NSDP: ‘’When you are producing 2, 000 to 5,000 seafarers, where will they work?’’
Captain Tajudeen Alao is the new President of the Nigerian Association of Master Mariners. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he talked about his plans for the association, dearth of young Master Mariners and Nigeria’s recent loss of IMO Council election, and lots more
IMO Elections: ‘’You cannot lie 20 years ago, 15 years ago and you keep lying’’
As the new President on Master Mariners, what are your plans for the association and how was the association when you came on board?
First and foremost is membership drive; to get more people to be active in maritime affairs. Two is to reposition the association to make it relevant in collaboration with other stakeholders and we have started that. This is so that our voices can be heard and our experience can be brought to bear and the young ones and government can benefit from it.
When I came on board I saw that the association was not very relevant, we were not going out and we were not partaking in so many things like workshops. We were not visiting maritime institutions. We only did one or two lectures when we were supposed to do three in a year, we were not also mentoring the junior ones; whether they have experience or not, we must mentor then because they are the people we have merchant navy officers, seafarers, maritime labour, mariners club. We need to do that more and it’s a lot of sacrifices.
When do you intend that the association will move into its new secretariat?
Well it is a gradual process, as you know we manage on benevolence, membership donation and support from the industry, it is not a money making association. We will take our time and do the work, we will love to be in Apapa, but NPA and NIMASA should give us a secretariat. They have accommodation challenge too. I feel they can give us in Apapa so that we will be close to the people. In any case, Ajah will soon be a centre of maritime activities because of location of so many maritime activities. We just want to leverage on that and grow with it.
There is a dearth of young master mariners, what is your association doing about that?
The situation is not peculiar to our job, it is all over; it is the same thing in aviation, medicine, it’s everywhere because the platform is not there. The economy was very good before so opportunities were there for us, but for the young ones now it is not there. There is nothing we can do technically; it is just that we have to manage what we have. What is our strength it is in the coastal trade, oil and gas and these things are different. Our area of strength is oil and gas we should ensure that there are short courses, we should also upgrade all the coastal certificates.
On the Nigerian Seafarers Development Program (NSDP) to me it is better you do something than not doing at all. What they did was good but it was over bloated. When you are producing 2, 000 to 5,000 seafarers where will they work, where is the ship they will work on, do we have that number of ships and the answer is - we don’t. So we have to go back and see where we went wrong, already these guys are graduating and no certificate because we don’t have license. In Liverpool last week 59 of the NSDP cadets graduated and five came out with first class and about 20 came out with distinction. These guys will be frustrated where you have cadets spending eight years and they are nowhere yet, they are still cadets it’s very frustrating. So we are going to make use of a lot of them in the maritime institutions, it is not all of them that will end up in the top. Some of them will join the Navy, some will lecture and some will go into the industries while others will be in the dockyards. But definitely they will be engaged.
What is the position of your association on MAN, Oron going by the many challenges surrounding the institution?
We are already collaborating with the interim management committee. They called us for a meeting last week; we are collaborating with Marine Engineers, Surveyors and a lot of them. We are holding meeting with the new management in Oron, because there in Oron, only 20% of the staff are academics, 80% are just administrative staff and out of that only a few are professionals, the remaining are just PhD holders in course that are not relevant to maritime and they are lecturing in maritime. So it is not good, we appreciate what the Minister has done, the courage the people went to do the report and he asked them to manage the place for six months. And they have succeeded in taking the school away from the community and back to the Federal Government. I even learnt that some of the committee members cried when they saw what was there. The former rector who left some years ago, wept openly for the situation in the academy.
Do you think there is need for a Maritime University in Nigeria?
Yes, because they are two separate things, MAN, Oron can award degrees in the technical aspect but a Maritime University can go for support services, there are many areas of maritime. Maritime is like a tree it has stems, branches, leaves and all that. So by maritime university we are going to have the opportunity to specialise in so many areas, like marine insurance and all that. University will also give us the platform to develop our research in maritime without travelling outside the country. So it is a good thing.
What is the position of master mariners on the IMO election that Nigeria lost recently?
Look, let me be very frank with you, what you have on ground is what they judge upon. You remember that this year we did IMO voluntary audit, they audited us and they saw what we have on ground. And this is unbiased, it is not the amount of money or lobby that you offer, it is not done like that. We should go back to the drawing board and say in two years time we are getting there. We can never get to category A or B because there are criteria for being there. Category C that we belong to, we should put structures on ground. We got there first time because we had first class surveyors in the system, so many IMO conventions were put into effect. We sanitized our certifications; our CoC was cancelled and withdrawn during late Ojo Maduekwe. They created Government Inspector of Shipping, they withdrew all these certificates, authenticate and revalidate them put then in computer system MAN, Oron was upgraded. So if you do not do anything you cannot pass, so we should put our energy into putting infrastructure on ground and also putting into effect all the IMO conventions that we signed and also engage the stakeholders. It is what you have on ground that they will judge you with. You cannot lie 20 years ago, 15 years ago and you keep lying. When they came back they found out that the situation is the same, we should go back to drawing board.
Despite the collaboration between NIMASA and Nigerian Navy, there seems to be high rate of piracy in our waterways, what do you think about that?
This thing has become very criminal; one is that the law that will prosecute them is not in place; you know most of these things are on the high seas. The economy is also not helping matters; those who are under the umbrella of militancy have gone into criminality. It is not the militants attacking the ships any more it is pure armed robbers and they should be treated as such. Now they can monitor and survey, there is even a ship that went aground in Lagos, they boarded it and took things away.
The government is in a position to put Navy at sea, they are the people fighting militants and there will be people also securing the water from armed robbery and piracy. If ships are not safe when they come to your waters, if they kidnap and they demand money, your rating will be low. You have to pay ransom to foreigners in form of insurance premium, this will shoot up, the freight will go up, nobody will like to come. So it is not good for business. This ease of doing business also will be affected because of lack of security. So the federal government as a matter of urgency should go and assemble patrol boats. If you have about 200 patrol boats it is not too much because our survival is on that sea.
Do you support the idea of having national carriers?
Yes, I support the idea 100%, because no developing country can survive without it. I have worked in Iran and Malaysia and I knew what they went through. India today has over 80 ships so I support it. But the idea of Cabotage Financing Fund and all that, it is only for oil and gas job and we have so many ships in the oil and gas that are not engaged; no job for patrol boats, supply boats, diving support and all that, so the idea is not only Cabotage ships. Now we don’t have bulk carrier to carry bulk cargo like fertilizer amongst others. The foreign ships cannot carry because they are not Cabotage registered and you ban the importation of such things. Within the West Africa we don’t have ships internationally we don’t have ships. As I told you oil and gas is different from international shipping. The contract of afreightment comes into play when you are on international shipping. So we need it, there was a time we had so many shipping companies and coastal boats in Nigeria but we don’t have them any longer.To me government should start it and sell to the public because it was not only the national line that went down many private companies also went down.