The foremost maritime legal icon, Barr. Louis Mbanefo, SAN has taken a swipe at what he described as retrogressive malaise and political interferences from the political class, a development that has destroyed virtually all visible legacies in the maritime industry.
How Democracy Kills Maritime Industry, Mbanefo: New Shipping Line Is A Waste of Time
Mbanefo, President, Maritime Lawyers Association, whose 70th birthday will be on September 23rd,2014 spoke with MMS Plus Weekly exclusively on sundry absurd issues in the sector and legal profession.
“My role in the industry has been that of Law and advocacy. And I must say that I am disappointed at the way things have turned out. Standards were very much higher 35 years ago than now. Maritime law has become all-comers affair. All kinds of characters come in, with no integrity. I am very disappointed. Things hadn’t developed the way I hoped. But as regards the industry as a whole, there is too much interference by politicians.
I was the last Chairman of the Nigerian National Shipping Line(NNSL). A very sound board was appointed in 1993 to commercialize the company and make it run as a profit making organization; it was almost bankrupt at the time. And with the help of people like Chief Oyesiku(who was the managing director), we were on the part to reviving the company when the politicians came and dissolved our board unceremoniously. And having taken the company they wounded it up. It was a huge disappointment,” the legal icon stated.
The septuagenarian lawyer also observed with concern that ‘ generally, when you look at the industry now there is no consistency; there is a lack of seriousness. We are not focused. In other countries, things are done in very focused and progressive manner but here we go backwards, we go round in circles, we make laws but do not keep to them. To me it does not make sense at all.”
He advised against the plan by the Federal Government to refloat a national shipping line after the liquidation of the previous one, saying “I think it is a waste of time, the problems that were there before will continue to be there since you have politicians involved and things are based on all kinds of irrelevant considerations.
I think we are going to get there. One of the very unfortunate things was the time they dissolved the company. They sold off all the assets of the company, sold off all houses; they now have to start all over again acquiring those things at higher cost, vessels are not cheap and who is going to man these vessels?”
“ When we first started at the NNSL, we had our crop of very ebullient young people who were trained specifically for the needs and these ones became the captains of those ships but many of them are now in their 70s or so. Now, I don’t know the key materials we have since there has been a sort of hiatus, no consistency in development, so who is going to be the captains? Mbanefo noted.
Speaking on the local content development and the Cabotage administration, he said, “I am yet to see any coherent policy which is carried out meticulously. We take this approach now and a different one later; things change, new actors come on stage. Frankly, I am very discouraged because I don’t see any seriousness, any consistent drive to maximize the potentials in the maritime industry”.
On the selection process for the status of Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN) in the legal profession, he recalled that the criterion in those days was how well you did, now it seems to be how many cases under their names so that they will be selected.
“ In those days Judges were asked to comment on their performances. They had to get judgement of the Supreme Court, the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal on a person who qualifies, but now I don’t know to what extent that happens. I was appointed SAN 26 years ago, the measures then were stringent, we were only five in the whole of the country each year. Now I think, it is about 25 each year.
The criterion in those days was how well you did, now it seems to be how many cases you have done in this court or that, so people now do all kinds of things to make cases under their names”, he added.