Engr. Adeoyo Ojo is the dean of college of engineers at Bells University of Technology Osa, Ogun State, three years ago he was the dean of the faculty of Engineering, Lagos State University, he is also the director of skills Resource Centre in Bells University of Technology Osa. In this exclusive media chat with MMS Plus’ Ifeoma Oguamanam at the just concluded 4th annual conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Marine Engineering And Naval Architecture (MENA) division of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), recently, he x-rays the limitations experienced by engineers and why they have failed to have a place in the economic development of the country.
From today’s discussion, what in your opinion is the strategy for growth in the maritime industry?
The business of shipping and ship building needs a lot of government support but government also needs to remove obstacles from the Path of growth. What we hear is that even in Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) the rules and regulations being implemented are hindering rather helping the growth of shipping. In a nutshell we need to remove what is preventing growth and these are, unnecessary regulations and badly implemented good regulations.
It is one thing to have regulations on paper, it is another thing to implement it without losing its purpose of being a support to the system like in the case with NIMASA, imagine the fate of someone who owns ships, coastal vessels for carrying oil products, imagine how much it cost him to import each of those ships. What is the Customs tariff? About N60 million, he probably went to the bank to borrow that money and do you know all the documentation that must accompany that? Then only for him to get back to Customs and he is told, the tariff has changed and he now has to pay N110million.
How many businesses can stand that kind of shock without being fraudulent or going bankrupt. Which banker will believe you when you say yesterday I wanted N60 million and afterwards you return to say you actually needed N110 million. The world does not do business that way. We have to do business the way that business should be done, then, the environment will naturally attract investors. We all know that there is a lot of prospects and promise in Nigeria but the operating environment is hindering and making it difficult, nobody would want to go there, no matter how rosy it looks. The risks are real.
What can be done to maximize the impact of marine engineers in the maritime industry?
As regards the marine engineering profession, we have undersold ourselves because engineers are too eager to solve the problem and they forget how to look after themselves. We get excited when faced with a problem and all we are thinking is how to solve it without giving thought to how much energy we are putting into it or how much an engineer should be getting out of it.
A doctor will tell you that unless you put some money down he will look at the patient. That is part of the problem, we get so professional that we could become eccentric and this has featured in the lives of so many engineers not just marine engineers. I have looked across the engineering discipline and I have discovered that the same thing applies; they do not put enough value on their skills. We sell ourselves out too cheaply, too readily because we are usually too enthusiastic to get solution, we are very happy to have solved a problem, but the world does not stop there, you have to pay bills, take care of your family, pay insurance and you have to grow your business. So that is one weak area, it affects the lives, acceptability and status of engineers.
Considering the absence of adequate provisions for ship building in Nigeria, what is the future of marine architects and marine engineers?
Bright, in the sense that groups and individuals are getting sensible, they are not looking to government. They get together with the people who have skills for developing the ship building industry, dockyards, ship repairs and from a purely business point of view, writes a business proposal and the location of the ship yard building in Badagri attracted many people.
With their money, high expectations and will, because it was just the right place to put a shipyard, so that instead of going to Tema in Ghana or Ivory Coast, it can easily be done here. When a vessel discharges cargo in Tincan Island Ports, she can easily move into the Badagri ports for repairs and from there, off she goes.
So business decision advised that location and it also looks businesslike in the sense of the word, worldwide.
It is a business proposal that your could take to Berkeley’s Bank or Manhattan in the United States in England and it will receive a nod of approval and when they look at your operating environment they see that you have taken care of everything, investors will come. So, I think the prospects of the future of naval architects is bright because more and more of these types of entrepreneurs who look beyond government and the immediate financial organizations are now coming together and the more we see of them the more jobs will come.
There have been opinions in some quarters that the training of manpower for the industry should be guided by the demand for that particular manpower in areas where they are needed, do you agree with this?
Yes. It starts by doing a research on skills that are required in the 21st century industry, having identified these skills, you now plan how best to fill them. So all the training programs we design follow this pattern. We first of all identify what skills gaps exist and are likely to exist well into the 21st century and then we plan training programs around each of those required skills and then try to sell it, they will sell because when you publicize such people will have insight and be futurist. It will also solve the problem of students graduating without getting sea time to some extent because if the manpower needed in an area is readily available it will be much easier to get sea time.
Government authorities and agencies did not grace this occasion, is it that they were not invited?
I am not a member of the organizing committee, but I must say, I notice that too, I can only encourage the organizers to reach out more, there is also a category of engineers that are not prominent here today, they are more in number than those who are present here today but they do not qualify to be members of MENA because they do not have degree paper qualification in marine engineering, yet these are the people who run ships worldwide, people who have acquired very high technical training abroad.
Plenty of them also trained in Nigeria to get a first class Certificate Of Competency, for running unlimited size of ships anywhere in the world, it takes a lot of rigorous academic, technical and practical training. These people spend minimum of 10 years doing sandwich courses, going to technical colleges following well laid out, specified and articulated programmes.
They can repair and hang equipment no matter the size, they can repair pumps generators of any size, some that you can hardly see on land because the ones on land are too small. So, these people are very competent yet the system does not allow them to register, one of the recommendations we are making today is that MENA should see to it that we can interview each one of them on an individual bases and if their competence is confirmed and they obtained there certificates in the right way, we recommend to the Council of the Nigerian Society of Engineers to register them straightaway.
What is the supposed role of banks in shipping?
The role of banks is providing finance, like in any other business, but the banks we have in our financial system in Nigeria are used to having cheap money lodged, money that is supposed to be paid directly into the treasury account first goes into someone’s account and a lot of our commercial banks over the years have depended on getting that kind of money and they are not imaginative on how to go out and invest money in business, take risks, and make money, they are not used to it.
Our banks do not like to support long term ventures, they prefer quick returns on their loans and they give their facility at a very high percentage. When we start to have banks that are prepared to look critically at the viability of a business proposal and share in the risk, banks will thrive. I think the decision of Federal Government that all monies should be paid into a single treasury account is likely to help the shipping industry because many banks will have to source other means of making money and they have to get real.
Now that a communiqué has been issued, what next?
Well, we are going to see what NSE headquarters is going to do with it, we depend on them to take it to the government and if they are a listening government, a lot was said here today and I believe we have a listening government, they will benefit a lot from the experience that is harnessed in this division of engineers.