“You can set up a national line, but there must be a high element of commercialization otherwise corruption will destroy it”
Mr. John Patrick Egesi, is the immediate past president of the Nigerian Institute of Shipping (NIS). He is also a former Director General of Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA) now Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). In this interview with Anozie Egole, he talks briefly about his tenure as president of NIS. He also appraises the Nigerian maritime “We are a great nation of about 150million and if we put the population into use, the economy will be begging the shipping community”
“The NNSL should be resuscitated so that our people will get jobs”
What were the things you met on ground when you assumed office as the president of NIS?I don’t have much to say about that, because I have already left the office as President of NIS, so I can’t speak about them at the moment. All I can say about the economy generally is that it affected everybody our dreams and all that. The year before we took over at the NIS, the economy was buoyant and we could go to Abuja several times to pursue our chattered dreams. We even met some very notable members of the National Assembly because they knew what we were pursuing.
What will you say is the cause of the delay in chattering the NIS? It is neither the fault of the Senate nor our own fault, but for a team to visit Abuja, we must have some funds but the situation was that bad then. People were not paying their dues, yes NIS has a big name but even a big house is supported by a foundation. Without those things it was difficult for us to do the usual trip we normally did; people were not paying up and our period was a period when depression had already set in even before President Buhari came in. The signs of it were everywhere. Like I said the maritime industry progresses with the demand of what these industry carry, we call it derived demand in economics. So when the economy is down people import less. The low importation of cars started three years ago. In fact it started during the automobile policy that intends to promote home-made; which was good. The people that could have given us donations at NIS were not forthcoming, so we had to struggle to pay our staff by carrying out all those trainings that we did; it was really a tough time for us.
Recently we have notice the rapid increase of maritime schools, do you think they are relevant?I am not speaking for the NIS. But I think that NIS still remains the standard organization, Nigerians have the tendency of copycatting and I think the maritime industry is over song in this country. We have sang it more than it should be, you don’t find such a thing in any country especially countries that are truly maritime countries. We don’t find such explosion of maritime schools, you don’t find it in Holland and England and these are great maritime nations, people forget that Holland is a great maritime country in the 1950’s and 1960’s. So that is a typical Nigerian thing like the churches they are making money and you find them everywhere. Does that mean that people are committing more sins and therefore there is need for more churches? I have come to realise that this is a typically Nigerian thing. Everybody has the right to set up training institutions. The way I look at things is different and it doesn’t mean it’s the best; it is my own suggestion or view. Nigeria over sings the maritime thing, that is not to say that shipping is not important, when I say shipping I mean all angles of shipping including- the rail and air in the general definition. So it is from this point of view that I will say that there is need for the government to avoid sentiments and politicking about all these in maritime. In simple training when you train for ‘A’, there should be a demand for that ‘A’ that is what we call cybernetics; there should be a linkage between the training and demand. Now you have a situation where people are trained but there is no demand and there is no global body to ask then why are you doing this? Unless you are training for export or to go to places like Liberia where you have flag of convenience where you can register. A lot of Americans and other nationalities have their base there. What I am trying to say is that it is necessary to have a home-base because basically transportation is as a result of the demand to carry.
Do you think there is need for a Maritime University or is MAN Oron enough?I don’t like putting my foot into politics, I only talk economics and if you ask me about rail or air I will still quote economics. Now my question is, why maritime university? Is there so much demand for maritime activities that you will have a whole university built for it? If you say maritime nation, the definition might include the export, now how many times do we export? You have to look at your production; the power of a country to ship depends on the Radius or the base of the cargo to the shipping community. When the shipping community is too far away their chances of carrying that cargo is limited. So, no matter how much Nigeria imports, Yes Nigeria is an importing nation but it is not necessarily a maritime nation, there is difference. It is an importing nation but it is not a maritime nation because those who are carrying these goods are those from which the goods emanate from their community. If you want to carry it they will fight you, they fought me when I was the Head of Operations at Nigerian Maritime Authority (NMA) now NIMASA, they also fought me when I was the Director General of NMA now NIMASA, they fought me when the EU set up their rules that anybody who obeys the 40:40:20 rule of the UNCTAD code of which Nigeria subscribed to and they set up the NMA that they will deal with the people. So maritime does not sit on the air, you are dealing with people, you are dealing with the laws that set up the countries. So even though Nigeria imports a lot of cargoes it doesn’t make you a maritime nation. That was why in 1987, during the time of Babangida, he established the 40:40:20, rules in accordance with the UNCTAD code for liner conferences. That decree empowers Nigeria to carry 40% of home cargoes and 40% of import cargoes. Yes if we have to carry home cargo 40% it will make us a maritime nation but where is the cargo. 40% of cargo from the importing country could make us but where is the legal power.
In your opinion do you think there is need for the resuscitation of national carrier?Are you talking about the Nigerian National Shipping Lines (NNSL) or the national carriers, because there is a big difference between the two? The Nigerian carriers don’t need resuscitation because it is in the hands of those who wish to enter shipping. But the NNSL is a government agency which could be resuscitated.Talking about national carrier, I have answered this several times and sometimes I feel I am not communicating and even if I do, nobody is listening. Now the national carrier like the NNSL is important, it will be necessary if Nigeria needs to go for war they can use the ship like they did in Liberia and all that. So it is not only for commercial purpose, don’t forget that the navy and the national carrier are all related. In case of war like in other countries all ships become naval ships, so in that case national carrier might be very necessary for sea movement. However when you say national carrier you are also talking about ownership of vessels; no problem you can set it up but there must be a high element of commercialization otherwise corruption will destroy it. Commercialization in the sense that outsiders should be allowed to manage it not all those laws where we say that it must be managed by Nigerians, no country is an island. If other people invest in it, then our people can train with those ships while our economy develops and power passes unto us. We are a great nation of about 150million and if we put the population into use, the economy will be begging the shipping community. Every ship should be filled with production from this country, without that scenario we will just be singing romantic songs. I can’t at my age walk into a jungle when I know there is no road there. If shipping keeps growing without cargos it is cancerous. So looking at it from the point of view of magic and reasoning I simply have to say that the NNSL should be resuscitated so that our people will get jobs but they should lease it to foreigners to manage and our people will learn from them after which they could be exported to other countries for foreign exchange. This is what I see, but how on earth can you do such a thing in Nigeria and politicians will not put their fingers in it and if they do, it will die at birth.