By Okuneye Moyosola
Mrs. Mary Hamman is the President of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria. After featuring as one of Nigerian maritime amazons celebrated at the recent MMS Woman of Fortune Hall of Fame (WoFHoF) Night of Empowerment, she granted this interview to MMS Plus. She spoke about the various opportunities available in the maritime sector for women. Mary Hammans explained how she has been able to manage her work, career, numerous associations and balance her obligations in the home. Excerpts:
How do you feel as one of the women to be recognized here today?
I feel elated. Out of so many accomplished women in the maritime industry, I am fortunate to be one of those recognized today. I give God the glory. I also believe that hard work pays because it is from my good deeds that someone would have possibly noticed me and nominated me for the award. For this award, I am grateful toMMS Plus and to God Almighty.
From your profile, I realized that you didn’t study a course related to maritime, you studied education. What motivated you to join the maritime sector?
You don’t really need to study maritime in school because the maritime industry is a big market. I can work onboard a vessel even if I didn’t study maritime. I can be a hairdresser and work on board vessel. As someone who studied education, I can teach maritime. All these will be classified as maritime. With any degree, you can work in the maritime industry.
Would you say you have had any regrets by joining the maritime industry?
I have no regret whatsoever and I feel fulfilled. I have been exposed to so many things that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see if I had not joined the maritime industry. You don’t learn everything in the school, it is when you are out of school that will get the opportunity to learn a whole lot. There were so many things I never knew about, but I discovered them in the industry.
As WISTA Nigeria President, what has been the secret behind the success and also tell us about the challenges?
Generally, it is difficult to manage women. Women in the maritime industry are professionals, they know their onions and so it is not easy to direct anybody unless you carry them along. I also try to make them understand the mission and goal that I have for the association.
It has been interesting as I have had the opportunity to meet different types of women. I get to see how women are working in the industry. Women have so many challenges in the maritime industry so you have to reason along with them and be able to see from their side of the prism.
What are some of the challenges as the President?
There are so many challenges. You can’t lead people without challenges but I have overcome them and I have learnt so much. The challenges have given me the opportunity to know how to manage people and get to know their problems.
So far, there has not been a challenge in WISTA, that we have not been able to overcome.
What are your projections about the future for WISTA Nigeria?
The future of WISTA Nigeria is bright because women are getting to know the reason why they should be in the association. The association gives them the opportunity to network.
Ordinarily, you may not be able to meet any of the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) in the industry but as a WISTA member you will get to meet them in an environment that is not too formal. Anytime you need their help, they will support you and listen to you because you have created a relationship with them.
How have you been able to manage this position with work and family?
It is hectic but I have an understanding husband that understands the nature of my job. I am attending to office work, WISTA work, or an event and most of these programmes require that I travel a lot.
At times, my family would just look at me and marvel at the rate at which I travel. I could just arrive from a trip today and the next day, I would be going for another. Sometimes, my children will ask me: “mummy when are you going to rest”. I am glad I have a husband and children that understand the situation of things and luckily, I don’t fall sick easily. So with God on my side, my family and good health, I have been able to conquer.
Please tell us about the Regional WISTA Conference to hold in April.
The sixth regional WISTA conference that is taking place in Ghana is about the women in maritime that are in Africa. At the conference, we will discuss issues that are peculiar to our continent. Nigeria has hosted it twice and it’s time for Ghana to host the event.
The Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as well as other top personalities will be attending and we are going to be received by the President of Ghana and Vice President of Sierra Leone. Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) will be heavily represented at the conference. It’s going to be a very big event. NIMASA is going there with a very strong delegation headed by the Executive Director of Maritime Labour and Cabotage. Another very important event would also be taking place simultaneously in Sweden where the Secretary General of IMO is supposed to attend but he decided to come to Africa for ours.
All African women have to be seen because if he gets there and we are not in attendance, it will be a shame on our part. All of us are going there to learn, network and meet great speakers that will address us.
Our association is all about networking and that is how you will find it easy to do your business. WISTA is for women in management positions. If you are heading your company, you should also join WISTA because you need to network.
We have about 46 countries that are WISTA members, and if you call any WISTA member in any of these countries, they will connect you to the right people that you need. If any WISTA member needs anything in Nigeria, I will direct the person appropriately. So, it is very important for us to network and that is how you do business. You need to know people and these people need to trust you. Maritime business is capital intensive and you can’t do business with people you don’t know. The networking aspect is what we are going to strengthen in the African region and we are going to talk about the blue economy at the conference.
The theme is “Harnessing the blue economy” and what we are going to deliberate is how the women will benefit from it. However, Nigeria has taken over that challenge long time ago by supporting the women in fishing. When we buy vessels for them and they are able to fish and sell, this is trading which is also the blue economy.
We try to empower them and Nigeria has been doing that, so we are going to perfect all these at the event.
The theme of IMO this year is set aside to celebrate women inclusiveness in the maritime sector. From your perspective as a veteran, how significant is women’s role in Nigeria and in Africa?
The theme seeks to encourage women to come out and show their potentials. Women can do so many things but sometimes they are suppressed by the society or men. As a result of this, they would not be able to discover their potentials and strength. Even the world recognizes that women are important and IMO is giving us a whole year. This is an opportunity that should not be taken for granted. We are encouraging women all over to come out and make use of this opportunity.
The Director General of NIMASA has said he is a member of WISTA as part of the efforts to show his support for women in the agency and the industry at large. What development have women made under his leadership?
He has done so much especially in NIMASA. He gave an acting capacity to a woman to head the ship registry. A woman also heads the human resource department as well as the planning and research department.
He gives everybody equal opportunity and I’m also heading the Shipping Promotion unit in the Shipping Development department at NIMASA. He likes to encourage women and that is why he said he is a member of WISTA. Whenever we apply for sponsorships, he always grants our request. He also has daughters and this has made him develop soft spot for women. If we explain our case to him and he sees reason in it, he will support.
MMS WoFHoF has called for 40% inclusion of women in both public and private sectors. What is your perspective on this?
We have professional women that are qualified and up to the task. These are great women that can function effectively in all aspect of the sector. The theme “balanced for better” is not only for women in the maritime industry, it’s for women in all sectors.
Since we have the capacity, the government should consider the 40% inclusion. This is the reason why we are crying out and our voices must be heard. We have presented our Charter bill to the House of Assembly and we are going to follow it up. We are also going to go to the senate and the president and we will ensure that it bill is passed.
What are the plans of WISTA this year?
We are going to present fishing boats, engine boats and fishing nets to Aguleri women. The election prevented us from carrying out this activity but now that the election is over, we would go there soon to supply the materials. We have done it in Lagos and Akwa Ibom states, so we are going to Aguleri in Anambra State this year. We already have the money for the materials. We are starting with one boat but when we visit the governor, we will solicit for his support for another boat.
We also want to by an oven for roasting because at times, there is no electricity to preserve the fish. It doesn’t have to be a big project, we just want to touch lives and let them know that they don’t have to depend solely on men.
In the last few years, WISTA has organized very important annual events to buttress some issues in the port sector and also to raise some funds. Can you tell us about some of the event that the association will organize this year?
We have our annual business luncheon and magazine launch which might take place in June or July this year. We pray that there would not be any political issues to change our calendar. By November, we will be going for our global AGM at Cayman Island, so our calendar is fully booked.
I am going to be celebrated at the business luncheon this year. Last year, it was supposed to be me but when Hadiza Bala-Usman emerged as the Managing Director of NPA, I decided to step down for her to be celebrated. We usually celebrate the faces of past WISTA presidents and its going to be the end of my second tenure.