“Coronavirus is a blessing at the same time it is a challenge depending on how you look at “it
Engineer Greg Ogbeifun is the immediate past president of Ship Owners Association of Nigeria. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he speaks on sundry issues in the Nigerian shipping sector, the challenges and the way forward.
“All my ships are crewed by Nigerian seafarers who are trained in this country “
What have you been up to since you lest office as the president of SOAN?
I have been developing my ship yard expansion project, that is all I can say for now. It is too premature to be brought into the public domain, but I think there is need to just let you know what I have been up to.
What is your relationship with the incumbent president of SOAN?
Dr. Oyong is my president and the relationship is extremely cordial, it is very cordial.
What are your expectations from Dr. Jamoh and the new Director General of NIMASA?
Well, our expectations are high; first of all, he is a technocrat, he is an industry person and he has been in NIMASA for a long time, so he knows and understands what the issues are. So I think he shouldn’t have much challenges addressing the issues in the industry from where his predecessor who also in his own way did his best. So I think Dr. Jamoh will do well.
Are there areas you think the new DG should focus more on?
I don’t think there are any, every DG has the right to carry out their functions the way they understand it and the way they can. I don’t think there is any benefit in criticizing or judging the past, let us just move forward and encourage the whole management to grow the industry. I think that will be more productive.
Earlier this year, the minister of transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi set up a committee headed by the former DG of NIMASA, Dr. Dakuku Peterside for the review of the guidelines for the disbursement of the CVFF. Now that there is a new DG, what do you think is the way forward?
The Minister set up a committee to review the guidelines for the disbursement of the CVFF and incidentally, I am a member of that committee. And as expected the new DG just invited us for a meeting, so that is an indication that he wants to hit the ground running as far as the CVFF is concerned.
The barge operators are calling on the DG of NIMASA to include them in the disbursement of the CVFF, what is your reaction to that?
I don’t think I am in a position to comment on that, the question should be directed to the DG of NIMASA. Because the Act that established the fund is very clear on the requirements, so there should be answer in respect to the eligibility. But then I would have suggested that the new guideline that is coming out should be allowed to be concluded before people begin to agitate for whatever. On a personal note, anybody who has not contributed to the CVFF should not be eligible to partake in that fund and the disbursement.
There seems to be proliferation of associations among ship owners, what do you think is the cause of this?
I think the constitution of our country allows free association of citizens; people are welcomed to form associations if they have like minds. I don’t think there is anything wrong about it. If you go to the banking industry, we have ICAN and ANAN; they are all accountants, am I right? You wouldn’t call that a proliferation; in my own sector we have NISA, if you look inwards you will find out that NISA comprises more of ship owners who are operating downstream of the industry. Now you have SOAN which comprises majorly of ship owners who are operating upstream. So these are different types of operations in the industry I wouldn’t call that proliferation. Now you talked about the Ship-Owners Forum, it is a forum that comprises of three people -Chairman of the Forum who is the respected Barrister Margret Orakwusi, then the president of NISA and the president of SOAN. So that is the entity that brings all the parties together.
We know that SOAN has a platform where its partners with MAN, Oron to train cadets, what is the latest about that platform?
To be honest with you, I would with due respect, request that you recognize that there is a new leadership in SOAN and that leadership should be allowed to do their work. Such questions, I think you should engage the new leadership, I am no longer their president, I have done my bit, I have moved on. I am their trustee, yes but when you are talking about the day to day administration of SOAN, I am not involved. I think you should ask the current leadership; they will tell you what is happening in that respect.
Do you think our seafarers are half-baked as so many persons are saying?
There is nothing like seafarers being half-baked, that is a very derogatory statement in the first place to be used on any human being; more so Nigerians. We have seafarers who are highly skilled, all my ships are crewed by Nigerian seafarers who are trained in this country and some of them had to go to Ghana for certification. It may not be meeting international standard, but the ones we have here are doing well on our ships. Now, the institutions, yes could need support as you are aware under this present minister there have been a lot of strengthening and repositioning of MAN, Oron. If you go there, you will see changes, what we need to do is to find a way to support every initiative. The NSDP programme, even though it may not have been the best to achieve the desired result, but we have been able to (at least) train some people who can now be further trained and exposed to develop their skills. What I think we should do is to see how the country will eventually re-establish a global training programme so that we can train seafarers who can also trade internationally. But the seafarers who are operating in Nigeria are excellent, if you look at the number of ships operating in this country and servicing the oil industry are crewed by Nigerians. For the oil companies to be satisfied with the work these people are doing, I think it will be unfair for anybody to call the seafarers half-baked. So I don’t know what the yardsticks are to classify them as half-baked; I think we should stop using such a derogatory statement. I won’t like anybody to call my crew who I am very proud of half-baked. So help me as a press man to put that massage that we should stop pulling ourselves down let’s start encouraging what we do and what we have.
There seem to be discrepancy between NIMASA and NIWA on who removes water hyacinth on the waterways, who do you think should be responsible for the removal of water hyacinth?
Well, how do you expect me to know things like that, it is not in the realm of my business as a ship owner. I suggest the ministry of transportation can answer that properly.
Do you buy the idea of relocating tank farms from Apapa as a way of addressing the perennial traffic gridlock in Apapa?
As at when the tank farms were being built there, the industrial and residential developments have not come the way it is now. Definitely that place has become densely populated by industry and I think those tank farms should be relocated for the safety of lives and properties. You don’t have to wait until there is calamity before you know that it is the right thing to do. It’s either you are relocating or you carve out an area where there will be no habitation, so that the tank farms will have their own secured environment. But you know that will be very difficult, so the best thing to do is to find a way to isolate that place from human activities; it is a time bomb waiting to explode.
What do you think is delaying the Lekki Deep Sea port?
I have no idea; I am busy developing my ship yard why should I be worrying myself about Lekki Deep Seaport.
What would you say is the greatest challenges developing ship yard in Nigeria?
Of course, like every such capital intensive projects, the challenges are usually financing. I won’t like to start putting figures on how much it has cost me so far, but what is sure is that I have been developing this idea for seven years. And it has got to a point where the project has become attractive to critical stakeholders, financiers and they are just interested in supporting the financing transaction and advisers in the structure. That is what I can say at the moment, but the project is getting incredible support from NIMASA, NPA, NCDMB and it is something that the nation will be proud of at the end of the day. The project will be fully in use by the grace of God within 24 to 30 months. It is a very big project, that ship yard should be able to build every type and size of ship that is currently operating in the Nigerian oil and gas industry upstream and to dock every size and type of ship operating at the Nigerian oil and gas industry upstream and also the beauty of it is a concept whereby about 60 ship can be repaired at the same time, not Very Large Container Carriers (VLCC), but offshore service boats operating in country. I just want to give it some months and I can call a press conference in that regards. The nation will be proud of it is not about me, but the country.
What is the update Benin City River Port?
That project is progressing very well, we had meeting with the potential transaction advisers and very soon the emerging transaction adviser will be announced and then we will take the project to the next level. It is a major project for the state, it is very important for the economic life of the state.
What is your assessment of the loss so far on Coronavirus in the shipping industry?
Let me make a correction, you said that the shipping sector will feel it more, because we make most of our imports from China, the shipping sector in Nigeria did not feel anything, because the country does not have any ship that goes to China, it is the ship owners who ship from China that will feel it more. As a nation, our imports will be affected that is the sector that will be affected not the shipping sector, because we don’t have ships. My opinion is that the problem should make Nigeria as a country to begin to look inwards to begin to develop and manufacture those things that we are importing. It is wake up call for us now that everybody has closed their borders, what are we going to do, let’s go back to the farms and to our manufacturing industry. Let’s get our local scientists to begin to put heads together to develop ideas instead of depending on imports. So, it got its own good and bad side, it is wake-up call the Coronavirus is a blessing at the same time it is a challenge depending on how you look at it. People are going to put on their thinking caps now to find solutions, because those solutions we used to depend on from abroad are no longer coming at least for a while.