By Kenneth Jukpor
Nigeria’s maritime industry wore elegant smiles with the perceived newness of life in the nation’s shipping when Nigerian ship-owners under the aegis of Nigerian Ship-owners Association (NISA) indicated interest to work with Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) for the good of the industry; however, such aspirations were dashed at the maiden edition of Lagos International Shipping Expo with SOAN indicating no interest in such bond.
NISA gave indication to shelve its crisis within and extend an arm of fellowship to SOAN when it held a press conference to show that it had put an end to its factional differences and created a three-man steering committee to guide the association until new executive committee members are elected.
One of the members of the steering committee and Chairman JAPAUL Group, Mr. Paul Jegede stated that NISA was already anticipating working with SOAN as both associations are plagued by similar challenges in the industry.
“NISA is also looking at working together with SOAN as both groups have similar objectives and challenges. The interest of the industry is what is more paramount” Jegede said.
However, neither former Presidents of NISA nor the members of the new NISA steering committee; the Chairman JAPAUL Group, Mr. Paul Jegede, the Chief Executive Officer, Westbridge Energy & Lubricants Limited, Mr. Tunji Brown and the Chief Executive Office, Oceanic Energy Limited, Captain Taiwo Akinpelumi, were seen at the top-notch SOAN event.
While this raised concerns about NISA’s sincerity with the claims that it had plans to synergize with SOAN, the abhorrence in SOAN’s reactions as MMS Plus engaged the Chairman Technical at SOAN, Dr. Lucky Akhiwu who bore a refraining look as he told our correspondent, “I would rather not speak about that. There has been no plan in that direction”
As NISA takes giant steps in the bid to reposition and reorganize the association, there seems to be a brewing crisis at SOAN as the immediate past president, Engr. Greg Ogbeifun appears to have withdrawn his support for the association.
Neither Engr. Ogbeifun nor any senior managerial officer of the Starz Group graced the occasion. Starz Group was also missing at the exhibition stand, a development which never occurred at previous SOAN events when Ogbeifun was president. His famous shipping company wasn’t listed as one of the event’s sponsor, exhibitor or partner where non-funding media organizations featured.
Although most Nigerian ship owners and top regulators were missing at the recent SOAN global shipping event, the poor turnout could be attributed to the ongoing International Maritime Organization (IMO) Council meeting and general elections.
The Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside, Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, Executive Secretary of Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) Mr. Hassan Bello, Managing Director, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) Chief George Moghalu, were absent while the Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of State for Transportation, Hon. Gbemi Saraki and the Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Mallam Mele Kyari, sent representatives.
Nevertheless, it is a worrisome development to find that SOAN has no inclination to partner with NISA for common good of the industry; while the alleged peace-making NISA committee and other top NISA members didn’t see the need to attend such pertinent shipping event.
The discord among ship-owners in Nigeria has become the biggest challenge impeding growth of indigenous shipping in the country. This problem has ensured that the federal government hasn’t been sufficiently pressed to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF) which should have amounted to over $500million if the purse was untouched since contribution began in 2007.
As a result of the non disbursement of CVFF and non-availability of single digit interest loans, Nigerian ship owners have been handicapped over the years and this has had a negative effect on Nigerian seafarers with fewer opportunities for seatime as ship owners barely stay afloat.
Agitation for the disbursement of the CVFF continues while there are indications that about 90% of the initial contributors to the fund at inception have been thrown out of business due to the tough fiscal environment.
Drawing an analogy to the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the massive impact the group has made in the oil sector, Capt. Taiwo Akinpelumi had noted that until differences among ship owners were shelved for their common good the sector would observe minimal growth.
“Having realized that ship owners were losing out so much in the industry due to the protracted crisis in the association (NISA), we have decided to jettison the differences. If a group like the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) could make impact in the country in terms of petroleum industry issues, as ship-owners who make transactions in billions of dollars, we should be able to organize ourselves” Akinpelumi said.
Speaking further, he added, “In the next few years, we should have a better and more vibrant NISA that would carry all members along. It’s not just going to be about individuals but the group. Our members have to be empowered and our voice should be heard. The idea is to rebuild NISA to ensure it makes significant impact in the industry such that the government wouldn’t be able to take critical decisions without NISA”
Although Akinpelumi was stressing the importance of NISA’s return to one fold, this same principle could be applied for the good of Nigerian ship owners and the maritime sector at large. It was this idea and laudable prospects that stimulated the Minister of Transport, Amaechi to push for a uniform body of ship owners which gave birth to the Nigerian Ship owners Forum (NSF) chaired by Barr. (Mrs.) Margaret Orakwusi, but the gains of this unity remains a pipe dream.
In his welcome speech at the SOAN event last week, SOAN President, Dr. Mkgeorge Onyung reemphasized the crucial role of ship owners in the nation. He said; “I want to send a clear message to Nigeria’s President that ship owners of this country hold the key to unlock the economic prosperity of Nigerians. Shipping is responsible for 90% of global trade and it would be irresponsible for Nigeria to neglect this crucial sector”
“If there is no shipping, there would be no shopping. Those of you who have shopped before should understand that there is a connection between shipping and national development. Seafarers have been labeled the most important workers on earth by the United Nations, hence the need for Nigeria to plan and value the future of its seafarers. Their future would be a catalyst to Nigeria’s economic development. We can’t have ships and have incompetent seafarers. That is why we should be committed to training them and as ship owners we take them as our family” Onyung said.
It was NISA that was engulfed in internal crisis after the election in 2014 led to the splitting of the association into two groups headed by Niyi Labinjo and Aminu Umar while other members also pulled out to form the association named ‘SOAN’.
This war robbed the industry of the gains from the popular NIMAREX events. It robbed the nation’s shipping industry of the growth that ship-owners would have recorded and the effects in terms of employment of seafarers and contributions to the nation’s GDP. It robbed the industry of the positive developments that would have been recorded if CVFF had been used for its purpose.
Speaking with MMS Plus recently, the Secretary-General of African Shipowners Association (ASA) Mrs. Funmilayo Folorunsho shared her dream on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) that Nigeria should be the leader in shipping because it had vessels, ship-owners, and pedigree in ship ownership.
“Nigeria must lead in the advocacy that this trade been generated by African nations must be carried by African owned vessels in Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, among others. This is the time to develop the African fleet. Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa, so the nation must lead the campaign for the development of maritime transportation in Africa. Otherwise, we would develop intra-African trade that would still be carried by non-Africans.” she said.
With AfCFTA, it is indeed time for Africa to record exponential growth like never seen before. How would this growth be realized without ship owners? How would Nigerian ship owners be able to pool their resources to maximize Nigeria’s gain with AfCFTA when they can’t stand together? Ship-owners in the region would need to have a bond to ensure that the freight earnings from AfCFTA trade stays in the continent. Can Africa attain this economic emancipation with current state of disunity in among ship owners in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous and influential country?