By Okuneye Moyosola
Mr. Abilahan Oluremi is the President of Postgraduate Maritime Students Association at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). He inspired his colleagues to establish an annual maritime week programme and MMS Plus was there for the maiden edition. In this interview, Oluremi explains the multiple benefits a national single window would avail port operators in the country. He also stresses the need for the creation of maritime universities in the country, despite limited resources. Excerpts:
How can Nigeria overcome the chronic problems of corruption and non-compliance to trade policies at the ports?
Within the maritime sector, there have been postulations as to having a single window for every stakeholder, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) as well as the terminal operators to have a single window upon which all the transactions concerning shipments would be done.
This is one factor that could change the operations at the port sector positively. It would eliminate corruption, challenges of non-compliance, extortion and other vices. In fact, there would be fewer opportunities for human interface as all payments would be seen on the single window and made to the various agencies of government without meeting their officials.
If most of the international conventions that guide the operation of maritime business are implemented in the country, then the problem would be reduced. We already have the requisite laws and regulations but one thing I find missing is the aspect of implementation and enforcement of the law.
What is your take on the new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) exchange rate for import?
I think it is a good development that will help our local investors and many of our indigenous companies and local investors to do more of trade and it is going to increase our GDP in the nation. More employment opportunities will also be created and you can be sure that the government would utilize these funds to fix several infrastructure challenges across the country.
As a President of a group of maritime students, what are your projections for the maritime industry?
I want the maritime sector in Nigeria to get to the level which the industrialized nations have reached. In other countries, they adopt the system of paperless transactions which is done online. This system is devoid of corruption, bureaucracy, back door payment and issues such as port congestion could also be avoided.
We should do what is obtainable internationally, especially following the law that guides maritime operations. We have several conventions that allows for seamless flow of trade. We must domesticate these laws accordingly, so that we can have a good maritime business.
Some problems such as lack of holding bays have become a major set-back for the industry. How do you think this problem can be solved?
There is need for synergy between NPA, Customs and terminal operators. That’s why I talked about a strategic Single Window platform for port operations earlier. With the single window there would be fewer reasons for delays or congestion at the ports as a result of frivolous stops and checks by various agencies. There are too many agencies that are required to check goods or containers at the ports. If there is a joint examination as they say there is, then this should allow for some degree of ease in the process of clearance at the ports.
On the aspect of holding bays, shipping companies must be compelled to provide such facilities because the containers are their properties. It is unfair to continuously charge demurrages on these containers when there is no space for the agents to return them.
Tell us about this post-graduate association?
The Postgraduate Maritime Students Association was formally launched on the 25th of May, 2019. The process of registering the association was not an easy task but we are grateful that it is in existence. The preparation for the maritime week programme started upon the registration of the association. The programme was conceived with the willingness to host many professionals in the industry. We intend to have a communication platform so that we can create a relationship with the industry players and this is also the reason why the association was created. Our mission is to create rooms for many students who are not based in maritime but want to pick a career in the maritime profession.
We realized that many at times, most of the experts in the industry are not within the academic world and the best way to get them closer to us is to organize programmes like this. This will enable us network and create awareness for the Institute. There are several courses that you can study in the institute such as maritime administration, maritime communication and many other courses.
Recently, the masters programme for marine administration and hydrographic survey was approved. All of these courses ought to be projected to the outside world. Upon graduation, many of our students who graduated excellently well were offered scholarship to study further outside or within the country. Some of them have also been given awards or automatic employment within the maritime sector.
What achievements has the association made within this short period of time?
This event is one of the achievements that we have made because at a point we thought the event would not hold. Although, it has been a bit challenging to host the program barely one month after registration but we kept pushing with persistence and hoping that our plans would work out. We are happy that it eventually worked as planned.
What advice do you have for youths that want to join the maritime sector?
The youths should endeavour to get the best out of the maritime sector. There are lots of opportunities within the sector that are yet to be explored. Mentorship is very important .These young ones need to be encouraged and they also need to be aware of these opportunities as well as the prospects. Also, more maritime based universities should be created to allow for more participation and awareness.
The Vice President of the association, Mrs. Olajumoke Olubukola Ola-Oyewole also spoke on the importance of women in the maritime sector and the need for women to take up more leadership positions.
What experience have you gathered during this period of study?
I didn’t have any knowledge about the maritime sector when I came here. I studied Theatre Arts and I had my master’s degree in English. I needed to diversify and that is why I decided to study the course. I have learnt about the intricacies of ships on the sea. I can talk about the issues at the ports and other maritime-related issues.
How would you rate the involvement of women in the maritime industry?
We see men as always been ahead of us. For example, captains of ships are mostly men and because of the time they spend on sea, most women are not really encouraged to become a captain. Women are known for taking care of the family. However, with the right policies in place and the right attraction to the business of maritime, we are going to have more women.
In our postgraduate class, we have so many women that are in the maritime sector. I know that with time, more women will come into the sector.
Women should be able to face any challenge that they encounter because they are strong. We should come out and take more responsibilities. You don’t have to be on the sea if you join the maritime sector. The course I am studying presently is maritime administration and I do not have to be on the sea. I can be at the office or at the port and carry out my task without going to the sea. If more women are involved, there would be balance. There is always a place for women in all sectors and the maritime sector isn’t different.