Mr. Tunji Brown is the General Secretary of the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), in this chat; he speaks about the factors that led to failure of the disbursement of Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF), why NIMAREX 2015 will be a success and salient issues about the association but de declines to speak on the crisis rocking NISA. Excerpts.
APC Accused NIMASA of having siphoned the Cabotage funds their custody, what is your reaction to this as a ship owner?
NIMASA is in the best position to tell you the status of the money, as ship owners, we can tell you authoritatively that it has not been disbursed in the last ten years and we all contributed towards that. There was an attempt for disbursement some two years ago and we all submitted applications for the loan before the new DG came in and it was actually cancelled or truncated, so nothing has been disbursed to the best of our knowledge.
Why would it be truncated?
CVFF is meant for shipping development according to the law and the process is for NIMASA as custodian to disburse the fund for shipping development to ship owners and operators, we all agree because there was stakeholders’ meeting held before the disbursement and we all agreed that NIMASA should go ahead and scrutinize applications and shortlist the first set of applicants and disburse but the funds continue to grow every day, we contribute every time we do business so that the first set will have access to the funds and as we continue to contribute, the next set will have access to it and so on and no individual company will comeback twice because it is for shipping development but somehow, I think it’s because of the Political will they have not been able to implement that. I want to believe there were some funds disbursed initially by NIMASA to some companies and they did not actually perform in terms of repayment, so we believe we will not go in the same path; that is my own opinion and having said that the money is meant for shipping developing in the shipping sector.
According to one of your members lately he said that as at July 2014, the money has risen to N38b; don’t you think it is taking too long for them to use part of this money to develop shipping since the indigenous ship owners are under pressure and need help?
I am not privy to information concerning how much we have but this is what I strongly believe, yes it is time for disbursement but it must be done properly, we cannot just allow NIMASA to shortlist six, seven people and disburse without the input of the Nigeria Shipowners Associations because it’s for our own benefits so we would want to engage NIMASA all over again to discuss the CVFF but as I mentioned, we are actually waving away a little bit from that to develop shipping, I mean the new EXCO, we want government’s participation in guarantees and other areas rather than have this outright disbursement of funds.
The clamour for the money has been for sometimes now; is it that NISA members are afraid to ask for what is theirs?
You seem not to really understand what I have been saying, you want to disburse but there must be a structure, you cannot just disburse money because you contributed the money that is meant for your development. For instance, there was a period when the aviation sector had issues and they were required to be supported by the government and they submitted application through the bank, it was reviewed and after that some companies were shortlisted and they followed it through. In this current NIMASA management, I am aware that they told us few years ago that about six companies were shortlisted but majority of us that is in NISA were not part of the six that were shortlisted so I think for that reason the action was suspended.
Is it that members of NISA were not included in the shortlisting that made the structure faulty?
If you want to disburse money for development, you need to actually put a structure on ground to make sure that there will be repayment of the fund so, it is not just about disbursement, because it is not a free fund, so don’t let us look at it that it is for shipping development so it’s all free because we have not contributed equally some companies have contributed more and some have contributed less, its fund that you are given it develop so you must pay back, so we need to look at the structure that this company can actually pay back the money so that’s the structure I am talking about, we have to look at that seriously.
Do you think that Cabotage has really paid off in the last ten years?
When it started yes, I will tell you why I said yes, because of the enabling laws of Cabotage, most foreign vessel owners realized that there is a law in Nigeria that actually supports indigenous participation more than them, so the competition gradually went in our favour because of the law and that is what brought about the emergence of indigenous shipping capacity, because we realized that for you to load cargo based on the law you need to be an indigenous ship owner, so most of the indigenous ship owners came into existence after Cabotage law, most of us after 2002, so it has actually helped, however the sustenance is not there.
Some people are saying that Cabotage as it is now its very big and NIMASA is a body with too much responsibilities and that makes it difficult for NIMASA to make cabotage work rather a separate body should be created to manage the implementation of cabotage. Don’t you think it is high time it is amended or call for the review of Cabotage?
I am not a legal person so amendment would have to engage legal practitioners and technical personnel to really look at the level of implementation but so far what we have, we have not fully utilized that is my view. What we have in the Cabotage means we are supposed to have Nigerian built ships, Nigerian crews, Nigerian cargoes going to Nigerian ports, so far we don’t have any Nigerian built ship even today we now have foreign crew on top our vessels and we have we do not even have Nigerian Cargo for the Nigeria Ship, fine we have ports, so if we want to actually change what we have at least we need to make sure we utilize it to the fullest before we think of changing it, except you are saying we should bring in additional punitive measures, they are already there, Cabotage law says, there must be no waiver for any ship if there is one available locally, so what else do you need as long as the ship is available, there should be no waiver, so what we are saying is let us build indigenous capacity so that we can make these ships available if we have that we have the tonnage. Nigeria is an endowed maritime territory and at least we know for a fact that between Lagos and Port Harcourt and Calabar the Volume of Cargo that moves daily is in access of 10-15 thousand metric tons, so we have the tonnage and they have to go in smaller parcels of five, often, of three to the offshore base, of two, of one so we have the capacity.
It has been argued in some quarters that the waiver clause because after twelve years, it has not fared well. Do you agree that if the clause is removed, Cabotage will work better?
Ordinarily, it should be the way to go, yes, because the intention of the waiver clause is to allow us to build capacity. It was not something put in place for eternity, it is to allow indigenous capacity, but have we been able to build the local capacity? That is the question, no we have not been able to do that so if we remove the waiver clause can we provide the required tonnage in terms of vessels for the industry? No, so if we remove it then there will be crisis, so we need to build local capacity that is just it, we need to help indigenous ship owners to build capacity to a level where we can clearly say we, have double hull, operational with all required certificates owned by Nigerians operated by Nigerians and ready to work then you can say why do you give waiver to a foreign company with the same capacity and capability.
One of your members recently said abnormalities in shipping is normal what do you have to say to that?
Shipping is not in isolation, it contributes to the GDP of a nation, so also banking so also oil and gas so you cannot have abnormalities in one sector and it will be normal obviously it will affect other sectors because all the sectors of the economy work in consonance with one another, so abnormality is not normal, yes you have what you will call standard practice that is acceptable for instance, if I load a cargo for you and I need to discharge the cargo, there is a certain percentage acceptance in percent at 0.0% so when I load your cargo from point A or B because vapor of evaporation and the likes of it, you can get a destination and have a 0.03% plus or minus, it is acceptable internationally, however, in banking if I took one million naira from you I will have to give you back one million naira you cannot give one million and expect two million back that is what is called abnormality, it is not normal for me to load one million metric tons or 1 million liter of your cargo and deliver five hundred and tell you it is normal, no, it is not
On piracy on the high sea, do you think that Nigeria is really on top of its game in ensuring that piracy and sea robbery are eliminated from the territorial waters?
I think it is now that we should give credit to NIMASA because it has actually gone down drastically compared or two, three years ago, because some of our vessels were involved in attack by pirates and rebels but right now it is not a common occurrence, it used to be a daily occurrence in the past years but because of this shipping sea levy, you see the Navy constantly out there monitoring the sea, I think we are winning the war on piracy and I think, Nigeria is winning the war on piracy
NIMAREX 2015; what can you tell about it?
NIMASA 2015 will be a success, we have a committee see up headed by Ayo Adedoyin, they have the full support of NISA to organize the conference; some of our executive members are on the committee and they are actually moving ahead to ensure that we have one of the best NIMAREX outings, so we are very confident it is going to be better than last year. Every event comes with its challenges, the elections have resulted in the postponement of NIMAREX 2015 but I am sure that committee is working very seriously to get a good number of participants to partake on the new date.
One of the planning committee members said, even though NIMAREX is the brainchild of NISA, NIMAREX can do without NISA
That is incorrect, the idea of NIMAREX came into existence after NISA participated in some of the world exhibitions in Singapore and some other parts of the world and we decided to set up our own maritime expo which is NIMAREX, In Nigeria we conventionalized the idea and for that reason, we reached out to government agencies for support. It is our idea like every other business entity; you have a business plan but you to reach to the bank for funding.
You don’t really need to have the money because if you have the money you don’t need to reach out to the banks for funding, so it is not correct to say because government is supporting NIMAREX then they have taken over NIMAREX, that is not correct it is still NISA project and every year we will nominate its chairman and committee but we have some members that has been there for the last few years because of continuity they have stayed on board of NIMAREX but NIMAREX is still port and parcel of NISA and we will continue to nominate the chairman of NIMAREX every single year because it is our own project it is not bigger than NISA and it cannot be bigger than NISA. We have governing bodies being part of NIMAREX like every other organization they have government agencies on their board but that does not make them bigger. Nigeria Economic forum today you have central bank there, you have labour there and they organize symposium every year they cannot be bigger than the government.
What different things is on ground to guarantee that NIMAREX this year would be better than last year
The current planning committee led by Ayo Adedoyin is reaching out to international committee rigorously to get their participation because the idea is to exchange Nigerian businesses with foreign businesses and to bring foreign businesses to Nigeria. So we can partner so it’s not really about meeting, we want to exchange technology, we want to exchange ideas, we want to bring in foreign direct investment and we want Nigerians to see the opportunities that are available outside there so, with what they are doing currently, we strongly believe it’s going to be more of private sector driven than what we had in the past, we meet with planning committee chairman from time to time. I and the general secretary and the acting president of the association meet from time to time to discuss development so, we are very sure we are making steps in the right direction.
Is it true that NIMAREX is just a jamboree where people come together to wine and dine as it being said in some quarters?
When you start a project like NIMAREX, you will have a vision but don’t forget you cannot achieve it one year or two years, at inception it was an idea conceived by NISA to bring everyone to participate, we were able to get the government bodies and few international communities because it was its first outing.