"It is because there is no security agency and that is why Nigerian Navy is doing maritime security in addition to policing"
Navy Captain Abel Abechi Oga (rtd) is an instructor with the Nigerian Navy NNS QUORA, Naval Base in Apapa. He is also a member of the Merchant Navy Directorate. He spoke with Dapo Olawuni on the frequent clashes between Nigerian Navy officials and Merchant Navy Personnel on alleged impersonation. Capt Abel also spoke on the need for creation of a separate agency to assist the Nigerian Navy in handling maritime security.
“Because you pass through one mushroom maritime training school does not make you a merchant navy”
How can the challenges of Nigerian seafarers be permanently addressed?
The issue is that there is division and there is lack of political will, unless there are round pegs in round holes, we cannot move forward, and when we have people who don't have understanding of maritime sector creating policies and driving the activities of the maritime industry, we cannot make headway. So first of all, we must have the right people in the right places, so that from their experiences and their background, they should be able to drive people in the right direction. If you look at NIMASA today, most of the appointments are political, they are not there because they are master mariners, and they don't have an understanding of the agency. Secondly, the other major problem we have is that our maritime environment is not safe because there is too much rivalry among agencies in the sector, everybody is doing every other person's job, there is difference between safety and security. NIMASA for example is set up for maritime safety and administration, Nigerian Navy is set up for policing and security, when NIMASA begins to do security job and they do not have the capability of what they want to do, the result is always negative. So, we must have the demarcation between who is doing what, and what every other person should be doing. You are doing my job that you do not have the capacity to do, and you are giving the impression that you can do it, I always tell people that what you don't have, you cannot give. NIMASA has its responsibility which is safety, it is just like the road safety man whose job is to make the road safe for motorists to pass, he is not a Vehicle Inspection Officer (VIO); so he has no business checking vehicle documents, I am driving my car and you are asking me for my particulars and whether my car was properly cleared, it is not his business to ask which car was properly cleared, if you want to know which car was properly cleared, go to Berger automobile market where I bought the car from, if it was not cleared, then it is not supposed to be in the market, there is no car that flew in the air to cross Nigeria, it must have come through customs, and if I show you evidence that I purchased it legitimately and it was not reported that the car was stolen, you have no reason to arrest me. Similarly in the maritime industry, if you have all the papers they would still arrest you, the Navy has no reason to, and the Navy too must be educated on what they should go for to arrest the big ones. So a lot is wrong, there is no political will, there is no integrity, there is a lot of sentiments, people are so biased about so many things.
We have heard about seafarers not being efficient and buying certificates to go onboard ships, what is your advice?
This is why, one of our core value is standardization, when I was in the Navy, I conducted selection for people, one of them told me he had Second Class Upper from one mushroom university and the other said he was not taught in the university, but he came out with 2.1 in ICT, this is not a proper certificate, so when you say that you are a merchant navy, you must have something to defend yourself, you must be properly registered, you must have identity cards issued from a legitimate establishment, that is merchant navy. There is difference between a profession and an academic qualification, some of these people go to these maritime institutions to get academic qualification and not professional qualification, if you say you are a merchant navy personnel and I ask you what is seamanship and you can't tell what seamanship is all about, you cannot describe how a ship is, it means that there is no experience, it is like you being a doctor and you don't know what a stethoscope is, there was a time I served in the Niger Delta and people were saying that Shell petroleum has refused to give them job, so I ask Shell, how many job opportunities can you give, they said 50 jobs and it is for welders, I said okay, so I invited people for welders, but out of the 50 people that came, it was only one person who could light the welding machine, the rest of them could not do it and yet they had certificates, they go about saying that they don't have a job, but they cannot ‘practicalise’ what they studied. If you are a seafarer and you have never been onboard, it means you are not yet a seafarer; the word ‘seafarer’ is about the sea.
What is your take on the rivalry between Navy and Nigerian merchant navy
There are merchant navy personnel and there are defence navy personnel, but the awareness is lacking, this is the generation gap I was talking about, there is no transition of knowledge of who is who, if you see somebody in uniform, the proper dressing of merchant navy personnel is the same thing with that of Nigerian Navy. But unless you are educated on whom a merchant navy sailor is, if he brings out his identity card, you will say that he is impersonating, what we are doing now is to educate people and let them know that merchant navy is about the sea, the uniform is identical, it is only colour of the eagle that is different. It is lack of information, generational and system failure, quite a lot of people do not know who merchant navy sailors are, once they see somebody in uniform, provided he is not Nigerian Navy, they will say they are impersonating, this is the main reason the merchant navy directorate should be restructured so that there will be awareness, one of our core value is collaboration, standardization, these mushroom academies have affected so many seafarers, because you pass through one mushroom maritime training school does not make you a merchant navy, you have gone to receive a certificate from one mushroom academy in Ajegunle and you now call yourself a merchant navy, you now go and kit up like a full merchant navy personnel, it means you are impersonating both the merchant navy personnel and the Nigerian Navy officers, until you are trained, recognized, registered and certificated, you cannot call yourself a merchant navy personnel.
Before you retired from the Navy, what job were you doing there?
I was in training and I am still training in the Nigerian Navy, I retired from the Navy and they called me back, so I am training in the Navy at NNS QUORA, I teach them on professional subjects, I am also a member of the Merchant Navy Directorate.
On maritime security, do you support the establishment of a Maritime Coast Guard to assist Nigerian Navy?
There is a bill at the National Assembly that has already passed through second reading for the establishment of a Maritime Security Agency which would be doing the job of security, it is because there is no security agency and that is why Nigerian Navy is doing maritime security in addition to policing, there is a difference in safety, security and policing.
Sir, but we already have the Marine Police to do the policing .
Even if we have the marine police, this is why we must have collaboration, we have intelligence agencies like the ICPC and the EFCC, but they must know the limit where they do their job, we have Doctors and we have Nurses, they are all in the medical profession, but the day a Nurse will go and take over the job of a medical doctor, it becomes a problem. For all of them, their roles are very important, it is only that you must know the limit of your responsibility; because you are a nurse doesn't mean you will start carrying out surgical operations.