By Kenneth Jukpor & Olaitan Ayoola
Mrs. Eunice Ezeoke is the new President of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association (WISTA) Nigeria. In this interview with MMS Plus newspaper, she unveils the association’s goals under her leadership. Eunice also proffers practical success guide that would see women get leadership roles at the workplace, even as she addresses other salient port sector issues.
As President of WISTA Nigeria, what do you intend to achieve, things you want to look back after your tenure as notable accomplishments?
I appreciate your publication for finding time and seeing it as important to have this discussion. I also want to reiterate that I am grateful to all those who voted me in and I promise not to disappoint them. As the new president of WISTA Nigeria, my priority is to get us a secretariat. WISTA is an international association that has been in Nigeria for 26 years. It isn’t appropriate that we don’t have an office up till this moment. We have been squatting in Nigerian Shipper’s Council (NSC). Unfortunately, before the recent WISTA election Shipper’s Council commenced renovation of their building, after the renovation the place we were using was given to another department. As I speak to you, WISTA Nigeria has no office to do meetings or domicile documents.
My first priority is to get a secretariat where we can be meeting and domicile our documents. Our letters are scattered across several agencies. Letters are snapped and sent to me by our members in Nigerian Maritime Administation and Safety Agency (NIMASA) who help in receiving them.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak we started looking for a place to hire as a secretariat, but the stay at home directive by the government has seen us shelve accommodation plans until the pandemic situation is addressed. The hall arrangement has been put in place and looked at several places as office for WISTA, but, because of the lockdown we are unable to finalize on places we have seen. We still hold meetings online and we would be having our 2nd executives meeting online.
My other priority is to improve capacity building. WISTA had observer status at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but this was upgraded last year to a consultative status. There are some tailored made courses strictly for women that IMO sponsors. I have been fortunate to be a beneficiary of that program in Galilee, now I intend to use my capacity as an Alumnus to help get WISTA members to also benefit from that program.
I have already started the arrangement to make sure that two WISTA Nigeria members benefit from that program every year. The executives and I have already formed a committee for this agenda. Other committees include; entrepreneurship, capacity building, ports and other areas of maritime industry, pending the area of interest of individual.
During the immediate past administration, we were having our meetings every other month but at the first executive meeting we all agreed to be having meetings once a month. The first will be general meeting about WISTA and the following month will be for capacity development with an instructor invited to address us on one of the committee’s brief. The following month we do our meeting and the trends continues. The aim is to expose members to what is going on in the industry and also sensitize them on the area of entrepreneurship even after their retirement from wherever they are working. It is also important to note that some members are not working for any maritime agency, but they are playing a role in stevedoring, chandelling, transport and other aspects including maritime law. There are various interests in the maritime industry that one can pursue as a career after retirement.
Under the previous administration which you were a vital part of, there was robust Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targeted at providing boats for women in the riverine areas. Would these women empowerment activities continue under your leadership?
Yes, we are going to continue this and the next community on our list in Ondo State. This empowerment initiative for women has become the norm for WISTA Nigeria. The last one was for women in Enugu State and Ondo women are next in line to get a boat.
Beyond members of WISTA Nigeria, would your capacity building programmes include younger women like mentees?
This is an area we are working on. We are thinking of empowering them. We invite the younger women to our programmes to know what is going on in the maritime industry. The ladies at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, have always been interfacing with us. Some are even enjoying scholarship from WISTA, while, the norm is that the association assists the best student in the final year to get sea time. It is a strategy to reward excellence.
On women inclusion, is the target now 50% participation in governance and public sectors. What is the current situation in the maritime sector and Nigeria generally and what should we expect in the next few years?
We were talking about 35% women affirmative action in the past. Today, we are talking of 50% inclusion in leadership. The President of all women associations in Nigeria will have an online meeting today by 8pm. The report of current representation of women across all sectors would be released after that meeting. I am sure in that report the statistics will be there. Well I wouldn’t want to start talking about statistics but what we are pushing for is 50%. We are also pushing for it through legislative means, advocacy and other means.
How can women play a more significant role in management and position themselves for better opportunities in corporate organizations?
Women should seek cooperation among themselves. We should start by being good followers and not to pull each other down at every opportunity. There is the tendency for women to look up to men than women in most organizations. When a woman is occupying a position of leadership as a man, you discover that women look more on the man than the woman. Hence, there is the need for women to see their fellow women as capable of functioning well in any position.
Women must be able to cooperate with one another and help one another; there must be that unity of purpose among women because there is nothing they cannot achieve with unity.
Knowing that women by nature and nurture have the capacity to multitask while men have one track mind, we are not encouraging beggars. Nobody will hand you anything on a platter of gold because you are a woman. Women should not fold their hands because we preach women inclusion and expect to be included. We must aspire to grow and consistently improve. If your male colleague is moving one step, you should not just move but strive to take two or three steps. If you keep working on improving yourself, the opportunities will definitely come. You can stand a better chance when there is an opportunity. You must be ready to go the extra mile as much as possible. It is going the extra mile that will give women the edge to be a leader in managerial positions.
They must disengage their mind from limitations to what they can do or achieve. In the past, women were only seen as to be nurses, teachers and cooks, but as the years passed, women began to take other professions that were seen as male professions. For examples underwater surveyors, engineering, aircraft pilots, etc. Women are making impact in these areas and other women need to do so.
I am delighted about what I have been seeing in the maritime industry especially at NPA, where the Managing Director, Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman has made notable accomplishments. She did not disappoint the women; she is also a lady that encourages women anywhere. She sees that women can be focused and responsible, hence she has given several women opportunities at NPA and they all performed brilliantly. Other agencies like the NIMASA, Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), among others have also encouraged women and the results have been astounding.
In the port sector, the absence of Single Window is one of the biggest challenges. Customs claim to have one while NPA also has one. Port operators have been denied a single platform for payment to have seamless operations. What is your take on this?
It is really unfortunate that in Nigeria today, despite having one government, several ministries, parastatals and agencies refuse to work in unison. These agencies or ministries don’t see themselves as working for one government. They display self centeredness to achieve results for same government instead of seeing themselves as a single unit working for one national interest.
National interest should be the foremost in everything we are doing because when you talk about maritime; it is an international business. Nobody outside the nation would itemize Custom or NPA or NIMASA or Shippers’ Council, among others when they appraise Nigerian ports. They would simply say this doesn’t work in Nigeria as a whole.
Unfortunately, when you come here you realize Customs is on its own, Shippers’ council is on its own, NIMASA and other agencies sees themselves as distinct entities with distinct interests without recourse to the national interest.
The government is suffering from this, even as innocent business persons that come into Nigeria to do business are plagued by numerous charges. Single Window has been politicized and it cannot kick off because everybody wants to control it.
Agencies keep coming up because when the pressure is too much on the government, they create an agency to generate revenue and the organization begins to see itself as the god of the industry and if you don’t see them nothing moves. That is how innocent businesses suffer in Nigeria and our government keeps singing ease of doing business which is already one of IMO’s agenda.
There must be singleness of purpose and all the agencies under the government must see themselves as one unit in a national interest which must take priority over the agency’s interest. That is the bottom line.