the new chairman of the chapter. Read on.
What is this Igbo maritime all about?
The Igbo Maritime Forum is an umbrella body that unites the whole South Easterners in the maritime industry. Igbo maritime involves a lot of clearing agents, ship owners, engineers, bankers, dock workers and the likes. It involves all the people practicing in the above mentioned sectors who also are from the Eastern part of the country.
Is the forum for interest of the Igbo agents and importers alone?
Yes. You know that in maritime business, the Igbos rank about 95% among those that are into importation business, in clearing the same thing, they are about 95%, if you talk about ship owners they can take about 40 or 35%, if you talk about industry, bank and lots of them, they are all there. It’s all about the whole south east people in the maritime business.
As a Chairman of this forum, what are your plans for this Apapa Chapter?
Well, our plans are too many, you know we just concluded our election in Apapa Chapter and very soon we will roll out our plans, we have planned how we are going to work and what we are going to do. Our campaign slogan in the Renaissance group; is about a new change in the maritime industry. We are going to put in all our best to change the face of maritime industry in clearing and in other sectors.
What are you going to do to help the association?
Like you know, we are doing a lot of things, we did not inherit anything. Unlike the time I was with ANLCA as Treasurer where elections will come and go, you will inherit some certain things, people handed over to you and all the rest of them, but this particular one, we are the one using our finances to make sure that we put things on ground so that things will be moving, we are the ones just spending just to make sure that Igbo maritime is working fine. God is helping us, like I said, and we know quite well that our members are happy and they are going to be happier as things continue to progress.
Do you think you do anything substantial for the forum considering all these factors?
Yes, am going to do a lot that is why they said that if you are in the first tenure, you have to do a lot of things so that those people that are going to take over from you will continue where you stopped. You know that our election is three years and after three years, another set of people will take over; and if we perform very well, they can call us back to serve them again. But if we didn’t do well, they will not call us back or maybe you don’t want to go again you can give chance so that we can change the face of the Igbo maritime and that is why we called ourselves the Renaissance Group.
What are your challenges so far?
Well, at present, the only challenge that we witnessed, immediately after our election is that some other associations withdrew their services because of what happened with the terminal operators, and because we are members we keyed in into the system and we supported them until the strike was over, some people are shifting from that but later we will come to that and make our stand.
That means you people are working together with other associations like ANLCA, NAGAFF, AREFF and others?
Yes, I am a member of ANLCA. In fact, in 2003 I contested an election and I won, I served with our past president Chief John Oforbike. I am a member that is why I will support them whenever they are doing the right thing, and if they are doing the wrong thing, I will not support them and all our members because we have the Crowd that is representing the Igbo maritime forum. If you can see with me, we have to work with our people hand in hand for us to achieve our goals because in maritime industry, Igbo clearing agents are highly placed, we are fighting with one voice and good goal that we have to achieve.
About the strike, did they reach any agreement on what you people are demanding?
Yes, they reached an agreement with the APMT and they signed, but on our own, we are studying the agreement because most of the agreements reached on that particular day, they are not keeping to them like I told you that I have a case, that all the 10 days that the strike was on, APMT still charged our members to pay for the demurrages, we are not happy for that. But if the same person that have signed an agreement are now going back to charge demurrages and later you come back and start charging demurrage, it is a breach of contract so we are going to fight for our members so that they will not suffer.
As you people are fighting for this demurrage issue, are other associations fighting for it too?
Yes, like I told you we are working hand in hand and we will support them in any move they make, whether they like it or not because we are going to protect our members, because we have majority.
I heard that APMT just made promises without providing anything. How true is this?
Yes, APMT made promises and they never met or fulfilled any of the promises they made. That is why I told you that we are still studying the agreement.
How long did they promise to start fulfilling the promise?
You know, we have listening ears. Our people are suffering, like this demurrage of a thing that I am telling you, it is going to dig deep to the nation’s economy. They agreed at the initial that they were not keeping it, is it fair? If they want to go back, then we can go back to strike, but at this particular moment, the meetings are going on trying to dissolve the problems.
What is the effect of the strike on business at the port?
This is the season when goods are being imported in a large quantity and because of the Christmas season that is coming up, the goods have to be cleared so that the importer will make profit, but as it is, they are not making profit because of the demurrages and all charges that APMT is charging and these people include our members that are clearing the goods. Customs too is losing a lot of revenue. Custom is losing and our members are losing too. So, our members are suffering in many ways, through demurrage, through other bottlenecks that are attached to the system.
Is the Igbo forum under ANLCA?
No, they are not under ANLCA. The only thing is that in ANLCA, I have finished my tenure, am no more an executive like those people who are serving now.
How do you manage your family, ANLCA and Igbo forum that they do not clash?
Well, God is in control, they are not clashing; God is my strength and He has been good to me, He gave me strength and wisdom to serve my family, ANLCA and Igbo forum. My family is not complaining because they are giving me their support. They support me a lot.
Is it true that ANLCA members are the only ones that contribute money to support their association?
It is the same in other associations, like in our own association; members are contributing money for us to move forward. I also knew that NAGGAF members are contributing money too to keep the association moving.
So how do you cope financially?
There is no problem, because I know very well that am equal to the task and with God all things are possible.
As Igbo’s have their own forum, do other tribes like Yoruba, Hausa, etc have their own forum too?
Yes, you can see, Yorubas have the Oodua maritime, the Hausas have Arewa maritime. I know that there are other associations, but the only thing is that because they are minority, they are not large even though the Oodua itself are not large like the Igbo maritime.
Is this the first time of having this forum Apapa?
Yes, this is the first time. I am the first chairman.