Capt. Dada Labinjo is the President of Nigeria Shipowners Association (NISA) and a shipping magnet having owned and managed ships for many years. As a naval captain , he was also a navigator. Of late, things have not been too smooth with NISA as a result of allegations and counter allegation of scandalous ship purchases, leading to the forced exit of Labinjo, although unconstitutionally, from NISA as the President. So, in this interview with Kingsley Anaroke and Segun Oladipupo of MMS Plus Weekly, he spits fire on the serial scandals in NISA.
He was quick to also say that he did not use the expression “ Dog eats Dog” in his interview but said abnormalities are normal. Excerpts:
Welcome back, you came back with how to deepen the Nigeria shipping.
One thing I assure members of the association is that I was going to work towards getting our jobs back and that has been my cardinal idea. I want to make sure we get our jobs back. Where are our jobs? Our jobs have been taken up by foreign shipping service providers. What are the little excuses they use to take our jobs? Sometimes they say our vessels are too old, that they are rusty buckets and you don’t out rightly know what to do. So, the summation of all these is that we are not the ones providing the shipping services. I always say to anybody who wants to hear that when a country enacts a Cabotage Act, it is to develop the local shipping industry.
It is because they have recognized that your people need protection from other shipping service providers and that protection can only be provided by a law which is called Cabotage law. It enables your citizens to practice using what we call the brown waters and black waters. When they sufficiently grow in stature, they can then go to the blue waters, to do what is called the blue water economy. So, whatever they say about us today, that we have no ship, rusty buckets, they are liars and that is the essence of the Cabotage Act. The essence is to create a training ground for your people and that training ground can only be found in your cabotage area, you cannot go to their country and say you are training on how to provide shipping services. If that is the situation, Nigeria is a country that is richly blessed with abundant potential at sea.
So, our blue economy is one of the bests in the world. Given that position, and given our level of development, we need to learn in the black waters and the brown waters. Given also the level of financial resources for ship purchases, shipping is not cheap at all. It is unlike other industries because acquiring the ship is very expensive, maintaining the ship is also as expensive. If you are a manufacturer, you can afford to lock your gate and put your key under your suit case, it will not cost you any overhead; if it is road transportation, you can afford to park your trailer and walk away for many months until you come back to it, will not cost you any over head. It is not the same with ship; you cannot do the same because if the ship is not running, you are losing money because you are spending money which you have not earned and you are also losing money.
So, given that kind of situation, it becomes absolutely imperative for me as the president of the association to think outside the box on how to get ships that are badly needed for our members to enable them do the job and this is what I am exploring with other ship owners’ associations. The other time, the Turkish people were here to see me, this time, I am in Greek, we believe that we can arrive at a relationship where we can synergise to leverage on their own capability in regards to shipping services with our own potentials with regards to shipping services and will come up with a relationship which will abide with the cabotage law as well as the Nigerian content law and we are working on that.
You talked about 2000 vessels
I didn’t talk about 2000 vessels; I talked about 2000 ship owners. There are very many of them, what we are doing is talking to a lot of them.
What relationship do you intend to have with them?
The relationship must be as the one approved by the Cabotage law. The Cabotage Act provides for joint ventures; it provides that you can go into joint venture relationship. So, we are looking at a situation where NISA will generate a relationship between our members and their own members while not holding anything in trust by anybody, which is why I said whatever relationship we are going into, it must comply with Cabotage Act, it must not offend the provision that we should not hold anything in trust. Holding in trust means it is not your own but you are pretending to people that it is your own.
Talking about Cabotage in indigenous market; what about that of international shipping, we don’t have presence there.
We cannot have presence in the area because we are yet to master the brown water. I told you that countries that recognize their limitations in driving exposure in shipping, what they do is that they bring in Cabotage. There are many countries who after they are satisfied that their people are well knowledgeable, they don’t need protection, that they remove Cabotage Act. We need the protection, the Cabotage Act as at today and we must continue to work within that sphere. There are those of us who will gravitate outside the Cabotage when we have understood the working within our domestic waters, there are those who will say they have learnt enough, known enough, can hold themselves in international waters and such people will venture into the foray of international water. So, at this moment, we are concerned about happenings in our Cabotage area. We are not taking anything out of those who may want to go into international water. I have told you that no government will protect you in the international foray. The international foray is the survival of the fittest. There, you have hounds, hawks, so, if you think your legs are strong enough, you can go but if you don’t think you can cope, it is better you remain within your Cabotage where you get a lot of protection. It is not news that a shipping company has a limitation in Cabotage, it is expected, it is a learning ground, it is an area where your government will be watching over you to make sure that the hounds of this world don’t come and prey on you. Let anybody say anything about local shipping company, they are not saying anything new. It is like a nursery where you grow your shipping legs before you venture out.
It is like NISA is fixated on just Cabotage instead of talking about developing shipping, ship building as it were in Nigeria?
You are not right, you are wrong. It is part of the things we are doing. Dock yard building is part of Cabotage so; we are looking at that to because if you have the ships, you need them to go to the dock regularly as required by the Merchant Shipping Act. So, we have recognized that there is limitation and we are also looking at that, we are considering that.
We learnt you got a new office for NISA
It is at number 1A, Rycroft Street and I must confess that we are happy with the support we are getting from the agencies. We got supports from NIMASA, NPA, Shippers’ Council; they are very supportive of our association. We are for them, they are for us. Without us, there will not be them, so it is a mutually beneficial relationship we have developed and we are very glad about that.
I learnt it was N7million
It is not N7million, it is more than N7million. I can give you the receipt for the payments, we have not bought the property, we have leased the place for two years. We did not lease it for N7million, it is not true, it is more than that and I will show you the receipt. I just didn’t think the cost should be our worry, I think what we require is a functional place which is what we have gotten. I will take you there for you to see the place, it is a beautiful place and I am very proud of that.
I learnt that there was a crisis that when the issue of presidency came up, some administrative staff were asked to o back to the former office. How true is this?
I won’t say we have constitutional crisis, we probably have in-house squabbles orchestrated by those who don’t wish us well because those who wish us well will not wish us balkanized and it is definitely the handwork of those who require platform to express themselves. Administration is another thing which you learn and if we start and say let us acquire a place and we have acquired it, and have designated the place as our secretariat with effect from first of January, it will be preposterous for anybody to say in February that we are moving back to where we had left. You want to be like the Israelites who after leaving Egypt came across a storm and started shouting that they should have been left in Egypt. Anyway, we are not going back to 27, Abraham Adesanya, we thank the former chairman for his gesture because he has been very kind to accommodate us for twelve years and mind you, all those times, he did not take rent from the association. We have thanked him and we say we are old enough to be able to stand on our own by arranging a place for ourselves so, why must we now go back to him and trouble him with our worries again? I don’t think we are doing it and I am saying we are not doing that.
NIMAREX is a brain-child of NISA, whatever affects NISA affects NIMAREX.
I keep telling you there is no problem in NISA, I am the president of NISA and that has not changed. That will not only change when the association says it has no confidence in me, that I should resign or they expel me or when my time expires and I am unable to be re-elected, that is when I will cease to be the president of the association. I am the president of the association and that is not in doubt. If anybody thinks otherwise, let him come up. There can be little disagreement such as is common to every association. It doesn’t call for balkanization or suspension or dismissal. Come to think of it, does anybody feel that I contracted transactions in the name of NISA and that transaction is fraudulent? It has nothing to do with it. I wonder why people are afraid; it is not unusual to have all sorts of freights coming up in shipping. Shipping is laden with that, it is not new. That there is bank dispute is part of shipping. What is unusual is screaming headlines alleging crime where none indeed exists. Every transaction is a contract and there is always written in it, “dispute resolution mechanism”. There can’t be any transaction without a dispute resolution mechanism. If there is a dispute, one way to resolve it is to follow the provisions of the contract not otherwise and no matter how much one side publishes to malign people, it doesn’t go anywhere. I read it in your paper that some people to go and beg them to come and become president. Tell me, is that true because I am not aware.
That is true
Is that how to resolve dispute? That tells you that there is more to it. I want us to kill that story; I don’t want us to ever talk about it. The issue is that it is not strange in shipping to have all sorts of disputes; shipping is characterized by all sorts of disputes and because that is the situation, there is always a dispute resolution mechanism. You have not unearthed anything if you say there is a dispute in shipping operation; the parties know best how to resolve their disputes because before they entered into that relationship, they have established how such a dispute would be resolved. If it is a crime, Nigeria has a well established agency for crime related matters. One of them is the Nigeria police, the other are EFCC, ICPC and the court. All these other agencies can only investigate, only the court can convict. I am still alleged and our constitutions regards allegation as unfounded until it is proven. So, how can you now say you expel somebody who is still innocent? That can only happen in circumstances where there are other interests.
What are the other conditions for expulsion?
I just told you, I have just gone a little bit into the matter just to sensitise you. Don’t let us go into it. Capt Labinjo is not afraid of any of these things, they told you I was in detention, they told you I would be there for two weeks, but you were calling me and I was talking to you. Would somebody in detention be talking to you on the phone? So, condition for expulsion of people is very clear, it says that 75% of the total number of the association members in a general meeting must approve. Our constitution had also previewed possibility of people misbehaving using the associations position and it says such a person can be-expelled under section 8 (B). If you see anything that is inimical, dangerous that affects the prestige, progress or objective of the association, you can be expelled.
It added that 75% of the numbers must approve of it in a general election under section 10 of the article. So, it is very clear, has that happened? Have you investigated?
I heard that you have not called for a general meeting since you became president.
It is because the time has not come. We have met two times in our regular executive committee meeting. The last time we met, we looked at the situation in the country and we said it would not be possible for us to have a meeting in February because of the elections because our members are not apolitical, some of them are very deeply involved in politics and we believe that we will not be able to put them together. Nobody presumed the postponement so, we said till after elections. We were supposed to have our executives meeting and then call for a general meeting. So, I have not called for a general meeting but I am calling for one very soon.
How do you face the challenge of imminent springing up of another association?
Nigerian constitution provides for freedom of association. No matter how autocratic I can be, I cannot force everybody to associate with me so, if anybody wants to go and set up another association, the more the merrier. I will expect that they too will have objectives that are similar to our own to advance the course of shipping services. So, I am not perturbed by that, it is just that if we are able to concentrate our efforts, we will speak louder but if anybody feels sufficiently inspired, moved by the spirit to set up a similar association, I cannot stop it.
You talked of NIMAREX being an offshoot of NISA…
NIMAREX is a product of NISA and like any other product; it will remain part of our products. Another product is already in the making and what is the product? I have just told you about it. These are the things that I am consciously making efforts to do. I require less distraction; all these other issues are distractions, we have very many more serious matters in our hands. For example, I have been involved in this single hull issues for shipping services, I led the technical committee from NISA and I made a lot of contributions during the meeting. I am just talking to our regulatory agency, NIMASA and I am very happy that they have shifted grounds from 2015 to 2019 but we are still telling them that they can still do more.
I thought it was supposed to be with IMO?
The IMO issue is very clear; IMO says provided you the member states are given permission, you can go ahead but on the condition that you must do continuous assessment. What is the big deal about single hull and double hull? It is the accident that led to the pollution that caused all these. They now said it is because the ships have only one skin that if you make them have two skins, if there’s a puncture to the outer skin, it will not affect the inner skin and there will not be pollution and if anything affects the inner skin, the product will still be contained in the outer skin, that is what it is all about. It was meant for ships that traverse the seas of the world. A ship coming from China to Nigeria will have to cross 2 to 3 seas with different capabilities, so the ship has to be extremely strong otherwise, it will be broken into two or so many things can happen. They now said if you are working from Lagos to Calabar, you can afford to sail your single hull vessel. So, if your ships are doing only domestic work, if you say you want to extend it to year 2050, that is your headache. If the ship leaves Lagos and enters Cotonou, it is international. So, Cotonou will cease it and say you are not double hull, why are you here? We are happy with NIMASA that they realized that most of our ships are hull; most of us are still paying back bank loans. So, if you say today, no more, what happens? All those things will now cease to exist.