Dr Mkgeorge Onyung is the Managing Director Jevkon Group and also the current President of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN).He spoke with MMS Plus shortly before the news filtered in that the Minister of Transportation,Gbemisola Saraki who is barely a month old at the helm of affairs at the substantive Transport Minister has been redeployed to another Ministry. Dr.Onyung spoke on a wide range of issues including the elusive Cabotage Vessel Finance Fund (CVFF).He advanced reasons why humanity depends so much on ship and shipping. Find out why the immediate disbursement of the CVFF is crucial and how the fate of cadets is tied to this fund amongst others. Excerpts
By Frank Odinukaeze
The 16th edition of the international Maritime Sector for Judges organised by the Nigerian Shippers’ Council NSC is currently on going in Abuja. What effect or impact would it have on maritime arbitration and jurisprudence?
You should have directed that question to the organisers of the seminar,the NSC.They would have been able to give a low down of the seminar what it is all about because we, who are operators ,the private sector, we cannot claim to have knowledge over the whole exercise.
If our opinion is needed by those who are organizing or those who are participating, especially the organizers, then we will be able to speak directly at the situation. But the thing is that the conference is not yet ended. So let the conference end. By the time you begin to talk about it when the conference has not ended,it looks like you are trying to preempt it like you are trying to advertise a particular thing.
It is not that we are against anything, it’s just that things are measured by outcome. For us ,we are concerned that the judiciary and the court in Nigeria -the justice system in Nigeria is very slow and congested, just like every other thing in Nigeria.The ports are congested, courts are congested. The maritime business is a legal business because from the moment you make a phone call for a conversation on a maritime operation, you’ll have to be ready for litigation. So if that is the case, it then means that if arbitration and accelerated litigation system is not effected, then it means that most sanctions are going to dwell in court .And some of them are buried there. For me, it’s premature to begin to make conclusions, talking about Nigeria’s problem doesn’t really solve it. So sometimes, you Journalists should notice that we as ship owners and from the perspective of operators,we don’t like to be seen as we are trying to orchestrate or propagate or even go into propaganda of activities that are surrounding the maritime industry .
We are looking for proactive actions that can advance the maritime industry. And of course, training judges could be one of them. Even as the conference is going on,some judges are out of their own court and cases are piling up. So there must be a way of balancing these things.
We in the maritime sector are seen as a sector that is very lucrative,and a sector that would drive a lot of people, create jobs, etc. But we are not getting that. I think there must be a rethink. Everything must center around a proactive goal of advancing the industry. And again, every effort is commendable. But I really think you should direct all your questions to the Nigerian Shippers’Council( NSC),so you can get indepth knowledge of what is going on.
The Minister of Transportation, Gbemisola Saraki has promised to disburse the CVFF which has been lying there for over 18years.What is your reaction to this development?
Well, I think you should ask the Minister this question. It has been a concern for 18 years. We are concerned but that’s not the situation. She said she is going to disburse so you can ask her about the disbursement. But at least she had made a promise. So you can equally get to talk about the timeline. I cannot make a statement on that because she is a Minister that had the legal or statutory capacity to act and give the guidelines for disbursement. You heard her as much as I heard it myself. We are waiting for her to make the next move. But if we begin to start talking, because somebody just mentioned something and everybody starts talking about it always has a problem. We are not chair leaders. We are shipping operators. And the field of shipping is in the ocean. The shipping operation is a team work. There is no particular part you will say is not important. Everything must work in unison. So let’s not begin to get excited. It’s exciting ,don’t get me wrong, because for years nobody has said he is going to disburse.
Don’t forget that promises have been made in the past. I’m not the one to tell you why this one is going to be a final promise. It is the person who made the promise that you should go ask whether this is not a pronouncement or the final promise ,and how is going to happen? I’m sure she must be on the drawing board working out how she can match talk with action. And I think everybody should calm down and give her like two weeks or one month.
You Journalists, am sorry to say, must be where they are roasting the yam, so that you can know when somebody needs to blow the fire.
For us, we want to see we are operating a business that will create job for Nigerians. The bottom line is for the person who made the promise do her job. If she says she is going to do what she promised, let’s see how she goes about it and also how do we support her. We are ready to support anybody who wants to disburse the fund. Anything we need to do ,we are ready to do it. That the fund is supposed to be for ship owners or it’s supposed to be for government, all those are not argument because the Act had already stated what the fund is for us.So it’s not for us to argue who it belongs to. I’m not interested in such conversation. If you noticed, I have never made any statement about who owns the fund. We know who contributed the fund. The law is there. It clearly states who the beneficiaries are ,so let’s not beat around the bush.
Like I said, give it sometime and let’s see what happens.
The ship owners are often reluctant to take cadets on board ship to have sea time experience. Why is it so?
First of all, how many cadets can you take on a ship? You have to find out. Cadets cannot be more than 2 or 3 on a ship or between 1and 3 because we don’t want to crowd the ship, because it’s not a training ship. When you say the ship owners have refused to take cadets on board ship it is a blanket statement. It is not correct. But I know where you are going.
But we need to clarify matters. There must be vacancy on board. It is full complement of crew. There is a required number of people the ship can carry. And when you have cadets especially females, you cannot put two male and one female in the same room. Otherwise you’ll be breeding baby. So the truth of the matter is that if you don’t have enough rooms to accommodate a lot of people and some of the these ships are old and they don’t have enough room. And when you bring somebody on board you have to feed the person ,you have to have sufficient time to train the person. It is not just for you to come and sit. It is not a vacation seat. So there are so many factors that come in as far as that is concerned. And you are not even considering the fact that if the supply is greater than demand, it will not balance.