Capt Dada Labinjo, until recently is the General Secretary of Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners (NISA), a position he occupied in the association from inception for 12 years. Today, the association is seeking new sets of leaders that will pilot its affairs for another maximum of four years as stipulated by the constitution. This time, Labinjo wants to be the president of NISA, a position other two contestants are seeking as well. To many observers, why would Labinjo come back as president when he had held a prime position of General Secretary for over a decade? What are his programmes as an aspirant, and what did NISA achieve within the 12 years of his leadership as secretary? Is he qualified to lead the association? Does he have what it takes to lead? All these questions are answered in his interview with MMS Plus Weekly.
Can you talk on the zoning issue?
The provisions of the constitution did not say that a particular position must be zoned to a particular zone but however under article 6-election of officers, it said “Every office of the association is elective. Article 6.2 says officers of the association shall be elected for two years. Article 6.3 says “Election will hold during AGM. Article 6.4 says “Election into executive offices of the association shall be conducted by NIMASA (returning officer). This is because we want to show transparency. It would have been sufficient to say to be observer.
NIMASA is accusing the outgoing executive of lack of transparency that is why we made them the returning officer. Article 6.5 says “Elections shall be by secret ballot on a simple majority. Article 6.6 says “As much as possible candidates contesting elections into the position of the President,-1st Vice-President, 2nd Vice President shall be from different geographical/geo-political regions of the country”.
But what happens if the ship-owners we have in the country are from one geopolitical area, would you because of the election go to another geopolitical area to pick a non-ship owner?
The constitution recognises that there may be difficulty in fulfilling that aspect of the law but if we can help let us have it spread. The reason is also to show our transparency. In those three positions, if we can have three persons from three different geopolitical areas, let us have it but if we cannot, what do we do? But fortunately we do have in our association three geographical locations represented. We have south-west, south-south south-east naturally. We have one person from North-East (Adamawa). We have someone from North-central (Kwara). It is because we know about the paucity of other regions. And what do you do if people from a particular region refuse to show up for elections? Of course, someone has to be there but you won’t drag the person, the person should come on his own accord.
Why did NISA change from ISAN, there is also a change in the nomenclature of the leadership positions like, it used to be chairman but now is President, why the change?
When we started we wanted to distinguish ourselves as Nigerians as against foreign shipping companies who were around at the time. The foreign shipping companies, formed an association and they were agency companies of Marersk, RORO, Grimaidi etc, that are resident in Nigeria. They saw the advent of the Cabotage Act as a threat, they did everything to scuttle its implementation but we needed to be Nigerians to distinguish ourselves from a foreigner that is why we use the word indigenous shipowners. They were ridiculing us because they believe that we don’t have sea-worthy ships. It was funny but insulting, so we decided that at the appropriate time, we would change it. In 2009, we visited Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Singapore and found out that these nations named their associations from the name of their country so that is why we added Nigeria to our name. ISAN now NISA that is why we also changed from chairmanship to presidency.
We opened our membership. Before you needed to have a ship before you will become a member but after the visit to Asia twice, the second time with NIMASA, we were able to fashion our association after their own, there anybody who has maritime interest is a member, you (MMS Plus) should also belong. That is why we needed to change our constitution to accommodate all manners of maritime operators. Anybody who does not have ship(s) but provides ancillary services including schools should be a member. Article 4, Membership, Any Nigerian Shipping Company, not being an existing member owning at least one ship of not less than 150 gross registered tonnage (GRT) registered under the Merchant Shipping Act 2007 shall be eligible for admission as a member of the association. Article 4.1 “Membership of the association shall be as follows: Full members-must be Nigerian citizen, companies registered in Nigeria in which Nigerian citizens own at 60%. So even if one has a joint venture with foreign company, provided his own 60% not in trust, no agents should be a member.
Associate Member: Auxiliary, ancillary service providers in the Maritime industry like the chandlers freight forwarders, publishers, schools, Lawyers, bankers, accountants, insurance brokers can become members.
Affiliate Members: organisations related to the association such as MAAN Maritime Arbitrators Association of Nigeria NMLA-Nigeria Maritime Law Association, WISTA, etc. We call them affiliates.
Honorary Members: Members who have impacted and contributed immensely to the development of Maritime Industry in Nigeria and our members who have attained the age of seventy and are retired. Mr. Shodipo, the first Nigerian Ship-owner was very glad when we honoured him 2003 and he was about 90 years. All our full and associate members can vote but our honorary members cannot. Affiliates members too are not interested in voting.
What is the membership strength of the association?
We are about 150
We use to have Nigerian Shipping Companies Association (NSCA), before ISAN now NISA, what’s the difference between this and that?
Capt, Emma Iheanacho was the executive secretary of NSCA and probably the only member. He had a chairman, who was then Ramalan, they were the only two people in the association. (Maybe he was thinking he will be getting money by opening the association). What happened mainly was that they were mainly shipping agents. It did not last for obvious reasons I said obvious reasons because the UNCTAD code also did not last. It was shut down by America. Don’t forget the UNCTAD code was designed by developing countries who wanted to play active part in maritime trade.
It is because of UNCTAD code they created Shippers’ Council that is why you found Shippers’ Council all over developing nations. The UNCTAD code was scrapped because nobody respected it any longer, it’s place was taken by World Trade Agreement (WTA). Invariably what they thought (I was never a member) was that they may be able to impress it on the government to recognise them and start giving them allocations. What the UNCTD code says is that the country buying the item will take 40% and the country selling the item, will take 40%, then the remaining 20% can go to anybody outside the two countries. America did not like it because they have the capacity to take the whole 100% person, so they start bilateral agreement and by so doing, the UNCTAD code became irrelevant and died a natural death. The people who went to shippers’ council every month to obtain ordinary paper instead of them to develop Nigerian shipping by chartering the ships themselves, they would go and sell the paper to foreign shipowners who will now transact the business themselves by leaving out Nigerian ships in the process. Some of these people do not even know what shipping is all about but because they can obtain the paper, they agreed to do the business only to sell it again to foreign ships.
You cannot even be our member at the beginning if you don’t own a ship. We even raised the conditions that if anyone does not own 500 GRT ship he will never be our member. If you have a small tug, or small fishing trawler, you cannot be our member. These ones weigh about 30-40 tonnes, but we demanded 500 tonnes and for anyone to get a vessel that is big, the person had to cough out about $2m as at then. But in order to accommodate more people, we now lower the conditions to 150 tonnes. I think NISA as association has been fair. People did not think we would last.
They have tried severally to break the association, because they thought that there is something special, there is nothing special, we are just a pressure group association. We are passing through what countries before us passed through, so many countries have gone through this phase and they had to do what we are doing, come together like this and they have had to continue to put pressure on their government. It takes quite a lot before the government can see what we are seeing.
The reason is because government is not a practitioner. No matter how long you stay in NIMASA you cannot be a practitioner, for you to be a practitioner get out and buy a ship like Omatseye has done. It is not easy. Is Omatseye the only ex-DG of NIMASA, what happened to other DG’s before him, why didn’t they buy? What happened to all the people who had retired from NIMASA, why didn’t they go into shipping? Why it is like that because they know the booby traps. If that is beneficial, the return on investment is good as they are leaving there, the next thing they will do is to enter into shipping. So why are they not doing it. It is because there is danger, or they have discovered that it is not as interesting, so it needs somebody with a lot of interest like me. With my back-ground, I can’t do any other thing except shipping.
I started in 1975 as a seafarer; I have gone through one of the best trainings in the world, by the time I was leaving the Navy I had commanded many ships, in that capacity I have been a seafarer, not only did I command, I have patrolled our waters, I commanded ships going to war showing our flag. Those are the three duties of the navy; police our waters, military duties like we did in ECOMOG, and diplomatic assignments like I travelled to Brazil and Part of Spain, all over the world, so given my background I cannot do anything else.
I rightly came here, set up a shipping company, own my own ships and not only that, I manage ships also, charter ships from others. So those are my experience, owner ship, management and charter. It is quite different experience from seafaring. It is like being in the heart of shipping operations. Then in addition, I am a Maritime Lawyer. So it will be surprising if I do any other thing say farming quite as good. This is the only place I can be relevant, where my competence will be called to action and that is why you find out that I am very passionate about it. I am not like many of them who have passed through the system but who choose to do something completely different not even anything near water.
Why contest for Presidency?
Why not contest for presidency? Who is most qualified if not me? I have just told you my background that is why I am contesting for presidency. My background is such that prepared me very well for any position of leadership in the association.
Secondly, having been the general secretary I have seen it all. It has taken this association this long, for us to get recognition, to get to where we are. As a pressure group, it does not come over night. People think, it has taken us too long, it hasn’t, we have done very well, if in twelve years we are able to create this awareness of our association, we have not done badly, so we are now at a position where we can now only move forward.
We have come in the centre stage, we need now to work together with government, there is nothing we can do without the government. When I say government, we are not asking government to come and give us money; no, that is wrong thing to think about, it is not money alone that government can do. There is so much money floating around in the world, but contracts are not floating around, employment is not floating around. I cannot use my ship in Ghana, I will deprive Ghanaians of job, I cannot use my ship in the US, no matter how beautiful my ship is, I cannot work in America because I cannot satisfy the conditions which will include you must be an American, you must register in America. There is no provision for foreigners in the case of America, why because they want to give Americans the job. So where can I then work, I can work only in Nigeria where I have the right to work.
The problems why we are having our waters overrun by foreigners is not because government has not done enough no; the government has done well by providing the enabling legislation. You have the Merchant Shipping Act 2007, you have the Cabotage Act 2003, the Nigerian Content Act 2010 and the NIMASA Act, PIB in the works, NPA in the works, government has done all that, but it is not all, government cannot say that since they have provided the legislation, that their job is finished, no. This was the discussion I had with Gen. Obasanjo during the NIMAREX for the second time he called me and ask how the Cabotage Act is fairing and I told him it is not working. Gen. Obasanjo asked what else we wanted, we have given you the laws what else do you want? I told him it is not enough to give us the laws, you need to make sure that the laws are obeyed. We at NISA have tried to enforce the law, if you remember in 2009-10, there were several court cases involving ships/foreign vessels for flouting our laws and as recent as March this year, Omatseye case was thrown out. It was because of the same reason that we don’t have powers to enforce.
NIMASA did not say a word. As a matter of fact, justice Buba up braided NIMASA because they were in Omatseye’s court all through and did not say a word, or file any process. The justice was surprised that NIMASA attended all the sittings without filing anything and that if they had come up with something, it would have helped develop the system that it was very unkind. And of course the Cabotage Act gives them all the powers, there is no provision for individuals or corporate organisations like NISA. And once you talk about the criminal aspect of the law, it is only government that can act, ordinary citizens cannot, that exactly what I told Chief Obasanjo.
That is the phase we are in now, the phase to make government realize the need to further assist us or work with us. There is no senior or junior partner in the relationship. NIMASA thinks that they are superior to ships owners. How can you think that you are superior to me, without me, there will be no you, so you cannot be superior to me. It is my contribution that pays your salary. So we are partners and what I want to do differently which is one of the reasons why I am there. I am eminently qualified because I know the problem and I am part of the advocacy. In the last twelve years I know the problems we have gone through and know what else to do. We will now partner better with government agencies. Government-Maritime agencies for example it is said that the Cabotage Act must be reviewed every five years, so from 2003 till now it ought to have been reviewed twice but do you review a law that you have not even tested? How do you test a law? By checking each and every position, making sure you test them. If it says arrest and pay 500 million, you do that, if people complain, you do something about it during the review. The Cabotage Act says that it is only NIMASA that can prosecute, so since we are moving to the next phase of our development, we can review the order because it is hampering the enforcement of the law, if we are able to convince National Assembly to look into that, it will bring a change in the Cabotage Act to enable individuals like NISA to act in such capacity.
The provisions of the Nigerian Control Act stipulates that it must be reviewed every two years but up till now it has not been reviewed, it ought to have been reviewed twice too. It came out in 2010. These are the things I as the president will ensure we do. I will ensure that our partnership is embedded or we work together. I carry one leg, they carry one leg. In the past NIMASA saw everything we did as being antagonistic, should that be – No. I have not said anything inimical to the interest of NIMASA. But am I wrong to observe that NIMASA did not file any paper in that court process? If they had filed any paper, it would have helped us and the development of that law. Go and ask them what happened in Bullima’s case instituted by Omastseye, why did they not file any paper? The Cabotage Act provided copiously for NIMASA’s powers. It gave them so much power for enforcement, that they fail to use that power (section 29-34) is surprising. From section 30-41 of the cabotage Act is all about offences and enforcement. Once you call something an offence, by our law which is tutorial it has to be done by government otherwise you have to apply to the Act to be granted authority. You know how many times Keyamo has asked for authority to go and prosecute on his own. Even Gani too. But if we are embedded in the forthcoming dispensation, we will now be looking at that various provisions together. We have one thing, they don’t have. No government ever has money, because government has very competing needs. There is the school, police, defence, infrastructure etc, they never have enough money, so government must not be involved in business. There is another thing government does not always have-skill. So, it is always the investor that has skill and money. So government should allow the investor with money and skill to do exactly what you (government) want done.
There are few companies that have risen in the last three, four years; they have done so well, we know them. Why do they do so well? Because they got government support through contract.
Another thing is that because government has not enforced all the provisions of the laws, the provisions are not there for fun, they are there for a purpose, so each one must be tasted, so if you have issues, with them which can only come when you relate with the investors well and not treat them as antagonists and subordinates, they will tell you the difficulties they are having so you will then compile that and handle it, then review it completely.
The NCD Act Section 105 says NIMASA and the Nigerian Content Monitoring Act must work together and ensure that the enforce the provisions of the Cabotage Act. So you can see that the government means well. Nigerian institution does not have memory, they are as good as the person occupying the headship, it should not be, anybody who gets there should be guarded by laws. It should not be because he is from a particular region and so gets a lot of supporter or little or none at all. NIMASA has no memory as an organization, they are not improving on their past performances. As long as you are not putting round pegs in round holes, you will always have problems.
How old is NISA from the days of ISAN?
NISA was established in 2002, its about twelve years now. As a matter of fact we started in 2001 and got registered in 2002.
Within the twelve years, give me about three major achievements of NISA?
One, there is a platform now, it is a major achievement, we have an association that can organize an election, if there is no such association, that can organize an election, if there is no such association, there cannot be any election. Omatseye, Greg, Japaul, and Labinjo will not be interested in contesting elections. It is a major achievement of course like you have rightly observed, there has been several effort at tearing the association. That the association has remained intact is a major achievement. Two, these years, we are pressure group and like pressure groups unless those who have not been involved in such venture, you will know how difficult it is to break into government heart.
It is very difficult. Maritime is the oldest profession after prostitution. Remember Noah, he is the first shipowner. During Noah’s time do you think there was no Nollywood.? Women were entertaining people who were relaxing, that is Nollywood. Nigeria is doing rebasing, they recognized Nollywood, they are doing intervention fund, they are doing economic summit, they provided for road transport, for maritime, nothing. Meanwhile in maritime 90% of volume of our commerce is done by maritime, 80% by value, it has taken us quite an effort to get to where we are, the little recognition we have got. It has not been a bed of roses, we have had to go to court, had to meet them at Abuja, to fight with NIMASA. We have been in conferences where we will be raising our hands and would not be called to speak.
Everybody now is reporting NISA election, a few years back probably it would have made no news, so apart from the platform, there is the awareness to some extent not enough yet. The third is, we are able to create NIMARAEX, it is major one. It is train event that brings everybody together to come and showcase what you do. I hope during the next NIMARAEX you will have a stand where you will say I am a Maritime operator, I publish; alongside shipowners who will say I am a maritime operator, I own ships’ etc. we are going to the fourth edition of NIMAREX. It is an achievement. We took part in the first ever presidential retreat, we were the only people that said something different from what the rest were saying, because government whenever they talk about maritime, they talk only about Lagos port, Port Harcourt port, Calabar etc. unfortunately they did not take all our recommendations but we are still there, it is repeated.
Do you know that it is only NISA that the president has never granted audience to visit. From Obasanjo, to Yar’Adua and then Jonathan. They do not appreciate the position of the Nigerian Maritime and the contributions to the economy of Nigeria. If I were the president of Nigeria, I would create an additional state- maritime state – it is richer than any other state in Nigeria, littoral states (The whole of the place is littered with hydrocarbons, up to 40billion barrels, it has gas, over 800 trillion cubic feet, according to Diezani
Now there is another thing here, if is fish and shrimps, we have one of the best tiger shrimps in the world here, that is why all these foreign poachers come here to fish.
So, if you are the president of this country that has this rich Maritime environment what would you do? Will you ignore it? Another, thing is that Nigeria is heavily import dependent and because of this we import everything. NPA’s ½ yearly report said that they have done 78 million tones, hopefully by the end of the year they will do more than 100million. It means you can also earn money from the imports. By the way you know that NIMASA charges 3% of the value of the import, so if you have 5000 ships, you can imagine what that will amount to. You also need to protect so that there will be no piracy, ebola. Because of ebola ships have stopped coming,
if were the president of this country, I will build a wall (imaginary) and put a small entrance so that anybody coming in will be stopped by the wall. Nigeria has over three thousand platforms, and they are all here, and these platforms need food, water, diesel, empty their rubbish, medication. Nigeria has a law, and the law says only Nigeria ships can serve all these platforms, so if only Nigeria vessels must serve all these platforms, that is revenue for Nigeria and that is where the cabotage excels.
I have given you another thing that we have done. We have been able to bring all these to the consciousness of the government. Even though for twelve years we have not been granted audience which is shameful, Mr. president has not granted us audience even though he had granted people from most works of life.
I am reserving a lot of things for our debate that will be coming up on the 13th.
How can one say that manufacturers are more important than shipowners?
Newfound England was in the same situation, Newfound England is United States of America. They were discovered in 14th century. When they got there, they did not have good farm land but they have something in abundance; Lumber, these lumber grew up to the edge of the water, they now said since we have plenty of lumber and we have sea, let us start building ship, so they started building ships, that is all and because wages were very low for those building ships compared to those farming, so many people were going into ship building such that by 1776, a third of all the British ships were from new England. Since that time they have been pressing forward. They know what to do, they know what it means to buy a ship.
Now a small 1000 tonner ship costs 2million dollars which is about N300 million. A Nigeria with such money can do so many things, but if the person is patriotic enough to invest that money in shipping, should he not get all the support, this is a country where we don’t even get any incentives for Nigerian Shipowners. I have no advantage registering as a shipowner in Nigeria whereas I have an advantage registering in Liberia. In Nigeria I am taxed twice-Taxes inhibits growth of investments?
What is the role NISA is playing in Crude Oil arraignment?
Zero, we gave a press conference immediately they announced the 2nd quarter crude oil allocation. Firstly, the government has not played by the rules they set for themselves and that is very unfair, you don’t set a rule if you know you can’t play by that rule. The government has in their rule for allocation a system that if you bid you must have a Nigerian content (Nigeria Shipping Company), but we have about 18 people and non of our members has got any contract with any of them and government has done nothing about it. It is insincerity on the side of the government. It will cost me a small fortune from call if I get a 5year contract, I will call Europe and Asia and request for a ship and they will oblige one. If the government has done things well landlords’ should have changed.
Shipowners who are carrying our crude would have come to Nigeria and entered into relationship with Nigeria, they will continue to do the technical management but the owners will now be Nigerians. No matter how good or rich you are, you cannot go to UAE to do business without a local – no. Nigerian government did that but they did not verify one but we are happy however that for the first time Nigerians are allocated the lifting, there is a difference between lift and transportation, it is the transportation we are concerned with but what they did there is gave them lifting right, that is go and market. Because Americans are not buying their oil and they are looking for who should go and help them market, they now give it to 18 Nigerians, but to make it look as if they have done something for Nigeria, they said you must have a Nigerian Shipping Company as your Nigerian content but they did not fulfill that aspect of the agreement.