How Nigeria Can Earn Foreign Exchange Through NSDP – Comrade Bob Yousou

How Nigeria Can Earn Foreign Exchange Through NSDP - Comrade Bob Yousou
Comrade Bob Yousou

Comrade Bob Yousou is the National President of the Nigerian Merchant Navy Officers and Water Transport Senior Staff Association (NMNOWTSSA).

In this exclusive interview with BABAJIDE OKEOWO, he proffered suggestions on how Nigeria can maximize the potential of the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP) and earn foreign exchange, what indigenous shipowners need to do to compete with their foreign counterparts, amongst other issues. EXCERPTS

Nigerian Cadets Are Lacking The Required Seatime Due To Shortage Of Ocean-going Vessel To Take Them On, How Should Nigeria Address This Issue?

First, you must understand that sending our seafarers abroad for training is a very good thing for Nigeria  

Sending them abroad will enable our upcoming cadets to have globally-acceptable licenses. 

That being said, we all know that the lack of sea time challenges occur because we don’t have enough vessels, if we have more vessels, then we can accommodate more seafarers and more cadets.

However, what NIMASA should do is to have a proper arrangement with the schools in the countries where these cadets are going to for training that, look, if we are sending 20 or 30 people to schools in your country for training, you’ll be able to send a certain percentage to your vessels for them to have their seamanship.  That is the most important aspect of it. 

So even if we are to spend money, there’s no problem, but at least, once they finish their theoretical aspect, they should be able to send them on board vessels to enable the cadets to get their sea time. That is number one. 

Number two, for most of these foreign vessels coming to work in our Cabotage terrain, NIMASA can propose to them that, if they want to come to work within our Cabotage regime, they have to adopt two cadets. That is one of the conditions that you must satisfy before we can grant you permission to come and operate in our Cabotage regime.

If this kind of condition is given to the foreign vessels that are operating in our Cabotage regime, our coastal area, I think that will enable us to reduce the number of cadets that we are producing every year that are unable to get the required sea time. 

You should also note that it is not only the ones that have been sent abroad that are lacking sea time, what about the ones we are training within Nigeria, like at the Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron?

It should be made compulsory that all vessels within Nigeria accept two people, one engineer, and one cadet, as a requirement for the renewal of their license. 

If this is done, it will enable us to bridge that gap. 

So, sending our Nigerian cadets abroad, to say the least, is a welcomed development, all we need to do is to ensure that these cadets get their required sea time. 

If we follow these suggestions, at least we can be able to do a lot more for our Nigerian upcoming seafarers. 

With All These Said, Would You Say The NSDP Has Justified Its Mandate?

I would say yes, the essence of this program is to have our teeming youth engaged in maritime-related fields, irrespective of the huge amount spent on this programme.

However, we have advocated for this government to use part of this huge amount spent on training our cadets abroad to develop our local maritime academy so it can meet international standards. That way, cadets can be trained both in Nigeria and abroad.  What am I trying to say?  The huge amount spent on training cadets abroad, part of it should be used in equipping the Nigerian Maritime Academy, Oron.

Also, we should have a training ship.  This way, not all of our cadets will have to be going abroad for training and all that. We can now be training our cadets, and our officers here.  And if we have a training ship, that can be used in training our cadets, we can produce seafarers here too.  So, the essence of this program is to achieve that. 

It is unfortunate that we have not harnessed the huge potential in this industry very well. If you go to the Philippines now, most of their external revenue comes from the seamanship.  So if we train our cadets, they can go outside too to work just as the Philippines are doing. 

You know the issue in the world now as regards to the shortage of seafarers, there is a huge shortage of seafarers, so, if we have qualified, they can go out and work and they can bring in the much-required foreign exchange.

So, I think the NSDP is a very good development and good program and it will pay off in the long run.  But they should also try to ensure that they look at the local institution, our own institution because that is our pride. 

If you look at the Maritime University of Ghana, it is a pride of Ghana, because it’s well managed and everything.  So, we should focus more also in our institution here so that you can train both locally and foreign. 

How Can Indigenous Ship Owners In Nigeria Be Empowered To Compete Favourably With Their Foreign Counterparts In Lifting Nigerian Crude?

First and foremost, I think what I will say is that most Nigerian ship owners should know that we are going into a modern age, a technological age. And we should also know that there’s what they call a classification, survey.  

If Nigerian Vessels meet the classification required, then they will be able to compete. The only issue I see is that most of our vessels are obsolete. Modern vessels are coming, modern standard vessels are coming.  And if you are taking this vessel and lifting crude to another place, you must meet the standard of the requirement of the country.  The vessel must be of standard. 

So, I believe that most of our Nigerian vessels are not up to standard.  If our vessels are up to standard, I see no reason why we Nigerians will not be allowed to carry our crude to foreign countries.  But we should also know that we are taking this crude to a foreign country, will our vessel be accepted in that flag state?  That’s one thing we should know.  So what we are saying is that Nigerians need to obtain modern vessel,  Nigerians need vessel that they can use to compete with foreign vessels.

And, most of these vessels cost huge sums of money.  This is where the Nigerian government must come in to help the Nigerian ship owners, as well as to encourage them. 

Government needs to support them with the disbursement of the CVFF. If the government can assist them in acquiring modern ships, or partner with foreign companies or foreign ship owners to bring in modern ships, if they have modern ships, why can’t they compete?  Why can’t they operate?  

Look at The Matrix for example, The Matrix is a Nigerian indigenous company and they are carrying crude and all the rest.  But we need more.  We need more of such vessels. 

So, I urge the Nigerian government as well NIMASA to encourage Nigerian ship owners by way of empowering them.

It’s also important that the government monitor the process to avoid a repeat of the past. The government should be mindful of those who get the funds, they should be identified and the government should know them and be certain that they are really interested in the business. When our indigenous ship owners are encouraged and empowered, that will translate to job creation.  Because if you encourage them to buy ships, you are in a way encouraging job creation. 

Also, the ship owners should come together. Why do I say this?  if they have a divided house, they cannot get what they want. 

The creation of the Ministry of Marine and Blue Economy is an added advantage for mariners.  So if they come together, they can present their problem.  And if the CVFF is disbursed, I think they can be able to buy more vessels and take over their actual position in our cabotage environment. 

How Can We Make Nigerian Ports Functional Amid The Decaying Infrastructure And Maximise Their Potential?

First and foremost, the way forward is to reduce the human element or contact in the port environment.  We must ensure that the scanners are working and put other modern facilities in place to meet international standard best practices. 

We must also decongest our ports and ensure that all Nigerian ports are working. It is important that all our ports are working so we can decentralize the ports to eradicate congestion, it mustn’t be TinCan and Apapa Ports alone that will be working. We have a port in Onne, if we decentralize our ports, it, will assist in decongestion of our ports and this will ensure that clearing is done as fast as possible to avoid demurrage and reduce bottleneck.

We should also eliminate the issue of multiple charges and many agencies of government in the port area almost doing the same job.

And also in my own personal opinion, there are certain things you can do like privatizing. So, there are some areas that cab be privatized so that things will work effectively and efficiently. 

Addressing The Issue Of Oil Theft, How Can Organisations Like Yours Come Together To Eradicate This Problem?

Well, one thing I will say is that the oil theft issue is an issue that is a very critical one.  And there is no way in this country, or in any developed country, that the crime will be totally eradicated.  That is one thing we should know.  But the current security system that has been put in place has tried.  They are trying, to say the least, I can give them 80%.

Without this present arrangement, at least a lot of things that Nigerians now know, we wouldn’t have known them, you all know how it was before and what they are doing now, they have tried. 

But I’m always saying that there is no way they can totally eradicate crime anywhere in the world. So, our own is not exceptional. 

In the area of collaboration in securing our pipelines, the Merchant Navy has been doing that before now. When you look at the oil platform now, the Nigerian Navy is securing it, is it not the Merchant Navy that is working with them?  The navy only carries the gun. 

We are the ones piloting the security boats. We are the ones carrying them to anywhere they want to go.  All the security boats are being manned by the Merchant Navy.  The only thing is that the Navy take the command and they carry the gun. 

We are working in collaboration with the Navy.  Because anywhere there is navy, apart from their gunboats, apart from their bigger gunboats, when you talk of the security of coastal vessels that are owned by private companies, we help to secure those places, we are part of the security system that is fighting against the oil criminality in the country. 

The security people are doing their job, and I pray that they should also renew their contract, and not take it from them.

The navy is also doing its best, and the merchant navy also is doing its best. I know that oil theft has reduced drastically, unlike what we had two years ago.  It’s not the same.  So, the federal government should encourage and look at the loopholes and try to block the areas that have not been well blocked.  The country will generally be better for it and all these things will eventually stop.

Would You Say The Creation Of The Marine and Blue Economy Will Contribute To Multiplicity Of Government Agencies In The Country?

No, no, no.  I think this is the best thing that this present administration has done.  So, this industry is purely marine and blue economy.  What does that mean?  It’s focusing on only the marine industry unlike before, when the Minister of Transport was doing offshore transport, and marine transport amongst other different things, the focus was not there.  But this minister now, the present minister, his assignment is marine, and now we have the benefits of the blue economy.  So, I think that the idea is the best thing that has ever happened to the industry. 

The only advice that I would give is that those who are in charge of the parastatals should be experts, to be professionals.  He shouldn’t bring somebody who doesn’t know much about a particular place and put them there.  They should put the right people in the right place and things will get better.  So that is the only thing I think the minister and the government, the president, should do. 

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