By Kenneth Jukpor
Mrs. Funmilayo Folorunsho is the Secretary-General of African Shipowners Association (ASA). She was a guest speaker at the maiden WIMA-Nigeria conference last week. She spoke with MMS Plus newspaper on the sidelines as she explored numerous shipping and economic benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AcFCTA) as well as the grievous consequences. She also touched on the place of mentorship for women in maritime. Enjoy it:
You just delivered a pulsating presentation on the crucial role of transportation especially shipping on Africa’s economic development. Can you reiterate those thoughts?
Let me put this in perspective. Transportation cuts across everything and maritime transportation is key because it is the cheapest and most efficient for international trade. Therefore, as we deliberate on the development of any economy, we have to look at the transportation sector with special emphasis on the maritime transportation.
At ASA, we are encouraging and supporting the development of fleet in every African country. This is an issue that hasn’t been addressed hitherto. We want to focus on this to ensure that more Africans own ships and benefit from the enormous potentials available in shipping.
I’m aware that when the concept of AfCFTA was conceived the place of transportation wasn’t considered. Going forward with the regional agreement, how could this be corrected to enable transportation, especially shipping play a vital role?
You have stated the fact. However, I’m more excited to talk about the way forward rather than dwell on the past. 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. In biblical parlance, that would amount to building for another to inherit the gains.
In signing off the trade agreement to build African economies, Nigeria should be the leader in shipping because we have 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.
NIMASA recently held a global maritime security conference where the issue of piracy was extensively discussed. How would you rate the menace in the African region?
You cannot record any significant development without security in any sector or field of endeavour. We are gathered at this conference because we are certain of the security. If we have heard that people were shooting at random or we converged here to find a shoot-out we would have left this place. Therefore, Nigeria must be commended for that initiative. Going forward, we should learn to implement the lofty decisions and action plans taken at such conferences. I expect that at this time the key decisions from that conference would have begun implementation stage. We should also inform other countries in the region of the action plans from the conference and start implementation.
NIMASA has led Nigeria to initiate and organize that conference but it wouldn’t be truly successful until those decisions are implemented. There should be a team saddled with the task of implementation. Once again, I want to reiterate that security is very important in shipping as the sector can’t record any improvement without security. Nigeria must be commended for coming up such crucial issue discussed by the regional and global players. However, until we implement the action plans from that conference it would only go down as a talk-shop.
One of the biggest challenges to ship ownership in Nigeria and Africa in general is access to finance. How is ASA exploring avenues to address this?
I disagree with you. Access to finance isn’t the problem. The only thing that develops fleet is trade. If you have money and you buy a ship, you wouldn’t park it in a garage because it should be used for trade. Meanwhile, if you are able to produce goods and have cargoes for some contracts for affreightment, ship-owners would come to you and investors would be willing to finance your vessels because you have the trade. So, the major problem is trade and not finance.
Looking at the oil and gas sector where Nigeria has enormous crude products for export and import, the nation is still not reaping the benefits as a result of the trade terms for crude affreightment. How do we overcome this?
I know that you know what the issues are there. You know it very well. So, I don’t want us to dwell on what was or who has been responsible for the problem. Nigeria has been talking about foreign domination since I was a young girl but today I am over 60 years old. It is high time we sit down to address this issue. Why do the foreign parties keep getting these businesses while indigenous players don’t?
Shipping isn’t about the colour of your skin or your nationality; it is a business decision to decide what vessel carries your cargo. You aren’t going to patronize anybody just because it is a Nigerian flagged vessel. It is a business decision so indigenous operators should be able to grow to that level of the competition.
We can’t write-off the fact that access to fund is still a major problem. One of the points contained in the communiqué of NIMASA’s global maritime conference is that there should be the establishment of a Maritime bank that to help ship-owners have access to funding at single digits. What’s your position on this?
Have you looked at the fleet in Nigeria? Do you know that there are Nigerians who are getting finance from outside Nigeria? These categories of people have been able to attract this finance to do good business because they have been able to meet international standards. I can tell you emphatically from African Ship-owners perspective that there is ship finance but those interested have to meet the parameters.
If you go asking a bank for a loan, you would have to meet the parameters. They have to find out if you are a salary-earner or if you’re a business person they would look at your business turn-over and cashflow. They would give you the loan based on the income. When they know that every 20th day of the month a particular sum is paid into your account as salary, they can give a loan based on this. Similarly, people have to meet the parameters for ship-finance both internally and externally before anyone would release such funds.
Let’s digress to issues concerning women. Today, WIMA-Nigeria is celebrating women just as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) dedicated the theme of the year to women ‘Empowering Women in the Maritime Community’. What’s your thoughts on women empowerment in maritime?
For me, there are several categories of women in the maritime industry. They are; the aged, the ageing and the young ones. While they is still strength to mentor the young ones, we must start to de-emphasize those of us and start to look at the younger ones to groom them and position them to be able to play crucial roles in future. The question now is where are the young ones we intend to mentor? Where are the younger ones who are ready to be mentored? We aren’t talking about young women who would rather be pampered but mentored.
The women here today are ready to mentor such young women. You could see the readiness and assurances from the robust and hearty deliberations during the conference. I’m sure that for any young person I meet here, I should be able to mentor first by asking simple questions like; what do you do? What are the challenged? How can you be better at it? What’s your network? Who do you need to meet, imitate or model your career after?
When you find those to be mentored, the mentors are always there. The challenge is for these young ones to come forward and show readiness that they really want to be mentored.
You also stressed in your presentation earlier that all categories of stakeholders in the maritime industry must begin to explore how best to harness the gains of the AfCFTA.
There are three things that have happened in Africa and I am particular about Africa because it is my terrain. We have the African Union which is equivalent to the European Union. AU is the first advantage that Africa has. Another advantage is the emergence of the blue economy which has is concerned about everything affecting the seas and oceans, related fields and underwater. Finally, Africa has the Continental Free Trade Agreement. When you put these three factors today; you would realize that this is the time for Africa to record exponential growth like never seen before.
If freight forwarders among nations in the region could link up and start to network to form formidable international grouping; you would find that they can be responsible for whatever is moving from Uganda to Nigeria would be handled by the group. Ship-owners in the region can also have a similar bond; the same thing applies to maritime lawyers and other professionals and vocations in the maritime sector.
What African Union is looking out for is a formidable group. When you talk about the role of women, you can see what WIMAFRICA has done as a formidable group to link women in the sector across the continent. You can also see what the Nigerian chapter has done. WIMA-Nigeria has been able to pull women of substance to discuss today and ponder on the headway for women in the sector and the overall development of the industry. This is a powerful network because if they need to do anything in Morocco, Zimbabwe, South-Africa, etc. they have the network. This is the time for African unity for the benefit of all nations in the region.
Now that President Mohammadu Buhari has signed the AfCFTA and he has gone to meet his South African counterpart, it is the set time for a formidable economic platform that we must build on. South Africa and Nigeria are two of the biggest economies in Africa and their coming together would be good for the region. Don’t forget that the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo also recently visited Norway for economic discussions and Norway is maritime friendly. This is Africa’s time to record a massive economic transformation with the maritime sector playing a significant role.