Barr. Emmanuel Nwagbara is a maritime lawyer and the Secretary of the Planning Committee of Nigeria Maritime Expo (NIMAREX) 2015. In this chat with Emeka Chukwuaku, he x-rays the benefits of NIMAREX to the economy , talks about the reasons for the shift in date of the Expo and the innovations that will make NIMAREX 2015 unique. Excerpt:
At what stage is the planning of NIMAREX 2015 now?
We are on course. The political atmosphere appear to slow down the planning process because the stakeholders were all looking at the electioneering and we are largely like every other Nigeria, not too sure of the effect of the electioneering on the economy. So everything slowed down not just for NIMAREX planning but for the economy generally. But I tell you that on the day that President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat, the entire economy looked up, the NIMAREX planning jumped many times up and today we are still well-focused. Everybody that had one reason or the other to wait for the outcome of the election had come to express readiness. The banks are ready as we speak. The shipping companies are ready, the terminal operators are ready, ship owners, and government parastatals are all ready. So we are on course. We are very much on course.
What was the outcome of the meeting the planning committee of NIMAREX had? We considered the entire scenario in the country today. We reckoned with the fact that a new government is coming into office on 29th of May. We reckoned that the general elections created some anxieties in the business circle and that is understandable. And that after the general elections, business has picked up and that it is likely that new helmsman will be appointed to offices to drive the programs of the new administration. We also looked at the direction of the government from what the government is saying about the maritime sector. We know that a new impetus is in the offing for the maritime industry. We also reckoned on the fact that all the Ministers are preparing handover letters, including those who are involved in maritime affairs. And therefore we reasoned that it will be nice if we postpone NIMAREX that was earlier scheduled for April 27-29 to a new date 6-8 of July 2015. It will give stakeholders ample opportunity to fully get ready for the event.
The shift in the date of NIMAREX, is it as a result of lack of lack of funds?
No, it is not about funds. We are only saying that, for reasons of proper organization, for reasons of getting the stakeholders on the table, for reasons of wider participation, we have postponed the event based on the study of political environment in the country and the postponed date will give ample opportunity for better participation and more organized exhibition and conference.
What other challenges do you envisage from now till the new date?
We did not envisage any challenges that are different from the normal challenges associated with an international exhibition and conference such as the NIMAREX 2015 event. We did not envisage anything extraordinary. It is a normal challenge of having to organize an event of this magnitude that we are facing. We are concerned that we have to give the world the best conference and exhibition. And in other to make it work out, in other to attain that objective, we are expecting that a conference in which the government participate fully, a conference in which the private sector participate fully, a conference in which the international community participate fully, then a conference in which representatives of government in Nigeria in the form of ambassadors participate fully, that is our expectation. So we are expecting that such a conference, in view of the general elections that intervened, we need to make that shift in other to come out better .So we did not have any challenge that is peculiar in any way indeed. Companies in the international communities, companies operating in the country, government agencies and departments have all shown interest in NIMAREX 2015 and we are right on course.
Don’t you think that the economic situation in the country, the dwindling oil prices and the devaluation of the Naira would in one way or the other affect the stakeholders’ participation in NIMAREX 2015?
On the contrary, I think the country is facing good prospects now .The Dollar was above N200 before the elections, but under N200 immediately after. I think the Dollar is positioning in view of the change in the country and the Naira is adjusting and getting stronger in view of the change we are witnessing. So we are not experiencing any economic hardship that is different from the transitional period we are experiencing right now. The transitional period is witnessing a change for the better in the country, a positive one. It is good for NIMAREX, good for the country. And if anything, NIMAREX is in a better position to do better if we held it before the general elections.
What new things are you bringing to NIMAREX 2015 that has not been there over the years?
For the first time, we are focusing on the private sector being the major driver of NIMAREX. This is one. Another is, we are focusing on NIMAREX being purely a trade facilitation platform in the maritime industry. The third thing we are bringing to the table is that we expect that at the end of this edition , partnership will be created between foreign participants and in-country players in the industry and this will lead to rapid development of the industry, it will create employment .It will create necessary maritime infrastructure that will drive the economy. We are going to see partnership in the building of shipyards and ship repair yards. We expect to see partnership in the revitalization of allied industries. We are expecting that all these would kick-start with companies’ in-country and foreign companies signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) within the NIMAREX exhibition and conference venue and then go back to their offices to implement the contents of such MoUs.
Who have shown interest in participating?
I will tell you that almost all the banks in the country have shown interest. I will tell you that almost all the ship-owning companies in Nigeria have shown interest. I will tell you that a lot of foreign companies have shown interest even though I will not list them here. All the major players in the country have shown interest including the maritime arbitrary bodies, including the Nigerian Navy, including the Federal Ministry of Transport, NIMASA, Shippers’ Council, association of master mariners, WILAT, WISTA, Nigerian Maritime Law associations, a whole lot of critical players in the industry. The freight forwarders too, Shipping associations etc., they have all shown interest in NIMAREX 2015. Investment companies have shown interest, the Nigerian Stock Exchange have all shown interest too. A whole lot of companies have shown interest, even though I will not be able to mention them all here.
How will NIMAREX benefit Nigerians?
NIMAREX will benefit Nigerians by creating employment. These employment opportunities will come from companies that were established and ran by foreign and local companies. If we have shipyards established in Nigeria, imagine how many people such shipyards could employ. If we have equipment manufacturing companies, imagine how many people will gain employment from that .If we have iron and steel companies established in Nigeria to generate raw materials for the construction of ships , imagine how many will get employed in the that sector. I will give you an example: In 2010, China employed more than 3.5 million people in its iron and steel industry. Imagine if Nigeria has iron and steel industry established partly to service the ship building industry , if Nigeria were to employ half of what China employed in its iron and steel industries, it means that nearly 2 million people will be removed from the unemployment market into employment. And of course the economy will benefit immensely from that because if Nigeria manages its maritime economy very well, several trillions of Naira could be saved from imports of materials which are generated locally. So, the economy benefits in a lot of ways.
Don’t you think that investors and stakeholders may see this postponement as indication of unpreparedness and inefficiency on your part?
The postponement is not peculiar to NIMAREX. If you have been very observant of the trends in the country, you would have observed that several events that were planned within this period have been postponed. Don’t forget that the Nigerian presidential elections were postponed from 14th of February to 28th of March. And a lot of programs were planned taking into consideration the timetable of the government for the election knowing the nature of general elections and the effects on the political economy. So with the postponement, it is only natural to align one’s activities with the postponement. Just like other events that are postponed for better planning, for adjustment in line with the national feelings and aspirations, NIMAREX has thought it wise to also align with this change by deciding to postpone to 6-8th of July. And I think the stakeholders will be happy to receive this information. It helps everyone to adjust because, the economy suddenly picked up.
How will the foreign companies who had structured their programmes for 27-29th of April see this postponement?
Even the foreign companies that had planned to come will adjust. I am sure that even the companies that were coming were looking out for a situation of serenity in the country. They will be happy. I think they will be better prepared now to come the country, not just for the exhibition but also to enjoy the peace and tranquility that Nigeria is associated with. I think they will be happy to be here, may be to explore the country more, even after the exhibition.
What is the future of NIMAREX?
The future of NIMAREX is very bright. It is great. We are doing something new. What we are doing now is to focus and position NIMAREX to be a wholly private sector driven project and it is a question of time, that will come to happen, already it is happening. If you look at such bodies, like we have the Poseidon in Greece, that have lasted for decades, you find out that five years into NIMAREX, we are just at the starting line. NIMAREX is a brilliant idea of Nigeria’s Ship owners association and that idea will not be allowed to die. We are driving it and moving very fast.