By Kenneth Jukpor
Engr. Emmanuel Ilori is the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Nigerian Indigenous Ship-owners Association. Ilori is also the Chairman of committee with the onus of transforming Nigeria’s ship registry. In this interview with MMS Plusnewspaper, he laments ship owners plight over the non-disbursement of the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) while providing a template to address the challenges facing seafarers in the country. Ilori also reveals strategies to enhance Nigeria’s ship registry even as he draws a link to the nation’s IMO Council aspirations.
The Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) continues to raise more questions than answers with stakeholders worried about the amount in the fund. What’s your take on this?
Indigenous ship owners are looking for ways to source fund to enable them acquire vessels for this shipping business. Recall that CVFF was created to solve this problem and ship owners have been contributing to this fund. Prior to now, we were told that the four PLI’s held the fund but the information from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is that only $124million is left in the fund. We are concerned about what has happened to the monies contributed into the CVFF since its inception. If the money there is less than $124million, what happened to the previous funding up to this moment? Indigenous ship owners need to be able to access the fund to develop their businesses, develop Nigeria’s tonnage and improve the quality and quantity of the ships on the Nigerian register. We are concerned that this fund isn’t been channeled to the right cause and the fund must be handled transparently and for the intended purpose.
We also have the Nigerian Content Intervention (NCI) Fund pioneered by the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), a fund similar to CVFF. Some ship owners and terminal operators have benefited from NCI while CVFF remains inaccessible. How would you compare the procedures for obtaining NCI Fund and CVFF?
The modalities for accessing the NCDMB Fund and the enabling law are different from the CVFF. The Transportation Minister, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi is concerned about transparency and the threat of default with CVFF. These are legitimate issues but he has invited the ship owners under the ship-owners forum to deliberate on the best ways to disburse the fund. While we appreciate the efforts of the Minister to conclude modalities for the disbursement of the find, we are more concerned about the money available in the fund. We want to know what has happened to that fund over the years.
There have been allegations that part of the CVFF money had been used for other projects like funding the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko and other projects. Does this justify the figure available in the CVFF purse currently?
What we are demanding is an official explanation on how that money has been spent. Has it been utilized for its intended purpose? If CVFF has been used contrary to the intended purpose, that is against the enabling Act. These are the questions we need to ask.
If there is corruption, we need to address the root cause because the maritime industry is important to the growth and development of the nation’s economy. We need to get things right in the industry so that the sector could play its part in the development of the nation’s economy. $124million wouldn’t be sufficient to acquire the much needed ships. If we have had several hundred millions of dollars then we should know how the money was spent. If it wasn’t used for the intended purpose then the society should know and the relevant authorities should ensure that such practice doesn’t repeat itself again.
On ship registry, earlier this year NIMASA inaugurated a committee tasked with improving the nation’s ship registry. As chairman of that committee, can you tell us what has happened since that time?
The committee was setup to review the processes of registering ships in the country. The committee has been working strenuously to get the facts and address the issues. We aren’t in a hurry to call for implementation of certain policies or procedures without identifying the root causes of the issues. We set ourselves to ask three important questions during our deliberations. Is the Nigerian ship registry business friendly? If it isn’t business friendly, why and what can we do about it? We also asked if the registry had technical integrity. If the answer is no; then we need to find out why and proffer sustainable solutions. Lastly, we asked if the registry had globally acceptability. Don’t forget that Nigeria is seeking a position at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Governing Council and it is very important that the nation’s ship registry had global acceptability.
We have identified several problems and the next stage is to engage with the international community to understand the global best practices that would enable the Nigerian ship registry take up a better position on the global scene. Ultimately, when we go to the IMO Council, it would be easier to campaign for a seat at the Council. Before now, all Nigeria did at the IMO was tell stories but with globally accepted processes and globally accepted ship registry the nation can argue its relevance on IMO Council.
Recently, the NIMASA Director General disclosed that the number of ships registered in the country had increased. Can this be linked to the activities of your committee and what percentage of growth has been recorded?
The purpose of the committee wasn’t to improve the numbers so that question should be directed to the NIMASA Director General or the ship registry office at NIMASA. However, the committee was given the onus to look at the processes and the acceptability of the ship registry so that we would be able to put a benchmark and say these are the improvements in ship registry since the committee’s recommendations were followed.
I have a friend who spent three years to complete the registration of his fishing vessel and he lamented that most of that delay was from NIMASA.
Your friend was saying the truth and the committee was setup to correct these anomalies. However, we cannot begin to discuss the challenges of implementation and other bottlenecks with regards ship registry on the media before giving NIMASA the opportunity to study our report and make amends.
At the appropriate time we could speak on these issues. We know there are bottlenecks in the procedures for ship registration in the country.
NISA recently had an Annual General Meeting (AGM). What are the developments from that meeting?
NISA has always been in the forefront engaging the government on matters that affect shipping business. Until recently, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) didn’t care about the trade terms for the carriage of the nation’s crude products. However, as a result of NISA’s efforts the trade terms have been changed from Free on Board (FOB) to Cost Insurance and Freight (CIF).
The recent AGM was organized to set the process for electing the new executives for the association. Hopefully by November the elections will be held.
What about the NIMAREX programme organized by NISA which became popular as a medium to analyze shipping issues in the country. Is it going to be resurrected?
NIMAREX isn’t dead. We intend to continue with the programme. The challenge has been as a result of the numerous problems in the maritime industry. You would see NIMAREX come back in the nearest future.
How about the discrepancies in the leadership at NISA; have the warring parties shelved their swords?
There is no disparity in NIMAREX. There is an executive arm of the association which comprise those elected to run the affairs of the association. The bulk of the executives have been intact. There is no friction in NISA. It’s a collected leadership style and decisions are taken by the executives. At the AGM, the bulk of the executives were there. We are still intact and that is why we are able to take positive steps to address the problems in the industry.
Recently, some NSDP Cadets barricaded the entrance of the NIMASA headquarters to air their grievances. How would you rate the fate and current situation with seafarers in the country?
Seafarers’ development was also extensively discussed at the recent NISA Annual General Meeting and we resolved that the country has had overtraining of cadets both at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, and at the international level. This problem led to the situation where we have too many cadets chasing few job opportunities. Since there are also no provisions for securing seatime experience, the system became a very complicated one for the cadets.
Ship owners are idle. They don’t have jobs. Others don’t have ships and these problems limit the opportunities for growth of the Nigerian cadets. What NISA is advocating for is the training of seafarers that is proportional to the business and ships available and we could have progression and the industry grows and ships quantity and quality improves. There should be succession planning for the development of seafarers. There needs to be a synergy between the government and the shipping community with respect to the placement of these cadets on ships and on the other hand the ship owners should be encouraged to have jobs. If ship owners don’t have jobs, it would be difficult for them to employ cadets. We have to address these issues. There is also the need for continuous dialogue between the maritime administration, maritime academy and ship owners, so that there would be synergy and concerted efforts to tackle the issue of training cadets.
NISA has said it severally in the past that training cadets without providing employment opportunities was an effort in futility. It’s like creating a hub of sea thugs and pirates. Such practice isn’t good for the future of seafaring in the country. It can be likened to training officers in the military and when they finish there are no jobs for them.
We would continue to engage NIMASA via dialogue because the current situation of seafarers in the country isn’t healthy. This reemphasizes the need for the requisite funding to enhance the acquisition of vessels. The industry has been at this mediocre level for a long time but it is high time we kick-start a new era in the industry. Remember that President Mohammadu Buhari has also stressed the importance of the maritime sector to the growth of the nation’s economy.