Captain Joseph Awodeha; The current president of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners.
“Government should allow private investors take charge of national fleet”---Captain Awodeha
Captain Joseph Awodeha is the current president of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners. In this interview, with Anozie Egole, he talks about the association’s position on the overlapping functions of government agencies in Nigeria. He also talks about sundry industry issues, such as port concession, seatime for cadets, among others.
“24 hours operation in the ports is feasible” Recently you said something about government revisiting the acts establishing some government agencies especially in the maritime sector. Can you tell us more about that?Based on the paper we presented last week end , we found out that generally in Nigeria (maybe not only in the maritime sector, but it is possible that it is more in the maritime sector in the sense that you have different agencies that their acts and the statement of their responsibility in their various acts are overlapping. For example, you find the act setting up NIMASA talking about security and Navy talking about security; now we begin to wonder can’t we give this responsibility to one arm of government so that you are clear as to what you are meant to do. But what we have found out is that when you come to ports administration, you begin to ask, which one is a seaport and which one is an inland port. Which one is the responsibility of NIWA and which one is the responsibility of NPA. I have heard issue some years back as to where to collect dues from jetties, NIWA will come to collect the dues and NPA will also come for the same dues. The question is why don’t all these revenue go to one person? Then you begin to define which one is an inland port and which one is a port at the entrance of a river.What I am saying is that they should not deliberately split the same responsibility giving it to two separate agencies; they will begin to fight who should do the same work. And you will find out that the responsibilities are in their Acts. It is not the fault of the people implementing it, but that of the people writing the Acts. And therefore we are asking if it is deliberate to give the same responsibility to two different agencies maybe to generate double taxation, double payment among others. So what we are saying is that they should review all the Acts setting up all the different agencies and authorities and specifically to define who should handle what and who should handle the other, so that you don’t have the same responsibility appearing in NIMASA and also appearing in NPA. That is what we are saying at Master Mariners; let us review all the acts setting up the different agencies so that every agency knows what it is supposed to do. When we do that, we will know exactly that when we have a challenge the agency that will take care of the challenge.
Do you think that the executive order issued by the Vice President on the ease of doing business in the ports is achievable? Well, my understanding is that executive order is meant to supersede every other orders to make ease of doing business in the port work. Now you take president order over existing orders if there is a clear issue where we overlook a particular issue, that is vital for me the clear thing to do is to go back to the executive and say, when we gave this executive orders we didn’t consider this and it is vital to curb human or drug trafficking. Executive orders can be revisited if it is conscious that it is not working. For example if there is an executive order that says Customs should not work in the ports; of course you know it is not possible. So you can go back to whoever issued the order and tell him that when you told us to carry out this executive order we didn’t consider this, this agency is vital you can always revisit it.I do not see the reason this executive order should not work out if all the agencies make themselves available as at when required. It is working in some other countries so why can’t it work here. 24 hours operation in the ports is feasible.
What are your plans for the association? Right now we are occupied with raising our secretariat building, we have started it. We will also be hosting our AGM where we hope to invite you. So I am committed to carrying that forward as much as possible. We will also try as much as possible to create awareness in the industry that this is a new set of people who have come from the both sides of the device. They have worked at sea to the top level. These are a group of people who have got the qualifications to sail on any vessel in the world to anywhere in the world. What that means is that you must have masters unlimited. That is the qualification and that is why you find out that we are not more than 200 people in the whole Nigeria. It is not everybody who calls himself a Captain is a Master Mariner. A Master Mariner means that you must have the competency and the qualifications that you cannot even get only in Nigeria. No institution is qualified to award it here in Nigeria. I think Ghana and Egypt just started the qualifications. So it is a master unlimited but that does not mean that people who are captains in these smaller vessels, offshore supply vessels, and coastal tankers are not captains, but they are not master mariners.
How will you assess port reforms since 2006?Well to some extent the ports concession as far as I am concerned encouraged private sector to put in private funds into the ports and it has expanded the ports more than what the government has done to it. But I understand over time they realised that there were some lapses which they are trying to amend. I don’t know what the issues are, I have not been to the port for some time now, and I have not been to Apapa for the past five years now. So what their challenges are now, I can’t really say. But I know that ports concession encouraged private investors to invest and improve activities in the ports more than what the government has done and that is a positive as far as I am concerned.
What is you association doing as regards to training our seafarers and also getting them sea time?In the association we felt that mistakes were made in the beginning. This is not a profession or segment of the industry that you pump in so many students all at once. Even when the Nigerian National Shipping Line was trading, in a whole year they won’t take more than 35 Engineers and 35 deck cadets. And this was a company were they train you and the vessels you are to work with are already available, so as you are leaving school you are getting their vessels. Now we have a situation where NIMASA didn’t have any vessel. I understand they have over 2,500 cadets they have trained abroad. So the number initially was too many to manage. These people have been trained academically, so they need to be assisted to have their practical sea training so that they can qualify for their Certificate of Competency (COC). Now if you are trained in the maritime university, what you are getting there is academic qualification. That alone cannot qualify you to go to the port and take a ship as an officer. You have to get what we call the COC. Now if you don’t have that, it is like you have graduated from the university and there is no way for you to do your national youth service and you are aware that nobody will employ you without asking for your national service discharge certificate. And you know that what you are taught in the university is not the same when you practise that on board the vessel. You have to come and practically put into use what they have been teaching you in schools.
What are the Master Mariners doing as regards securing jobs for seafarers?We can only encourage ship owners to get our cadets on board their vessels. We and some other associations can only suggest ways of getting training ships. If you get a training ship; like NIMASA acquiring a training ship, you can put a number of cadets there, and the ship will go to the sea and train them, even if it is coastal training along Ghana and Cameroun. They will be able to have practical sea experience and training after that we can go for COC to enable them qualify. Nobody will give you a ship to handle to be a watch keeper without having the Certificate of Competence. Now I am aware that the Ship Owners Association of Nigeria (SOAN) has the plans of telling ship owners to take our cadets on board their vessels. I know that SOAN as at the last time has up to 130 spaces for cadets. As master mariners we can only encourage Nigerian ship owners to take our cadets on board their vessels. Because at the end of the day, it is this same cadets that they will depend on to take over the management of their ships for the continuity of their business.
What is the position of Master Mariners on the proposed national fleet?National fleet is supported by the association, but they should be very sure that the mistakes that were made during the Nigerian National Shipping Line are taken care of. Now once a programme is being driven by government, it gets bogged down with all sorts of bureaucracy. You will find out that there will be some kinds of government control. So what we are advocating is that let it be private sector driven, let government provide conducive environment for the private sector. We can even sponsor because shipping is very capital intensive. Government can pump in money for the initial establishment, then they can now put it in the open market for ship owners who are interested to invest in it. Because when you set up a business and you have private directors and shareholders in the business they are going to ask questions and things must work out well. But when it is government things cannot work out well. That is why you have the national line of this world, the Nigerian Airways, Nitel and even NEPA is still struggling because they are not controlled by the private sector. So we, as an association support private sector driven fleet but because shipping is capital intensive, government can make the initial investment and sell-off its shares to private investors.
Is it true that most ship owners are mere portfolio carriers? There are some truths in that, but not just ship owners alone even in other places there are some people who are in the position to get contract to some other persons and they will; sell it to somebody who will execute the contract. That is not impossible in shipping too. If you are in a position to get a contract for a vessel, you get the contract and then you sell it to somebody who is ready to execute the contract. It is not impossible that there are some portfolio carriers among ship owners. But that cannot happen in SOAN because one of the criteria for being a member is that you must have a vessel. You must be seen to own a verifiable vessel.