“Chamber of Shipping is a big umbrella body of all the stakeholders in the maritime industry” ………Obiageli Obi

“Scrapping the NSDP is just like asking if we should scrap National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)”

Obiageli Obi is a lawyer and current Director General of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping. In this interview with Anozie Egole, she talks passionately about the Chamber that she met, its flagship programme; ABC of Shipping and her plans to turn the fortunes of the Chamber around. She also talks about sundry maritime industry issues. She says that the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping  is very vital to stakeholders in the Nigerian maritime industry      “The interest of the chamber is information sharing, collaboration, networking, partnerships”   Please, tell us about your background?My name is Obiageli Obi, I am a lawyer. I have been in the industry for a while, my journey in the industry started in 2008 when I was employed as the Chief Operating Officer of a shipping company. We had our office then at Victoria Island. As at then we had 5,000 and 7,000 metric tonnes vessels and we also had a smaller vessel. While I was working, we bought two more vessels. But while I was in the company, I noticed a lot of issues one of which was lack of information and knowledge. I saw even at that time, the difference between the attitude to work of Nigerian seafarers and seafarers who had been trained abroad, who had worked with foreign vessels even though they were Nigerian. Because I had a problem with Nigerian seafarers, I employed foreign trained seafarers who are also Nigerians because we had to comply with the provisions of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Act. 

As the Director General of the Nigerian Chamber of Shipping, what were the things you met on ground when you assumed office and what impression do you have about the chamber as at when you assumed office?The Nigerian Chamber of Shipping is an edifice, it is a big umbrella body of all the stakeholders in the maritime industry and that was the major intention of the people that set it and that is still what it is today.When I became the DG, I discovered that a lot of associations were not involved in the chamber, and I felt that for the chamber to be strong, efficient and effective in the sector, it has to engage all the different interests. But I found out that the first thing was to bring everybody together under the umbrella to organise a town hall meeting and talk about the differences. So at the investiture, I went out of my way to invite everybody that I knew had focus in the industry, every association that has a role to perform. I had the help of my board, the director and the governing council. A lot of them are operators and they have been in the system for long, so they gave me their list and I went to each person and I spoke to them about my vision for an all-embracing chamber and I am happy that they honoured the invitation; that was why you saw the crowd at the investiture. 

What would you say informed the programme, ABC of Shipping usually organised by the chamber?The same thing; to ensure that there is adequate information because information is power. A lot of people go into the shipping because they know there is money there but they don’t really understand the process, the strategies and mechanisms of the sector. They do not have the knowledge of shipping, they get into shipping without that background information and they come up with all sorts of problems. We have a lot of people who are working within the maritime environment who do not know other aspects of maritime. Your vessel calls at the ports, you should know about the ports. You own a vessel, you are not just an owner, you should know about the crew. You must know the marine survey and what they do, operations amongst others. You are an accountant that works for a shipping company, how are you going to run the account of the company when you don’t understand the operations of the company. So that is what the ABC of Shipping is trying to define. The programme brings in every aspect of shipping, all the professionals within the industry who are integral to shipping and brings them under one umbrella - ABC of Shipping and helps them understand the operations of shipping, what exactly has to be done to get the business done. And that is what we do at the programme.

How will you assess the last programme?As for the last programme, before now ABC of Shipping was on the down turn. So I am very delighted about my staff, I drove them, I pushed them and I am very happy with the outcome. It just showed what a few people who bring their mind together can achieve. That was what we observed at the ABC of Shipping. We had full class ranging from professionals from different areas, we had seasoned lecturers because we had turned around the faculty, and we brought in more subjects that we taught were integral to shipping. It was a real overhaul and we are really happy with the different things the participants said that they are really happy and they went home with a lot of information.

You said earlier that when you assumed office the programme was on the down turn, how do you intend to boost the profile of the chamber?Well, the main purpose of the chamber which is the interest of the chamber is information sharing, collaboration, networking, partnerships, and that is what we are going to do. And that is what the chamber does -advocacy, making sure we promote the interest of the members, make sure that their challenges are heard by the right authority, make sure we get the information and feedback that we want. Also make sure that the relevant authorities get it and do something about it.

Would you say that you are carrying on with all these tasks?We have started, we are planning a breakfast meeting very soon and that is basically what it is for. One of our regulatory bodies who has done very well, we just want our members to know what they have done and also allow our members to talk back to them. Give them a feedback and what they have done and how it has affected them. How the project has affected their business and you know this will help the regulatory body to do better. So that is what we think the chamber should be doing and that is what we are doing. 

What would you say about the maritime industry in the first half of this year?We have all come from the slump in the market but things are picking up. You see the price of oil is going back up. There are lots of opportunities, they just opened the exportation of yam and that created a lot of opportunities for trade and the government is doing a lot. This is a very strategic government, a government that does a lot; it is a listening and doing government. They said they will be repairing the road which is a monumental task which will incredibly affect the maritime community. So we are grateful for all these and we are hopeful that when all these happen, things will get better.

Maritime experts have called for the scrapping of the Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme (NSDP), what do you have to say about that?You see people are so impatient with things. Why will you scrap a programme? Lawyers will say that when there is a problem as to the understanding of a particular thing, you go back to the original intention of the people that did that. What was the original intention of the programme? Lack of training; it is not that there are not effective institutions; no. It is just the human factor, the consultants did not do their jobs, some people did not do their work, people did not monitor. There was a problem and we don’t scrap it because we have a people’s problem, we go back and address the people’s problem and do it well. That did not only serve for training it serves for many other purposes. It’s just like asking if we should scrap National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). It will be too late, I am a human resources person, I believe that in everything there must be a goal which you have to dig to find it.