By Kenneth Jukpor
Barr. Obiageli Obi is a former Director General of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping (NCS). She was a guest speaker at the recent MMS Woman of Fortune Hall of Fame (WoFHoF) roadwalk/ sensitization programme to mark the 2021 International Women’s Day. After the event, she sat with our correspondent for this interview, speaking on the ideal mindset for a successful woman, revealing her top mentors and addressing several pertinent port sector issues.
In your speech, you stressed that women should have the desire to push, question the status quo and make changes. How relevant is this for an average Nigerian woman?
Nigerian women are held back by different things and it all starts from their mindset. The challenges all in the mind. Nigeria women have been raised to believe that marriage is the peak. Yes, marriage is honourable and fantastic. It is meant to build a woman, to add to a woman. A woman who goes to school uses her education to build her home, she’ll learn skills in marriage such as decision making, problem solving, interpersonal skills.
Having children in marriage comes with responsibilities such as bathing the child, nurturing them, raising and feeding them, all these enhances a woman capacity. It’s part of leadership qualities that women need to lead. In a nutshell, marriage enhances a women capacity to lead but a woman’s ultimate goal in life should be more than marriage.
A woman should be worthy to go out to the workplace and identify with environment because she has the skills. It takes a lot of confidence and boldness to build a home, to stay married, to leave your parent’s home whom you’ve grown with for years, go into a new environment and start a new family. That boldness and confidence are the capacities God has given women and it’s high time women realise this and take charge.
The interpersonal skills in your relationships, in managing your in-laws will also be applied to manage your workers, to work with your boss. Women have everything they need to work as partners but we must be able to broaden our perspectives and stop all sort of stereotypes in our mindset. We mush change these stereotypes. The future of any country lies in her women as they bring to birth children and play crucial roles in training the young ones that represent the hope of any country.
You also pointed out that women establishments should get more relieve items from the government by way of single digit loans and companies with gender balance should also be supported. Shed more light on this?
Yes, government must intervene. Women are the poorest group of people. Women dominate the lower part in employment levels across most nations and in various organizational structures.
If you go to an establishment where there are more women, for instance a hospital, women are nurses and doctors. Government must provide some sort of incentives for women. Women are given money and single digit loans in the northern part of the country, such incentives should be nationwide and not limited to a particular region. Government should give women on the lower strata money, these monies are survival funds. Some of these women are with four or more children without help from husband. Women are trampled upon today, by seemingly cruel and obstructing policies in the country.
As former Director General, Nigerian Chamber of Shipping(NCS), using yourself as a model; what level of work did you put in to get to that position and how can you inspire other women?
During the interview for Director General of NCS, I was asked a question, who has impacted your life the most? I told them at the interview that it was three men and that’s the truth. Women can learn from both male and female.
Learning is continuous, it is not a function of gender, it’s a function of content. People must be intentional about what they want and seek to learn either via mentorship or by studying.
The first person was my Dad who raised me to be confident like a man. People feared my dad but he was so close to me, he often sought my opinion before making decisions. He didn’t just consider me as a woman to be overlooked, he gave me the same preferences he gave to other male children. Whenever I get to into a tight situation I always remember my dad and I ask myself, what will dad say to me in this kind of situation? If he will say Obiageli, I’ve given you enough, that’ll make me push harder.
The second man is Pastor Tony Rapu, I worked with him at God Bless Nigeria, a non-government organization (NGO). I helped with the team in looking out for teens into prostitution. We went to places where people carried arms but Pastor Tony was not weary, he trained me. He will tell me Obiageli go, there is nothing to be afraid of, God is with you. I faced touts, area boys just to release girls from those places and today some of them are married, some have finished school. But the fact that we were able to achieve change and make them reunite with their families, was enough success for us.
The third person is the Chairman of Chisco Group, Mr. Chidi Anyaegbu, he taught me that there is nothing that doesn’t come with a cost. He trained my mind to understand money, the ways of money and how not to undermine money. He said to me once that when one understands that everything in life has a cost, then you know you have a price to pay and you can consider if it’s worth it or not before delving into anything. This approach to life really revolutionized my mind and became part of my building blocks. When I entered the Chamber of Shipping, the things I’ve heard and learnt before were constant reminders, pushing me, giving me the mindset to succeed.
At NCS you held a seminar on Eastern ports viability and made recommendations. Today, there is some progress but port stakeholders differ from Nigerian Ports Authority on the success so far. What’s your take on the Eastern ports today?
My view on everything that has to do with maritime sector in Nigeria is that we lack synergy. Until we come together as one and stop making small successes for ourselves, we wouldn’t get the desired result.
All stakeholders must come together to create an environment where everyone is playing their part to make a collective success. All government parastatals need synergy, private institutions need synergy withing themselves and with the regulators. God has given us everything we need in Nigeria, but we need to collate our efforts and unite to achieve our goal as a sector.
On port concession agreement, there are talks about ongoing reviews and the previous review that was done without stakeholders like NCS, yet, some challenges at the port today are results of the agreement. What is the best way to go about the review of the concession agreement?
I think we’re actually on the right track with the concession agreement. Shippers’ Council has taken its place as port economic regulator, while NPA is the landlord. Until we push the tenant which are the seaport terminals to do what they’re supposed to do, they won’t do it.
Some of the tenants are building massive structures in Ghana, we have to get them to do the same here. It is not rocket science, investors that have been in Nigeria for so long should have massive outfits and added value to the system. Let everyone involved do what they’re supposed to do and let’s move forward.
We just hear stories from one administration to another. There is an agreement from the onset, now they’re saying the concessionaires are not doing what they agreed on. Meanwhile, the concessionaires are arguing NPA is not keeping its end of the bargain.
On this issue, I think we’re just going round and round in circles. Everyone is doing what benefits them, but nobody is looking at how those actions impact Nigerians, and the maritime industry in particular. Once we begin to look at it in that dimension, we will begin to make giant progress. However, if we keep looking at issues from myopic and individual point of view, Nigerian ports will remain on the same spot.
Since you left the NCS, the sector hasn’t seen the same level of contribution to the maritime sector by the Chamber. There has always been a debate on how much the Chamber should do, but now it has dropped. What should be the role of the Chamber today?
The Chamber is in a process of change or transition. However, I’m confident that it would continue to make significant impact on the maritime sector and the nation at large. The present board of the Chamber comprises competent, diverse and efficient individuals. So, I’m sure they will achieve what they set out to do in the maritime industry.