“I don’t think it is in our national interest to spend the CVFF as it is presently designed to go and buy ships”
Engineer Emmanuel Ilori is a seasoned maritime personality and the Chairman of the committee that was set up by the former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. In this interview with Anozie Egole, he speaks extensively on the challenges in the sector
“There is a vessel on the Nigerian water that can provide sea time training for these cadets”
What is the update on the work of the ship registry committee of which you were the chairman?
On this ship registry, I have given time and time interviews and for the umpteenth time, on the online ship registry, I think I will refer you to the register of ships, she will be in a better position to tell you where we are in that regards. But yes it is desirable and that is a goal we want to achieve as soon as possible; to go to online ship registration, subject to when we put the necessary system in place that will make it very effective. So, yes online ship registration is a desire.
How far have you gone with regards to implementing some of the outcomes of the ship registry committee?
Don’t forget that NIMASA decided that this is the direction they want to go and we have the new management and they have not told us otherwise. So, on the ship registry we are waiting for them to continue in the direction they have taken, but don’t forget that this is a new management and we need to give them time to settle down, it is important. This new administration was appointed when the pandemic set in and then the nation has not settled, so it will be unfair for you to ask them of things when the whole nation is embroiled in the pandemic responses. So you need to give them time to adjust to this reality, that is where we are on that; I have not been told anything otherwise.
Nothing seems to be said about the CVFF disbursement, what do you think is delaying the processes?
Well, I have a challenge with the CVFF simply because with the present reality of today globally, all the nations will be looking at their own national development and their national survival. Up until now, we are looking at the CVFF to be given to ship owners to go and buy ships; at the moment we know that Nigeria doesn’t build vessels that we can refer to. So to disburse this CVFF, we don’t know how much is in there and give it to some ship owners they will have to go and buy vessels abroad, which means we will be spending CVFF to create jobs for ship yards outside Nigeria; that will be money going outside. So spending the CVFF as it is presently designed to go and buy ships, I don’t think it is in our national interest. I will rather suggest that we spend our time spend the CVFF as a seed money for our own national maritime development, where that money will be available to develop our own local industry where people have genuine maritime businesses; they can go and take money; be it in ship building, ship repairs, vessel training among others. All these things that are important to us to develop our own maritime industry, I think that is where the CVFF should be applied. The ship owners will benefit, the nation will benefit and we will be creating more jobs instead of spending that money to go and buy ships outside the country. I don’t think it is something we should do. So it has not been disbursed yes, we should thank God that is has not been disbursed, we can sit down and think about the utilization of that fund, so that it can be of national interest.
Do you agree that some percentage of the fund should be given to barge operators?
That goes back to what I said earlier, if the barge operators are operating within the Cabotage regime, within the national trade, don’t forget that the CVFF covers inland waters as well and not just those going within the coast. So they should be contributing to the CVFF and if they have not been contributing up till now, that is an anomaly within the system. And if they are going to use the fund, it will be for the development of the Nigerian maritime industry itself and not for foreign going vessels. Therefore, there is no reason they should not benefit from that as part of their own maritime development system. So the CVFF should be used as seed money for our maritime development bank whereby everybody can benefit; it is not going to be based on who you know that you can now go to the bank and ask for the money. We should try and remove the challenges and obstacles in assessing the fund.
The Federal Executive Council recently approved the sum of $454, 000 for sea time training of cadets, what is your reaction on that?
Well the FEC is the highest decision making body in the nation and they must see a justification for approving such fund for sea time training of Nigerian Seafarers Development Programme(NSDP), we can’t be wiser than them. There must be a justification for why they approved such amount of money for that purpose. Having said that you know there is a vessel on the Nigerian water that can provide sea time training for these cadets. So I think we should consider using that vessel and use it for our cadets’ development as well as creating opportunities. Don’t forget, we have thousands of these cadets, so we cannot just have enough of the opportunities with these cadets. I know that there is a vessel in Nigeria that is capable of training at least 200 cadets which has been lying idle for so long. That vessel should be activated and used to train those cadets.
Some people are saying that the NSDP is a failure arguing that some of the beneficiaries are still unemployed. What is your take on that?
Well the initial concept of the programme was not what is it now it was not designed to be this huge without provision of their career development. Originally it was supposed to be progressive personal development programmes that will carter for Nigerian maritime sector needs and at the same time, allow these cadets to work abroad and bring in desired revenues. But unfortunately it has not been developed as it should be.
The Gulf of Guinea still tops the chat in the area of piracy, what do you think is the way forward?
We are raising awareness on this issue every day, the government is doing everything it can to eliminate that scourge, the international community is aware and they are helping us to eliminate the scourge, it is not good for the maritime business. I think sometimes it may be over hyped and the facts may not necessarily be accurate, it depends on who is doing the statistics from their own end. But that doesn’t mean that we will run away from the fact that there is a challenge there and the challenge is being addressed nationally and internationally. We have our own maritime trade we need to protect so the issue of maritime security is important to our own development. We cannot run away from it, it’s there and we need to address it.
Do you think there is need to revive the MASSECA Bill?
What is MASSECA bill, it is dead. I don’t know where that is coming from because if the government is trying to streamline things and we are talking about the MASSECA Bill when we have the Nigerian Navy that is entrenched with the responsibilities of securing our maritime territorial integrity, we have the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), why creating another arm. And who is going to implement the MASSECA Bill, these are some of the questions to ask. So I think it is just a waste of energy to be talking about something like this. Our legislators have spent much time on this and they have spent time debating it, so I don’t see why we should spend our energy on this.
Which agency do you think is responsible for issuance of certificate to barge operators, between NIWA and LASWA?
There is no controversy about that, it is a national requirement like, NIMASA is responsible for our ocean regulations, NIWA is responsible for our inland waterways except where the water is within a state. When the water does not link another state then a state government is in charge. If that water originates and ends within a state, then the responsibility is for that state. But if the water is national inland water, that is if it connects more than one state the responsibility lies squarely with NIWA and they have to ensure safety of navigation and all that.
Why does it look difficult for ships to flag Nigerian flags?
Nigeria is operating a close system where ships that flag Nigerian flag is free to trade and they get the protection of the Nigerian government wherever they go to and it improves our tonnage and they go to IMO to showcase the Nigeria tonnage, that is why NIMASA is there to boost National flag.